POSTED ON MARCH 28, 2012:
Who Goes First
Audacity in Tulsa's development should win
Writer Lawrence Altman in the late '90s wrote a fascinating historical account of medical professionals who volunteered themselves for dangerous drug and medical procedure experiments over the last century. These pros did this because, in many instances, animals are an inadequate model for new bio-med practices, and medical ethics and simple moral forestalls using ordinary patients for flat-out experimentation.
Altman's book Who Goes First outlines this little known history -- it's a hard to put down narrative that casts a bright light on a host of exceptional folks who advanced the cause of human medicine and reduced suffering in very dramatic ways.
The Swap Scuffle
There's a controversy at City Hall over a proposed land swap between the University of Tulsa and the City of Tulsa. Mayor Dewey Bartlett and crew want to swap city land holdings near Gilcrease Museum with University plots around the Tulsa Airport. And while there is an argument about the comparative value of the two pieces of land, the tussle is really more fundamental.
The Mayor is proposing to use the additional airport properties for executing a critical multimodal/logistics project that could create more agile ground/air/water links between the Airport and the Port of Catoosa -- especially for heavy truck traffic and large containerization operations.
Counselor Blake Ewing has asked if the multimodal site project is so grand, why market dynamics (i.e. private companies/investors) don't simply secure the airport parcels and do a fully private rendition of the project that the Mayor and Company have in mind.
The Tulsa World's editorial writers, in a recent piece on the debate said this:
"Mayor Dewey Bartlett supports a proposal to trade some city-owned land near Gilcrease Museum for some land owned by TU near the airport. The long-range plan is to turn the area near the airport into an intermodal hub.
"He envisions a rail line that would run through the facility connecting to existing rail lines. ...Such a proposal has merit. It could be beneficial to Tulsa International Airport and the Port of Catoosa as well as allow easy access to U.S. 169 for truck traffic. In exchange, TU, which now successfully operates Gilcrease Museum for the city of Tulsa, would acquire land near the museum where it could develop new research centers that would serve the museum's goals.
"Although it looks to be a win-win situation, there is a sticking point. The city land near Gilcrease is worth $1.2 million more than the airport land. And $20 million to build the intermodal facility has not been secured. Councilor Blake Ewing was especially curious about why, if the land near the airport is so attractive, a private entity or the airport or the port has not shown interest in buying it."
Development Push -- An Imperative
Sometimes very risky investment, "foundational" funding placements have to be made to spin up new markets, demonstrate breakout technologies or break bad economic practices that hobble potential development. American capitalism has a very mixed record, especially in the last fifty years, in making these kinds of bets.
And Tulsa's past is filled with instances where taxpayers, private parties and sometimes fabulous combinations of both have done just that. Many of us have questions about the viability or the scale of Mayor Dewey Bartlett's proposed multimodal facility: the Project was conceived to create a comparative advantage for the area by improving the logistical efficiencies and transport switching offerings at both the Airport at the Port of Catoosa with a reported price tag of $20 million.
I've written in these pages on the coming transformation in heavy industrial cargo transport and the renaissance of dirigibles/giant cargo blimps and some fascinating new developments in conventional aviation transport best exemplified by development guy/futurist John D. Kasarda in his new book Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next.
In this piece, Kasarda surveys a range of new, very powerful hybrid efforts in the US, in Asia and in Europe: wild airport/cargo enclave conjunctions that have epic potential and real relevance for Tulsa -- projects that should be examples of what the Mayor's multimodal effort needs to emulate.
Tulsa City Councilor Thomas Mansur points out that not doing the land swap and not pursuing some variation on the multimodal initiative because they had no evident "market logic" would have forestalled a whole array of public and quasi-public City projects -- including our Airport, the Port of Catoosa and a host of other efforts. In early 21st century America, one-dimensional "market logic" can't be used to slavishly dictate the terms of Tulsa's future.
Careful, but audacious seeding of jumpstart development projects is a long-standing, incredibly important tool for Tulsa and other spots: This avenue is the basis for the Tulsa Development Authority and is the foundation, the touchstone, for entities like the Tulsa industrial Authority and the whole panoply of public private mechanisms -- Tulsa's development has often benefited greatly from these institutional gizmos. Indeed this "path," plus some imaginative philanthropic enterprise, is hugely responsible for the feverish renaissance we are witnessing in Tulsa's downtown.
Using public dollars to discover, seed and speed development trajectories are under attack in conservative circles across the country. But here is the thing: The Internet, the Web, the Laser, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and the manifold advances that came from the intense micro-miniaturization of key systems in this Cold War "peacemaker," the mouse and graphical computer interfaces, our Interstate Highway System, GPS systems, the imaging technologies that have revolutionized modern medicine, jet engines, the first fully developed mainframe computers -- all these developments, technologies and epic economic advances came from government labs, agile public-private ventures, novel contract procurement efforts and federally funded development projects -- projects that private parties were too wimpy, too parsimonious or simply not imaginative enough to conceive.
The strong reality is that the history of the Country's economic dynamic is based in significant measure on using public resources and strategic capital/infrastructure investments to spark a bevy of radiant economic advances for our society. The Republican establishment nationally has tried to make this pathway a "no, no" proposition: This is, and has been, a ludicrous effort and is profoundly inconsistent with securing more progress in Tulsa and elsewhere.
We need to stop trying to live in an ahistorical, fantasy world where "market signals" are the only viable drivers for transformative, hefty efforts to build the future.
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