POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 19, 2012:
On High Center at City Hall
Where's the leadership at One Tech?
Execution of the city's years-in-the-making breakout planning process is in neutral with the defeat of an expanded effort to use form-based zoning in T-Town. All this has happened in recent weeks by virtue of a critical decision by Tulsa's planning commission on expanding a zoning concept in play in the Pearl District. The proposed agility-sparking, walk-centric and density-inducing change to Tulsa's old-hat zoning has taken a huge -- but not fatal -- and avoidable hit. Add a not so carefully thought through (and enormous) aerospace voter proposition, a real if declining chance to dramatically improve public oversight and responsiveness in Tulsa policing/public safety, and an array of other very big issues, and City Hall seems adrift.
A "Problem Play"
In her new book, Booker prize winning British writer Zadie Smith paints a riveting portrait of NW -- her childhood home space -- a rapidly morphing warren of neighborhoods in London. In a recent interview, she called her much anticipated new novel, about the lives of four characters who reside in North West London as, well, a "problem play": what drama scholars call theatrical works that are neither comedies nor drama pieces. Such performances make you laugh, make you cry at other moments, and sometimes evoke both simultaneously. Nineteenth century Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, in works like A Doll House and Ghosts, and epic TV series like the lurid Deadwood show, HBO's strangely engaging Six Feet Under and movies like the Coen Brothers, films and Spike Lee's radiant Do The Right Thing, are very much in this category.
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett's administration's delivery -- over the course of the last three years -- is a problem play.
Mr. Bartlett's pronounced effort with his astute, energetic wife Victoria, to engage north Tulsa through churches and community based organizations on a nearly weekly basis is wonderful. This very conscious and intense effort to reach out is weighty: It's a real effort to unify Tulsa's different tribes, territories and storied histories. And it's a praise-song worthy part of what's needed to heal the long-running disconnect between Tulsa's north side and the larger community.
Another piece of the Mayor's history over the course of the last three years: the gonzo battles with our last city council. These wrenching face-offs, weird confrontations and semi-ultimatums were battles that did the city's reputation no good and sometimes hobbled City Hall. Arguably, the current council/mayor relationship is vastly superior due in no small measure to the mayor and the new council's reciprocal efforts to create cooperative chemistry.
The new detente may also be a consequence of Terry Simonson's departure from the mayor's office -- Simonson acted as an often contentious "prime minister" to Dewey Bartlett's chair of the board "act" at One Tech Center.
And there was the all hands on deck, successful effort to quickly capture the monsters accused of Tulsa's Good Friday killings -- a tragic event which featured the deaths of three black north Tulsans. The round up was hastened by the mayor and TPD Chief Chuck Jordan and greatly assisted by north side community and church leaders, City Councilor Jack Henderson and a small army of regular north side residents. As a consequence, Tulsa was spared a multi-week terror spectacle. And we all got to see the superb value of intensive community engagement, trust and real cooperation in policing -- a cardinal reason why the Good Friday terror was mercifully short.
The Good Friday killings were a lucid illustration of what's needed in T-Town policing: a wholesale focus on a community based policing strategy -- a set of police deployment and management regimes that could dramatically improve community engagement and make for much better public safety all over Tulsa.
But where is the public safety committee set up by the mayor in the aftermath of this great community-wide victory? The new body was designed, it appears, to look at a whole range of things in the wake of the Easter/Good Friday killings and recent abuse/police misconduct trials, to think deeply about officer levels for police and fire missions and a bunch of other stuff that goes to the future of public safety in Tulsa.
Where is this cardinal project? And why is the Tulsa Police Department canceling good policy? Why is the mayor allowing TPD to roll back the "open" data practices that allowed transparency on force usage, arrest patterns and a bevy of social detail on patrol operations?
Jobs & City Development Strategy
What we have in the nearly $300 million aerospace piece in the Nov. 6 voter proposition is a tax based initiative that could've been a bright path to a better aerospace sector for T-Town. But the proposition's hastily and "closed shop" crafting looks to be part of a rudderless trip -- and one with huge opportunity costs. And unfortunately, it seems to be part and parcel of a poorly articulated economic strategy: one that the mayor headlined nearly 36 months ago with a promising but now seemingly abandoned alternative energy gambit.
And while the mayor/staff got good intellectual backdrop via a fascinating competitive analytic piece from TU's Collins biz school, the city's CEO seems short of tangible high quality job/high yield growth projects.
Bartlett, some readers will recall, began his campaign for mayor in 2008 pledging to try to make Tulsa the "alternative energy capital." And while there has been good progress on a set of internal efforts to make City Hall's vast operations more energy efficient, the larger "alt energy" project seems waylaid by a cheerleading effort to herald "new gas" and compressed natural gas vehicles.
Vision2/Quality of Life Projects -- So Far...
Why are the funding levels in so many of the projects that the mayor has tentatively proposed in the new Vision2 quality-of-life package so small? Arguably handing off small amounts to huge major projects isn't the way to produce the kind of big bang impacts needed to provide a real result.
The mayor is committed at some level to executing our still new and nationally renowned PlaniTulsa project. But Tulsa's still "rolling down" the runway to our new comprehensive physical plan. Why haven't we seen a fulsome defense of the still emerging planning process?
Why don't we have a more imaginative, more enthusiastic effort to link the proposed Vision2 improvement package to the ideas and projects that fueled the PlaniTulsa process -- one supported energetically by thousands of Tulsans?
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