POSTED ON JUNE 26, 2013:
Foundation Pushes Forward
Momentum for change keeps up
My favorite film director is Stanley Kubrick.
As readers may know, he was an epic filmmaker. And his energies seemed directed intentionally toward transforming every film genre -- every major type that he touched.
His arguably odd, but radiant Dr. Strangelove redefined the military/mystery thriller genre by injecting a Joseph Heller-like absurdist, dark humor riff into the center of a piece about America's unhappy nuclear face-off with the Soviet Union.
His 2001: A Space Odyssey -- shot in 1967 -- is arguably one of the finest films of the last century, according to a small army of critics. It reset our notions of what a science fiction film could be. It's a wondrous, visually stunning exploration of the interplay between human imagination, transcendent technologies, and Arthur C. Clarke's conception of a space-faring future for humanity.
And his film The Shining successfully redefined the horror genre by again injecting a massive load of dark comedy into a visually mesmerizing tale of alienation, the world of the writer, and a slew of other things.
With the unveiling of the new Gathering Place superpark project in Tulsa, George Kaiser and his foundation have jumped into a whole new realm.
Kaiser and company's targeted "disruptions" so far have been fevered, but cannily constructed social ventures aimed at radically improving health care and the education of doctors and allied professionals, a wild rework of high-quality child development, a still-small effort at softening the brutal impacts of America's nightmarish over-incarceration obsession, and a multi-front foray into reigniting the arts scene and economy in Tulsa.
Kaiser's innovations and the range of projects he now has underway, most of which thankfully are concentrated in the Tulsa metropolitan area, are simply amazing, and truly Kubrickian in scope, range and intensity.
Forbes business writer Christopher Helman, scoping out the Kaiser project in 2011, captured the combustible character of the GKFF mission as well as anyone:
"Kaiser's philosophy of investment-oriented philanthropy, ... focuses on stimulating economic opportunity and attacking poverty by spending early on education and health care for those who need it most.
Kaiser's personal mission statement (inspired, he says, by Warren Buffett): 'Those who have won the ovarian lottery by being born in an advanced society to loving parents have a special obligation to help restore the American Dream.'
Nancy Roob, president of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which partners with Kaiser on anti-poverty efforts, says, 'Kaiser is unique in how he operates. He's dedicated not just to finding programs that work, but willing to put up the funds needed to scale them.'
The Gathering Place superpark project is the latest piece of evidence that Kaiser's intent is to use his strategic vision of the commonweal, his penchant for mobilizing grand talent and his great wealth to transform big pieces of how civic engagement, healthcare, education and arts happen in our world.
Tulsa obviously benefits immensely -- it's the overwhelming favored space where all of these giant recasting, well-funded reconsiderations get played out.
The new project will mightily complement and vastly augment our already excellent River Parks/Tulsa Trail system. The new park will be an ensemble: venue spaces with a couple of imaginative "land bridges" that link the east and west corridors of the River -- traversing Riverside Drive with elevated bike and pedestrian pathways -- and a bevy of distinctive play, entertainment, exercise, and outdoor loci.
The new project will also be a sterling example of what superstar landscape architect James Corner has called "landscape urbanism -- an amalgamation of a wide range of disciplines including landscape architecture, ecology, and urban design." And with Tulsa's seeming inability to invest properly in maintaining, staffing and properly prioritizing our public park system, the new Kaiser park is a stout counterpunch to what increasingly looks like incomprehensible neglect of our public parks at Tulsa City Hall.
Importantly, the people who use the River Park system are arguably the most varied (socially and racially mixed) cadre in all of Tulsa; a group made up of huge numbers of young people of every description. Black, Hispanic and clearly modest-income parents with kids are very evident in spring and summer at the River. After all, the River/Trail ensemble is a free, open-air, linear gym.
The new $100-to-$150 million, 55-acre, all-city Gathering Place was unveiled publicly last week and will be funded almost exclusively by GKFF.
The principal designer for the new spot is Michael Van Valkenburgh of Valkenburgh Associates of New York City. Valkenburgh heads up a team of landscape architects who will be principal shapers of the giant "landscape urbanism" project -- a gambit that becomes immediately one of the signal new parks at the core of a hot renaissance in park design including the High Line park in NYC (James Corner's project), City-Garden in St. Louis, Civic Space Park in Phoenix, and Chicago's Navy Pier project.
Two Key Kaiser Initiatives
As some readers may know, the still-aborning School of Community Medicine (SCOM) in Tulsa -- another signature GKFF project -- will get underway with its first new wave doc class in 2015. SCOM is a breakout medical school, actually a joint venture between OU and the University of Tulsa.
SCOM, in its dramatically re-imagined 2015 re-launch, will be organized around producing docs who are profoundly sensitive to the context in which patients live, work and, play.
SCOM will be devoted to mitigating obesity and collateral lifestyle challenges, equipping docs with superior diagnostic and general medicine skills, and peerless insight into the critical nutrition/fitness/mental health nexus.
The new doc school will also address one of the grand failures of modern medicine -- cost and care problems created by fragmented services and doc overspecialization. The graduates will learn plenty about cross specialty collaboration and powerfully preventive work -- what some call social or community medicine.
The Guthrie facility, housed in the Mathews Building, is a set of immersive multimedia spaces that combine an art studio, a laboratory/studio warren -- it will also arguably be the planet's greatest scholarly and archival center for the musical, photographic, and visual art of Woody Guthrie.
It's looking like GKFF is moving us into a new world. Again.
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