July 2008 Archive
If you aren’t excited about “Core to Shore” yet, you should be. Take a second to get familiar with the plan…
…then let the brilliant animation from Oklahoma City firm Skyline Ink take you there. NOTE: large file size, may take some time to stream.
Oklahoma City’s “Core to Shore” – by skylineink from imagiNATIVEamerica on Vimeo.
Here is the video again with some helpful commentary from Mayor Mick Cornett:
Special thanks to Eddie for bringing the video to my attention and to Derek at Skyline Ink for allowing me to post it. More of Skyline Ink’s amazing work can be found on their website!
Bricktown has a parking problem. I am apparently very lucky, as I have never had to deal with this problem myself, but people have now talked about this “problem” or “perception of a problem” for so long that it really must be true. According to Steve Lackmeyer, the city is now considering “fixing” the problem by purchasing the Power Alley parking garage and offering free or reduced-price parking spaces. Before we talk more about the garage, lets check out the current parking situation in Downtown.
Downtown OKC, Inc. has tried to ameliorate the parking issues by distributing information on the amount and location of parking in Downtown and Bricktown. On their website they provide this map showing all of the parking spaces in Downtown along with the route of the downtown trolley.
As you can see there is actually a ton of parking available in Downtown – over 20,000 spaces! Bricktown itself has over 4,000 and that is without including the 750 spaces located on the north lots. It appears the point of contention is not the availability of spots but the cost. “Wal-mart has free parking, so why not Bricktown?” This may explain why people continue to proclaim a lack of parking, while the consultant hired to study the issue stated that even during peak hours 1 out of every 3 parking spaces is available, with over 1,000 total available spaces (it appears my good fortune wasn’t luck afterall). So the idea of purchasing the Power Alley garage and subsidizing the parking costs ostensibly tackles the problem head on – we don’t need more parking, we just need cheaper parking…or better yet free parking!
FIXING THE PROBLEM
The Power Alley parking garage (located on Sheridan, just north of the Bricktown Ballpark) has 538 parking spaces (according to the Bricktown Association website).
The owner of the garage is Marsh Pitman. And while Marsh is actually a good friend of mine, I haven’t asked him about anything related to this deal, so I don’t know how much the City would spend to acquire Power Alley from him. Still, we can probably estimate the price pretty close ourselves. According to the County Assessor’s website the property is worth approximately $4.2 million. Typically you would want to price a structured parking garage in terms of the cost per space or with an operating garage you could cap the operating income. I don’t have any clue what the income is on the garage, but we do know the number of spaces. If you take the $4.2 million figure and divide by the 538 spaces, it works out to around $7,800 per parking space without including the cost of land. Generally, new structured parking spaces cannot be built today for less than $12,000 per space, and that is the minimum. So we can definitely throw out the assessor’s number as being far too low. My best guess is that the City could not buy the Power Alley garage for less than $16,000 per space total – so we are talking about approximately $8.6 million.
So spending $8.6 million for the Power Alley garage, and providing 538 more subsidized parking spaces in Bricktown, is one option for the City. But I beleive there is another – better – option that will take care of the parking problem while providing some added benefits to the entire Downtown area.
THE GREEN LINE
As you likely already know, I am a huge proponent of improving and expanding our transportation options in Oklahoma City. I think the rubber-tired trolleys are great, but we can all agree that they have always been more of a novelty than something you can actually depend on to regularly get around Downtown. Knowing what we know now, we probably would have scraped together enough money to get the MAPS streetcar system up and running even without support from Washington. Well this is our opportunity to right the wrong and fix our parking troubles in the process.
The proposed Green Line consists of a modern fixed-rail streetcar system running straight along Sheridan for three-quarters of a mile from N. Stiles Ave. on the east end of Bricktown to Hudson Ave. in Downtown. Four stops are proposed, spaced approximately one-quarter mile apart, putting most of Downtown and Bricktown within a five minute walk. The short route and limited stops will allow for consistent and expedited service – likely less than five minutes between trains during peak periods. And the straight-line route and bi-directional service would make navigation a breeze for locals and tourists alike.
Perhaps the best thing about the Green Line is that is will solve all of our parking troubles as well. As we saw before there are a ton of parking spaces in the Downtown area and the Green Line will provide easy access to some of the largest parking structures. Instead of adding 538 spaces we can provide access to the 1,696 spaces at the Galleria garage – not to mention the other garages that are also close to the route. And almost all of these spaces are likely empty most nights and weekends during Bricktown’s peak business hours.
PAYING FOR IT
These are the most current figures being used by the City of Albuquerque:
The cost to construct a Streetcar is approximately $28 million / mile. That cost includes all aspects, including steel rail, concrete, pedestrian friendly stops, traffic signals, maintenance facility, power source, utility reconstruction, roadway reconstruction, and vehicles.
So our three-quarter mile system would cost approximately $21 million. If we used this option instead of purchasing the Power Alley garage, then we would save that $8.6 million, bringing the total extra cost down to $12.4 million. For this bargain amount we would really be solving Bricktown’s parking “problems” while laying the foundation for an urban transportation system that would greatly benefit both Downtown and Bricktown into the future. This is a senseable and relatively inexpensive way to get public transit off the ground OKC! It will mesh perfectly with the forthcoming Devon Tower; lighten the parking demand in Bricktown, allowing for some of Bricktown’s surface lots to be developed; and the energy created would serve as an impetus to make something happen with the Stewart Metal buildings on the east end of Bricktown. This is just the start, when the time is right the line could be easily expanded to provide service to the fledging Film District or even the American Indian Cultural Center. We could sit here and name the benefits of this all day, but instead we should just do it!
Saw this video about some work being done on the Old Town China Town district in Portland. Check out the cool gateway element and other improvements they have done to the area. OKC’s Asian District already has so much going for it. Wouldn’t it be great to take it to the next level?
Walkscore.com has released their rankings of America’s Most Walkable Cities. My expectations for OKC on something like this are never very high, but I always hope we at least finish somewhere respectable and not in the bottom five (as the top and bottom five it seems is always what gets published). Unfortunately, by tying Memphis for 35th we barely missed escaping the bottom five and the resulting terrible publicity. I mean, can you believe we get beat by cities like Houston and Detroit?
MOST AND LEAST WALKABLE CITIES (with walkability score)
1. San Francisco: 86
2. New York: 83
3. Boston: 79
4. Chicago: 76
5. Philadelphia: 74
35. TIE – Oklahoma City and Memphis: 43
37. Indianapolis: 42
38. Charlotte: 39
39. Nashville: 39
40. Jacksonville: 36
To make matters worse, the San Francisco Chronicle let Memphis off the hook – by listing Oklahoma City alone in the bottom five with an asterisk – and then displayed the information in such an unintuitive order that Oklahoma City actually looks like it finished dead last. Check out the article and see what I mean.
ABOUT THE METHOD OF ANALYSIS
In reality, Walkscore’s method of analysis has a number of flaws – many of which I find to be fatal. To their credit, they are the first to admit these weaknesses. Here is what they have to say.
There are a number of factors that contribute to walkability that are not part of our algorithm:
- Public transit: Good public transit is important for walkable neighborhoods.
- Street width and block length: Narrow streets slow down traffic. Short blocks provide more routes to the same destination and make it easier to take a direct route.
- Street design: Sidewalks and safe crossings are essential to walkability. Appropriate automobile speeds, trees, and other features also help.
- Safety from crime and crashes: How much crime is in the neighborhood? How many traffic accidents are there? Are streets well-lit?
- Pedestrian-friendly community design: Are buildings close to the sidewalk with parking in back? Are destinations clustered together?
- Topography: Hills can make walking difficult, especially if you’re carrying groceries.
- Freeways and bodies of water: Freeways can divide neighborhoods. Swimming is harder than walking
- Weather: In some places it’s just too hot or cold to walk regularly
I bet San Francisco is glad they didn’t include topography…ehh? What all this means is that their “algorithm” simply measure’s the proximity of amenities from a given point. So anything within 1/4-mile of a mall would receive the highest rating and while it is true that malls are incredibly walkable (when you are inside), it is not true that malls create walkable neighborhoods – in fact, it is quite the opposite when surrounded by parking. This is also true of densely lined retail arterials like May Avenue. While they certainly provide access to a number of retailers and amenities within a short range of distance, very few people would actually walk from shopping center to shopping center and consider the experience enjoyable. A few better ways to measure walkability in my opinion would either attempt to include measures for the elements listed above or would simply count the number of people actually walking. Afterall, what good is “walkability” if no one walks? But what do you do if it is “bad walkability” and everyone walks? Either way, it gets very complicated very quickly for a range of issues that we can tackle at a later date.
OKLAHOMA CITY WALKABILITY
Walkscore had these interesting facts to share about walkability in Oklahoma City:
- 8% of Oklahoma City residents have a Walk Score of 70 or above.
- 40% have a Walk Score of at least 50
- and 60% live in Car-Dependent neighborhoods
Despite the flaws of the analysis, the map produced by their rating system is still interesting to study.
It might be helpful if we wanted to select areas of the city that would benefit most from pedestrian improvements, more residential density, and/or strategies for creating viable urban environments. It also might make sense for the greenest areas to serve as primary nodes in a transportation system as access to these nodes would theoretically provide access to a wide range of amenities.
MY CURRENT NEIGHBORHOOD
As some of you know, I am currently living in Boston studying planning and urban design. My wife and I sold our cars before moving into a small apartment in Boston’s Back Bay. My school is 1.5 miles from our place and I can get to school in one of three ways: walking, biking, or riding public-transit. I pretty much make this decision based on weather (often terrible here) and how much time I have (biking is fastest by far). We also regularly walk to stores, walk to dinner, or walk to church. And walking here is great, it is literally a textbook example of pedestrian-friendly using Gehl’s criteria. It has historic buildings, a variety of stores and restaurant, sidewalk dining, lots of people, etc…
Still, I am not going to say that life without a car is easy – its not. That is not the point. The point is that life with walking is great!
Of course people will continue to have cars in Oklahoma City – as do most of the people in Greater Boston – but we should not let all of our decisions be so skewed towards an auto-centric city that it ruins any prospect of a walking lifestyle – whether it is out of necessity or by choice.
So where does my current residence stack up on the walkability score? Very Good. It is actually the #1 most walkable neighborhood in the #3 most walkable city.
At some point in the future I will talk more about the Back Bay and what I have learned about urbanity from the time I have spent here. But that will have to wait, because over the next few weeks I am going to be working on a five part series focused on an upcoming development in Downtown Oklahoma City and the incredible opportunity it provides for the city – but only if we decide to do it right! I still have to do some more research and a lot more work. But hopefully it will be worth the wait.
For now, I just want everyone to know that I really appreciate you reading. If you have any ideas of stuff that you would like to discuss in the future, please let me know. I will try to get a little discussion going by asking a simple question:
When was the last time you walked from your house to purchase something from a store?
…and an ice-cream truck does not count.
The other day I happened upon the online design portfolio of Brandon Specketer. Brandon is a fellow alum of both P.C. North and the University of Oklahoma. He graduated two years ahead of me and I always knew him to be a stand-up guy and an incredibly fast runner. While at OU, he studied under Hans Butzer – the award-winning designer of the Oklahoma City National Memorial – and has also previously worked as an intern for Elliot + Associates here in Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, Brandon is currently living in New York, continuing his architecture career with Cook+Fox. Hopefully he will make it back to OKC soon so that we can experience his design work firsthand, but in the meantime he has given me permission to highlight some of his work.
OKLAHOMA CITY METRO STATION
These designs for an old class project exploring the possibility of commuter rail in Oklahoma City caught my eye immediately. As a huge proponent of improving and expanding our transportation options (a position becoming increasingly popular these days), it is interesting to consider this straight-forward design that utilizes the existing rail infrastructure.
Another project from his days at OU focuses on 131 Harrison, the building referred to as ‘The Flatiron’. Many of you know that this property is currently being developed by The Humphreys Company, where my older brother Grant serves as CEO and father Kirk as Chairman. Jim Hasenbeck and the gang at Studio Architecture have put together an absolutely terrific design that – in my somewhat slash completely biased opinion – will be the exemplar urban mixed-use development in Oklahoma City (you can check out some renderings at OKC Central). That said, it is always fun to see another person’s vision for the city and what Specketer offers is pretty cool.
Conceptual sketch of circulation and conceptual model of structural system.
Brandon had the opportunity to show off his interior design capabilities when HGTV.com showcased his NYC ‘bachelors’ pad‘. His apartment is cool, but what I really like are the designs for the London offices of Ackerman McQueen, an Oklahoma City based advertising firm. Brandon contributed to the project as an intern alongside Jay Yowell and the firm’s principle Rand Elliot. The project won an AIA 2005 Interiors Honors Award and a Merit Award in Interior Architecture in a competition of the Central States Region of the American Institute of Architects. They say that it is “The illusion and abstraction of London fog carries the project” and you can certainly see what they mean:
All photos of Ackerman McQueen © Robert Shimer/Hedrich Blessing
Finally, check out these sketches. I am envious of anybody that can create such beauty with only pencil and paper.
As you can see, Brandon Specketer is a great talent. I wish him the best with everything, even if life doesn’t lead him back our way. But my guess is that at some point Brandon will move back to OKC, because I believe that the paradigm has shifted, that the tremendous renaissance currently being experienced by our City has caught the attention of Brandon and many others like him. As the quality of life in our city improves and the opportunities for creative professionals increase, Oklahoma City is likely to experience a rush of talent like it hasn’t seen since 1889. Because all else being equal – the familiar places, friendly people, and absolutely beautiful sunsets are hard to pass up!
If you would like to see more of Brandon Specketer’s work you can check out his portfolio at ryecroft.net!
CNNMoney.com has ranked Norman, Oklahoma as the #6 best place to live in their August 2008 rankings of America’s small cities. I really enjoyed living in Norman during my time at OU and my wife Maggie was born and raised there and still has lots of family there. We have a number of friends from college that decided to stay after graduating and they all seem really glad they did. This only backs up something the people living there already know – Norman can provide a great quality of life. This is good news not only for Norman, but for the entire metro and the state!
Here is the Top 10:
- Plymouth, MN 70,100
- Fort Collins, CO 129,400
- Naperville, IL 142,900
- Irvine, CA 193,900
- Franklin Township, NJ 59,100
- Norman, OK 102,800
- Round Rock, TX 92,300
- Columbia/Ellicott City, MD 158,800
- Overland Park, KS 166,700
- Fishers, IN 61,800
You can check out the complete rankings here: CNNMoney.com ‘Best Places to Live’
I came across this article by Jan Gehl – an urban design rock star – in which he discusses the importance of the design of the first-floor of urban buildings in attracting pedestrians and creating active streets. Downtown Oklahoma City has made tremendous gains since MAPS, but we still have very few streets with the restaurants, shopping, and (above all) people most often found in a pedestrian-friendly urban environment. In the article Close Encounters with Building (note: downloads as a .pdf), Gehl explains the importance of the first ten feet of a building and how it can either help to create a street or public space that pedestrians want to visit or conversely, create a place that pedestrians will avoid.
Gehl has done a ton of research, often using teams of researchers to observe 100m sections of street and record measurements such as the number of pedestrians, pedestrian speed, number of stops, number of times they entered/exited a building, etc. Through this he has been able to identify a handful of design attributes that can either attract or deter pedestrians by creating what he calls the ‘urban scene at eye level’. Here is what Gehl has to say about the design attributes he has identified and how they can lead to creating a good or bad ‘urban scene at eye level’.
THE URBAN SCENE AT EYE LEVEL
Scale and Rhythm
Pedestrians experience the urban scene at maximum three mph, with plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings. Small units provide a wide range of experiences, and a large number of doors provide many points of exchange between outside and inside. A scale of three mph is compact and rich in sensory experience. A scale of 35 mph also features qualities worthy of sharing, but rarely are they meaningful to pedestrians.
The opportunity to be on the inside looking out – and on the outside looking in – significantly broadens the range of experiences in the buildings themselves and in urban space. If we walk through the city close to the facades, the various display windows and opportunities to share what is happening in the buildings enrich our experience considerably. And people inside the buildings can follow what is happening in the surrounding urban space. Life inside and outside the buildings can thus interact for the benefit of both.
Appeals to Many Senses
We can draw on all our senses when we are close to buildings, and we have sufficient time to look, listen, smell and touch the good things on offer. A wealth of sensory impressions and shopping opportunities awaits. In contrast, a string of orange posters is a poor substitute.
Good materials and fine details are an attraction for people strolling through the city. There is ample opportunity to reach out and touch the buildings and examine the smallest detail. Attractive ground-level facades offer texture, good materials and carefully crafted details.
Mix of Functions
The functions inside buildings have a major impact on the activity and attractiveness of the spaces outside. The desire for narrow units and many doors in the facade can be echoed in a desire for wide functional variation inside. The outcome is many units, many points of exchange between outside and inside, and a wealth of many different events and experiences. The department store with its ten large display windows is far less interesting than the ten different functions in the street scene opposite.
Vertical Facade Rhythm
Walking along a ground floor fac?ade with primarily vertical rhythms makes the walk much more interesting and eye-catching. We move from ‘column to column’, which makes the walk seem shorter. Facades with primarily horizontal articulation intensify the feeling of distance – a long tiring prospect at eye height.
With these attributes in hand, he creates a map of a city showing the “problem facades” that interrupt pedestrian paths and lower the overall quality of the pedestrian experience. For instance, this diagram compares the street facades of (a) Stockholm to those of (b) Copenhagen. The difference between the two maps speaks to a dramatic difference for pedestrians.
Look at the open plazas and squares in (b) Copenhagen, almost all of which are surrounded by pedestrian friendly (light facades). Whereas (a) Stockholm has block after block of poor facades with few pedestrian-friendly plazas or squares (the exception being the one shown on the lower left side. After creating these maps, Gehl has been able to work with cities in creating urban design guidelines that address the problems and has successfully attracted increased numbers of pedestrians in cities around the world.
FACADES IN OKC?
So here is the question, where do we have examples of each of these facade types in Oklahoma City? It would be great if we could create our own facade map of Downtown Oklahoma City & Bricktown and determine which areas are pro-pedestrian and anti-pedestrian according to the attribute listed above.
Here is what I think might work. Everyone could take some time to assess a street (or seven) – based on memory, by actually visiting, or using streetview– and add their assessment to our very own Google map — creating a Pedestrian Friendliness Map of Oklahoma City!
Give it a shot. Just use the descriptions mentioned above to assess each of the attributes. Here is the form info I used that you can paste into the pushpin description window:
Good for Pedestrians? (Yes, No or Maybe)
Scale and Rhythm: Yes
Appeals to many Senses: Maybe
Mix of Functions: No
Vertical Facade Rhythm: Yes
Trust your gut as to whether it deserves a or a . It is easy to do so give it a shot!
Here is what you do:
- click on the link below
- click the ‘Save to My Maps’ link on the upper-left side
- then click the button on the left side of the screen
I love Oklahoma! I really do. I have not quite pinpointed why I love it so much. There are some truly terrific things about the state – many of which we need to do a better job of marketing – but there are also so many things that are just embarrassing. And yet, my love for Oklahoma is steadfast if for no other reason than that it is simply home. This affection for a place was perhaps most aptly described by C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves when he discusses what he defines as the first (and best) type of patriotism:
“First, there is love of home, of the place we grew up in or the places, perhaps many, which have been our homes; and of all places fairly near these and fairly like them; love of old acquaintances, of familiar sights, sounds and smells.”
– C.S. Lewis
This is what Oklahoma is to me and always will be. But what about everyone else? How do others feel about the State of Oklahoma? Also, which of the fifty states is the most loved and where does Oklahoma rank?
I decided to try and figure out which state was the most loved. After thinking through a number of fairly complex possibilities for measuring which states were loved the most, I decided on a simple solution suggested by my friend Frank Hebbert. Just Google it! Simply google the phrase “I love Oklahoma” and seeing how many results come back. It provides at least some insight as to how much the state is loved – or at least how often people express that love on the internet – and you can easily compare the results with those of different states.
Method of Data Collection Explained
So I put together a little php code to query Google for all 50 states using the search term “I love stateName” and return the number of results to a table (note: apparently Google frowns on people using their service for this type of “research” and will tag you as a spyware bot and block your service, but it’s not permanent). Here is what I got back. I found the results to be pretty interesting.
Overall Most Loved States
The data is not perfect, though I attempted to manually account for specific circumstances that caused the data to be skewed. For instance, with Indiana the numbers seemed high – initially some 37,900 – but upon further review I discovered that many these results were from the phrase “I love Indiana Jones” (my guess is that most of these were written prior to the release of the The Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls!) Anyway, I subtracted these results as best I could using “-Jones” to end up at the numbers shown above. New York is particularly problematic because it is both the name of the State and a commonly used name for the City – a very large and apparently much beloved city. I added “-city” to the search term to try to account for some of this and also added “-vh1” in hopes of excluding many of the pages specific to the VH1 show that is actually titled, “I love New York”. As you can see – even with these modifications – New York had no trouble coming out on top. Not particularly surprising given the confusion of names b/w city and state and the fact that “I love New York” has been an active campaign to market tourism in the State for over 30 years now.
In addition to this, you could add precision by excluding results specific to a college or sport’s team (i.e. “I love Oklahoma football….a lot!”) or any other phrase that contains the “I love stateName” structure somewhere within the string. But I decided to keep it simple for now and only tackled the two very obvious outliers noted above.
Analyzing the Results
As for my Oklahoma, we finished a very respectable 29th. Not great, but not bad. And this is up against states with much bigger populations, providing a larger number of persons, each with the capacity to type “I love stateName” somewhere on the internet. In fact, Overall Most Loved is not the best measurement of how much a state is loved by its (or outside) residents, because larger states have a built in advantage. To account for this I adjusted the results to reflect the population by calculating the number of results per thousand residents.
Most Loved State per resident
(results per 1000 residents)
Unfortunately, this actually caused Oklahoma to slip to 30th. This is due to huge upward moves from lower population states that tend to attract vacationers, most notably:
- Wyoming – moving up 34 spots to 9th
- North Dakota – moving up 32 spots to 14th
- South Dakota – moving up 31 spots to 13th
- Delaware – moving up 30 spots to 15th
- And Vermont – moving up 28 spots to 7th
BUT Oklahoma is now one spot above Texas – which slipped to 31st place – so I am quite pleased with the results (Don’t Mess with Texas…ha!). Still, population is not the best measure as not every resident of say West Virginia has the same access to the internet as a resident of Massachusetts. I couldn’t find reliable data on internet connectivity, but I did find information on the number of households with computers which is at least a step closer to identifying the number of internet users. Here are the results when you adjust the data to reflect household computer ownership:
Most Loved State per household computer
(results per 1000 hh computers)
Finally we have a measure for the love for a state expressed on the internet per internet user (erhh…computer owner). Oklahoma comes in at a completely average 26th place – meaning we benefited by adjusting the numbers for computer ownership – which is not really a good thing. In fact, the states that moved up the most from the population adjusted list to the computer ownership adjusted list are all closely related geographically.
- Mississippi – moving up 9 spots to 26th
- Alabama – moving up 5 spots to 18th
- Oklahoma – moving up 4 spots to 26th
- Arkansas – moving up 3 spots to 45th
- Louisiana – moving up 3 spots to 38th
Show Oklahoma Some Love
Now, it is my hope that this post will begin a movement of people writing “I love Oklahoma” on every webpage, blog, message board, and bathroom stall they can find. You don’t have to be an Oklahoman to help, you don’t even have to have visited, all you have to do is write “I love Oklahoma” somewhere on the internet. I will rerun the numbers in a month or so and see if we have had any impact. I have been fairly liberal with my use of the phrase here in hopes of adding to the counts, but I can only do so much!
By the way, “I love Oklahoma City” as well, and sometime soon I intend to continue this series by exploring which cities people love the most – so stay tuned!
Till next time, you can look over the various state rankings listed below in alphabetical order. I have also provided a link at the bottom to the Google Spreadsheet containing all of the data used for the calculations. Or, make up your own test and let me know what you find out.
Alphabetical List of All States
Link to Google Spreadsheet containing all data used to produce rankings.