Why I Voted YES For MAPS 3!

December 4th, 2009

maps3park

I heard an ad on the radio today explaining that a vote for MAPS 3 is a vote for: more jobs, healthy living, and public safety.  The ad was paid for by the YESforMAPS campaign, so I guess it makes sense that it seemed carefully engineered to convince people to vote yes. In the midst of a major recession, who doesn’t like more jobs. And when you live in America’s #2 Fattest City, supporting healthy living seems like a good idea.  And public safety, who could vote against public safety.*  But I didn’t like the ad.  In fact, I hated it.  Because in the midst of the calculated message they failed to focus on the primary reason people should vote yes for MAPS 3.  In fact, it is the only reason I voted yes (I voted early), and it is a major factor in me and my wife’s recent decision to move back to Oklahoma City.  That is – MAPS has improved and will continue to improve quality of life in Oklahoma City!

MAPS 3 will add streetcar transit to downtown

The original MAPS was an effort to enhance quality of life in Oklahoma City and it has been an overwhelming success.  The laundry list of development, investment, and improvements that have occurred as a result has been recounted so many times that it serves little purpose to create one more such list.  But let me sum up the impact like this: Everday my life in Oklahoma City is made better as a direct result of MAPS.  If you live or work near downtown, or enjoy attending sporting events, or own a house that has a appreciated as a result – MAPS has made your life better too.  And our improved quality of life has brought with it a new sense of community pride.  People all over the city are proud of what we have accomplished, are working each day to make our city better than the day before, and, like me, look to the future with a hope and optimism that only a few quixotic visionaries might have had 16 years ago.

maps3whitewater

MAPS3 can build upon this success and ensure that our hopes and dreams today become line items on tomorrow’s laundry list of accomplishments.  MAPS3 will – without a doubt – improve the quality of life in Oklahoma City!  MAPS3 could provide our city with a park capable of serving as a physical heart and a gathering place for the whole community, something which has been conspicuously absent since the hastily planned grids laid out 120 years ago.  And after enduring almost a half century of a over-engineered drainage ditch, and only just now beginning to appreciate the benefits of having a waterway with actual water, MAPS3 could transform the Oklahoma River into, not only an elite international rowing venue, but an incredible recreational playground for the entire city to enjoy – whether as participant or spectator.  Finally, MAPS3 could provide the beginnings of a meaningful transit system by making areas around downtown accessible sans automobile.  Hopefully the future will bring a regional system that provides broader service, but either way, a legitimate downtown transit system will be a necessary first step for making a more expansive solution possible.

That is why I am voting yes for MAPS3.  Do I like all of the projects?  No.  But this is not MAPSforBlair; MAPS is an exercise in successful community compromise and MAPS3 is the most aggressive test yet of this principle.  You might not like all of the projects either, or are perhaps insulted by the simplistic rhetoric being spewed by both sides, BUT if you believe the city should continue working to improve our quality of life, you should vote yes for MAPS3 on December 8th.

* ironically it seems the answer is – according to the radio ad – police and firemen.

15 responses

  1. Michael comments:

    Seems like they are trying to sell the features and not the benefits.

  2. Doug Loudenback comments:

    Good job, Blair.

  3. Eddie Coates comments:

    Good post Blair. I cringe a little every time they try to sell this package based on individual projects. I do think they are doing a good job of focusing on the momentum aspect. Think of the national media attention OKC will receive if MAPS passes – a city that refuses to lose momentum and is focused on pushing passed its peer cities no matter the economic situation,

  4. Tyler Lawson comments:

    Forgive me for simplifying and generalizing the people of oklahoma city but in a round about way that add IS selling quality of life. They just don’t say it that way. They sell it in a way the people of OKC will easily digest. Health, Jobs, Safety. Aren’t those all major contributors to quality of life?

  5. Blair comments:

    Saying that health, jobs, and safety are synonymous with “quality of life” is a legitimate position to take. However, I think that such a definition of “quality of life” is much different than that established by the original MAPS. MAPS came about as a response to a failed effort to woo an airline maintenance facility with taxpayer subsidies, after the airline rejected our superior financial package in favor of another city that provided (in the airline’s opinion) a better quality of life for it’s employees. Thus, we decided to “invest in ourselves” instead of subsidies targeting economic development.

    While economic development and more jobs might contribute to a higher quality of life in some cases, they don’t necessarily always do so. For example, last year Houston was ranked by Forbes as the Best City For Earning a Living, but I don’t think anyone would dare to argue that Houston has the highest quality of life. To the extent that the proposed convention center is about economic development and not local amenities, it would also fall under the umbrella of items not about quality of life sense. Either way, the convention center is the most expensive MAPS3 project and clearly about economic development first. You can read more of my thoughts on how the convention center fits in here.

    An environment that supports healthy living is certainly a quality of life factor, but it is disingenuous to say it is central to the projects in MAPS 3. Paths, sidewalks, and senior aquatic centers were added as an afterthought for political reasons and their budgets reflect as much. And I am very concerned that the paths and sidewalks promised will not receive the funding they are currently promised. While these projects, along with the river improvements and in some ways the Central Park (even though it is currently not designed as if healthy living was a primary concern) do lend themselves to healthy living, they are only being billed as such after the fact.

    While it follows that a city without public safety would have a low quality of life, it does not follow that more investment in public safety provides a subsequent return in quality of living. While there has been some belated efforts to allocate the Use-Tax in order to quiet the the police and fire NOTTHISMAPS opposition, public safety is not part of the MAPS 3 budget as voted on in the council resolution and released to the public. Further, it is not clear whether the new projects might not actually require more personnel, thus decreasing the overall safety of the public given current budgeting. While arguments are made using an overall economic healthiness argument, something like, “An improved local economy will provide more money for police and fire in the future.” These indirect improvement arguments are tenuous at best and ostensibly fail to consider the population growth that almost always accompanies a growing economy.

    All that to say: I understand why you see it the way you see it, but do disagree. I will end it with the obligatory Vote Yes For MAPS and mean it for the reasons stated above.

  6. Blair comments:

    Wow, long comment…my apologies for that.

  7. Matt Golladay comments:

    Long but very good response. Im voting yes tomorrow.

  8. Dustin comments:

    Great post, and very thoughtful. I agree, and think you really make the point by saying MAPS has improved our quality of life already. I also share the concerns about the convention center, and for the exact reasons you state: it makes development look like economic growth, rather than developing any quality of life, which is, I know, a hazy term.

    But in most cases, urban quality of life, reflected in semi-concrete terms in cities we all name and love (NYC, Seattle, Boston, SF, Chicago, etc.) is a fluid combo of history (which we have but not as long as many big-name cities), infrastructure, cultural distinctives, services, etc. Usually it involves options in mass transit and personal, parks, plenty of office space, natural reserves, and commercial investment. Small living, big living, cheap rents, luxury-for sales. Developing that diversity seems to be something that comes from working to ease infrastructure and public space into something people can and do use. Locating folks (which means having anywhere for folks to locate) near these services builds the density we so keenly lack here to uphold neighborhoods with a fuller array of goods and services.

    Yet starting from a convention center on down seems to be planning by way of trickle-down only, and while we might have a world class conv. ctr, we won’t have any reason for folks to come visit it. We have no natural beauty in the immediate area (save for the river, which is gaining ground) like Denver, no status as NYC/Boston etc. does, nor even the specific cultural draw of an Austin, Seattle, Portland, etc.

    Developing these things is mostly a work of the people anyways, but MAPS can waste money that could help repair some daft decisions in our past in terms of urbanity.

    All that blah blah (sorry for the rant, it’s late) to say, I probably will vote yes too, because I do know the good that can come, and I do trust voices like yours, and even some on the councils involved, who know way more than I do. And every other thing besides the convention center is valuable to OKC, even the lame cosmetic trolley. starting somewhere I guess.

    Meanwhile, I will work diligently on our OKC Lonely Planet book. Or a Not For Tourists book. or something.

  9. Tyler comments:

    Point taken.

  10. Blair comments:

    “Point taken.”

    Yeh, I got a little carried away with that one. Next time I will offer a response sans espresso.

  11. Nick Roberts comments:

    I would make an argument that Houston has a great quality of life, maybe not the best, but you’d be surprised how urban and sustainable large swaths of Houston are..pretty much the whole Inner Loop. And just so you know, I am speaking as someone who grew up in Houston.

  12. Nick Roberts comments:

    Ooh that came off a lot more snide than I wanted.. I just meant that in a joking “don’t even try arguing” kind of way..

  13. Chad Reynolds comments:

    Blair, great article, and great to hear that you and your wife are moving back. As soon as you’re here, drop me a line so Emily and I can invite you over for a drink to celebrate MAPS passing and Blair returning!

  14. Blair comments:

    Chad – that would be great! Look forward to it!

  15. David Alston comments:

    I’m a bit late on the comments here, but when I visited Denver recently I noticed that their light rail was the catalyst for most of their downtown activity. Parking is impossible to find there and most of the people who work downtown use light rail for their commute. Oklahoma City is moving in the right direction with this entire project. The skeptical side of me wonders if we can pull off the logistics and keep a management team in place at the city that will stay on track.

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