Posts about Public Participation

Sustainlane.com on Sustainability in OKC

April 13th, 2009

Sustainlane.com recently ranked Oklahoma City 49th in sustainability among major U.S. Cities, but their message remains very positive.  It seems OKC is on the cusp of making significant progress in this area, with Mayor Cornett leading initiatives tackling obesity and the possibility for MAPS 3 public transportation investment.  Here is the breakdown:

By the way, Portland, OR topped the list at #1 and Mesa, AZ came in last at #50.  For the complete article on OKC click here or check out the complete rankings.

Back Under Center

March 16th, 2009

The Oklahoman’s Monday Morning Quarterbacks section has once again written a blurb about imagiNATIVEamerica.  This time referencing the “A Convention Center IS NOT About Quality of Life” post.  Here is what they had to say:

MAPS for who?

Who will MAPS 3 be for? That’s one question on the mind of Oklahoma City native Blair Humphreys. “My impression has always been that MAPS was about focusing less on what outsiders want and more on what the people of Oklahoma City want,” Humphreys writes on his blog at imaginativeamerica.com. Humphreys said he has asked for and wants more information about the report recommending the city build a bigger, better convention center and doesn’t know if such a move would take too much focus and money away from quality-of-life type improvements that were the hallmark of the original MAPS.



Is this the start of an transparent public discussion?  I’ll cross my fingers.


MAPS 3 Convention Center to Cost between $250-400 mil

March 10th, 2009

My immediate reaction when I read this was to wonder how much money would be left for the other MAPS 3 projects – public transit and the downtown central park.  My impression has always been that MAPS was about focusing less on what outsiders want and more on what the people of Oklahoma City want.  Mayor Norick used to tell the story of how after OKC’s incentive package was rejected by United Airlines, he visited Indianapolis to see what they had that OKC did not.  It was there that he realized the quality of life was the difference, which inspired him to create MAPS, providing a way to invest in ourselves and create a place where both people and businesses want to be.

Mayor Cornett echoed this thinking in his State of the City address:

…we’ve also focused on building a city where people want to live. In fact, when you look at what we have and how far we’ve come in adding and improving amenities like libraries, sports arenas, music halls, canals and a river you see many of the reasons why the quality of life in Oklahoma City has so dramatically improved and so many jobs have been created.

And discussed the three elements in MAPS 3:

The first is public transportation. The second is a centrally located, large public park…while these two initiatives are focused directly on the quality of life for our residents, we have a third important opportunity that focuses directly on our economy and indirectly on job creation. And that is a resolution to our undersized, and thus underutilized, convention center.


PUTTING IT IN PERSPECTIVE

My sense right now is that with this convention proposal we are beginning to deviate from the original idea behind MAPS.  While we, as of yet, don’t know how much will be spent on the quality of life elements in MAPS 3; currently, when you add in the proposed convention center to the project mix from the original MAPS, less than half of the total dollars spent are going to quality of life elements.

Quality of Life elements in original MAPS projects

Ballpark: $34 mil
Canal: $23 mil
Civic Center: $53 mil
Ford Center: $87 mil*
Library: $21.5 mil
Oklahoma River: $53.5 mil
Transportation: $5 mil

Total investment in QUALITY OF LIFE: 277 million dollars



Convention/Tourism elements in MAPS projects and proposed

Fairgrounds: $14 mil
Cox Expansion: $60 mil
Proposed Convention Center: $250 – 400 mil

Total investment in CONVENTION/TOURISM: 324 – 474 million dollars

*this does not include the estimated $121.6 million raised for Ford Center improvements through the Big League City campaign.
Also, this excludes Maps for Kids which specifically targeted improving public school facilities


WAITING FOR THE FACTS

Interests within the city have been working toward a MAPS 3 convention center for sometime.  Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CSL) was hired by the Chamber of Commerce to consult on Oklahoma City’s convention needs – I am not sure of the exact date but sometime before last summer.   As of right now, the CSL Tier II convention center report has still not been released by the OKC Convention & Visitors Bureau to the public.  I have requested a copy of the draft report, but have thus far been denied.  Until I have an opportunity to review the report and other information related to the convention center, I don’t plan to take a definite position on whether the convention center is worth the money and should be part of MAPS 3 (I also don’t plan to take a definite position on where it should be located if it is built).  Of course, this is problematic as the public discussion weighing the merits of the proposed convention center is now in full-swing, with only the pro-convention center lobby having access to the study.

In the meantime, I can only hope that the quality of life elements – public transportation and the downtown park – will remain the clear priority.

Improving Public Participation: Thank you Mr. Claus!

February 25th, 2009

A while back we discussed some ways to improve public participation in Oklahoma City.  I think some good ideas came out of the discussion and have been hoping that the ideas would be considered at City Hall.  Still, often it is hard to tell whether the decision-makers take note of this blog, or anything else posted on the internet for that matter (except you Steve, we know they read OKCCentral).   I have often wondered if time spent writing formal letters and making phone calls would be more effective at getting things done, but abandoned this course of action because 1. it is boring 2. lacks transparency and 3. feel that the web is a superior medium for communicating ideas.  Ultimately, it will have to be the decision-makers that adapt to the new ways of communicating with constituents that are made possible by the web.  And some of OKC’s decision-makers are already ahead of the game!  I must say that I was quite pleased when Russell Claus, Director of the Oklahoma City Planning Department, dropped by the site to contribute to the discussion with the following comment:

Duly noted. ensuring a better web site is a high priority of mine, and a lot of your suggestions coincide with my own ideas for improvement. But, as you would appreciate, spare staff time to manage this is at an extreme premium. I’m trying to rectify this with the addition of an outreach position, something I’ve included in my last 3 years budget requests. I consider an effective citizen communications program an essential for any planning department and hopefully, I can make that happen soon. I apologize for the deficiencies in the interim. Thanks for everyone’s input

I consider Russell a good friend.  I had the pleasure of interning under him in the Planning Department’s Urban Redevelopment Division and think the city did well to promote him to Director.  I believe him when he says that these things are a priority and look forward to seeing public participation improve during his tenure.  With the challenges of implementing new systems and hiring new people at a time when the economy is hurting and municipalities are having to shrink budgets, we may have to wait a while to see all of this come about.

In the meantime, I will again offer to map the agenda items for free (as I did in the comments on 1/15):

I will definitely pledge to make a Google map of every agenda from this point forward in 2009 if the city will give me the information in a spreadsheet format I can use…

I think this single change could make for a significant improvement and lead to a number of new participants in the public process.  Though admittedly, depending on how the information is currently formatted, preparing the information in the spreadsheet may require city staff time that is just not available.

Either way, when city leaders enter into a dialagoue with consituents – be it in person or online – public participation can only be improved.  So thank you Mr. Claus!

Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives

February 13th, 2009

Okay, lets get down to it. In the first post I argued that the current Chamber building proposal is flawed and requires a new approach. Part II laid out some basic information on the site and hopefully convinced you of its importance to downtown as the nexus between multiple urban districts.

Now, lets establish what the Chamber site should be; laying out what the plan for the site needs to accomplish and what elements must be incorporated into this plan.



WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH

It is impossible to plan the site without a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve. Here, two things matter. First, there are the objectives of the Chamber, made up of their needs and desires for the building and site. But these objectives cannot be established in isolation; they must relate to the broader goals we are pursuing within downtown and the areas surrounding the site. An understanding of these broader goals combined with the requirements of the Chamber should give us the information needed to put forth a realistic proposal that meets the objectives of all parties.


One element the Chamber hopes to incorporate into their plan is a public space to honor OKC business leaders.

CHAMBER BUILDING OBJECTIVES

The Chamber has expressed a number of goals for the project that are specific to their needs, mission and prominent role in Oklahoma City. Based on the information about the project that has appeared thus far, I have created this list of objectives and requirements:

  • building of approx. 50,000 square feet
  • maintain views of historic Oklahoman Building
  • create a “front door” for the community
  • allow people to walk from convention center
  • an iconic design
  • includes a public space/plaza to honor business leaders
  • convenient parking



BROADER DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT OBJECTIVES

It requires a lengthy process, collaborating with multiple stakeholder groups, to establish a set of broader goals for a community, a process that this blog has neither the time nor capacity to take on. Thankfully though, such a process has already taken place and provides an acceptable framework to guide the broader objectives of our plan.


One of the most repeated goals stated by leaders of the OKC community is to make Downtown more pedestrian-friendly.

The Downtown Design District (§ 59-7200) guidelines have these five stated objectives:

(1) promote the development and redevelopment of the downtown area in a manner consistent with the unique and diverse design elements of downtown;

(2) ensure that a DBD use is compatible with the commercial, cultural, historical, and governmental significance of downtown;

(3) promote the downtown area as a vital mixed-use area;

(4) create a network of pleasant public spaces and pedestrian amenities in the downtown area, and;

(5) enhance existing structures, preserve and restore historic features, and circulation patterns in the downtown area.

It is probably not fair to judge by legal language alone. However, the message from the downtown community has been very consistent in supporting these goals across the board. For instance, a quick scan of the internet found quotes from city leaders, real estate professionals, planners and more; all reaffirming that #4 – making the city more “pedestrian-friendly” – is not only one of the codified objectives, but a genuine goal of people from across the downtown community.

Here are a range of quotes from across the city that echo the priorities of the Downtown Design guidelines:

…The city is trying to change into a city that is less sprawling, has more density and is more pedestrian friendly…

- Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City

Pedestrian traffic has to be addressed. For two years, I have been a downtown walker from West Main to Midtown to Bricktown all the way to the river. We need to improve our core to make it more pedestrian friendly. This also includes bicycles now. The new bike rack plan for Bricktown is a step in the right direction…I am a proponent of walking outside. I think it creates energy on the streets. Although the Underground is a nice alternative for very windy or cold or rainy days, I like to see people on the streets. This is also good for our tourism. We need to encourage people to walk … might help their health, too….improving our pedestrian traffic needs to be on the agenda for further discussion including input from urban neighbors and downtown workers.

- Judy Hatfield, Downtown Developer

Pedestrian issues are very big on our priority list.

- Jeff Bezdek, Urban Neighbors (Downtown’s Neighborhood Association)

Pedestrian flow is the real key to the overall success of not only Core to Shore, but also the sustained viability of the other points of interest our city has to offer to locals and out-of-towners as well. We have the ability in Oklahoma City to mitigate a lot of the horror stories other markets have seen by learning from their mistakes and being proactive. Our CBD is small enough that if you’re a tourist and coming into town for an NBA game, or an NCAA event, you could conceivably take in everything from Bricktown to Midtown to Core to Shore on foot over the course of a weekend.

- Brent Conway, CB Richard Ellis

We want to create more of an urban feeling. – Framing the streets and providing for a more secure sense of a pedestrian life. It’s not suburban in style.

- Terry Taylor, formerly of the Oklahoma City Planning Department



ELEMENTS OF THE PLAN

Reading through the objectives of both the Chamber and the broader downtown community, you see that at a base-level there is not much conflict. The requirements for the building do not indicate that it would have to, in anyway, detract from the type of downtown we desire. In fact, the Chamber is more or less the ideal partner, hoping to create a high quality building, include public space, provide for pedestrian connectivity, and preserve historic assets. The only element that there is not a conclusive agreement on is the mixture of uses within the building. The city rightly encourages “mixed-use” because it contributes to a thriving downtown and creates opportunities for urban retail. However, the Chamber building is in some ways a true civic building – not dissimilar from a courthouse or city hall. So perhaps the absence of a mixture of uses in the Chamber building is not only acceptable, but appropriate.

Now that we have identified the objectives of all parties and established that there are no conflicts to resolve, it is fairly simple to construct a list of what the Chamber site plan should include.


Designed by Layton & Smith and constructed in 1909, the Oklahoman Building remains one of OKC’s most beautiful buildings.

THE CHAMBER SITE PLAN SHOULD:

(1) Provide for a prominently positioned “iconic” building – 50,000 sf in size – welcoming visitors to the city

(2) Preserve views of the historic Oklahoman Building on the northeast corner of 4th and Broadway

(3) Create suitable pedestrian connections, especially along Broadway between the CBD/Bricktown areas and the Automobile Alley/Memorial area, and between the residential neighborhoods east of the site and the rest of downtown, along 3rd and/or 4th street

(4) Serve as the impetus for additional development adjacent to the Site to create a vital mixed-use area. Opportunities include the redevelopment of the drive-thru bank south of the site, the development of the parking lot northwest of the site, and the potential enhancement of Automobile Alley as a retail/mixed-use corridor.

(5) Provide convenient parking that is appropriate within the urban context of the site

(6) Allow room for a great public space that not only provides an opportunity to honor Oklahoma City’s business leaders, but significantly enhances the civic quality of life for the entire community. Its a place to congregate, to celebrate, to relax, or to play. It should be a great urban public space – an outdoor community living room!

Oddly enough, Oklahoma City once had just such a public space – our first downtown park – and it was located at 4th and Broadway.

Continue reading: Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space!

For more on the planning of the Chamber site:

1. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal
2. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II
3. Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives
4. Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space

ULI Oklahoma: Bringing Retail to the City

January 21st, 2009

Before I headed north for grad school, I had the pleasure of getting involved with ULI and the new District Council in Oklahoma City.  ULI – yes, the same ULI hosting the competition in which I am currently participating – stands for the Urban Land Institute and they are without a doubt the premiere land planning and development organization in the world today. Over the last few years ULI Oklahoma has come into being and is now putting on a number of great events that bring relevant development, land-use, and urban experts to Oklahoma City, creating: a source for great information, a forum for the exchange of ideas, and a platform to influence the future of OKC’s development for the better.

ULI’s latest event is a can’t miss for anyone interested in bringing retail to OKC’s urban neighborhoods – especially downtown – or if you are just wanting to hear Jane Jenkins’, the new Executive Director of Downtown, Inc, thoughts on urban retail.  The event is in two weeks on Wednesday, February 4th from 11:30am – 1:00pm. Check out the description below and then head uli.org to sign up.  Tickets cost $40.

Urban Land Institute, International Council of Shopping Centers and Commercial Real Estate Council Presents

REVITALIZING URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD RETAIL DISTRICTS

February 4, 2009 11:30am – 1:00pm
Skirvin Hilton Hotel, Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City is at the center of national attention. The debut of Oklahoma City’s new NBA franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder, has the community excited. Successfully hosting the Beijing Olympic qualifying trials for kayaking and canoeing along the Oklahoma River has solidified the city’s big league reputation. Devon Energy Corporation recently announced the construction of the state’s tallest building, a 54- story skyscraper in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City. The U. S. Conference of Mayors and the National Main Street Center have scheduled their respective annual conventions for 2010 in Oklahoma City. Now, the impact of Oklahoma City’s bold new development plan, Core to Shore, is just beginning to unfold!

WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett

Oklahoma City Mayor, Mick Cornett, stands for efficient government and responsible leadership, and has worked to promote an inclusive and optimistic vision of Oklahoma City, one driven by bold ideas. Join Mayor Cornett to become a part of this vision, as we explore the future and challenges ahead for Oklahoma City. Cornett’s humble nature, intense work ethic and optimistic attitude have become emblematic of a city that, as Cornett says, “works hard and dreams big.” As the global economy changes, Oklahoma City is positioning itself to become a national leader in urban development.

For the last two years, Mayor Cornett has championed an effort to transform over 1,000 acres of underutilized and vacant properties between the downtown core and the Oklahoma River. His community-wide steering committee created a plan to expand downtown to the river. The plan is called Core to Shore. The bold new plan positions Oklahoma City to become a tier-two convention city with a new convention center, convention center hotel, grand scale park flanked by high density retail, office and residential communities. Complimenting the plan are multi-modal areas for walking, biking, scooters, public transit, biking trails, promenades, an events center, a renovated Union Train Station, a pedestrian bridge spanning the relocated Interstate-40,schools and areas to support expanded services like daycares, cultural centers, and health and wellness centers. The plan also strengthens links to Oklahoma City’s newest river developments, including the American Indian Cultural Center, the Chesapeake Boathouse, University Boathouse Row, and the Dell Corporation headquarters.

KEYNOTE ADDRESS

Brad Segal will present the:

“Top 10 Global Trends Affecting Downtowns and How to Respond at Home”

Brad Segal is president of Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.), a consulting firm specializing in strategic problem-solving for downtowns and communities. The firm has developed an unprecedented body of research that analyzes the top changes, draws conclusions and recommends tangible actions. In consultation with the International Downtown Association, the firm has identified ten major trends affecting American downtowns. Segal will present these trends by demographics, lifestyles and global competition.

PANEL DISCUSSION moderated by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett:

Hear from a panel of highly successful urban retail/business district executives from various regions and cities about creating, implementing and managing a highly strategic and successful business marketplace operation in spite of today’s issues and challenges. Learn what it takes to survive and thrive, and what the future of the district organization will look like in order to be successful.

Participants will learn:
· The most creative ways to make your district a destination
· How to attract the retailers and businesses you want
· How to enhance your district’s competitiveness both locally and nationally
· The hottest strategic creative business development trends
· Investor/developer marketing and membership development strategies
· How to retain those retailers and businesses you’ve worked so hard to get

Panelists include:
Jane Jenkins, Downtown Boulder Business Improvement District. and incoming Downtown OKC, Inc. President
Kourtney Garrett, Downtown Dallas
Midge McAuley, Downtown Works, a retail consultant to cities nationwide, including Downtown Austin

Who Should Attend:
Elected officials, municipal, county and state officials; urban residential and mixed-use developers; government and community leaders; urban redevelopment and economic development specialists; architects, engineers and urban planners; retail,cultural, entertainment, film and music professionals; Main Street and neighborhood district organization managers and board members; real estate brokers, consultants, advisors and managers; and, public art and cultural facility directors.

Improving Public Participation in OKC

January 14th, 2009

Following yesterday’s post, I thought it would be best to give some examples of places that citizens get tied in and expand a bit on what the city can do to help. First place I went to get information was the OKC Planning Department’s website.  I had the privilege of working as an intern at the planning department prior to starting my graduate program and hold the people there in very high regard.  Checking out their website, I noticed that they do a good job of making the agendas for upcoming meeting readily available on the right side of the page, which I have made available for you below:

Having the agendas easy to find is great, but there are still some things that need to be addressed.  Here are some of my suggestions, and I encourage you to go through the motions and see if you have any suggestions of your own.  With a few small improvements we can make it much easier for the average citizen to get and stay meaningfully involved.


FIX THE LINKS

Not all of the agenda links are working correctly.  The links for the Board of Adjustements and Planning Commission take you to a page with meeting times, but no agenda.  And the Stockyard Urban Design Committee link hasn’t been updated since October.  This is basic and should be fixed quickly!


RELEASE AGENDA ITEMS EARLIER

State law requires that the agenda be made available at least 24 hours prior to the meeting, not including weekends or holidays.  But most of the time the agenda are already complete before this, with copies available to board members, and the individual items that are likely to appear on the agenda are known well in advance of the meeting as they often require that neighbors on adjacent properties be contacted.  The problem is, if you are simply an active citizen that cares about what is happening in an area in which you don’t own property and do not legally have to be contacted, you will usually only have around 24 hours to download the agenda, read the entire thing (goodluck – the most recent planning commission agenda was over 500 pages) and decide which items if any deserve your attention.  You probably don’t have enough time to contact anyone and certainly not enough time to fire off a formal letter, so you have to decide if you want to go to the meeting.  But even then, the item descriptions provided in the agenda are usually only detailed enough to arouse your interest or anger, but do not give you all of the information needed to keep you from looking like a completely uninformed idiot in front of the committee.  Making the agenda items available at least one week prior to the meeting would allow time to ask questions, hold discussions, organize, compromise, etc.


ADD THE DATE AND TIME TO FRONTPAGE

People should not have to download a .pdf agenda or scour google to find out the date and time of the next meeting; this information should be easy to find.  Along these lines, though requiring more effort, if we really want people to become involved then we shouldn’t require them to sit through an entire half-day long meeting only to speak to one item.  Either the agenda should be broken up to give shorter time slots in which people could attend and speak to the item of interest, or some other solution – such as allowing comments to be submitted via email and read at the meeting – should be sought out.


GOOGLE MAP THE AGENDA ITEMS

It is incredibly difficult to look through multiple agendas in search of things that may be of interest to you.  As mentioned, this weeks Planning Commission agenda is over 500 pages long, and over 100mb in download size.  As you scan through the agendas, you have to look for the address on each item and then figure out exactly where this is located relative to the areas with which you are concerned.  This is overly cumbersome and I doubt anyone does this on a regular basis.

Agenda items mapped by location allow users to quickly find the information that is most important to them.

It is not too much to ask to have the agendas for all meeting provided in the form of a google map.  It is very simple to input a spreadsheet of addresses and be left with a map that could include the agenda item name, type, and a link to the rest of the relevant information (like in the example shown above).  That is the basics and is very simple to do. In fact, with a little tweaking it could be dynamically setup to update automatically as the individual agenda items are cleared for the agenda.

Allowing users to define their areas of interests would allow people to stay connected with what is going on in the areas they care about.

Eventually, if we are really going to strive for excellence and not just for what is required.  Then the system should allow citizens to create boundaries of interest.  So say for instance that that I am interested in all of the planning and development taking place in and around Bricktown and also up on Western Avenue between 36th and 50th.  The system would allow you indicate this through a map interface and then send you a feed straight to your email inbox or feed service of your choice with the agenda items that fall within your specified boundaries.  You wouldn’t even have to navigate to a webpage to view the map, it would happen instantly, as soon as the agenda items are uploaded into the system.  AND, you wouldn’t have to scour multiple agenda from different branches of the planning department – or of the city for that matter – but would be notified of ALL agenda items from EVERY department that fall within the parameters you set forth.  Of course, even without the feed and with just the map, the information becomes much simpler to navigate:

With the Agenda Map, you just click on the item of interest and it gives a brief description with links to more information.

This can all be done today by every city department for relatively little in cost and just a small amount of know-how.  With such a system, I really think we would see tremendous breakthroughs in the level of civic participation and contribution by the citizens of the city.

What do you think?  Do you already attend these meetings on a regular basis?  Would you be more likely to if these changes were implemented?  Has anyone ever read an entire planning commission agenda…?