If you haven’t already, check out Jeff Speck’s recommendations for downtown Oklahoma City. This report will be at the center of much discussion over the next few years and I think it is important for everyone interested in downtown to become familiar with the concepts – whether you agree with his recommendations or not. I have uploaded it so that you can view it online (just click below) without having to download it, or if you prefer to download it, that option is available as well.
More downtown housing creates more pedestrians, more demand for retail, and an altogether more vibrant downtown. So what creates more housing?…a modern streetcar system for one. In my opinion, this is the appropriate strategy for laying out the route of the (hopefully MAPS 3) downtown trolley system. Existing proposals that attempt to be all things to all people – connecting every node of downtown with every surrounding center of employment – fail to consider the development generating power of streetcars.
From Speck’s Oklahoma City Walkability Analysis:
Oklahoma City is in the process of considering a downtown streetcar system, which is another way of describing a trolley on rails. Many cities have built these systems, and some have been very successful while others have never caught on. The key to creating a successful trolley system is to understand that these systems are principally useful not as a means of mobility but as a tool for increasing the value of real estate. The story of Portland’s trolley in the Pearl District is the story of millions in public investment leading to billions in private investment, because the rail line was planned in conjunction with thousands of units of new housing, which was made desirable by its presence on a rail line. The lesson learned there and elsewhere is that the path of a new streetcar must be carefully coordinated with planned housing if the transit investment is to pay off.
To add to what Speck said, consider this. How great can the benefit of streetcars be in places that are already fully-developed for people traveling by car alone? Now think of how many empty storefronts, underutilized buildings, and bare lots exists, in and around downtown, that might benefit more from the addition of streetcars. Streetcars are not just for connecting active places, they are for creating active places. Before the MAPS 3 streetcars system is implemented we need a plan that understands transit’s ability to catalyze new development and create density.
The proposal would put Oklahoma City on a high-speed passenger rail line that would connect: San Antonio – Austin – Dallas – OKC – Tulsa. Please discuss. This is huge! Hard to even get my head around how big of an impact this would have on life along the I-35 corridor and throughout the United States.
And by the way, I like how they call the line “South Central.” I have always struggled to say where Oklahoma is…”it is erhh Southwest, but kind-of near the Midwest.” Anyway, south central works for me…of course, you should say “South Central United States” because “South Central America” is reserved for another place with a canal a little bit bigger then what we got in Bricktown, but I doubt it has as cool of website.
Speaking of Panama, here is a palindrome to enjoy on this beautiful Friday morning:
This is not the first time I have posted a time-lapse video, but this is the first time I have posted one that I produced. I worked on the video as part of a studio site analysis project that I presented earlier this week. It is my first time-lapse attempt and there are definitely some kinks to work out (most noticeably the fact that every time a train passes the camera shakes a little). Still, I think it is pretty cool. Watch it and let me know what you think. If you have a short attention span then fast-forward to around the 50 second mark and watch from there. Cheers!
Pedestrian path movement can be analyzed using video reworked with computer animation software.
More often than not, cars follow the paths prescribed by traffic engineers but pedestrians are a different story. Many pedestrians venture outside the lines, whether to save time, energy, or take a route for which a path is not provided. In some cases, these improvised pedestrian routes can be identified by the dirt path that develops through repeated use – this usually a clear sign that there is a problem with the form and paths provided. But in most cases, we fail to sufficiently understand pedestrian behavior and design in ways that exhibit this lack of understanding.
It is hard to study pedestrian behavior in cities without an ample supply of pedestrians. But it is a historic lack of understanding and adequate attention that has created this dilemma. The more attention we give to an analysis of pedestrians and the way they interact with the city, the more appropriate our design solutions will be, resulting in an increase in pedestrian users over time.
Right now there is very little (i.e. zero) analysis of this type taking place in Oklahoma City. This is unfortunate but expected from a city that long ago decided to focus only on mobility as it relates to automobiles. Hopefully, public works will begin to treat pedestrian issues like they matter, developing a process for analyzing circulation at least within active areas where pedestrian-friendliness is a stated priority (e.g. Downtown and Bricktown). It might even be interesting to do “traffic counts” in the Underground to see how many pedestrians we are keeping off the streets.
But until that happens we can do some rudimentary analysis by identifying where pedestrian circulation problems are shown to exists – dirt paths. So does anyone know of any dirt paths in Downtown or Bricktown? I can think of a few, but am hoping you all can chime in with some examples I don’t know.
I just attended a lecture series featuring Enrique Peñalosa, a former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. He is considered a visionary for his work in Bogotá that included major enhancements to quality of life through investments in bike/pedestrian infrastructure, construction of a groundbreaking bus rapid transit system (BRT) and introduction of unique community events like Ciclovia.
It was an enthusiastic presentation and I was fairly intrigued by a number of his ideas. Certainly there are contextual differences between Colombia and the United States that make some of what he has accomplished difficult to apply here, but a number of his principles seem universal and I think they are worth sharing. These notes are not all exact quotes, but are a mix of quotes and paraphrasing.
What is a Good City?
Quoted Jan Gehl, “A Good City is one where people want to be out of their houses!”
A Good City:
is not malls, but public space and parks.
has places for people to walk and to be with other people.
gives people needed spaces to play
does not make some people feel inferior
A Good City looks out for the most vulnerable citizens: elderly, children, disabled. He recommended that public officials should be required to navigate the city one day a year in a wheel chair.
A child on a bicycle can go safely anywhere in the Good City!
Cars = Monsters? No, but…
While cars are great thing and provide a great service, the poor design of our cities has turned them into monsters. If you say to a child, “Watch out, a car is coming.” They will likely jump out of fright. And for good reason: over 200,000 children are killed each year by automobiles. The answer is not more separated infrastructure for cars, but integrated infrastructure that values all persons equally independent of their mode of travel.
How to Measure of a Proposed Intervention: Does IT make the city more pleasant to walk in?
Comparison of space usage by cars, buses, and bikes. Münster, Germany was one city mentioned by the Mayor that provides excellent bike infrastructure.
On Public Spaces: sidewalks, parks, bike lanes, etc
Sidewalks are not relatives of streets – they are not paths simply for moving. Sidewalks are more closely related to parks and plazas. They are places to play and congregate.
The allocation of space between streets and sidewalk for any given area should be based on maximizing happiness.
When shopping malls replace public space it is the result of a sick city with poorly performing public spaces. People are not stupid, they go to the shopping malls because it offers a pedestrian environment they can’t find anywhere else.
Human like hard surfaces. We have to understand that there are places for parks and places for plazas. Ultimately cities are a human habitat and sometimes hard surfaces are appropriate.
Synthetic soccer fields are better at reducing crime in poor neighborhoods than extra police stations. If you don’t provide space for teens to play, then they will find other things to do with their time.
With limited resources, there are always questions as to what comes first. For instance, when we have to decide between paving a street or installing a skate park, we will choose to build the skate park. Cars will be okay on the mud roads, but the skate park enhances the quality of life to a greater degree per dollar spent.
Adding nice bike lanes not only makes biking easier, but changes the social status of bicyclist by sending a signal to everyone that they are important.
Parking is not a constitutional right!
Twenty percent of Bogotá car-owners ride public transportation to work.
Transport and Bus Rapid Transit
You CANNOT design transport without first knowing the type of city you want! Transport is a political decision: How much space do we want to give to cars and how much to people? Engineers will tell you how many cars can travel on a given road, but you have to decide as a community how many cars you want to have. If they made more space for cars in New York City or London, there would be more cars. So ultimately it boils down to politics and the will of the community.
To have a good BRT system you should plan on spending between $8 – 16 million per mile.
Suburbs provide something urban areas need: good schools, open space, etc.
The best density that is most often seen throughout the world is buildings between four and six stories tall.
— Coming Up Next Week
Okay, I know the notes are a little disorganized, but I thought they were worth posting. I will have the next section on Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal up by Monday. We will take a look at the current and historical context of the site and surrounding areas. We are going to work through this “re-visioning” process one step at a time. It may go a bit slow at first, but I think it will provide a better solution in the end.
Talking, not walking
We beat Miami! Um, no. Not in basketball. Miami was the only city Oklahoma City beat in recent fattest cities list from the magazine Men’s Fitness. Blogger Blair Humphreys, an Oklahoma City native studying in Boston, wrote at imaginativeamerica.com that despite the citywide diet, our fair city bumped up the list and is “just a few burgers away” from taking the cake. Humphreys wrote that Mayor Mick Cornett’s diet plan didn’t seem to help the ranking and that better-performing cities seemed to have planning and policies that encouraged more activity. “As for OKC,” he wrote, “we are talking the talk, but we are simply not walking anywhere.”
Well, not sure if this is the post I would have preferred to get press for and I take offense to being called a “Monday Morning Quarterback” as I have been pushing for better planning and improvements in walkability since before the citywide diet was created and certainly before the Men’s Fitness rankings were released. But oh well, I guess it will have to do.
I think one of my earlier comments sums up my take on the whole thing:
I will join you in tipping my hat to the Mayor for creating more awareness of the problem, but also encourage anyone and everyone to take serious the impact that our built form and public infrastructure has on the health of OKC residents!
Hopefully, this will be the start of a bigger conversation about the limitations of our wholly auto-focused infrastructure and how it hinders people’s ability to live a healthier lifestyle. I am really not worried about what Men’s Fitness thinks of us, but I am worried about improving the quality of life in OKC! And we need to take seriously the health consequences associated with the way we are currently planning and developing our city.
If this is your first time to visit – welcome – and please check out my best posts of 2008 to get a better feel for the regular content. Thanks!
Here is a lengthy excerpt from Mayor Cornett’s speech:
But today, I am here to tell you that there is much work to be done. And while our momentum is still moving, and our position relative to the rest of the United States is strong, now is not the time to slow down.
So now let us view the city with fresh eyes, concentrating not so much on what we have but what we don’t have. To begin with, look around the country. From a quality of life perspective, there are two high profile shortcomings, two areas that, if addressed, would dramatically further our ascension as a city where people want to live.
The first is public transportation. The second is a centrally located, large public park. Let me expand on these two topics.
Providing quality public transit in Oklahoma City is a difficult task. We were built around the automobile, and as a result, we are spread out. We don’t have the density to easily do it well. We don’t have the density to do it efficiently. So, we have built-in excuses. We have developed into a city where if you don’t own a car, you are out of luck.
But if we truly want to progress as a city, we have to do better.
I have told you that in these addresses before. During my five years in office, I have used this platform to push this conversation forward. Today, I am here to tell you that the time has arrived to take another step.
I urge each of you to check out the Fixed Guideway Study that provides our blueprint for a 21st Century transit system. It can be found at on the Internet at OKFGS.org.
Fully implemented, it calls for a greatly enhanced bus system, including Bus Rapid Transit, and there are also light rail and downtown streetcar components. This blueprint is complete. You may recall we spent a year and a half on the study.
We now know enough to get started, and there are a number of places we can start. But the key is that we need to get started. Not so much for today, because we are not in a public transit crisis. But transit programs take years, if not decades, to implement. Most cities wait until their highways are at gridlock before they begin taking action. Our city has a history of planning for the future, and now is the time to get started. It will take vision from each and every one of us. When gas if affordable and traffic runs smoothly, it can be difficult to gather support for public transit. I will need your help.
The large central park in the Core to Shore project is also critical to our city’s future, and necessary to our ability to adapt to the relocation of Interstate 40. A year ago, in this State of the City address, I showed you the first conceptual images of the Core to Shore project.
Since then you’ve seen them in many other places, and you’ve probably followed the announcement of the first signature project, the Oklahoma City SkyDance pedestrian bridge over the new I-40.
We have never built anything like this before in Oklahoma City, and this bridge will become an iconic image for the millions of motorists who pass through our city. Let this be the first signal that we are serious about Core to Shore, and it also serves notice that we are raising the standards for design in this city. But there is much more to Core to Shore.
The Core to Shore plan is the result of a large and inclusive civic planning process, and it illustrates the benefits of building a large central park that connects the core of downtown to the shore of the Oklahoma River. Also central to the project is the at-grade boulevard that will replace the current I-40. This boulevard won’t just be a street that gets you from point A to point B. With this boulevard, we have the opportunity to create one of the most special streets in the United States.
This opportunity comes upon us because of the relocation of I-40. That relocation will remove the physical barrier that has separated downtown from the River and everything in between. Now, we have the opportunity few cities ever get. We can create a new urban center, just blocks from our central business district. The park and the boulevard are the lynchpins, and they serve as the catalyst for future retail, housing, and a potential Convention Center, which I’ll discuss in a moment.
A fully programmed urban park that ties to the Myriad Gardens and retail development along the new boulevard will be yet another eye-popping signal that Oklahoma City is moving forward. Combined with a public transit system that we can be proud of, a citywide sidewalk program that is already under construction, and a growing trend toward density in the inner-city, the park can be another giant step towards creating the pedestrian-friendly community that we desire. The timeline is doable. Keep in mind, the interstate should be relocated in 2012. The resulting boulevard that will be built along the current interstate alignment should be in place by 2014. The park, ideally, needs to be ready at the same time, roughly five years from now. But like an expansion of public transit, the park is not currently funded.
Together, better public transit and the creation of the Core to Shore park are significant “quality of life” amenities. You have heard me say before that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. I suggest that for transit and the Core to Shore park, that time has come.
You have heard me say before that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. I suggest that for transit and the Core to Shore park, that time has come.
The only decisions left are how we proceed and how soon.
And 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. We are in it today. This building was constructed in 1972 and was last improved in 1999. In 1999, we had one downtown hotel and it wasn’t doing all that well. Now we are soon to have seven downtown hotels and counting. And it appears they are all healthy. But we are currently losing convention business we could otherwise obtain because of the size of this facility.
Kudos to the Mayor for taking a stand on public transit. The time truly has come! Designing the park and deciding on the details of the transit system will give us plenty to discuss in the coming months. And I look forward also to arguing why the placement of a new convention center along the length of the eastern edge of the new park is nothing short of a terrible idea! You would think one under utilized downtown park ruined by an adjacent convention center would be enough, but apparently we want another one.
Time is of the essence – if they are going to put this to a vote in the fall then the plans will have to be nearly complete sometime this summer. But for now, Maps3 is on the horizon and public transit is coming with it – enjoy it. It is a good day!
In the course of my thesis research I have tracked down a copy of the 1910 plan prepared for the Oklahoma City Parks Commission by W.H. Dunn, a landscape architect from Kansas City. The book entitled: Oklahoma City: A report on its plan for an Outer Parkway and a plan for an Interior System of parks and boulevards (the complete report is available in .pdf – see below). This may very well be the first formal plan prepared for Oklahoma City, though there were previous planning efforts for individual developments like Classen’s streetcar neighborhoods or some of I.M. Putnam’s developments. I don’t have time to get into all of the details of the this plan and my thoughts right now, but I figured I could make a bunch of information I have discovered available and allow you to read and discuss. Please let me know if you have any insights or see any connections that you think are worth pursuing. Looking through this plan that contains some of the earliest ideas that helped shape Oklahoma City has certainly been a pleasure for me and I hope you enjoy them as well.
OUTER PARKWAY GENERAL PLAN
This actually represents one of the earliest and most complete maps of Oklahoma City. I have tracked down a couple maps that predate this one, but this is definitely the most complete and absolutely beautifully done. Keep in mind that this map is a combination of what existed and what was proposed – not all of the ideas came to fruition.
For a higher-resolution image of the map, download the .pdf at the bottom of the page.
DETAILED PLANS FOR NEW PARKS
Northeast Park – what became Lincoln Park
Southeast Park – what became Trosper Park
Southwest Park – what became Woodson Park
DOWNLOAD COMPLETE PLAN
These resources are all made available in .pdf. These files are quite large (please use right-click Save as…).
Complete 1910 Dunn Report and Plan in b/w .pdf, 7.5mb – (click here)
Large general plan color map, 8.9mb – (click here)
Also, I have full-size 300dpi scans of all images available and will consider sharing them – please email me if you are interested.
These articles are from journals available for free through google books that reference this planning effort around the time it was carried out. They are helpful in completing the picture, though you have to take it with a grain of salt as early Oklahoma Citians were always hard at work selling their beloved city. I downloaded each journals complete .pdf and saved only the portion that contains the relevant article.
So, one of things I am required to do to graduate from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) is write a thesis. Typically the thesis research takes up some of your 3rd semester and almost all of your final semester. Finished papers are between 50-150pg and the finished product is intended to be a complete work carried out on a fairly high level. The first thing you have to do is pick the topic and for me that time has come. I have been keeping track of thesis ideas for the past year and have a nice little list from which to choose. Here they are with my thoughts on each.
MY THESIS TOPIC IDEAS
1. Distributed urban college education
Basically I am curious what opportunities there are for higher-education to be distributed across residual space in urban setting, utilizing the facilities and expertise of existing firms to enhance the education, while providing a cheap and enthusiastic labor force. Still interested in this, but decided that it was not the best option.
2. Effects of 21st century retail on urban form
What is urban form affected by new types of retail (i.e. internet)? This topic is already receiving quite a bit of attention and is difficult to study.
3. Examine impact of agricultural idling incentives on city form
So we pay the carrying costs on land even as it accrues value for later development? Surely this policy has a dramatic impact on urban form, especially in cities like OKC – I will have to wait to find out, because this topic is a little too boring to study for an entire semester.
4. Analyze potential for handheld gps enabled phones to measure pedestrian movement in a city
New cell phones – like the GPS enabled 3G iPhone – provide a new opportunity to understand the ways pedestrians move through cities. Obviously there are privacy issues, but certainly a system could be anonymized. This is a relatively new area of research and something I think would be really cool to study. The SenseABLE City Lab here at MIT has done some similar work with cell phone data, but the new embedded GPS systems provide an extra level of detail that makes the system work at the pedestrian movement level. I remain intrigued by this, but ended up deciding against it.
5. Power and politics of urban design in Oklahoma City
Hmm…this would be really interesting! BUT, I decided for various reasons (e.g. my future job prospects) to leave this one alone.
6. Assess public places not by design, but focus especially on the surrounding urban design that supports the public place (i.e. library, retail, density of residents, density of office, density of lunch places, etc)
I love public spaces and this seemed like an area that hadn’t been looked at. Interesting questions like, what are the best uses to have around a park? Is a library good, like Bryant Park? What about office buildings? Concrete convention centers? Fun stuff, maybe later.
7. Value based property taxes – taxing a property based on the building allowed by zoning; should combat land speculators that blight urban landscape.
Do you ever get tired of seeing surface parking lots in the middle of downtown? Part of the problem is that our tax system enables these lots to be profitable, even though they often do not provide the same level of benefit to society as a developed project. There have been other tax systems utilized that tax property relative to the residual land value sans improvements. So an office building and a parking lot taking up the same amount of land would be taxed the same. This was an idea pushed by Henry George, an economist and NYC mayoral candidate in the late 1800s. Ultimately, this idea was politically infeasible and probably still is…which is why I am not doing it.
[correction 11/6 - Joshua (see comments) enlightened me to the fact that land value taxation, or LVT, is being successfully implemented in a number of communities throughout the United State; you can find out more at urbantools.org]
8. City organizational structure and its impact on urban form – Vienna has a combined planning & public works department, whereas Oklahoma City has separated the planning and implementation functions.
I am curious what the pros/cons are to having planning & public works combined into a single department versus the system currently in place in Oklahoma City. In reality, street projects have an as great or greater affect on the form of our city than planning. Not sure what the benefits of the current configuration are, but I will have to wait to find out.
9. Studying the ideas of Hans Mondermann on naked streets
The late Hans Monderman has shown how streets with fewer signs, fewer road lines, etc are actually safer. Seems unintuitive, but has been proven true under a variety of conditions. Obviously, highways are not a good candidate for such a system – as Kramer showed us:
10. Assessing the environmental impact of transportation infrastructure in a world of cheap, pollution free cars!
Even if we get to pollution free cars, we still have to look at the sustainability of the built form we use to support an auto-dominated transportation system. I think we can probably do a better job in planning for a future that continues to see cars as the predominate mode of transportation.
THE WINNING TOPIC
Ultimately I decided that I wanted to write a thesis on something I enjoy studying, and I really enjoy studying Oklahoma City. Some of the possibilities above have to do with OKC either directly or indirectly, but with any OKC related question I always come back to my lack of understanding – and the lack of available research – on the history of planning and development that created the city we see today. Steve and others have done some good stuff on the post 1960 period and on various isolated elements of the early 20th century, but this early period has not received much attention through a purely planning, urban design, and development related focus. So my thesis topic is:
The early planning tradition and development forces that shaped Oklahoma City
I am starting pre-landrun and will study as far as I can, but probably won’t get past 1950 – which thankfully will allow me to avoid the Pei Plan and the gloominess it brings.
NEED YOUR HELP
Well, if you have anything that you think will give me some insight into the early planning history of Oklahoma City, please let me know. I, in return, will try to post some of the resources I come across and share what I find out. In fact, I have already found some cool stuff that I will try to get posted later this week.