Speck told residents of Memphis, “The biggest insult to your city is the MLGW headquarters. Who would think to take a suburban office park and drop it in the middle of the city?”
It seems some in Oklahoma City are determined to make the same mistake.
From Joy in Mudville
This is in response to a post by Casey Cornett at Joy in Mudville concerning Jeff Speck and the Chamber building. Here are a few of the key take-aways…
One of the great things about being at [the Jeff Speck] presentation was that I was there as a pedestrian, an urbanite, a downtown worker, a downtown walker (even though at times it seems i’m the only one) and also a downtown dreamer. I get excited about our future plans as a city and I get even more excited reading about core-to-shore.
And later continues:
The sad thing i’m starting to notice is that all the people who are strongly for greenspace are still focusing their efforts towards the 1 square block of privately owned [actually a portion of the land contributed by a public body - Urban Renewal] and privately funded Chamber building going in at 4th and EK Gaylord. Hasn’t that already been approved and moved on? Sure, there is still another (I believe just 1) date set on the beautification aspect of that space…but the building is still going there, let’s move on. The core-to-shore project will be bring roughly 20-square blocks of greenspace. Why can’t greenspace lovers and journalists focus on what has yet not been decided on instead of still arguing over the 1-square block to argue over.
Hey Mudville –
I share your excitement for Speck and his recommendations for walkability in OKC! I especially appreciate your enthusiasm for where the city is headed…it is great to hear native OKCers referring to themselves as urbanites!
Props to Mayor Cornett
I have said it before, but again, huge props to Mayor Cornett – not sure whether to say “your dad” or Mayor Cornett, so we are going to keep it formal – who brought in Speck to consult the city. I think that this will have an extremely positive impact on the future quality of life in our city, especially the urban character of downtown. Mayor Cornett deserves all of the credit for taking this step and I am really excited to experience OKC when these ideas have been implemented.
“Move On”? But…
I am curious about the position you take on the Chamber Building, telling everyone to “move on”. It seems like someone enthused by Speck’s ideas wouldn’t be so quick to look past a project that will permanently hinder walkability at a critical connection in a burgeoning area of downtown. Speck himself has commented on the poor site layout of the Chamber proposal and every OKC urbanist that has expressed a position on the issue either questions the design and/or the way it was ushered through review despite violating the downtown design guidelines.
Simplifying the matter as being only about the quantity of green space doesn’t seem fair. Ultimately the underlying issues have more to do with walkability and good urbanism than green space, and the current Chamber proposal fails to deliver either. Still, even within this simplistic framework, the idea that the Central Park will benefit the people in NE downtown the way a properly designed Chamber site would is certainly not true. Quantity matters, but surely location is still a variable worth considering. How will a new Central Park over 1/2 mile away serve people in the same way that a park across the street would?
Public Works is to Blame
That said, the Chamber DOES NOT deserve the majority of the blame for the resulting plan. I think it is worth noting that the same Public Works Department that has regularly been called into question by Speck when it comes to aspects of good urban design, walkability and Indy 500 like downtown traffic capacity, also played a major role in the design of the Chamber site. The Chamber actually attempted to do a siteplan that dealt directly with pedestrian issues: re-establishing the grid, improving pedestrian connections, and providing a terrific public space to serve the surrounding neighborhoods (not really pure green space so much as an urban square). But Public Works knowingly exaggerated the traffic challenges presented by this scheme, whipped up a flawed traffic analysis, and subsequently told the Chamber that the design was a “bad idea”. So in truth, the Chamber deserves credit for their initial attempt, even if the continued commitment to good urban design was ultimately lacking. Public Works on the other hand has some explaining to do.
OKCers Deserve Better Than Okay
The Chamber may legally have all the approval they need to build the building as designed, but the people of OKC don’t owe them their added blessing, not on a project and process that falls short on so many levels. If the Chamber wants to do what best for the current and future users of Downtown Oklahoma City they will use the current delay to reconsider the design. They should call into question the soundness of the advice they received from a Public Works department that – while doing an excellent job for most of the city – does not know much of anything about good urbanism. Oklahoma City is better than an okay city – its a GREAT CITY, with great people that deserve a great downtown. So why do we have to settle for something that falls short of this measure?