View Full Version : Comparing OKC's new urbanism to other U.S cities



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Pete
03-09-2017, 06:36 AM
I've said before that OKC should seek much higher standards than constantly contrasting against the state of our own central city in the 80's and 90's.

You could even argue that OKC had one of the absolute worst downtown's in the U.S. during those decades, as virtually all of Midtown, Auto Alley, Bricktown, Uptown, the Plaza... All of them were almost completely abandoned in terms of commercial development and many residences were unoccupied or razed.

So the question becomes, how do we stack up against other cities in the U.S. and what should our new standards become?

You can find tons of great urbanism not only in the meccas of Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and Brooklyn but also Wichita and Little Rock and Ft. Worth and Des Moines. New Urbanism has come to virtually every American city in dramatic fashion over the last 2-3 decades.

For quite a while we had *ONE* hotel in the entire downtown area. That's about as bad as it gets.

And frankly, while some great things are happening in Tulsa, their standards probably aren't good 'stretch goals' as they are smaller in every way and growing far less robustly; also much slower out of the gate with their Vision 2025 initiative.

Maybe OKC started from a deeper hole than almost anywhere else -- even dying cities like Detroit still had lots of great buildings and infrastructure already in place -- but what evidence do we have that we doing better than peer cities or even keeping up?

I personally like numbers as they are at least objective and offer an empirical form of measurement. Which is why I compile and maintain the Urban Project Summary, and downtown hotel and housing summaries.

But simply put: How does OKC measure up?

I believe it's a very important question instead of us constantly pointing back to our sad, sad past as the key point of comparison. And even more important with the new general obligation bond coming up for a vote in the fall, along with the future of MAPS to be decided as well as a new mayor.

Enough with the blind cheerleading and time to take honest stock and set our sights higher than "it's much better than it used to be".

stlokc
03-09-2017, 06:49 AM
Pete, I totally agree with your post. Every word. OKC should celebrate how far we've come but that's not good enough. We have reached a point as a city that we really should be benchmarking. What would be your preferred numbers and how do we look at that? Some thoughts I have: numbers of downtown residents and the change from 2000, average per capita income of downtown residents and change since 2000, number of retail outlets downtown per capita and the change since 2000, office vacancy at all levels and the trend (controlling for the buildings that have been taken out because they've been converted to other uses), private-sector, non-institutional construction, amount spent on streetscapes, etc. What are some other thoughts?

stlokc
03-09-2017, 06:51 AM
Also: number of vacant buildings and the trend, percentage of the metro area's population that lives downtown and is that growing faster than the city at large and how does that compare to other cities...

stlokc
03-09-2017, 06:52 AM
Finally, I think it's important to look at all cities across the country instead of just comparing OKC to the usual suspects. I wonder if such a database for these types of questions already exists.

Pete
03-09-2017, 06:54 AM
It might be an interesting exercise to force rank the top 50 cities or so in terms of their urban cores and especially the cities nearest our size.

For example, is OKC better than Ft. Worth (not sure). Milwaukee -- absolutely not. Louisville -- probably not. Memphis -- probably.

Are there smaller cities that do a better job? Des Moines - probably. Little Rock - in some ways. Wichita -- probably not.

Are we even close to bigger cities in our region? San Antonio -- no way. Kansas City -- no way. Denver -- no way.


Just some thoughts to spur discussion and maybe start working towards an honest forced ranking that shows how we stack up. I think that alone would open eyes about how we are not doing this in a vacuum and in some ways still have a long way to go.

stlokc
03-09-2017, 06:59 AM
Totally agree and one last thing before I go into work ...
We need to figure out how to be "relentlessly honest." For example, it's easy to take certain numbers and make it appear that our office vacancy rate has plunged. But just because Sandridge may own an entire building doesn't mean the building is full. Taking First National off the office rolls doesn't magically mean the space is no longer vacant. I don't know how to get at those types of comparisons. Different sources are going to be looking at things with different metrics.

Bellaboo
03-09-2017, 07:04 AM
For comparisons, you probably need to add an affordability factor to the equation. How much bang for the buck per location, if that's possible. I have a son in Seattle, with their family income is right at $250 k annual, and he says in no way can they afford housing (purchase) in the central core.

stlokc
03-09-2017, 07:11 AM
So Bellaboo, that's an interesting thought. To what degree is it important that center city vitality be for the whole community? I mean, I've been to Seattle and it would be hard to argue that they're not on another planet compared to OKC. But is that a function of so many people there having so much more money? Is $250K even considered a high income in Seattle? Is it important to a city that a high degree of its population be able to afford to buy in the center city? How many people that flood Seattle's sidewalks are tourists as opposed to residents? Actually that brings to mind another metric: number of hotel rooms, trend, and the ongoing occupancy rate of said hotels.

Pete
03-09-2017, 07:34 AM
A reminder that lots of well paid people in OKC can't afford to buy anything in our downtown.

Anonymous.
03-09-2017, 07:38 AM
The company that the modern streetcar puts us in, is something remarkable. It is a complete game changer and most of the OKC population has no idea what it is or that it [will soon] exist.

stlokc
03-09-2017, 07:39 AM
So if we're looking at a metric, I would say something like average rent in center city vs. suburban rents and average purchase price in center city vs. suburbs and what is discrepancy and how does that compare.

I'm totally making this up. But let's say in OKC the average rent downtown is $1500 for a 2BR and in the suburbs it's $1000. So we can display that as a percentage. Maybe in Kansas City the average rent downtown is $1600 but in the suburbs it's $1300. Smaller percentage. That can be a point of comparison.

stlokc
03-09-2017, 07:41 AM
Anonymous- I think the streetcar is awesome and it will put us in a different league. Having one by itself will be an interesting comparison point. A comparison point in the future will be ridership vs. other cities' transit options and the amount of private investment along the route compared to others.

shawnw
03-09-2017, 09:04 AM
Boise kicks OKC's butt IMO, for whenever we get to comparing those two.

LocoAko
03-09-2017, 09:14 AM
This might be totally off base as I don't consider myself incredibly well-informed on new urbanism principles, and I don't know how you'd easily measure this, but is there some measure of how continuous our streetwalls are? The two things I still notice after years here -- and that visitors always point out to me -- are a) how many gaps still exist in our fabric (grassy lots, surface parking lots, etc) and b) how few pedestrians we have. Of course I believe the two to be related to an extent, since walking past empty fields and large surface lots is foreboding and not conducive to pedestrian life. Even in our most well developed urban corridors it can be surprising how empty they are compared to other cities. I assume it could be done from a satellite view, calculating a percentage of downtown that is empty lots?

Nick
03-09-2017, 09:20 AM
If we're being frank, I think we're getting smoked on the rate at which we're improving. Look at Omaha or Milwaukee, not to mention Austin, Denver, San Antonio, or Kansas City.

catch22
03-09-2017, 09:34 AM
It's not fair to group Denver in with OKC ^ Denver is twice the size of OKC and has several advantages both natural and man made.

Nick
03-09-2017, 09:41 AM
It's not fair to group Denver in with OKC ^ Denver is twice the size of OKC and has several advantages both natural and man made.

It's completely fair. We have to compete against them for jobs and economic developments. It sucks they have the Rockies and we don't, but as you said, that's not their only advantage over OKC. And some of the advantages are because they've made choices we haven't and it's helping them boom.

sooner88
03-09-2017, 09:46 AM
First National is going to be a big step forward in getting residential into the CBD and hopefully activate more of a 24 hr. pedestrian life. I have friends that come into town during the week for work and stay downtown, and while there may be pockets of activity at Mahogany/Flint overall their comments have been how dead it feels. Although Midtown, AA, Plaza are all a 5 minute drive away, it will be great to have another option, especially for people here on a short visit.

catch22
03-09-2017, 09:52 AM
It's completely fair. We have to compete against them for jobs and economic developments. It sucks they have the Rockies and we don't, but as you said, that's not their only advantage over OKC. And some of the advantages are because they've made choices we haven't and it's helping them boom.

You may as well compare us to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Denver is simply in a different league, for many reasons which OKC will never be able to replicate. You can't expect the OKC Blue to keep up with the Spurs. Need to be realistic.

Pete
03-09-2017, 09:53 AM
I've said many times Denver is the city we would do best to follow because the city itself is flat and there is no navigable water.

And yet it's urban core is absolutely fantastic.

Teo9969
03-09-2017, 09:54 AM
I think we'll be better poised to address this issue in 2020, as MAPS 3 begins to wind down. Even if everything is not completely functional, it will be mostly complete and I think your average citizen will be more aware of what exactly is happening downtown.

The problem is that the scale of the municipal projects we have in front of us is quite massive for our city and I think it's creating a bit of paralysis in knowing just how significant an impact it is going to have on the shape of downtown.

Beyond that, a big problem we have in our downtown area is that too few people own the land and people are not excited to get rid of their properties whether they don't have the capital to do anything with it or they are too occupied with other projects to make movement on empty land. It seems 90% of the projects come from the same 10-15 developers, and they're rarely smaller projects.

I appreciate what the "pioneer" developers have done for OKC, but many sit on their properties too long and they get locked into a particular vision too easily. The Brownstones were clearly dead by 2012, and it wasn't until like last year that some of those lots finally started getting built out by non-Brownstone development. There were no lack of people wanting to build in Deep Deuce in 2012-2014, especially before oil plummeted...but I guess they wanted to make sure moving forward was not realistic...I dunno, really.

One thing that I think will be important is some of the spec development we've seen proposed (Broadway Condos, Cummins building, etc.) need to get built and find success if we want the pace to pick back up and fill in the various holes that we have downtown.

Teo9969
03-09-2017, 09:57 AM
What I think OKC needs to focus on right now is their design districts/standards and review committees. If we can shore that up over the next 3 to 5 years, then I think we'll find that by 2030, this city will be considered one of the hottest in the country.

catch22
03-09-2017, 09:57 AM
I've said many times Denver is the city we would do best to follow because the city itself is flat and there is no navigable water.

And yet it's urban core is absolutely fantastic.

There is a difference between following a lead and trying to get ahead. With that, I agree that Denver has good urbanism (downtown) that is a good model to follow.

stlokc
03-09-2017, 10:05 AM
There is no reason we shouldn't be comparing ourselves to Denver, Kansas City, Indy, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Nashville etc etc - cities in the next tier up. That's where we want to get to. Because it's not about where we currently are relative to them - obviously we're behind - it's about our rate of growth vs. theirs. Are we "gaining" on them? I care less about sheer numerical comparisons and more about the trend lines.

stlokc
03-09-2017, 10:07 AM
Also, all those cities are undergoing their own urban renaissances. They are all going about it in different ways and are at different points. Which of those are moving ahead in the smartest - not even necessarily the fastest - ways? Which are making the greatest strides in the specific areas in which we are the furthest behind?

stlokc
03-09-2017, 10:10 AM
I was just in Indianapolis and I feel that is a city we could emulate very well. Flat, state Capitol, no real natural advantages, it's a blue-ish city in a very red state. They have a minor river/canal through downtown. They are one tier up from us but they haven't always been.

Pete
03-09-2017, 10:18 AM
Yes, Indy has a great urban core and you are right they are not on any sort of port.

One thing you have to be cautious about, however, is over crediting cities just because what you see is all new to you.

For example, I remember a thread on Wichita where someone stated that their Old Town was bigger and better than anything we had. But in fact Bricktown is much bigger in every way other than retail and even that is debatable when you consider Lower Bricktown.

At the same time, people who visit OKC from elsewhere usually gush about Bricktown, Midtown and the Myriad Gardens.

I would love to see how urban experts would rank OKC among peer cities. People who frequently visit cities and aren't coming from a place of natural bias for or against their hometown.

shawnw
03-09-2017, 10:21 AM
I was just in Indianapolis and I feel that is a city we could emulate very well. Flat, state Capitol, no real natural advantages, it's a blue-ish city in a very red state. They have a minor river/canal through downtown. They are one tier up from us but they haven't always been.

Plus they have a AAA baseball team like us. BUT they have two major league sports (NFL, NBA) to our one, about 150K more people in the city proper, and like 600K more in their metro.

stlokc
03-09-2017, 10:26 AM
ShawnW: That's exactly right re: population. They are one tier up from us - maybe 15-20 years ahead in terms of population and lots of other amenities. To your and Pete's points, that's why I think they could be a model for us to look at. What struck me when I was there was that they shared so many cultural, geographic and natural similarities to OKC. Pete, you're also right that some of it was "newness" (I had never been to Indy before) and it would be interesting to have a third party provide some comparative context.

Teo9969
03-09-2017, 10:29 AM
One thing you have to be cautious about, however, is over crediting cities just because what you see is all new to you.


To that point, it helps when going to another city to be specific about something. Here are 3 things I envy about Tulsa:

1. Cathedrals
2. Older buildings in the CBD
3. The length and consistency of Brookside (in comparison to 23rd, Western Ave.)

Here are 3 things I don't envy about Tulsa:

1. Just as bad if not worse when it comes to surface lots.
2. Very little residential downtown.
3. a downtown that is surrounded on 4 sides by above grade highways.

If you're feeling pessimistic about OKC, it's easy to look at that 1st list and think "we're behind"

If you're feeling optimistic about OKC, it's easy to look at that 2nd list and downplay the qualities Tulsa has that we can appreciate or learn from.

So what specifically about Denver do you like that we don't have? What mistakes have they made in their urbanism?

shawnw
03-09-2017, 10:31 AM
I've been to Indy but it was 2003 the last time. Given how much OKC has changed in that 14 years, I'm sure Indy has changed at least as much but probably more.

betts
03-09-2017, 10:34 AM
I've said many times Denver is the city we would do best to follow because the city itself is flat and there is no navigable water.

And yet it's urban core is absolutely fantastic.

I moved here from Denver 20+ years ago. We lived in Capitol Hill, which was walkable distance from downtown. It was gentrifying a bit at the time. I took classes downtown and so was there a lot. Larimer Square, while smaller than Bricktown, was already a bustling location at the time. There were great downtown stores, tons of restaurants and some very nice hotels. Downtown was busy no matter the time of day. So, we're 20 -30 years behind them.

Additionally, the city is older. It was founded in the 1850's, so had quite a jump on OKC as far as growth is concerned. Gold mining also kickstarted growth in the state, and the mountains as recreation have been a consistent draw.

So, it's going to be difficult to be Denver. I think being like Kansas City, MO is a better goal. There are no mountains and no significant bodies of water. They have the Plaza, which cannot be recreated architecturally, but which lately has been more like an outdoor mall, as chains have been replacing local shops/restaurants.

Pete
03-09-2017, 10:40 AM
^

Regarding KC, it was developed from the river and out concentrically from there. That is a huge difference from OKC or Denver.

A waterfront provides focus and a natural place to start. Not just in the beginning but as cities look to be redeveloped.

When you look at OKC there is nothing like that (and also no natural boundaries) and accordingly, from the beginning of this movement our efforts have been very spread out, even within the core. It's taken us forever for any of our districts to reach critical mass and even when they do (like Brikctown) there is still no natural next step. Should it be the coop, or Core to Shore or the Health Sciences area or Deep Deuce or the near southern NE side?

And then of course you have Uptown and Midtown and AA and the Plaza and the Paseo and Western and Farmer's Market and now west DT / Film Row and on and on. If we had concentrated the majority of what had take place in those areas and just kept moving forward on a rolling basis from a true and obvious nucleus, we would have had a much easier time creating a real urban feel.

Waterfronts provide focus in tons of ways and when you don't have it, there are very different dynamics. And due to that, I have never seen KC as much of a model for us. And as much as I absolutely love Milwaukee, their urban core is completely different that ours due to their waterfront and river.

Indy, Salt Lake City, Denver (to the extreme) and even Sacremento are much more similar IMO. Not that we can't learn some things from KC and any strong urban city.

Pete
03-09-2017, 10:48 AM
Here are the 35th - 50th largest MSA's in the U.S.:

35 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,976,836 1,836,911 +7.62% San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area
36 Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,830,345 1,670,890 +9.54% Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro, TN Combined Statistical Area
37 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,724,876 1,676,822 +2.87% Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC Combined Statistical Area
38 Providence-Warwick, RI-MA Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,613,070 1,600,852 +0.76% Boston-Worcester-Providence, MA-RI-NH-CT Combined Statistical Area
39 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,575,747 1,555,908 +1.28% Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha, WI Combined Statistical Area
40 Jacksonville, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,449,481 1,345,596 +7.72% Jacksonville-St. Marys-Palatka, FL-GA Combined Statistical Area
41 Oklahoma City, OK Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,358,452 1,252,987 +8.42% Oklahoma City-Shawnee, OK Combined Statistical Area
42 Memphis, TN-MS-AR Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,344,127 1,324,829 +1.46% Memphis-Forrest City, TN-MS-AR Combined Statistical Area
43 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,278,413 1,235,708 +3.46% Louisville/Jefferson County–Elizabethtown–Madison, KY-IN Combined Statistical Area
44 Raleigh, NC Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,273,568 1,130,490 +12.66% Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC Combined Statistical Area
45 Richmond, VA Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,271,334 1,208,101 +5.23%
46 New Orleans-Metairie, LA Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,262,888 1,189,866 +6.14% New Orleans-Metairie-Hammond, LA-MS Combined Statistical Area
47 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,211,324 1,212,381 −0.09% Hartford-West Hartford, CT Combined Statistical Area
48 Salt Lake City, UT Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,170,266 1,087,873 +7.57% Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, UT Combined Statistical Area
49 Birmingham-Hoover, AL Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,145,647 1,128,047 +1.56% Birmingham-Hoover-Talladega, AL Combined Statistical Area
50 Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY Metropolitan Statistical Area


Is OKC clearly superior in urban development over any of these?

Maybe Jacksonville and Birmingham.

Absolutely not to most the rest.

bchris02
03-09-2017, 01:48 PM
I've said before that OKC should seek much higher standards than constantly contrasting against the state of our own central city in the 80's and 90's.

You could even argue that OKC had one of the absolute worst downtown's in the U.S. during those decades, as virtually all of Midtown, Auto Alley, Bricktown, Uptown, the Plaza... All of them were almost completely abandoned in terms of commercial development and many residences were unoccupied or razed.

So the question becomes, how do we stack up against other cities in the U.S. and what should our new standards become?

You can find tons of great urbanism not only in the meccas of Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and Brooklyn but also Wichita and Little Rock and Ft. Worth and Des Moines. New Urbanism has come to virtually every American city in dramatic fashion over the last 2-3 decades.

For quite a while we had *ONE* hotel in the entire downtown area. That's about as bad as it gets.

And frankly, while some great things are happening in Tulsa, their standards probably aren't good 'stretch goals' as they are smaller in every way and growing far less robustly; also much slower out of the gate with their Vision 2025 initiative.

Maybe OKC started from a deeper hole than almost anywhere else -- even dying cities like Detroit still had lots of great buildings and infrastructure already in place -- but what evidence do we have that we doing better than peer cities or even keeping up?

I personally like numbers as they are at least objective and offer an empirical form of measurement. Which is why I compile and maintain the Urban Project Summary, and downtown hotel and housing summaries.

But simply put: How does OKC measure up?

I believe it's a very important question instead of us constantly pointing back to our sad, sad past as the key point of comparison. And even more important with the new general obligation bond coming up for a vote in the fall, along with the future of MAPS to be decided as well as a new mayor.

Enough with the blind cheerleading and time to take honest stock and set our sights higher than "it's much better than it used to be".

OKC is not alone when it comes to disastrous urban renewal attempts and dead/dying downtowns during the second half of the 20th century.

I think one of OKC's biggest mistakes in the MAPS era was the way Lower Bricktown was developed. Other cities were seeing developments similar to what OKC is currently experiencing back in the 2000s. At the time, OKC was building suburbia downtown (not just suburbia but the worst kind) and the justification for it was that it was better than no development at all. Because of this, OKC does seem behind its peers, but it is catching up. OKC has really only been on the urbanism bandwagon this decade. In the 2000s, the powers that be just didn't seem to get it.

I was very, very negative regarding OKC development for a long time. I moved from a city that wasn't much larger but was probably two or even three decades ahead and nothing here could really compare to where I moved from. That is changing. Recent developments in places like the Plaza, Midtown, Film Row, and Uptown/23rd give me a lot of hope for the future of this city. At this point, the only reason I would want to leave OKC for somewhere else is being tired of what goes on at 23rd and Lincoln (and the fact I miss the mountains and beach).

At this point, I would say OKC still lags most of its peers a bit, with the exception of maybe Memphis, but the gap isn't near as large as it used to be even just two years ago.

TU 'cane
03-10-2017, 07:21 AM
I think a vitally important perspective, and question, is, how is OKC going to compare in these criteria in 5 years? 10?

Taking into account the large projects the city has and should be completing within those time frames, will OKC be more on par with peer cities for urban living and new urbanism?

Pete
03-10-2017, 07:49 AM
^

Right not just where we are but where we are going in terms of a lot pretty solid plans such as the streetcar, the pedestrian projects, general walkability and various other projects in addition to all the commercial development.

I'll see if I can contact some urbanism experts and ask them their opinions on this. Would really be interesting to get an objective, educated and outside opinion.

hoya
03-10-2017, 10:34 AM
OKC started so far behind all these other cities you mention, it is going to take us a long time to catch up. We may be 20-30 years behind many of these cities, but in 1990 we weren't even that close. We weren't even on the same timeline. We had a totally dead downtown that was surrounded by the trashiest part of the city. We have made huge progress since then, but we were basically starting from almost nothing. Not just nothing as in people living downtown, but also in terms of our local leaders even understanding what the problems were. We were starting from scratch.

It is going to take time to catch up to where other cities are. We are going to have to overcome various problems that are, if not unique to our city, at least specific to it. And then we're going to have to really build for a few decades to try and gain ground.

Some of the problems specific to our city are these:

--There are people who bought land in the downtown area back when it was dirt cheap. Now they see what is happening and they want a mountain of money to sell. But they don't have the money to develop the property themselves. They're just sitting on it hoping to get rich. This seems to be slowly going away as people become willing to pay higher land prices, or as landowners get impatient, but this issue delayed real improvements in Bricktown by at least a decade. It's the same reason why the Producers Coop buildings are still sitting there. We missed out on some of the development that would have come from a period of historically high oil prices, all because Cletus and his kinfolk thought their piece of unimproved dirt was worth $100 million.

--We have so many places to improve that it is difficult to build good density. The Wheeler District looks like it's going to be a great project, but it's pretty far from downtown (not necessarily in terms of miles, but in terms of having to pass by a bunch of empty lots and boarded up buildings). This keeps downtown OKC from feeling like a really urban place, because there are just so many surface parking lots, grassy lots, run down one story buildings that have been closed for 40 years, etc, separating the different parts of the city where good development is taking place. The Metropolitan apartments are two blocks over from Automobile Alley, and two blocks up from Deep Deuce, but they feel a lot more separated because of the places in between them. This is gradually improving in the Bricktown to Deep Deuce connection and the Downtown to Midtown area, but the west side of the central city still feels pretty vacant.

--Some powerful people still don't really get new urbanism, and in some cases they don't want to get it. Apparently some of the future plans for the OUHSC show people wanting to dig in their heels and resist any attempt to make it into a walkable Innovation District. People have had to fight tooth and nail to try and make the new Boulevard into anything other than an elevated highway. Randy Hogan plopped a bunch of buildings down in Lower Bricktown with very little regard for making it an actual urban place. Some of this is that people just didn't know what they were doing and acted in ignorance, and some of this is people completely blowing off the idea of urbanism as "stupid" and doing what they want instead. We have some people in power who are true believers in big, gleaming highways. Some of this is beginning to change, but there are still a lot of entrenched interests here.

--The developers who "get it" and are building great stuff have too many projects on their plate. They bought up a lot of land, and they're gradually working their way through. Good for them for having vision and doing a great job, but they can't build that many projects at once and so our rate of downtown growth is limited. We need more builders who also have good financial resources who will decide to invest in downtown.

--Our downtown design review committee just rolls over too often. I think this goes back to people not really knowing what their role is. They approve projects that should never see the light of day. If you have business connections, you can be assured your plan will sail through without a hitch.


A lot of these problems stem from the fact that we had to start almost from scratch. Too many things we had to re-learn, too many places that needed our attention. On the plus side, we are gradually overcoming a lot of these issues, slowly but surely. I think we'll see a time when the empty lots start running out, and all these different developments we've made around the downtown area start to connect and grow into one another. It will seem like OKC has suddenly jumped 50 steps ahead, but it will really be the result of all the work that has been done leading up to that point.

Pete
03-10-2017, 10:43 AM
^

All great points and it's true we started about at ground zero.

It's really shocking to think about how bad things were back then, especially Midtown. Virtually the entire area was either abandoned or occupied by things and people that we would have been better off without.

I was a commercial real estate broker all through the 80's and I don't think anyone in our office even approached property owners there because they knew they could never sell or lease anything in that area. Considering how big that is and how it is positioned between downtown and some of our nicest historic neighborhoods, you can just imagine how bad the other areas were which didn't have those advantages.

traxx
03-13-2017, 09:53 AM
OKC started so far behind all these other cities you mention, it is going to take us a long time to catch up. We may be 20-30 years behind many of these cities, but in 1990 we weren't even that close. We weren't even on the same timeline. We had a totally dead downtown that was surrounded by the trashiest part of the city. We have made huge progress since then, but we were basically starting from almost nothing. Not just nothing as in people living downtown, but also in terms of our local leaders even understanding what the problems were. We were starting from scratch.

It is going to take time to catch up to where other cities are. We are going to have to overcome various problems that are, if not unique to our city, at least specific to it. And then we're going to have to really build for a few decades to try and gain ground.

Some of the problems specific to our city are these:

--There are people who bought land in the downtown area back when it was dirt cheap. Now they see what is happening and they want a mountain of money to sell. But they don't have the money to develop the property themselves. They're just sitting on it hoping to get rich. This seems to be slowly going away as people become willing to pay higher land prices, or as landowners get impatient, but this issue delayed real improvements in Bricktown by at least a decade. It's the same reason why the Producers Coop buildings are still sitting there. We missed out on some of the development that would have come from a period of historically high oil prices, all because Cletus and his kinfolk thought their piece of unimproved dirt was worth $100 million.

--We have so many places to improve that it is difficult to build good density. The Wheeler District looks like it's going to be a great project, but it's pretty far from downtown (not necessarily in terms of miles, but in terms of having to pass by a bunch of empty lots and boarded up buildings). This keeps downtown OKC from feeling like a really urban place, because there are just so many surface parking lots, grassy lots, run down one story buildings that have been closed for 40 years, etc, separating the different parts of the city where good development is taking place. The Metropolitan apartments are two blocks over from Automobile Alley, and two blocks up from Deep Deuce, but they feel a lot more separated because of the places in between them. This is gradually improving in the Bricktown to Deep Deuce connection and the Downtown to Midtown area, but the west side of the central city still feels pretty vacant.

--Some powerful people still don't really get new urbanism, and in some cases they don't want to get it. Apparently some of the future plans for the OUHSC show people wanting to dig in their heels and resist any attempt to make it into a walkable Innovation District. People have had to fight tooth and nail to try and make the new Boulevard into anything other than an elevated highway. Randy Hogan plopped a bunch of buildings down in Lower Bricktown with very little regard for making it an actual urban place. Some of this is that people just didn't know what they were doing and acted in ignorance, and some of this is people completely blowing off the idea of urbanism as "stupid" and doing what they want instead. We have some people in power who are true believers in big, gleaming highways. Some of this is beginning to change, but there are still a lot of entrenched interests here.

--The developers who "get it" and are building great stuff have too many projects on their plate. They bought up a lot of land, and they're gradually working their way through. Good for them for having vision and doing a great job, but they can't build that many projects at once and so our rate of downtown growth is limited. We need more builders who also have good financial resources who will decide to invest in downtown.

--Our downtown design review committee just rolls over too often. I think this goes back to people not really knowing what their role is. They approve projects that should never see the light of day. If you have business connections, you can be assured your plan will sail through without a hitch.


A lot of these problems stem from the fact that we had to start almost from scratch. Too many things we had to re-learn, too many places that needed our attention. On the plus side, we are gradually overcoming a lot of these issues, slowly but surely. I think we'll see a time when the empty lots start running out, and all these different developments we've made around the downtown area start to connect and grow into one another. It will seem like OKC has suddenly jumped 50 steps ahead, but it will really be the result of all the work that has been done leading up to that point.
Great post.

I think because we had such a dead downtown and downtown was a place you didn't want to be after dark, we had a generation of people raised on suburban building ideas. I certainly was until I educated myself (via the internet) about new urbanism. And you're right, there are plenty in power (developers et al.) who just don't care. They don't care about the city or good development, they just wanna take the money and run.

Spartan
03-18-2017, 07:16 PM
I don't think I can meaningfully contribute by mentioning cities doing more innovative things than OKC, which has already been covered pretty well. But I would say that OKC, more than other cities, is two steps forward and one step backward all the time. P180 brings great bike lanes, then we stripe over them for additional travel lanes for Devon's garage. MAPS brings rail transit, and then we're probably getting rid of MAPS after mainly exhausting it for the CC.

OKC talks a big game about wanting to be a healthy, livable city, but at the end of the day doesn't really want that. However the intent is there, which is more than can be said for a lot of cities. I think OKC is one place where anything is possible, good or bad. OKC can easily elect bad leadership, fail to diversify the economy, and have a rehash of the 80s and 90s. OKC can also easily move to the next level and become a dynamic city. Who knows?

What do you all really want? That's the question. Judging by how OKC voters express themselves at the polls, I think better than crappy still makes us happy. Or even just crappy really. Between Sally Kern, Scott Pruitt, Mary Fallin, and Ralph Shortey, all OKC area politicians, it's mostly locally-inflicted damage. Lankford on the other hand indicates voters have some tolerance for a somewhat reasonable moderate Republican. If OKC wanted progressive, innovative, business-friendly leadership, that's what this state would have. That simple.

Indy and Charlotte were hurt pretty badly by their recent episodes with political fallout. If OKC was getting more nationally-relevant events and workforce expansions, I'd be very nervously watching this space. It's our biggest liability, more so than May tornadoes or fracking earthquakes.

mugofbeer
03-18-2017, 07:31 PM
While I understand what you say, you are faaaaaaar too critical of leadership around the city. Every state has its Shortey's (Weiner) ---- so hard to not make a joke. Every city has bass-ackwards leaders to overcome. OKC simply doesn't have the money to enjoy vast numbers of new businesses and new mergers bringing jobs IN. That is what the city must overcome and prior MAPS programs have not yet fully paid off as investments. Hang tight. It will happen but probably over 20 years or more.

I do have to say, I would hate to see MAPS end. It does need to move off of strictly downtown and look at what can be done to improve other areas.

mugofbeer
03-18-2017, 07:33 PM
Oh....read Politico today. Good articles on rail transit success and rail transit problems in other areas.

Spartan
03-19-2017, 02:36 PM
While I understand what you say, you are faaaaaaar too critical of leadership around the city. Every state has its Shortey's (Weiner) ---- so hard to not make a joke. Every city has bass-ackwards leaders to overcome. OKC simply doesn't have the money to enjoy vast numbers of new businesses and new mergers bringing jobs IN. That is what the city must overcome and prior MAPS programs have not yet fully paid off as investments. Hang tight. It will happen but probably over 20 years or more.

I do have to say, I would hate to see MAPS end. It does need to move off of strictly downtown and look at what can be done to improve other areas.

But it still needs to remain anchored in areas that offer leveraging opportunities for place-based strategies. We're not going to get a public ROI from spending MAPS dollars on Memorial Road or 240. Downtown was waiting for a catalyst, and we need to find the next areas waiting for a catalyst, like the inner south and east side.

I think that OKC's bad leadership is particularly at risk for a national backlash in a way that political hacks elsewhere may not be. Also, believe it or not, there is good leadership out there. Oklahoma is about to lose its only excellent elected official, Mick Cornett. A lot of governors and mayors out there are more like Cornett and less like Fallin, who is a true embarrassment. And then you have such a concentration of the truly deplorable, like Shortey, Sally Kern, and at least 20 others who just aren't as prominent as Kern and Shortey. They're all ticking time bombs that OKC area voters keep electing. The Tulsa area Republicans are just smarmy neocons and Inhofe wannabes, but a lot of the OKC area ones are uniquely vile, attention-seeking political creatures.

bchris02
03-20-2017, 04:18 PM
But it still needs to remain anchored in areas that offer leveraging opportunities for place-based strategies. We're not going to get a public ROI from spending MAPS dollars on Memorial Road or 240. Downtown was waiting for a catalyst, and we need to find the next areas waiting for a catalyst, like the inner south and east side.

I think that OKC's bad leadership is particularly at risk for a national backlash in a way that political hacks elsewhere may not be. Also, believe it or not, there is good leadership out there. Oklahoma is about to lose its only excellent elected official, Mick Cornett. A lot of governors and mayors out there are more like Cornett and less like Fallin, who is a true embarrassment. And then you have such a concentration of the truly deplorable, like Shortey, Sally Kern, and at least 20 others who just aren't as prominent as Kern and Shortey. They're all ticking time bombs that OKC area voters keep electing. The Tulsa area Republicans are just smarmy neocons and Inhofe wannabes, but a lot of the OKC area ones are uniquely vile, attention-seeking political creatures.

I would say the worst politicians come from far-east Oklahoma, near Fort Smith, as well as southern Oklahoma. People like Bennett and Brecheen come to mind. Sally Kern is gone, finally, and the state dodged a bit time bullet thanks to Paul Blair losing.

I don't mind Mary Fallin near as much as I used to. It could be much worse, which is why I am thankful Trump snatched Scott Pruitt. Her support of criminal justice reform and her veto of the abortion bill last year helped me gain some respect for her.

dankrutka
03-20-2017, 10:25 PM
I do have to say, I would hate to see MAPS end. It does need to move off of strictly downtown and look at what can be done to improve other areas.

The success of MAPs has been investing in the core where you get far more bang for your buck. Spreading MAPs money around OKC could make the impact minimal. I think expanding the streetcar and connecting to regional transit (e.g., Norman, Edmond) would be a great use of MAPs funds, but only if the metro connects urban areas that are densely developed or can be densely developed (unlike the embarrasment that is much of the park-and-ride failure of the DART/A-Train in Dallas).

hoya
03-21-2017, 09:01 AM
Fallin is a moderate conservative who can tell which way the wind is blowing. She's not a nutcase at all. She gets too much criticism for things she can't really control.

The problem with the state legislature is that you don't know if somebody is a dumbass or not until they actually get in there and start proposing stupid stuff, and it doesn't really pay enough for most people to want the job. Look at Ralph Shortey. He was a nobody before he got elected. There were no warning signs that he was going to be the tinfoil hat type. Then we find out that he's basically Ralph Wiggum. But by then it's too late, who wants to work their tail off to run against him for a job that pays $38K a year? Until the child sex charges, Shortey was sort of lovably incompetent.

But every state has people like this. Oklahoma at least has enough sane people in leadership that most of the crazy bills don't make it to the Governor's desk. We're never going to make a list of "top 10 cool places to live" from Slate, but that's not the end of the world.

Spartan
03-21-2017, 09:20 PM
The success of MAPs has been investing in the core where you get far more bang for your buck. Spreading MAPs money around OKC could make the impact minimal. I think expanding the streetcar and connecting to regional transit (e.g., Norman, Edmond) would be a great use of MAPs funds, but only if the metro connects urban areas that are densely developed or can be densely developed (unlike the embarrasment that is much of the park-and-ride failure of the DART/A-Train in Dallas).

Dallas has like $6 billion of TOD.

traxx
03-22-2017, 02:15 PM
We seem to have gotten off topic and gone political as tends to happen a lot here. State politicians have little effect on design and building standards that either contribute or are counter to new urbanism in OKC.

Nick
03-22-2017, 02:22 PM
State politicians have little effect on design and building standards that either contribute or are counter to new urbanism in OKC.

This seems 100% false to me.

ABCOKC
03-22-2017, 03:02 PM
This seems 100% false to me.

How so? I'm inclined to agree with traxx here.

traxx
03-22-2017, 03:30 PM
This seems 100% false to me.

Yeah, you're right. Mary Fallin is the final voice on whether OKC has bike lanes, walking paths, building design and materials, whether buildings are built to the street or have a setback and so on. If Mary doesn't want it in OKC, it doesn't happen.

Pete
03-22-2017, 03:40 PM
Okay, let's please get off politics.

Thanks.

DenverPoke
03-23-2017, 09:36 AM
Good topic. When I grew up (in Tulsa) in the 80's and 90's, downtown OKC was pretty much a joke and there was virtually no reason to visit. To see it today is pretty impressive, relative to where it was 20-25 years ago. But IMO, it still lags behind most peers from an urban perspective and isn't coming close to gaining on cities in the next tier up. I feel that the majority of the projects (obviously some exceptions like Devon, 21C, etc) have been of the low-hanging fruit variety...but you have to start somewhere and it was a deep, deep hole to dig out from. I hope to see the city to grow and emerge, there's a lot of potential to make it a cool place.

Teo9969
03-23-2017, 09:57 AM
I'm no expert in urbanism, but to me there's really no such thing as "low-hanging" fruit in urban development. Every single project either contributes meaningfully to urban fabric or it detracts from it, and there rarely, if ever, needs to be something on a large scale to be considered a success.

bchris02
03-23-2017, 10:34 AM
Good topic. When I grew up (in Tulsa) in the 80's and 90's, downtown OKC was pretty much a joke and there was virtually no reason to visit. To see it today is pretty impressive, relative to where it was 20-25 years ago. But IMO, it still lags behind most peers from an urban perspective and isn't coming close to gaining on cities in the next tier up. I feel that the majority of the projects (obviously some exceptions like Devon, 21C, etc) have been of the low-hanging fruit variety...but you have to start somewhere and it was a deep, deep hole to dig out from. I hope to see the city to grow and emerge, there's a lot of potential to make it a cool place.

OKC did miss the high-rise condo boom during the 2000s which I think contributes to the perception of the city being behind. Most other markets the size of OKC and even smaller had at least a few mid-rise or high-rise condo towers built last decade. Little Rock had three condo towers built and they are pretty impressive. To be fair, Tulsa also lagged in this aspect as well. This decade, the focus has shifted more towards apartments, which OKC and Tulsa have seen quite a bit of.

For a long time, Tulsa has been ahead of OKC in terms of having vibrant, urban neighborhoods with critical mass. OKC had Bricktown but not much else until recently. Today, that is changing and I don't think the case that Tulsa is ahead of OKC is near as strong as it once was.

hoya
03-23-2017, 10:47 AM
I think OKC missed the condo boom for a few reasons, one of which is that our downtown was just beginning to come back to life at that point, and another is that our local investors have always been pretty cautious. Something like LEVEL was still seen as a big deal back then, and it took a while for everyone to be comfortable with the idea of downtown housing being a real thing.

Give the city another 10 years and I think we'll have seen a lot of improvement even over where we are today. Our urban districts are starting to grow together, and once that happens, you'll see a big jump in the quality of life that we have here.

It's tough for most people to visualize something that they haven't seen before, so when you're talking urbanism to most Oklahomans, they can't picture what you're talking about. There have to be a lot of potential builders who just scratch their head when you talk about bringing a building out to the street and things like that. You want good pedestrian interaction and they think you're speaking Klingon. But once we get the streetcar running and people can actually see a large area that follows urban principles, they'll start to get it, and I think you'll see better projects proposed afterwards.

bchris02
03-23-2017, 11:18 AM
I think OKC missed the condo boom for a few reasons, one of which is that our downtown was just beginning to come back to life at that point, and another is that our local investors have always been pretty cautious. Something like LEVEL was still seen as a big deal back then, and it took a while for everyone to be comfortable with the idea of downtown housing being a real thing.

Give the city another 10 years and I think we'll have seen a lot of improvement even over where we are today. Our urban districts are starting to grow together, and once that happens, you'll see a big jump in the quality of life that we have here.

It's tough for most people to visualize something that they haven't seen before, so when you're talking urbanism to most Oklahomans, they can't picture what you're talking about. There have to be a lot of potential builders who just scratch their head when you talk about bringing a building out to the street and things like that. You want good pedestrian interaction and they think you're speaking Klingon. But once we get the streetcar running and people can actually see a large area that follows urban principles, they'll start to get it, and I think you'll see better projects proposed afterwards.

Great post. I especially like and agree with your second paragraph. I mean, even today things have improved monumentally compared to where they were just five years ago. I really think downtown OKC has actually turned a corner within the past year. Not only is there a lot more to do, but the culture is becoming a lot more active even on weeknights. It's really great to finally see this happening here. I can only imagine things getting better going forward as the urban districts continue to grow together.

Rover
03-23-2017, 01:07 PM
I think OKC missed the condo boom for a few reasons, one of which is that our downtown was just beginning to come back to life at that point, and another is that our local investors have always been pretty cautious. Something like LEVEL was still seen as a big deal back then, and it took a while for everyone to be comfortable with the idea of downtown housing being a real thing.

Give the city another 10 years and I think we'll have seen a lot of improvement even over where we are today. Our urban districts are starting to grow together, and once that happens, you'll see a big jump in the quality of life that we have here.

It's tough for most people to visualize something that they haven't seen before, so when you're talking urbanism to most Oklahomans, they can't picture what you're talking about. There have to be a lot of potential builders who just scratch their head when you talk about bringing a building out to the street and things like that. You want good pedestrian interaction and they think you're speaking Klingon. But once we get the streetcar running and people can actually see a large area that follows urban principles, they'll start to get it, and I think you'll see better projects proposed afterwards.

Lots of good points. I think that change-over is a long term process when thinking the entire city. Convincing developers of using good urban principles downtown shouldn't be, though. In the areas that are already very suburban, projects that follow more urban principals seem out of place and strange...don't seem to work as much on their own. For example, at 122nd and May, the new CVS is snugged up to the street at the corner...and looks odd since everything else around it for miles is not. By itself, this project wouldn't make a convincing argument. If it was part of a whole contiguous development using better urban principals, people would get it. We need huge developers to do major developments all planned well. Bits and pieces is a tough way to convince anyone.

traxx
03-24-2017, 11:41 AM
OKC did miss the high-rise condo boom during the 2000s which I think contributes to the perception of the city being behind. Most other markets the size of OKC and even smaller had at least a few mid-rise or high-rise condo towers built last decade. Little Rock had three condo towers built and they are pretty impressive. To be fair, Tulsa also lagged in this aspect as well. This decade, the focus has shifted more towards apartments, which OKC and Tulsa have seen quite a bit of.

For a long time, Tulsa has been ahead of OKC in terms of having vibrant, urban neighborhoods with critical mass. OKC had Bricktown but not much else until recently. Today, that is changing and I don't think the case that Tulsa is ahead of OKC is near as strong as it once was.
I've always liked the idea of high rise housing and hope it's not far off for OKC. In OKC's quest to become a big league city, I think high rise living helps make that point.

Also, developers in the downtown districts need to move past the suburban development concepts. It has gotten better but I still look at lower bricktown as largely a suburban mistake in the middle of a downtown district.