Yep. I tricked you. I tried to pull you into a discussion of new urbanism by throwing some outrageous old urban renewal propaganda films at you. And now I’m ready to drag you into a discussion of new urbanism – a nice buzz phrase, but one that isn’t always well understood. A couple of years ago I remembered watching a great segment on one of my favorite news shows – CBS Sunday Morning.
Sure enough, it’s online:
We’ve discussed the ideas of William Whyte before, most recently in August following the release of designs for the new Devon Energy tower.
At the time I focused on Whyte’s teachings on the “blank wall,” specifically the cold steel, concrete and glass office towers built in urban centers the past 50 years that had no interaction with pedestrians on the ground floor.
But there’s more to Whyte’s legacy – much more.
Whyte’s “Street Life Project,” which I referred to in my last writing, is a fundamental step toward understanding proper city design for pedestrians. And with Jeff Speck completing a report on how Oklahoma City can improve its downtown for pedestrians, it’s not a bad time to get more acquainted with Whyte’s ideas on this subject, which were summarized in the 1988 book “City: Rediscovering the Center.”
At the heart of Whyte’s thinking is the challenge to conventional thinking, that jaywalking might not be so horrible, that interaction between pedestrians and vehicular traffic doesn’t have to be death defying.
In my previous post on Whyte I included one of his graphics on the “Street Life Project.” Oh how I wish Whyte were still alive so that he could have had fun with a clip like this one, as featured at www.imaginativeamerica.com:
Launch day of Toronto's first scramble intersection at Yonge and Dundas.
We can learn even more from Whyte, as we prepare to overhaul the Myriad Gardens and potential build a new “central park” in the Core to Shore area immediately south.
Consider Bryant Park in New York City, in which he consulted in its restoration plan in 1980 and its most current incarnation.
Let the following videos serve as a tour of Bryant Park and inspiration for what is possible:
(Below, join an average family as they enjoy one of the park’s most popular attractions)
I wonder how many of Whyte’s ideas can be implemented in the next few years as part of the Devon Tower tax increment financing district. Imagine, if you will, people playing chess in the park. Imagine a lively outdoors that brings the community together. What’s amazing is what I heard with my own ears is being contemplated by Mayor Mick Cornett. We’ll wait for Monday to delve into how all these ideas are in the mix here in Oklahoma City and what it means for our future.
For now, anyone interested in how we can create a great central park or improve the Myriad Gardens, or possible improvements to downtown’s streetlife, should visit the Whyte-inspired Project for Public Spaces at www.pps.org.
Most people discover Jane Jacobs when they’re urged to read her classic, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” For whatever reason, I discovered Jane Jacobs by accident – I was drawn first to her adversary, Robert Moses.
True story: Paul Brum, former public works director, was at a meeting and did his typical rebutal when asked about green space along drainage canals: “When I go in and visit with the homeowners,” he’d say, “they tell me they don’t like trees.”
No kidding. Anyone who worked around Brum can back me up on this. And at one of these meetings, someone, I can’t even remember who, leaned over and mumbled to me “he thinks he’s another Robert Moses.”
Who in the world is Robert Moses? I didn’t bother asking. But then a while later, someone else mentioned Robert Moses and urged me to read a biography on the man, “The Power Broker.”
It’s a long read. I’m pretty sure the newspaper’s focus groups would hate it. But it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Robert Moses was god in New York City. He was in charge of Urban Renewal, he was in charge of public housing, he was in charge of parks, public works, highways and bridges. And he took a very pragmatic, engineered approach to creating order in what he perceived to be chaos.
He had no problem destroying neighborhoods to create a highway that would get travelers from point a to point b. The means justified the ends.
But then Robert Moses ran into Jane Jacobs. He wanted to create a Manhattan expressway through the heart of Greenwich Village. Jacobs was just one woman with no power. But she declared war on Moses, she mobilized opposition and created a movement against urban renewal.
Chaos, Jacobs argued, wasn’t always bad. Nice, neat and organized suburbia, she argued, was without a soul and certainly wasn’t always good.
I’ll let the experts take this story from here…
Robert Moses Meets His Match
Jane Jacobs Speaks
The following video is a bit more academic and deviates into a discussion of feminism that is pretty much a distraction. But it’s still pretty informative on Jacobs’ impact.
The Impact of Jane Jacobs
Saturday morning: Robert Moses vs. Jane Jacobs
Saturday evening: William H. Whyte and the Public Space
Sunday morning: New Urbanism
Sunday evening: Chicago’s Millenium Park
Monday morning: Wrap-up
I don’t live downtown, but I work and play there and my heart is there. I can’t say that the series of videos and posts I’ve launched into this week had any grand plan. It just dawned on me, as I’ve listened to ongoing discussions about plans for this city’s future that maybe, just maybe, I could trick those of you following me on this blog into a condensed version of what Blair Humphreys is learning and observing at MIT in Boston.
I can’t, of course, claim to know even a small fraction of what Blair has learned earning his masters in planning. And certainly there are great minds, people like Russell Claus, Ron Frantz, Devery Youngblood, Hans Butzer, Anthony McDermid, Rand Elliott and more in this town who I must admit have taught me what little I know as I’ve jotted down their thoughts, their opinions and wisdom in notebooks on the way to writing stories for The Oklahoman.
At some point these people I cover, people I’ve sometimes upset when stories didn’t always go their way, became my teachers.
But I’ve got the means to communicate to many, whether it be the newspaper, at NewsOk, or on this blog.
So I started out with some vintage videos that I knew would probably irk most of you. The Dynamic American City film suggested that density and urban design are historic relics to be discarded, and that suburban design was the wave of the future. As Blair noted, the film shows that suburban sprawl and the demise of downtowns may not have been without some provocation.
This weekend I’ll be posting a series of videos Saturday and Sunday. And as all this rolls out, you’ll discover that this discussion isn’t just about downtown Oklahoma City, but the entire community.
There are some people out there who follow this blog, and follow me on Twitter, who I’m calling out by name and urging to invest some time watching these videos.
By the end of the weekend, you’ll have spent less than an hour on this blog. But I’m hoping this whole discussion will advance us from the beginner sessions we’ve seen repeatedly on how the younger generation is more tied to urban living and the need for mixed-use development.
So, who am I calling out?
Let’s start with Jeff Click, who has shown at least a bit of interest in what he perceives to be new urbanism and has tried to take some of those ideas into his work in northwest Oklahoma City.
Mark Ruffin, come on down as well and get Nick to watch the segments on Jane Jacobs before he makes any decision on The Lunch Box or tries to buy out Coney Island.
Jim Cowan, I’m going to bet you’ll take this all in without any nudging.
Casey Cornett, I’m not sure if your dad has ever visited this site. But I’ll leave it up to you on whether he might find some of this interesting as he balances out all the city’s needs.
Tomorrow morning the learning begins – Robert Moses vs. Jane Jacobs.
Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can just bring suburban values to our downtowns! One final thought: these guys weren’t complete morons. A hint of new urbanist design pops in as the U.S. Chamber suggests building garages behind retail, out of public view.
When you see reports like the following detailing dubious reporting from a Kansas City tv station, and then the following AP story, it’s time to realize that such knocks no longer represent reality, but rather the possibility that OKC has indeed hit the big time and is thus fair game for pot shots.
Consider such fact-devoid infotainment to be a compliment that yes, OKC really has hit the national radar screen:
First, a report by KWTV on shots taken by a Kansas City station:
And then there is reporting from a bastion of journalistic excellence by Jon Krawczynski, AP Sportswriter (read this and then ask yourself why newspapers across the country are considering dropping AP):
The Minnesota Timberwolves were in action that night hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder. If that sounds like a sequel to “Bull Durham,” it should be, but it isn’t.
But the Sonics failed to secure public assistance in financing a new arena, so new owner Clay Bennett moved the team from a gleaming metropolis to a cow town. And NBA commissioner David Stern didn’t even flinch in approving the move.
With bright blue and orange uniforms, a chintzy nickname and a dust-bowl hometown in the middle of nowhere, everything about this franchise screams minor league baseball.
Are there knotholes in the fenceposts ringing the Ford Center in Oklahoma City where kids can peek through to see the games?
Is there a pig that brings the game basketball out to the officials for the opening tip?
If Kevin Durant tops 40 points in a game does every fan get a coupon for a buffet at the local Pizza Ranch?
It would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.
For 41 years — 41! — the franchise had roots in one of the most vibrant cities in the United States, winning an NBA title as the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979.
Finally, consider this bit from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which seems to think MAPS was passed in the early 1980s and implies that Oklahoma City is having trouble competing with Tulsa for concerts now that BOK Center is open (FACT: Ford Center is pretty much booked right now with the NBA, Big 12 and other events and will be closed April through fall for expansion and renovation tied to the arrival of the NBA):
Before the BOK Center was built, Elton John and Billy Joel never would have performed in Tulsa. Now they will.
The duo’s sold-out March 17 concert will be a highlight of the city’s newest entertainment venue, which opened in September.
When they built the 19,199-seat venue, planners hoped people would come.
They have. More than 420,000 of them by mid-February have come to see major concerts by acts such as Metallica, Celine Dion, AC/DC, Kenny Chesney and The Eagles – who opened the venue with a Sept. 6 show, on their Long Road Out of Eden tour.
The Eagles show sold out within about an hour after tickets went on sale on the Internet. And the band was so impressed with the experience, members decided to return to Tulsa for a second soldout show during that tour in November instead of going to Oklahoma City, says Paige Laughlin, marketing manager.
“For the past 10 years, everyone in Tulsa has been traveling to Oklahoma City,” Laughlin says.
Now repeat after me: Tear it all down! Tear it all down! Tear it all down! Tear it all down! Tear it all down! Tear it all down! Tear it all down!
Now, part 2. Look for the third and final segment around noon.
Here are more glimpses of Sage’s market and kitchen:
This ought to spark some conversation: