OKC LEADERS ARE WORRIED ABOUT SIX-LANE THOROUGHFARE’S WIDTH IN INTERSTATE 40 PROJECT
Boulevard causing concern
By Steve Lackmeyer
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1C
The state’s top highway official this week promised that a boulevard intended to replace Interstate 40 south of downtown can be narrowed from its current plan of six lanes if that is the wish of Oklahoma City leaders.
Gary Ridley, director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, also said the $85 million allocated in the agency’s latest eight-year plan should allow for complete construction of the highway and boulevard by 2014.
The boulevard’s proposed six-lane width — wider than a section of Northwest Expressway in far northwest Oklahoma City — have concerned city leaders who want to see the area developed as a new mixed-use downtown neighborhood.
“We’re not going to build something the city doesn’t want,” Ridley said in an interview Wednesday following a presentation at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel.
The boulevard has been a part of the $660 million I-40 relocation since the start — but only in the past couple of years have concerns arisen about the width. Consultant Jeff Speck, hired to suggest ways to make downtown more pedestrian friendly, called the planned boulevard “a highway with trees” in a report provided last year to the city council.
The boulevard has been a centerpiece of Mayor Mick Cornett’s dream of expanding the urban core into a mixed-use community dubbed Core to Shore — a currently blighted area between the current highway, the Oklahoma River and Bricktown.
“Six lanes of traffic won’t work from all my research and efforts to study great streets around the world,” said Cornett, who led the effort to bring Speck to Oklahoma City. “You hate to say there is absolutely one width I’m acceptable to, but this street is very special, and it needs to have the highest level of care. We need the best engineering firm we can find to meet everyone’s needs.”
Ridley said the boulevard’s estimated cost — $85 million — is included in the latest eight-year highway funding plan.
“At today’s prices, we think we’re pretty close with that,” Ridley said. “We haven’t designed it yet, so we don’t have all the prices in. But we bid jobs recently where prices came in 20 percent under what we budgeted.”
Ridley said the six-lane width was part of the original plans developed in conjunction with city officials, but he acknowledged plans and goals can and have changed over the past decade. He said any revised boulevard width would need to be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for review — an action successfully pursued when a planned pedestrian bridge over the new I-40 was moved to a spot east of Union Station.
“When we build the boulevard, we will work with the city to build something they can use,” Ridley said. “And we will design something they will want — within reason. Obviously all the extra amenities (landscaped medians, lighting, sidewalks and signage) are a separate issue.”
Cornett noted city voters already approved bond funding for such improvements, key to making the boulevard a gateway to downtown. He added it was a relief when the boulevard funding was announced earlier this month — the last such opportunity under the administration of Gov. Brad Henry before he leaves office in January.
A new grand entryway is being added to the Ford Center facing the boulevard alignment, and the road also will skirt the north boundary of a large central park funded by MAPS 3.
“Postcards of the future will be the park and the boulevard,” Cornett said. “It needs to be a place and not just a street where we see how fast we can get cars around.”
I’m often witness to two very different crowds who are attempting to guide Oklahoma City’s future. They both have a grasp on the idea that downtown is important for retaining and attracting younger, creative contributors to our community. They get the idea that the emerging mix of housing, restaurants and retail is also important.
The divide occurs a bit with the emphasis on bike racks and bike-share programs, and then becomes a schism when the topic of the streetcar system is raised. I will add that there are a couple of people out there who are critical contributors to the development of downtown who are opposed to the streetcars. They see it as a system that will lose money, and when I’ve spoken to them, what I hear is a view that is solely focused on the most cost efficient means of public transit.
I’ve always understood, at some level, that there were other issues involved in this discussion – the hopes, dreams and desires of younger generations, even to some extent the expectations of those who might want to return to Oklahoma City and yet something was holding them back from doing so.
Then this article from Salon appeared. And it captured so well the “other side” of this story I had struggled to define.
Consider just this one quote:
“I was sitting in this plaza where there were lots of shops and restaurants. I saw buses with bike racks on them. When I left Kansas City [in 2000] it seemed suburban and boring. But when I came back to visit, I saw people I wanted to be friends with.” – Emily Farris, who left Brooklyn, N.Y. after a nine year career there as a chef.
Read the article for yourself and then share your thoughts.
I’ve actually screened the Pruitt-Igoe film now, and I can vouch that it’s a great look at the failure of best intended efforts to improve housing in the urban core. And there are definitely some ties to our own history. I’ll be following the documentary with a 30-minuite conversation with James Williams, a designer/developer active in the JFK neighborhood just east of downtown Oklahoma City – a neighborhood very different from the one in which he was born.
And then there’s Leonard Bentin, former head of Urban League who has a story of how the local black community reacted the prospect of a Pruitt-Igoe development being built in Oklahoma City.
Here’s more about the film – I hope I see you tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art!
Saturday, June 23, 5:30pm
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
It began as a housing marvel. Built in 1956, Pruitt-Igoe was heralded as the model public housing project of the future, “the poor man’s penthouse.” Two decades later, it ended in rubble – its razing an iconic event that the architectural theorist Charles Jencks famously called “the death of modernism.” The footage and images of its implosion have helped to perpetuate a myth of failure, a failure that has been used to critique Modernist architecture, attack public assistance programs, and stigmatize public housing residents. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to set the historical record straight: to examine the interests involved in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation, to re-evaluate the rumors and the stigma, to implode the myth. Director: Chad Freidrichs 2011 USA 83min. NR digital
Last winter there was an effort by never identified parties represented by restaurant and club designer David Ledbetter to open a restaurant? club? in a former dealership building at NW 15 and Broadway on the edge of Heritage Hills. The application to the city’s planning commission and board of adjustment called the establishment “Exhale,” and the plans included a layout that was first published here on OKC Central and was compared by readers to a floor plan commonly used by strip clubs and hip-hop clubs (Ledbetter incorrectly claimed to the Board of Adjustment I made such claims).
Heritage Hills mobilized. The Board of Adjustment learned the Exhale operators had not, as claimed, provided advance notice of their variance request on parking requirements for the site. The Board of Adjustment revoked their prior approval of the variance, and in February the application was yanked. The operators, who never identified themselves, made it clear on this site they were none too happy about the coverage, but never accepted my invitation to call and discuss their project.
Two things have since transpired.
First – A new “for lease” sign is up, and the broker is respected long time resident Chuck Wiggin.
Second – A longtime club space at the Will Rogers Shopping Center at NW 34 and Portland reopened as … wait for it … Exhale. Is it the same Exhale? I sent a couple of messages to their Facebook account, but never got a response. So I’ll include a link to that page, let you look at photos, promotional posters for the club, and decide how that matches up with the floor plans first posted on OKC Central.
The best stories, the best movies, the best legends … all start with nights like this.
“Rocky” was one of the first movies I saw after I moved to Oklahoma City so very, very long ago. It was playing at the Will Rogers Theater back in the days when films lingered on the same screen for three or four months instead of just a couple of weeks.
I’m thinking about “Rocky” at this moment as I’m gearing up for what will be an emotional night for Thunder fans.
We have two very evenly matched teams. One is cast as the bad guy, though they’re not really bad, and one is cast as the good guy (because they’re really good guys). And one will win, and one will lose. If we win, the game series continues. If we lose, well, it’s over.
“Rocky” was an incredible flick, one that sent you out of the theater thinking you too could overcome the greatest of odds if you just wanted it bad enough and put in the work.
But here’s the thing that a lot of people might have forgotten: Rocky lost.
Think about that. In the first “Rocky” movie, the film classic still celebrated after more than three decades, the guy we saw as the winner was in fact the loser. It was a split decision that went for greatly hyped Apollo Creed.
Creed won the match – but Rocky was the real winner. He got the girl, of course. But he also came out of the match with respect. The whole world saw him as a bum before the match, but afterwards? Heck, they knew that he wasn’t going anywhere. He was coming back. And eventually, Rocky wasn’t going to get that belt.
Keep that in mind after tonight’s game. Whether the Thunder wins or loses Game 5 against the Miami Heat, know that Oklahoma City has already won. A world wide audience has been given a chance to get a new glimpse of Oklahoma City of 2012 – and to erase old prejudices that sought to dismiss us as a wasteland best suited to be turned back into a massive buffalo range. When the game ends, with either outcome, stand up and say, defiantly, “forget you – we’ll be back.” And then head out to Will Rogers World Airport and give the boys a huge welcome home rally.
“Urbanology” film series explores the design of cities
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art, in collaboration with the Urban Land Institute of Oklahoma, presents five new films that explore the effects of urbanization on modern life. The film series runs June 21-24, 2012, and will conclude with a panel discussion about Oklahoma City’s urban development. All screenings will take place in the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Noble Theater.
On Thursday, June 21 at 7:30pm the film, Urbanized, will kick off the series. This feature-length documentary looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world’s foremost architects, pioneers, policymakers, builders and thinkers. By exploring a diverse range of urban design projects around the world, the film frames a global discussion on the future of cities.
The documentary, Surviving Progress, will screen on Friday, June 22 at 5:30pm. This provocative film explores the concept of progress in our modern world, guiding us through a sweeping but detailed survey of the major “progress traps” facing our civilization in the arenas of technology, economics, consumption and the environment.
Battle for Brooklyn provides an intimate look at the very public and passionate fight waged by the residents and business owners of Brooklyn’s historic Prospect Heights neighborhood, who are facing condemnation of their property to make way for the polarizing Atlantic Yards project, a massive plan to build 16 skyscrapers and a basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets. Battle for Brooklyn screens Friday, June 22 at 8pm followed by a Skype Q&A with director Michael Galinsky.
St. Louis’ controversial modernist public housing project is the subject of The Pruitt-Igoe Myth that screens Saturday, June 23 at 5:30pm. The film will be followed by a discussion between Steve Lackmeyer, JFK neighborhood developer James Williams, and Leonard Benton is the former President of the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City.
The film The City Dark will screen on Saturday, June 23 at 8pm. Filmmaker Ian Cheney chronicles the disappearance of the night sky in New York City, leading viewers on a quest to understand how light pollution affects people and the planet.
The film festival concludes on Sunday, June 24 at 2pm with a second screening of Urbanized. The screening will be immediately followed by a panel discussion entitled “Milestones vs. Millstones” moderated George McQuistion. Panelists include Leslie Batchelor, Urban Land Institute & the Center for Economic Development Law; Ed Shadid, OKC Ward 2 City Councilman; Blair Humphreys, Institute for Quality Communities; and Richard McKown, City Center Development, LLC.
General admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students and $5 for Museum members. For more information on tickets call 405-278-8224 or visit www.okcmoa.com. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is located downtown at 415 Couch Drive.
Over at OKC Talk, a good conversation is underway about properties considered to be blights on the city skyline. It’s easy to understand why the Veolia (formerly known as Trigen) plant is mentioned prominently. To be fair, it was actually quite progressive that way back in the early 1970s a thermal energy plant was built to provide an alternative heating and cooling source for downtown properties. I’ve seen quite a competition between Veolia and Oklahoma Gas & Electric in providing service to downtown buildings, including those owned by the city. The plant was built at what city leaders thought, at the time, would remain an obscure southeast boundary for downtown.
Today, as we all know, the intersection of E.K. Gaylord and Sheridan is among the most visible intersections downtown, at the crossroads of the central business district, the convention center, hotels and Bricktown. It’s a busy corridor. And yeah, it’s kind of ugly.
A dozen years ago downtown property owners, planners and civic leaders participated in a series of downtown master planning meetings. Sadly, the action plan they developed was quickly abandoned for lack of movement. One idea I always thought was great was the idea that the old Trigen plant could become a great canvass for public art or for glitzy Times Square style billboards.
So how about it folks? Why can’t this be done? And if it can be done, who will take the lead?
Hopefully you’ve been keeping up with the week-long column series I’ve produced this week. You can catch it all by visiting my NewsOK page.
I’ve been juggling a lot of balls lately, and I’ll be the first to admit this blog has been a bit quieter than I’d like the past couple of weeks. We’ll see if we can’t liven it up .
After looking back, it’s time to look forward. And there are some serious decisions being contemplated that could further boost – or hamper – downtown’s current success.
The story we’ve witnessed was the result of planners, engineers, property owners and leaders all collaborating on how best to shape our city. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: that collaboration has fallen apart in recent years. Engineers are in control. And engineers aren’t trained to think about how investment in public infrastructure will guide future development, how it plays into a community’s appearance, how it can be used to attract private investment. They’re trained to build sturdy bridges, roads that allow traffic to move through as efficiently as possible, and ditches that quickly drain after storms.
Without pressure from city leaders, planners and property owners, they’re not likely to design thoughtful boulevards. They’re going to go with the cheapest possible boulevard connection with Bricktown regardless of how it might confuse visitors and discourage a connection between the entertainment district and future development in the area now known as Core to Shore.
They’re going to pick the consultants they already know to design a new Core to Shore park and downtown transit system. It’s all very, very predictable…. and it’s a shift back in power to the engineers (who dominated development of Oklahoma City’s bland, sprawling infrastructure from the 1950s to the early 1990s) that the city council has quietly looked the other way on and allowed to take place.
Oklahoma City assumes that the very nature of public works dictates that engineers be in charge of the process. But is this a given in other cities? And is it time to question these decades-old assumptions and ask: is it time for a revolution?