The final Jeff Speck video – Jeff discusses his outlook and ideas for downtown:
“How do you make everyone – not just the people in the seats, but the people sitting 400 feet away on the lawn – feel good about coming to this place to listen to music? And the answer is, you bring them into it. You make the proscenium larger; you build a trellis with a distributed sound system. You make people feel part of the experience.”
Sometimes one can get too ambitious with a blog. I fear I did just that this past week. No, I’m pretty happy with the Planning for the Future series. It’s Millennium Park that has me shaken.
How does one begin to explain Millennium Park and how it relates to Oklahoma City’s future?
Let’s start with bits and pieces, beginning with the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I don’t know who Jay was or is, but the pavilion is incredible.
Internationally renown architect Frank Gehry designed a pavilion that stands 120-feet high, with a billowing headdress of brushed stainless steel ribbons that frame the stage opening and connect to an overhead trellis of crisscrossing steel pipes. The trellis supports the sound system, which spans the 4,000 fixed seats and the Great Lawn, which accommodates an additional 7,000 people.
This state-of-the-art sound system, the first of its kind in the country, was designed to mimic the acoustics of an indoor concert hall by distributing enhanced sound equally over both the fixed seats and the lawn.
The land being assembled by the city in Core to Shore could conceivable include an amphitheater of its own. Maybe the venue will overlook the river – something envisioned since the grand plan for the Oklahoma River was drawn up as part of the Metropolitan Area Projects.
But what would this venue ultimately become? Would it supplant the beloved (yet much smaller) zoo amphitheater? Or would we see this venue give birth to an entirely new calendar of events we don’t see currently? Could we see the Oklahoma City Philharmonic brought to the masses on a regular basis? Could this amphitheater become home to a weekly farmer’s market/swap meet? Carnivals? How could a venue like this bring together northside, southside, eastside and westside?
When Mayor Mick Cornett mentions a venue like Millennium Park as an inspiration for what’s ahead, it’s difficult to believe the Pritzker Pavilion isn’t part of that dream.
So, before I get into the next big thing, let’s see if you guys can guess which great city park is on the mind of Mayor Mick Cornett (David Holt and Cornett family members are not allowed to respond).
Kris Bryant asked the key question Sunday as I finished up the Planning for the Future series (actually, it’s not quite over…
How is there any relationship between the lengthy discussions we’ve had on urban development with the introduction of New Urbanism?
For me, the tie is quite simple. New Urbanism reintroduces the idea of density and community in the suburbs. Remember, when we started this series, we saw how everyone was being taught that density was bad, that indeed, community was bad.
Reverse that thinking in the suburbs, re-introduce mixed-use development, walkable neighborhoods and eliminate rows and rows of identical Dallas-style homes with driveways in each front yard and maybe, just maybe, the concept of living in an urban environment won’t be so foreign to upcoming generations.
Sure, there are a lot of other issues to consider here. And yes, I’m simplifying it all qutie a bit with this post. But is that so bad?
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.