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Urban Makeover: The New Tulsa

by Gretchen Gregg

What makes a city great? Strong economic development, good schools and low crime rate are just some of the qualities that come to mind. While Tulsa has some wonderful attributes, looking at other cities might give us some additional points to consider.
Of course, people with different lifestyles will look for different criteria. For example, single professionals may rank a short commute time near the top of their list while families with young children will undoubtedly consider education a priority.
Urban planning helps enrich the experiences of residents, helps businesses in the area and helps cities make the transition into the next phase of growth. Cities are changing. "Cities need to be sensitive to a changing demographic," said Rickey Hayes, founder and President of Retail Attractions, a city planning and development consultation firm. Unplanned urban sprawl is no longer acceptable. The next generation of urban residents is also demanding in their expectations.
"The retail sector is connected to quality of life, tastefully done" said Hayes. "Young people are now looking at location before they decide on where they will work. They are seeking a quality of life first, job second."
Hayes speaks from experience. The former Director of Economic Development for the City of Owasso, Hayes’ tenure in that position saw "new commercial construction totaled more than 3.8 million square feet with almost a quarter of a billion dollars in total value" for the city. Retail Attractions implements a planning and development process, taking the future into consideration.
Hayes points out that the idea of a "retail shopping center" has radically changed. "The shopping mall is a dinosaur," he said. "Today we are looking at lifestyle centers where you can walk from your condo to your dry cleaners to Starbucks, all in a community where people know one another. Tulsa is a regional hub city to surrounding suburban areas. Tulsa has a vibrant history, but to be a world-class city, you can’t rely on what worked in the past."
If Tulsa is to grow into a "world-class city", forward-thinking and innovative planning are essential. Other U.S. cities are taking advantage of some of the following trends. Tulsa also has some of these features that can lead to a bright future for the city.

Neighborhoods and Cultural Districts
New Orleans is one of America’s most historic cities. Tourists flock to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, St. Charles Avenue and Jackson Square, making tourism the cities’ main industry. Restoration of neighborhoods in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has been a long and arduous process. However, the Big Easy has endured and continues to rebuild tourism in spite of the fact that it has lost nearly half of its residents. With its historic neighborhoods and events such as Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Super Bowl, New Orleans is making a comeback.
Tulsa has its share of great neighborhoods and cultural districts--Brookside, SoBo, Cherry Street, Blue Dome. Cultural districts add flavor and personality to the city. Neighborhoods also encourage sidewalk pedestrian traffic that helps small businesses, such as retail boutiques, galleries and restaurants, flourish. Visitors as well as residents flock to neighborhoods to socialize and enjoy the local scene.
Preservation of Tulsa’s historical landmarks, such as historic homes, Art Deco architecture and sculpture, give Tulsa its own personal style. The aesthetic appeal of the city attracts young professionals. Organizations such as the Greenwood Cultural Center and the Tulsa Historical Society educate the public about the city’s history and the importance of preserving communities. History tells us that very great civilization supports the arts. Tulsa is fortunate in that Tulsans appreciate and are dedicated to supporting visual and performing arts and art education. The city is also home to many talented artists, musicians, filmmakers and performers.

Going Green
Portland, OR, is the nation’s Greenest City, according to a Popular Science magazine survey. The survey compared the top 50 cities in the U.S. in categories such as air quality, use of renewable energy sources, transportation habits, parks and green spaces and recycling programs. Half of Portland’s energy comes from renewable sources, such as solar panels and wind; one quarter of the population commutes to work by bike, carpool or public transportation; and the city boasts 35 buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Tulsa, by the way, ranked 26th in the survey.
Tulsa is, after all, in Green Country. Like many cities, the city implemented a recycling program that offers curbside service (twice a month), drop-off centers and two annual recycling days for household pollutants, such as used computers, paint, etc. As the city population grows, however, the current schedule may need reevaluation.
Sustainable Tulsa, a non-profit organization, works with individuals and other organizations in the community to promote "responsible economic growth, environmental stewardship and quality of life for all." The Sustainable Tulsa web site informs visitors where they can purchase organic or locally grown produce, green building materials and free trade products.

Health Care and Healthy Lifestyles
Self magazine declared San Francisco as the Healthiest City in a recent survey. The "City by the Bay" enjoys clean air and water, plenty of healthy food options and scenic green spaces for walks and exercise. And while 93 percent of the population is insured, uninsured San Franciscans will be eligible for a universal health care plan in January.
By contrast, a recent article in the Tulsa World (4/9/2008) reported that over 22 percent of working-age Oklahomans had no health insurance coverage and that, as a result, mortality rates in the state are rising. To address this issue, the Insure Oklahoma initiative seeks to help uninsured Oklahomans. O-EPIC Plans for small businesses and individuals offer a partnership with employers to assist in paying for insurance.
Features contributing to healthy lifestyles in Tulsa include: 25 hospitals providing full health care services, plenty of parks and recreation areas and clean air quality. The city also offers healthy eating options, such as health food stores, local produce in co-ops and restaurants that offer vegan and vegetarian items and sushi.

Helping the Homeless
Many cities are challenged with how to help their homeless population. The city of Dallas, TX recently opened The Bridge, an innovative center for the homeless. The Bridge, operated by Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, differs from most homeless shelters in that it will accept chronically homeless people, who have been homeless for a year or more. The Bridge incorporates a campus environment with a wide selection of services to assist residents as they re-enter society as contributing members (Dallas Observer, 5/8/08).

Technical Connectivity
In 2004, Grand Haven, MI became the first city in the U.S. to offer citywide WiFi broadband network, which allows Internet connection anywhere throughout the city. Young professionals seek connectivity, and for this reason, technology is important to them. Just look at the recent advances in technology–WiFi, blogs, MySpace, text messaging—they all connect people to information, to work and to each other.

Commuting and the Transit System
The city of Austin, TX, was recognized for its Yellow Bike Project, a non-profit organization "dedicated to providing human-powered transportation for the people of Austin, running a community bike shop, and educating kids and adults." The 11-year-old project provides bicycles at stations throughout the city that are free for anyone to ride. As gasoline prices soar, many drivers are rethinking their daily commute. Tulsa has pedestrian/bike paths springing up and the annual Bike 2 Work Campaign went into full swing May 16, this year. INCOG, a regional council of governments that assists communities in providing services, offers information about community planning and development, transportation and commuting on their web site. Tulsa enjoys the distinction of having a "20-minute commute time," but as the city grows, traffic congestion will also increase. The Tulsa Mass Transit!! Project proposes a multi-passenger train system connecting to smaller cities, such as Owasso, Bixby and Broken Arrow. The system would cut traffic congestion, pollution and the need for parking space.

Tulsa’s greatest asset is Tulsans–they are passionate and committed to improving their city. Forward thinking groups and individuals, working together, can help Tulsa move into the future as a great city in which to live.

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