Monday, January 19, 2009
Is Core2Shore enough of a priority?
We know that this is OKC's big plan for reinventing itself. We know that everybody is excited about it, and we know that nobody can wait for work to get started on transforming OKC into a cutting edge metropolis. There's a mentality (as you can see in this post) that C2S is more of a long-range, hundred-year plan that will evolve over time. Honestly this mentality scares me a little. It is 2009, and in Dubai mankind has just built a tower that is 2,700 feet tall. 100 years ago the advent of the elevator allowed us to build towers taller than 15 stories..it was a marvelous day. Here in OKC we have a masterplan of a few blocks south of downtown that we plan to revitalize as our legacy for the next 100 years and somehow we expect this to keep us ahead of the pack? What the hell are we smoking?!? If we close our eyes and envision cities of the future, can we even expect our visions to be even close to how impressive and remarkable these cities of the future will be? Hopefully, not. But in OKC we certainly can. As long as certain people anticipate that C2S is a 100-years legacy sort of project, we can close our eyes and almost perfectly envision what OKC will look like. Devon Tower will have done more for our city than C2S to be hones.
The stunning architecture aside, there is no way that we can legitimately expect C2S to not come to fruition until 100 years. Metro OKC builds 3,000 new homes a year. In 1 and a half years OKC would knock out all of C2S if we focused all of our residential demand there. At a reasonable rate of 300 units a year, we could expect build-out of C2S in under 15 years, but we all know that if everything is done with the highest level of quality, it will take twice as long. Still, not 100 years. This is if we were serious about it and all. The bottom line of course is that C2S is a daring plan for an area of downtown about 7 blocks deep that is currently nothing but blight. It draws its potential from being located between the revitalized Oklahoma River and the booming downtown area. When we begin to look at C2S in a different light as our official 100-year masterplan, we suddenly take a pretty cool community development plan and turn it into a very lame and overhyped long-term proposal. Trust me, C2S is not long-term worthy.
To put it differently, how would you feel if you were told that I.M. Pei's proposed revitalized downtown was to be a 100-year masterplan? You would probably feel a little underwhelmed. When it's all said and done, we rightfully lament everything that our 1980s predecessors did. But there is one thing that can never be taken from them: They had a very grand plan, and they set out to make as much of it come to fruition as possible. They turned downtown into a maze of construction zones for a short period. Their slogan was out with the old, in with the new. The sure got the old outta here. They got a lot of the new in, too. We have them to thank for the Century Center, Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma Tower, Corporate Tower, Kerr-McGee Tower, Leadership Square, Myriad Gardens, and so on. We even have them to thank for the Devon Tower in a roundabout way, because the land Devon will be built on was originally cleared by none other than them. We also have them to thank for the nail in downtown's coffin. But we've moved on from that, and downtown is very alive today. But one thing is certain: if ONLY I.M. Pei and city planners in OKC had a little more respect for our city's old buildings, we would be praising them, not lamenting them. And if they had sat around and waited nearly as much as we have today on all of our grand plans for downtown, none of anything they ever talked about would have become reality. Instead they got serious and made most of their plans happen before the oil bust came and sent them all into bankruptcy for daring to build a modern city.
Today we talk about wanting to build a modern city, while keeping all of our remaining beautiful old buildings in tact. Are we ever going to do it? This is the bottom line: The economy is horrific right now, but soon credit is going to loosen up and there will be a lot of money for projects, and a lot of that money will go to markets that lenders can be confident in, namely OKC. A rare opportunity is coming up for OKC to build a modern city once and for all, something we've been trying to do for the last 50 years. OKC should have paid to build light rail years ago. Now is the time for action. As soon as the Ford Center improvements tax expires at the end of 2009, the one-farthing tax should be extended for another 10 years to pay for miles of RAIL streetcars, as well as the grand park in C2S (although to be sure, a lot of it will be funded from the 2007 public bond issue), the new convention center we so desperately need, further riverfront improvements, and a district-wide streetscape. We should be so fortunate to have such a brilliant masterplan in hand! But we should be able to compete with other cities, especially those that are considered "Tier 2" cities (i.e., Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Kansas City, Minneapolis). We'll never compete well with them if we don't research carefully what these other cities are doing. Do we honestly expect them to not have similar plans to reinvent themselves? They do. They all do.