Sunday, April 25, 2010

Feedback: "Favourite" World City

I thought I'd do a post designed to encourage reader feedback, seeing as I've got a large reader base of people that rarely leave comments. What is you guys' favorite world city you've been to, and favorite world city you haven't been to but hope to see soon?

Mine would have to be Saint Petersburg, Russia. Never been..really itching to go. I know I've mentioned Russia in the past and gotten some really interesting comments. So.. anyone been? (Typing the word "Russia" is surely just opening my blog up to a barrage of most-bizarre web spam..LOL)

Iron Starr Campus Corner / Norman Arts Council

Iron Starr Urban Bbq sent me an email about a promotion they've got going on at their Campus Corner Norman location. I would encourage people, when hungry for some 'que, go support a local business AND local arts it's one of OKC's best bbq joints. County Line, Earl's, Bad Brad's, Iron Starr--you take your pick of the best, but they're right in there.

The view from the Civic Center Music Hall steps

When I was in town recently for various things, including attending the transit forum--I was walking out the Civic Center Music Hall and onto the steps in front of it and I was just blown away by the setting that surrounds the Civic Center. Here's an idea: Why don't we focus more on the Civic Center/City Hall area and build downtown around that environment? Sure, it has its challenges..Sycamore Square isn't exactly dazzling high design, and the County Jail looms in the distance--but this is arguably one of downtown's most special environments.

Nowhere else are you surrounded by a plethora of mid-rise buildings in a walkable environment, where you are surrounded by arts. The Arts Festival, Myriad Gardens, concerts at the Civic Center, important art exhibits at the OKCMOA, jazz from the OKCMOA roof, etc etc. As OKC tries to cast a name for itself with increased attention from the Playoffs, and as the national media is currently in love with OKC--let's market THIS area of downtown more! Let's also build and orient more of our downtown toward this bright area.

Here are some pictures I took, equipped only with my phone:

This sculpture that is coming to the lawn known as Bicentennial Park between City Hall and the Civic Center is a start. I haven't yet considered whether that area NEEDS such a large piece of public art as this, as opposed to the OTHER side of City Hall facing Couch Drive, but public art is almost never a bad thing. I'll say that.

The art piece, entitled "Compass Rose" is a $350,000 donation from the Inasmuch Foundation, and comes at no cost at all to the city. Even better!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

SandRidge appeal

This is the application that never ends, it just keeps going on and on my friends..

And yes, now it has been appealed. Text of the appeal that was filed are here, on Doug's blog. I haven't gotten a chance to look over it much, but I was looking into who sits on the Board of Adjustment.

I don't think it looks good for historic preservation but I will say that SandRidge is not going to have an easy time getting this application through. Honestly..I'm starting to wish that more could be done to work WITH SandRidge and not AGAINST SandRidge to get the best masterplan for this site.

SandRidge wants the best too, they just see us urban enthusiasts working against them. We're not opposed to them or their project, just a small part of it. This is indeed a very broken process. More later..

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cityshot XLI

The new McNellie's in Norman..Main Street. Actually, it's the "Abner's Ale House." A lot smaller than the other two McNellie's locations in OKC and Tulsa, but pretty cool to come across along Norman's Main Street.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fun with DIY streetcar routes

The most recent COTPA "Let's Talk Transit" public forum was a lot of fun and I am glad I was in OKC for it. I still think COTPA has some work to do, and they could be a little smoother in how they answer questions and present the streetcar system, but I would give them an all-around A. The meeting flat-out exceeded my expectations, and I came away with a few ideas of my own. Various COTPA and Planning Dept people gave presentations and took questions from the group.

They did a great job of giving a base explanation of the streetcar system and showing the examples such as Portland, but there was one question they never really answered: One older woman who looked well-cultured and like the perfect potential downtown resident stated her frustration with the fixed guideway nature of the streetcar project. Because downtown is still growing developmentally, she didn't understand why we were going with a fixed rail transit system when downtown's growth patterns are still evolving, which she thought that bus made much more sense for. Mike McAnelly told her he'd answer her question later, which he did in a way, but never made the specific connection. I wished he would just directly tell her that streetcar affects and incites development in a way that nothing else can, which makes the still-yet evolving developmental patterns one of the most important reasons behind the need for a fixed guideway transit system. To put it more simply, with streetcar we have an opportunity to shape the development of downtown that we don't get with many other public projects. It's a golden opportunity to take advantage of our blank slate downtown and use streetcar.

The most important realization I came away with is a new appreciation for how hard it sometimes can be to take a group of random people who aren't professional planners and get them to think like a planner, plan like a planner, and at least find a consensus and keep a project on track. Simply put, it isn't possible. My group was comprised of an incredibly diverse was an older guy with strong convictions, a businessman who was really quiet, a guy who looked to be a student maybe 5-6 years younger than me, and lastly a bona fide crazy dude in his 20s with badly thinning hair that was a bizarre cross between Kramer and Einstein. I thought about taking a picture just for demonstration purposes but I decided that would be mean, and besides I shouldn't negatively identify anyone I meet. And then our COTPA liaison was Jeanne Smith, the River Transit Manager for COTPA..who was great.

Kramer/Einstein would not stop talking and yammering on, and made it incredibly difficult for our group to work together. And he kept standing up over my shoulder and pacing, also incredibly annoying, despite the numerous empty chairs around the table. By the time that half of our allotted time had already elapsed we had absolutely nothing to show for it, so I devised a new plan where the entire group would just write down important sites they wanted to be on a route or near one. Kramer/Einstein still would not shut up, and I was near giving up. We were down to our last 5 minutes and still had nothing to show for it.

So getting desperate with the group's bickering and wasting time, I gave up on the public process and just drew the damn route I remembered putting up on the blog earlier that day on a brochure I had in front of me. When I showed it to others, the group instantly settled on what I drew and the older fellow liked it so much he said, "That's it. Build it." I was however disappointed that Mr. Kramer/Einstein didn't allow for us to have a true public process that had the unique input and suggestions from the otherwise great people in my group--but at least we had a good, respectable proposal to show to the rest of the public forum assembled, and in my opinion, it was one of the best ones. There were a few others that stood out to me.

Mainly, proposals from the group that had Jeff Bezdek and the group that had Chuck Wiggins. I tend to agree with the person in the audience who said the group that had Jeff was cheating just by having Jeff. Speaking of Jeff, it was great to finally meet him although I'm afraid he came away with the wrong impression of me personally as I couldn't stop laughing when Doug was circling us, snapping pictures. Doug should really consider a career as a professional photographer. Anyway, here's Jeff's plan--one thing that struck me after he presented was how remarkably similar Jeff's plan was to mine, with the only difference being that he had one arm going N/S west of Broadway going down Hudson. Another similarity that Jeff's had with our route proposal was a Sheridan baseline all the way down to Mickey Mantle and then going up to the Oklahoma Health Center.

One concern that Jeff mentioned was that there would be a cost difference between tracks going up the Mickey Mantle bridge between Bricktown and Deep Deuce versus just crossing underneath the BNSF tracks at NE 4th Street. And despite noticing that people seem to really like Walker for a route alignment, he has a few good reasons for avoiding it and going down Hudson, two of them being that Hudson needs redevelopment more and that the Walker Circle poses engineering challenges, and I think his other concerns will come out when it's appropriate. I still favor Walker personally because you don't really have to extend the line beyond the circle and the traffic circle could very well be a natural end point for a segment, instead of having to do a pinch section in the middle of a street for the streetcar to turn around. I strongly favor Broadway having a streetcar line, and Hudson is only 3 blocks from Broadway. Walker is only 4, but because it never really goes through the CBD, psychologically the difference is better and it incorporates more of the Arts District.

Like I mentioned I also appreciated Chuck Wiggin's proposal, in which the focus was on employers. A practical focus. Once again, it has the similarity with the base line going down Sheridan. I think virtually every single proposal out of the 7 different groups all used Sheridan as a baseline, which was something I remarked on in my presentation. I think Sheridan more than any other corridor in downtown seems ripe for rail. For N/S alignments we all kind of differ, but I feel like a strong consensus is building behind the idea that Sheridan connects it all. In fact in Jeff's proposal and in my proposal, Sheridan is the only E/W route, while there are more than one N/S routes (mine has three, his has two). Chuck's uses 4th Street to get over to the Oklahoma Health Center and has the longest Sheridan alignment I saw, connecting the new OCU Law School to Bass Pro, McDonald's, and the proposed/formerly proposed Candlewood Suites. You know, the coolest area of Bricktown. Instead of a loop system, as proposed by Walter Jenny's group and a few other groups, or a hub-and-spoke system as proposed by me and Jeff, his is an interesting combination of both that I think I'll call loop-and-spoke. The more and more I think about Chuck's proposal the more I like it as much if not more than mine, and just about the only person at the forum that I didn't meet was probably Chuck Wiggin. Shucks.

Overall, I know that some other bloggers such as Doug have been concerned about the level of public involvement in these public forums. I also know COTPA was heavily criticized for only getting 250 survey responses on the website, which everyone agreed was low. However, I think that this meeting more than answered the need for public involvement. COTPA asked us to sign our names on the maps and they seemed to take great care to collect all the maps and I believe they will be using them in the next meeting which I suspect will be over land uses surrounding the streetcar--probably the meeting that really gets the public excited behind the project.

In talking to Kinsey Crocker, who is doing their PR, I believe they are going to put all the routes up on the Let's Talk Transit website, and I can't wait to see those. I also believe a news station was there, and I know KTOK had someone there recording audio..don't know if they were broadcasting live though. Reruns will also probably be on City Channel 20. Overall it was a great process, a good experience, and I think COTPA not only got a lot of useful feedback but will put the feedback to good use. It was also great to meet so many people, a lot of whom read this blog. I look forwarding to attending the future public forums that are planned.

To conclude, I want to come back to the planning process with the average joes and how it didn't really work so well. It's a very difficult leadership challenge and I personally struggled trying to find a way to get the group moving in the right direction and working effectively toward the same goal, and not just yammering on about their favorite and least favorite streets in downtown--although I will admit my sole reason that I insist Broadway has a streetcar route is just that Broadway is by far my favorite street in downtown, and Automobile Alley is my favorite area (one reason I've featured so much of Steve Mason's stuff on here). I think I saw first hand what Mayor Mick experiences and it could be a major reason as to why he has allowed for such little public involvement in MAPS 3.

It's true that the public, for the most part, is really not who you want planning this kind of stuff--despite the high quality of proposals that got presented at the public forum on Tuesday. Those proposals took a high degree of leadership from me, Jeff, and the other people who took charge within their own group to lead everyone in the right direction (although I have no idea if other groups had the same difficulties..I certainly didn't see another Kramer/Einstein). It's something to think about. I can see where Mayor Mick has a vision he wants to achieve, and more importantly, I don't see him willing to take a chance on public involvement..indeed it can be a scary thing. I still think it's a flaw of the dear mayor's because while being a scary thing, it is an absolutely VITAL thing. Vital. And it's not all bad, like I mentioned, the end results were almost all good even if the process seemed scary at times. There are always people within the community who are more than capable of providing input that IS valuable and you have to let those people take the lead on public partnership initiatives, and they can't do that unless there is public involvement. And that's what this is, and that's why I encourage everyone to roll out to the next public forum which will be held April 29th from 6-8 same place..

Keep Downtown Urban

The SandRidge fallout is beginning to roll. Keep an eye out for this new site..looks really good. The address is Keep Downtown Urban and it is going to be dedicated to opposing the SandRidge application and hopefully other anti-urban proposals that continue to destroy the remainder of Oklahoma City left over from the first Urban Renewal (with today being the "second Urban Renewal").

Also you can read more about the political fallout here on Steve's blog..and there may be an appeal down the road. I honestly didn't even realize that opponents of a proposal could appeal a DDR ruling. My personal opinion is that DDR members are doing a good job, they're doing the best they can. They deferred it as long as they could and did due diligence to survey the buildings themselves.

Something just doesn't seem right with SandRidge and the OKC good ole boy system, and my opinion is it'll be interesting to see what happens to Betsy Brunsteter who was the only committee member that voted against the demolition. Anthony McDermid was extremely critical and said that "blood" was on their hands, but in the end he voted yes just because it was a forgone conclusion in his opinion. Or did he vote yes for other reasons?

Steve raises some good questions.. why was Jim Couch there? I've been to DDR meetings myself before and I know Jim Couch doesn't typically come to those. Typically by the end of a DDR meeting I am the only person there, because it's just people who have an item up for consideration and they leave as soon as they get a verdict. Jim Couch does not even attend City Council meetings typically because he is supposed to be too busy running the day to day operations of the city to give a crap about the crazies who speak at the end of meetings or Brian Walters' political posturing as the neo-con who's gonna save OKC from the grip of the libs. (to summarize a typical City Council meeting)

There are a lot of other good questions being raised. Now it appears that the most important question of all is, did the DDR members have any choice but to vote yes towards the demolition?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Route evolution

Let's get straight to the issue surrounding COTPA's Let's Talk Transit forums. What people want to know is the route of the proposed streetcar system, when it's going to be built, and issues like that.

If you're still back on Page 1 and wondering what kind of rail we're doing and questions like that, just research "streetcar." Throw out everything you know about heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, etc--those types of mass transit are not designed to work effectively and safely within pedestrian spaces, do not make quick stops, travel too fast, and are cost prohibitive for a condensed (LOL at that one) downtown area. Streetcar is a cost-effective option that is also clearly the best-adapted to what we hope may at some point in the future be a good pedestrian area.

Now moving on. The route. That is the real issue, and probably one of the most complex issues that remain unresolved with MAPS 3 (besides how a powerless advisory board can possibly be relevant in anyway). It involves many complex issues, and possibly politics although I hope it doesn't come down to that.

Because of streetcar's incredible ability to stimulate infill development within 4 blocks of a streetcar line, you have to look at the potential of certain key nodes of activity in downtown, and not just what is presently there. With that said, you also want a good mix of current hotspots such as Bricktown, the Devon Tower site, Ford Center/Cox Center, etc. In my opinion the goal should be to maximize the best mix of potential infill stretches that link current hotspots. One example is the area between the CBD and the Walker Circle in MidTown, another example is the area between Bricktown and the OUHSC/Oklahoma Health Center area.

I would also encourage anyone looking at a route to heavily consider the potential to expand the system. For instance, if you go with a certain route, consider how an expansion to further-out important activity areas (such as perhaps the State Capitol, OCU, etc) would tie-in with what you're creating.

Then there are technical ramifications. Consideration of locating a hub for the system. What type of route configuration, are we going to go with a loop system, or a hub-and-spoke? I tend to prefer the loop because it's simple and incredibly easy to expand, difficult to mess up from a planning perspective--and with planning being what it is in the Heartland you definitely want to minimize the risk in that area. The mayor seems to prefer the hub-and-spoke system based off of what has been in the media, and I'm not one to question the planning expertise of Mayor Cornett. Actually though, the hub-and-spoke does offer a few advantages, the most important being that it seems you can cover more of downtown using the same 5-6 mile distance of track. That is a clear advantage that could make hub-and-spoke the best option for OKC if it chose to go in that direction with the streetcar project.

Like I mentioned, a loop route would be almost too easy. A hub-and-spoke system would require heavy coordination of tying in the different streetcar lines, a schedule that is a work of art, and of course it would require that every line be a double track.

Here's an interesting hub-and-spoke route that I put together. There are three overall lines: the Blue Line is just a strip down Sheridan Ave, the Red Line is just a loop that goes through MidTown and ties into..the Orange Line, which connects downtown and Bricktown to the OUHSC area and closely resembles the abstract route proposed by the Modern Transit Project led by Jeff Bezdek.

This is a good route in my opinion because it does a good job of tying sites that currently have high importance with areas that could see a lot of infill. The infill is important because that is almost the only area in which OKC stands to get an economic benefit out of streetcar, and the economic impact of downtown development shouldn't be underestimated. The areas in this system that would see a ton of infill are along Sheridan in the Film Row area, the "Medical Business District" along 10th Street, the area along Walker before you get to the Walker Circle, and also the area along Lincoln would stand to be built up.

The system also ties in a good array of important sites, starting with the hub which would be placed at Santa Fe Station. In the past I've talked about the opportunity to expand the Santa Fe Depot and build a true transit hub that ties into the east side of the Cox Center (which is currently an embarrassing blank wall), but it's the same general area. Realistically with streetcar, you don't need a hub, but it can be a valuable bonus to tie the streetcar into Amtrak, potential light rail/commuter rail to other parts of the city, bus services, among other modes of transportation. Other important sites that are linked by this system are Bricktown (from end to end), the OUHSC, Devon Tower, the Cox Center/Ford Center, Myriad Gardens, and OCU Law School along the Blue Line and the OUHSC leg of the Orange Line. The Red Line connects the Arts District, City Hall, Civic Center Music Hall, OKC Museum of Art, Walker Circle (restaurants), and so on. The Orange Line goes all the way down North Broadway and feeds off of the Automobile Alley area--imagine how awesome streetcar will look gliding along its rails with the historic storefronts of A-Alley behind it and the CBD skyline off in the distance.

And then, as for tie-in to potential expansion, here's what I've got in mind:

You can see where the goal here is mainly to connect the one remaining big activity area (the State Capitol) to the rest of the system and for the rest of the expansions, I think the best idea is to follow historic precedent. There are certain historic areas of our city that were originally built around streetcar expansions in the first place and these areas today still offer the best chance for success. For the most part, these are also the denser, cooler strips that could use a real hand in redevelopment--such as the Plaza District or Uptown. Future streetcar expansions should connect hot spots such as OCU, 23rd Street, the Asian District, Uptown, Plaza District, perhaps Western Avenue, Paseo, etc. Imagine the diversity that someone from out of town would come in contact with simply by riding the streetcar of OKC.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Well. I just don't know what to say anymore. Apparently the entire damn city is united toward razing entire blocks of downtown historic structures.

I was flabbergasted by reading this post on Steve's blog, including letters from Clay Bennett and Larry Nichols arguing on behalf of the SandRidge Commons project. These aren't people who intend to slight downtown..

Oy veigh.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Meet "The Urbanists"

I always love checking my email and getting interesting emails from developers, journalists, community agencies, readers, and fellow bloggers.. typically all of my email communications are private because I don't just rehash what people "in the know" tell me--I'm not a guy with a loudspeaker who's going to publicly post all of my private conversations. But I do want to post this, because there's a new Tulsa urbanist blog that's looking for publicity, and if anyone is interested in reading about Tulsa I would very much encourage you all to put it in your daily reading as well. It's called The Urbanists.

They've also done quite a bit of posting on OKC.. funny how I am constantly trying to get OKC to learn from the example of other cities, and I particularly admire Tulsa--the people that are sane in Tulsa (ruling out the "OMG Tulsa > OKC" people, or OKC's version of that) are doing the same in admiring and drawing comparisons to OKC. Here's one post highlighting OKC's "condo success"--funny how they included The Hill. Regardless we wish them the best of luck, and sometimes in Oklahoma's two big cities you have to pull the "Other side of the turnpike is better" card in order to get your city to wake up.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tear that sucker down

That sucker I am referring to is Downtown Oklahoma City. SandRidge Energy's application for what is being dubbed as SandRidge Commons, which includes the largest demolition downtown has seen since the 1970s, proving to the world that urban renewal and downtown demolition is still alive and well in Oklahoma City. Maybe we can also put Urban Renewal Capitol of America in with the rest of our hokie promotional pitches--that is one that there would be virtually no other contender.

Downtown Design Review voted 6-1 to approve SandRidge's application for demolition of four buildings, including the India Temple with its historic merit, and the Kermac Building with its historic merit as well as feasibility. My opinion on the DDR verdict: It was expected. Can anyone say they're surprised? Should DDR have acted differently? Probably, couldn't they have split the proposal and granted all demo's except the Kermac? Probably, but at the end of the day, it was SandRidge's bad proposal. Go check out Automobile Alley, MidTown, Core to Shore, and now especially the downtown area and can anyone TRULY say that demolition isn't becoming extremely widespread? What's more is that almost none of these buildings being demolished left and right, probably about 8 total for now, are going to be replaced with ANYTHING. So this is en effect the continued hollowing out of our downtown core. The only two that are being replaced by something else is the MidTown Medical Business District redevelopment site and one of the uglier buildings SandRidge is demo'ing.

This is an example of a dense downtown (Louisville)

This is what we've done to our downtown, and we continue to regress. We continue to lose density, create more vacant space in downtown, and tear down great historic buildings. There is at least one building with historic merit AND redevelopment potential that we are senselessly losing to SandRidge alone, not to mention the Community Foundation, and other demo's elsewhere.

This is the impact: Can you seriously tell me Downtown OKC is urban on a "Big League City" scale? How can we tout ourselves as a model of urban growth, when to be frank, we are not even close. How are we proud of Downtown OKC? The pride that we did have was mostly in our historic areas and what LITTLE density we did have, and those things continue to shrink and get smaller and smaller in our city. So what do we say next time there are comparisons made between Downtown OKC and .. Tulsa? Charlotte? Fort Worth? Kansas City? How does our downtown compare, what impression of our city will we give out of town residents, etc? The answer can be nothing short of the fact that we are modeling Downtown OKC more and more after Amarillo it seems. With all of the great stuff going on, all of the public investment going on, and all of the private investment just flowing .. we are STILL loosing density, and not gaining density. 2 steps forward, 2 steps backward.. destined to be a downtown that falls well short of the standard set by real cities, such as Tulsa, Louisville, Fort worth, Kansas City, and yes..even Charlotte, which isn't foolishly demolishing numerous buildings without replacing them.

So feast your eyes: It's the downtown of the future that OKC could become..Downtown Amarillo, almost the most underwhelming "urban" environment in America (which is saying a lot in America).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Another Oklahoman mention

Wow, looks like I was honored to have another mention in the Daily Oklahoman in an article written by Steve Lackmeyer, about how social media and blogs have transformed the downtown discussion. I am incredibly lucky, as critical as I have been of the status quo and the powers that be, to be included in several articles in the state's main newspaper.

Steve wrote..
"Those reporting include Doug Loudenback ( and Nick Roberts ( — both established bloggers who also are frequent contributors to

The solicitation of bloggers is a project launched by Michael Scroggins, spokesman for the transit authority, and Kristy Yeager, spokeswoman for the city. Some might question whether such arrangements will ensure nothing but favorable coverage.

But if history is a guide, some of the bloggers, most notably Loudenback and Roberts, have written extensive coverage, both glowing (Loudenback was a big proponent of the NBA effort and Ford Center tax), and negative. (Loudenback wrote critical coverage of the MAPS 3 campaign and Roberts has been critical of Core to Shore development plans.)"

So yeah, a very good mention altogether. I'm still scratching my head and trying to figure all this out. People think I'm an established blogger with a track record.. quite an honor, and especially to be included in Metro Transit's forums on streetcar planning.

The reality is that I am no more than a citizen journalist. I read the same news that everyone else reads. I'm familiar enough with downtown, and know its players well enough that I know where to look to find out the scoop on things. My life is primarily consumed by class and the city I currently live in, which is not OKC. Whenever I get a day that slows down and I have time, all I do is put together some quick research and write up a post that conveys generally the same message as every other post on this site.. OKC needs more infill, more density, smarter planning.. and less distractions from the real issue. I am committed to being a part of the urban movement in OKC, as exciting as it has become.

There is no reason that dozens of readers couldn't do the exact same thing that I do. That's what I'm getting at, and I hope that will eventually come of this.