Sunday, May 30, 2010

What a great state

Just got back from a trip up and down Route 66 from OKC to Tulsa and back, although I must confess, I cheated and took the new highway back. I just wanted to make a comment about what a special, one-of-a-kind place Oklahoma really is. I realize how negative and controversial I sometimes come off, and I don't mean to sound so pessimistic, it's just one of those things where if everything's alright then nothing needs to be said. This blog is about urban change, and I say if it aint broke, don't fix it.

Another thing I constantly strive to find in Oklahoma is uniqueness, and it's not hard to find. We all love to support local establishments. In the last three days or so I have been spending my time at the UCO Jazz Lab, the Paseo Arts Festival, getting my kicks on Route 66 (passing dozens of vineyards), and exploring the Philbrook collections, and grounds. And don't forget coffee and then dinner on Brookside. And yeah, Pops is absolutely awesome.

Name me one small state where summer means such a complex wellspring of arts, music, cuisine, and more.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

3 options (that don't stink)

These are the three streetcar routes that COTPA is going to unveil at the upcoming Let's Talk Transit meeting. I am impressed by the skill, knowledge, and patience displayed by COTPA staff and particularly their consultant, Mike McAnelly..and personally, I say they've come up with some GREAT routes given the length limitations we are going to face. Wish it could have gone further down Sheridan and connected Film Row and OCU Law, but oh well.

Route 1

6.75 miles

Route 2

5.47 miles

Route 3

6.35 miles

My comments will be brief, I am MUCH more interested in what readers think about these routes. I'm not a big fan myself of the green route--I don't think it connects enough existing destinations, unless you think that a potential streetcar system needs to serve the bus station and the memorial. My main preference is probably the red route, although I like the blue route, too.

We Talked Transit..apparently

Sorry I am just now getting around to writing up my recap for the Let's Talk Transit meeting waaaaay back on May 11. I've just been bogged down with work and of course, fighting SandRidge and now anti-preservation moron lawmakers--the topics that have very clearly preoccupied this blog lately.

But YES, there WAS a Let's Talk Transit streetcar public forum meeting on May 11..it was held at the usual time, 6 pm in the Hall of Mirrors, Civic Center 2nd floor.

Several points from other people first, and then I'll just finish with my own thoughts that I feel are relatively important to the subject. The format of this meeting was just open mic and attendants were encouraged to take the mic and voice their concerns for the streetcar system. In order to get us fired up, Mike McAnelly shared several potential streetcar alignments which I'm not even going to mention here because I think (hope) those were just to get us talking, and not something seriously being considered.

Jeff Bezdek: Jeff conveyed several great ideas, as usual, when he took the mic so I am going to start with him. The most important idea that he conveyed, as far as streetcar route alignment goes, is that there is a strong need to find a balance here and pick up people in destination areas in order for the streetcar to serve as an incubator for somewhere else. Put more simply, a streetcar with nobody riding on it does very little to actually invoke infill interest--it's the people that streetcar brings, not the streetcar itself. Jeff also publicly alluded to (for the first time I'm aware of) something that he privately mentioned to me at a previous meeting, so I'm going to assume it's okay to break the news: We may very possibly end up with more than $120 million for streetcar..and I don't think he is just talking about a fed contribution. I'm sure more details on this will be forthcoming when it's appropriate.

Dean Schirf: Dean, one of my co-transit bloggers, was quite possibly one of the foremost experts on rail in the room during the meeting. This, despite that he never officially headed up the campaign for streetcar nor is he the one getting paid by COTPA for consulting on streetcar. So it's with great respect and admiration when I preface this by saying that I actually have a disagreement with Dean when he said that it is important to start small and grow the system based on what we know works. He suggested that the wise thing to do would be to cautiously expand into 6 miles, in order to avoid any risks of going with a bad route. He also spoke up on the issue of the boulevard, which we can ALL agree with: The mythical boulevard still has not yet been funded, not by the city, not by the state, not by ODOT's 8-year plan, and not by the feds--and it is showing absolutely no signs of getting funded any time soon, either. So then why, on earth, is COTPA even suggesting that an E/W alignment share a route with the proposed boulevard? Yeah, it would be cool. Imagine it: A Paris-like street in the middle of OKC, lined with cafes and coffee shops and destination retail such as Nordstrom's, packed with pedestrians, super wide, with a streetcar going down it even. And then snap back to reality....

There was also a dude who showed up to argue for a $5 billion metro-wide light rail plan. He gave me a card, I lost it, forgot his name, forgot the name of his plan--but apparently he is serious about this. Personally I think he mislead a lot of people in the room into thinking that his private citizen initiative is a real deal like this streetcar project IS, but it was interesting nonetheless.

My own opinions: First, as for the "start small" concept, to me it's not a matter of the wisdom in the idea or being impatient to affect change. The bottom line is that if we do not have a system that is comprehensive and gets people everywhere they want to go, it will fail. So to that end, how does it help us to just gradually open a line that takes people up and down Sheridan and just Sheridan? When the ridership lags behind our hopeful wishes do we get to say, "Well, it's only the starter line, doesn't take people anywhere besides along Sheridan.." or is "Told ya so!" more appropriate?

I was speaking and Jennifer Eve, who was moderating, asked me to continue about how I feel about expansion..so I took a deep breath and this is what came out: The reality of this situation is really do or die for Oklahoma City. Here you have an infrastructure improvement that is so long overdue that it's easy to say just build the damn thing, whatever it is is we'll be happy with it. However, then it gets complicated. How much streetcar can $120 million buy us? That in my opinion is the MAIN QUESTION they should be asking, and NOT where can we stick 6 miles of streetcar? Because of the funding mechanism we are using for this project, any talk of expansion at the present is spurious--MAPS 4 will not even be a prospect until 2018 and a streetcar expansion can not be realized until 2025. We are committed to the overall MAPS 3 sales tax for the next 7-almost-8 years, and after that, we know the drill..voter approval, and then revenues must be collected BEFORE improvements begin. So yeah, don't even talk about expansion. What you have to do is design a system with the understanding that your hands are so tied by the funding mechanism that an expansion is not possible until 2025, or basically, a really long time.

Also my concern is with the project conception. Taking it like a scientific question, I think it asks the wrong question and has the control and variables inadvertently misplaced. The way COTPA has approached the question, the cost per mile is a constant and the route is the variable, the question being "How much can $120 million get us?" Instead I think that the route should be constant, the cost per mile should be the variable, and the question should be, "OK this is the route, now how much to spend per mile on it?"

See what I'm saying? There are certain things that make it more or less expensive per mile, and face it, the estimated $12-25 million per mile for modern streetcar systems is a HUGE range. If we come in closer to $12 million per mile, which would make me incredibly happy, then we could get 10 miles out of this system--and sure, we might not have some of the features that the $20 million/mile alternative would come with. But consider this: Which is going to attract more riders, a streetcar with bike racks and leather seats or a streetcar that connects Bricktown and Deep Deuce to the Oklahoma Health Center? We need to spend so much more focus on doing whatever we can to get slightly more than 6 miles. 8 miles would be great, and make a huge difference because in the current 6 mile system models I've seen, it is virtually impossible to do a good job connecting downtown districts and the medical district. I think that connecting the medical district is necessary due to the huge number of high-income jobs over there and the urban development growth that area is currently experiencing. But if you can't put a station in the middle of the medical district, don't even bother--there is no point in stopping at Lincoln and 8th because nobody is going to walk from 12th or 16th (OMRF) to get on the streetcar south of the medical district, basically.

Okay...so that's a LOT of issues, and a lot of debate, and a lot of respectful discourse. TOMORROW (Thursday) will mark the FINAL meeting of the Let's Talk Transit forum and it will basically consist of COTPA recounting back to us what we told them. It's a chance for us to see if they got our order right, basically. 11:30 am (lunchtime) and 6:30 pm, CITY HALL (not Civic Center).

Do 66 voices matter?

I was wondering. Even though the poll is closed after a month of voting, and I'm probably going to keep that particular poll topic up until SandRidge is settled, what does it even mean? So to get to the heart of that, here's three questions:

1. Do 66 votes on a blog mean anything? What if the blog is read by numerous developers, urbanists, and fairly educated people? What if the blog is one of the few downtown/urban specialty web sources that exist for OKC? If the 66 votes on here do or don't matter, what about the 146 votes at KeepDowntownUrban.com? By the way, the 146 votes overwhelmingly oppose SandRidge by a margin of more than 4-1.

2. Out of the 30% in my poll who supported the SandRidge Commons plan, how much of that support is conditional and not as strong as it could be if SandRidge would heed the concerns of the pro-urban community? I don't think anyone is unconditionally opposed to the project, I know I'm not, so that's to say I'm not 100% against it--but how much of that support for SandRidge is 100%?

3. Does support and public opinion even matter? Does SandRidge have a right to do whatever they want with land that they own, and does the community have any input or right to recourse if that plan is likely to endanger the common goal of bringing vibrancy back to downtown? Where is the line drawn on that sort of thing? At what income level does someone's opinion matter, then?

Cityshot XLIX


Now that's a view.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Letter to Governor Henry

Dear Governor Henry,

I understand that you are currently reviewing a bill that would revoke state historic tax credits for developers. This would be a humongous loss for Oklahoma, economically. The losses to our state would be realized on two fronts, economically, and in terms of the historic buildings.

1. Just looking at the current list of building projects underway or about to become underway in Oklahoma that would qualify for historic tax credits, that is $185 million in rehab projects that infuses the economy and provides 3,700 jobs and a positive balance of $4.7 million in tax revenues (despite the tax credits, which are only 20%).

2. We also lose historic buildings with more character in them than anything that can be built new. We lose some seriously important character assets that make Oklahoma City and Tulsa the unique cities they are. These buildings will be demolished and paved over with parking lots because without the tax credits, rehabilitation of the buildings will not be economically viable. We lose an important growth asset as well. There is no difference in terms of new residents between 100 new tract homes built on former farmland and 100 new units inside a formerly abandoned unit. The only difference is that it can appeal to a segment of recent college grads that Oklahoma currently does not appeal to as well as other states, and this is a valuable economic argument as well--the priceless intrinsic value of urban development and historic buildings.

As for as incentives go, it is a much, much more efficient use of resources for the state to encourage historic redevelopment through these incentives than to get rid of the incentives and for us to only have sprawl for housing. Apparently myopic conservatives are willing to pay a HUGE subsidy in the way of new roads, new schools, new police and fire coverage, new water lines, power lines, sewer lines, and so on--for sprawl, but we are NOT willing to provide an alternative for smarter growth because we can't shell out the tax credit anymore.

I just can not believe what the conservatives running the state legislature have come up with now, in the interest of "saving money." I hope they realize the irrevocable damage they will do to our cities, our way of life, our state's downtowns, and so on. There are developers currently relying on getting these tax credits for projects already underway. I hope you will not let Oklahoma back out of its guarantee of these tax credits, leading to the financial ruin of everyone currently involved in historic preservation. It will send a message for a long time that historic rehab work in Oklahoma is not worth even considering, and after the moratorium is lifted, there will not be anyone remaining willing to take the chance on historic preservation again.

We will be up a creek, truly, if the moratorium is passed. I hope you will protect Oklahoma from this threat and veto the bill. Thank you very much, and for everyone thing you do.

________________________

For those who don't know, the tax credits that enable historic preservation projects in Oklahoma are currently under siege from the state capitol. The bill instituting a 2-year moratorium on historic tax credits was passed in the state legislature by people who obviously do not understand development nor economics. Letters can be sent to Governor Henry, who is currently reviewing the bill, here:

http://www.ok.gov/governor/message.php

Fixing SandRidge Commons



What if we could make some simple changes to the SandRidge Commons proposal? By making minor strategic changes, accepting Preservation Oklahoma's request to preserve historic buildings on the site, and by moving the cubist structure proposed at 120 Robert S. Kerr, you accomplish a handful of things:

1. Getting 120 RSK out of the way extends SandRidge Commons against the Park Avenue streetwall, creating more room in front of RSK.
2. SandRidge Commons becomes a viable green space because it extends it up against a straight southern edge, creating a well-defined space and a regularly-shaped space..which will lend themselves to enhanced functionality.
3. By selling the buildings the Preservation Oklahoma wants to protect, you've reinforced the streetwall along Robinson and once the buildings are restored as mixed-use redevelopment projects, you inject a ton of life deep into the heart of downtown.
4. By moving 120 RSK to Broadway, adjacent to a preserved India Temple building, you also create a NEW streetwall that reinforces Broadway.
5. Increased and improved sightlines about--from the main tower you can see straight to a clear edge on the south of the project boundary, the sightlines are improved from Broadway coming in from A-Alley, and the cubist recreational building (an awesome piece of architecture) gets enhanced visibility as well.
6. As a result of enhanced visibility for the recreational building, the restaurant on the ground level that opens up to the SandRidge park may be viable and not require a subsidy that it would if placed on Robert S. Kerr, a corridor with ZERO traffic and visibility, unlike Broadway.

An unpopular, controversial $100 million project becomes a well-loved $50 million project, an asset and a jewel for downtown. Sometimes less is more. SandRidge can sell the buildings off to prospective developers and recoup a small profit as well as save the large demolition expense. By rearranging the site plan to something that makes more sense, it is possible that the restaurant will be remarkably more successful than it would have been with less visibility.

Cubist recreational building proposed by SandRidge for 120 Robert S. Kerr.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jenni Carlson at it again

Apparently my favorite Oklahoman columnist, Jenni Carlson, is upset about the alleged lesbian softball stereotype..just read her recent column. Uh-oh...she's at it again: Writing columns about awkward subjects that have nothing to do with sports and going places where she should not even go...

I wonder what a typical morning meeting of Daily Oklahoman sports columnists is like:

Editor: Okay guys, I need your columns in by 6 today.
Berry: Alright chief, I got a doozie today for ya..on implications of Big 12 break up!
Editor: Awesome, Rohde?
Rohde: Uh... I dunno chief, let me think for a minute. Okay I got it, I'll do a column on how OU is the greatest ever and how everyone else sucks.
Editor: Perfect, after all--that's all we write about here at the Oklahoman, right? Now Jenni..Jenni, what are you going to write about?
Jenni: How about how black people seem to like chicken?
Editor: Uhh....
Jenni: Okay, okay..what about what football positions people of different races are genetically engineered for?
Editor: Huh? Are you serious?
Jenni: Okay, fine--I know I got a lot of flack about that one last time I did it! How about...how softball players are thought of as lesbians??
Editor: Whatever, just don't get featured on Jon Stewart again..

Who the hell does she think she is? And yes, it's unfair that there's a lesbian stereotype with softball--but she missed the point. The Wall Street Journal used the stereotype against Obama's recent Supreme Court nominee by putting on the front page a photo of her playing softball with her hair rolled up in a bun, and there is no way they were oblivious to the ongoing rumors that Kagan, unmarried and child-less, is a lesbian. This is why sports writers should stick to sports, politics writers should stick to politics, and arguments about genetic engineering should be left to Dr. Mengele..not the sports page of the Oklahoman...

Meetup photos: Bricktown

I'll slowly post a few highlights of my photos from the OKC Talk downtown photog meetup, which went very well--I think everyone who participated is looking forward to future meetups, and I hope more people in the future will join us. In general, I think it's good for people to get out there, meet each other in person, and do away with Internet communication barriers whenever possible--and hopefully it will foster more involvement by encouraging people to take their passion for downtown urbanism out to the real world.

Without further ado, here's my faves out of the Bricktown pics I took:














Notice anything wrong with Bricktown in any of these pics? I don't--and that's coming from someone who's admittedly quick to point out anything wrong with this city. I couldn't imagine a more perfect evening..Bricktown is doing WELL, despite all of the criticism and controversy it frequently attracts. Make no mistake, that goes to say a lot about Jim Cowan.

Cityshot XLVIII


Downtown's landmark Myriad Gardens..closed and completely torn up. Change..progress..evolution..good things.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Film Row streetscape update!

Tons of progress on the Film Row streetscape this last week. I would estimate the sidewalk components at half-finished...the street still needs to be repaved and a lot of the project will involve decorative paving in the intersections which has yet to begin, but with the sidewalk components wrapping up they will hopefully begin soon on the more intensive construction aspects. Progress pics:


Friday, May 21, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

SandRidge....again

Brief recap from SandRidge appeal today:

Meeting began at 1:30 pm. Did not end until 5:30. Settled nothing. We brought our A-game, and Preservation Oklahoma made an incredibly impressive and persuasive case--so I suppose it's to their credit that the meeting didn't end at 3 o'clock with a vote of 0-4 against the appeal.

The meeting has been rescheduled. I think June 28th? I'll have to double check that now. Currently using WiFi at a coffee shop downtown..very tired, and worn out. My own jarbled speech did not go as hoped--despite being guaranteed by the BoA bylaws of 5 minutes speaking time we were all hurried up in the interest of time, and I had no complaints with that! Didn't get to many of my points, but got through some..initially brought talking points to the meeting, rewrote them several times during the meeting, opted against talking points for the most part while I was speaking..only had to pause once to regain my train of thought and get to my next point.

All of this would have been prevented if we didn't have this broken process. In order to do largescale development projects like this a developer SHOULD be holding neighborhood meetings like they do for development in many, many other cities. A neighborhood meeting would be the appropriate venue for us to air our concerns and meet an amenable solution.

It would be a heckuva lot better than this stupid process where we are pitted against an entity that could do a lot of good for downtown. In order to send this back to the drawing board and satisfy community input it will require a "NO" vote, and that's unfortunate.

Now I'm exhausted..I'll do more of a recap later. And I am STILL trying to get around to doing a recap of last week's transit meeting, it's just that SandRidge is on the front burner for now.

Here goes another..


The old Grace Cleaners bldg at 529 W. Main Street -- targeted for demolition. The proposed replacement: Surface parking.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SandRidge appeal tomorrow

Tomorrow is the day of the SandRidge appeal before the Board of Adjustment. The appeal was filed by Preservation Oklahoma and has recently gotten a letter of support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The meeting is tomorrow in the City Council chambers, at 1:30. I will be taking off from work to attend the meeting. The way I see it, I already saved these buildings once from demolition..against the odds, time to do it again.

I don't really take ANY credit for saving the buildings initially, the real credit goes to Scottye Montgomery who read my letter to the City Council and other citizens who actually were able to show up on that day. The Downtown Design Review Commission obviously saw that citizens were concerned and responded by deferring it to a special meeting at which we eventually lost.

I still don't feel very confident about the appeal, but we have to make a good showing nonetheless on the off chance that we can make a difference. I also wrote a letter to Kathe Casula, who works for the Board of Adjustment. Her email is: kathe.casula@okc.gov

My letter is as follows:

Dear Ms. Casula,

My name is Nick Roberts and I run a popular local urbanism blog at downtownontherange.blogspot.com--recently I did a poll of my readers on the SandRidge demolition permit and determined that 42 of them actually opposed the $100 million SandRidge Commons project simply on the grounds of the demolitions. 20 readers approve of the project, but I wonder how many of them are just "glass half full" people who still wish SandRidge would do more to preserve a few buildings rather than tearing them down.

I like the SandRidge Commons proposal--in concept, but the incompetent, horrible, uneducated architects and planners who put it together need to be banned from ever doing any Oklahoma City projects again. If they really knew OKC, they would know how sour we still are over the I.M. Pei legacy. He ruined our city, basically--and they want to continue his urban renewal schemes. Basically we oppose two of the demolitions and support the other elements of the project, but with hesitation.

The India Temple, as I am sure everyone in downtown is aware now, is the oldest remaining building (built in 1902) and also served as the home of the Oklahoma State Legislature for years. It is an incredibly relevent historical site and SandRidge wants to tear it down and replace it with...nothing. A windswept corporate plaza will replace it. The person who put the false facade over it says it can be removed, although SandRidge says it can't. The building poses challenges but should be given a chance. Asbestos abatement will have to be done before it can be demolished anyway.

SandRidge wants to tear down the KerMac building to increase the visibility of the main tower. This is not only a bad proposition, but also sets a dangerous precedent for other companies thinking they can move downtown and establish a "corporate campus" area by demolishing density that leads up their tower. This building has no structural issues and on the outside appears to have a lot of really cool historic detailing--it should be saved even if the India Temple can't be. There is just no reason for it to not be saved, and in the past, there have been numerous (not just one) development groups interested in redeveloping this building and the adjacent Braniff building (as well as the India Temple). These buildings should be restored, not by SandRidge if they don't want to do it (but by someone), and not torn down and replaced with nothing but dead plaza space. We also need to preserve the streetwall along Robinson, one of the few in-tact streetwalls that remain from downtown's urban days. The effect of these streetwalls is defined space, which is becoming a rarity in downtown of all places.

The rest of the plan doesn't threaten the existence of downtown, but that doesn't make it wonderful. There is a really great cubist modern building proposed on Robert S. Kerr, but it's proposed in the middle of the Commons area and doesn't have any frontage on Robinson or Broadway. It makes no sense to have this building where it is proposed and it should be moved to be along Robinson or Broadway--preferably Broadway, where it can help reinforce an area with poorly defined space. This also would extend the Commons area up against a straight edge, which would support the commons and give it more definition as well.

By saving the India Temple and KerMac and allowing redevelopers to buy the buildings from them, moving the new building to Broadway near the India Temple, and extending the Commons to a straight edge--SandRidge Commons goes from being a horrible assault on downtown's urbanity and becomes a fantastic addition that will surely be praised in architectural journals as being a well-planned downtown asset. At any rate, we need to go back to the drawing board with this proposal--the public needs to be heard and the community's concerns for downtown's density and urbanity need to be taken into account. By taking into account these concerns, not only does SandRidge get a truly fantastic proposal at the end, but also would deserve praise for valuing the public process. How about it?

Thanks for reading, and I hope that you will pass my concerns along to anyone who might be concerned.

Have a great day!

Nick Roberts
-address removed-
OKC, OK 73170
(Walters' ward)

______________

In hindsight, I forgot to mention another important point: This should technically be against city code. City code for downtown development states that setbacks aren't allowed for downtown development and new buildings should be built right up to the sidewalk--so why is SandRidge being allowed to demolish buildings that DO come right up to the sidewalk in favor of nothing, for the sake of a plaza setback for their main tower. The city code states no setbacks for new development, but we're still allowed to have development that is basically just one huge setback??

Cityshot XLVI


The Tower Theater's recently-restored neon sign lights up the Uptown 23rd corridor late last Friday night.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

AHL team to be unveiled

Anyone remember the naming contest we had for the new NBA team 2 years ago, and how Barons seemed to be the most popular choice? Well tomorrow we expect the new AHL team will be unveiled. I would guess that Bennett and McClendon opted against the Barons because surely Seattle would have had a hey day with the "OKC Robber Barons." Fortunately the AHL is in no such precarious position. My prediction: OKC will finally get a pro-level "Barons" mascot.

We'll find out tomorrow.

Cityshot XLV


Devon Tower construction.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Better Block Project: Complete streets

For less than $1,000, look at what a community can do to better itself. This example comes from the south side Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, which is a largely low-income inner city neighborhood with a cool main street strip. Oak Cliff has been a really sleepy, poor inner city area until recently when the Bishop Arts District came alive recently and now, Oak Cliff's main street is showing some promise.



They took an existing street and without doing an expensive million-dollar streetscaping project, they divided the wide street into multiple uses..one lane for car traffic, another for car parking, and a strip for bicycles denoted by green paint. Most importantly they also brought the sidewalk out further and put in a patio seating area and adorned it with extensive greenery.

They took their concept to the Internet. Here are the videos:





If Dallas can do it, OKC certainly can.

Not all is well

I was watching a re-run of the initial PlanOKC meeting in which Russell Claus was recounting some startling statistics. Since 1970, the dynamic of the community of OKC has changed in a lot of negative ways as a result, in my opinion, of people not accounting for the results of their actions and not planning for the future.

Population growth since 1970: 40%
Utilities consumption: 60%
Growth in new lane miles: 275%

I think that the most telling, believe it or not, isn't the 275% growth in new lanes miles, but rather the 60% growth in energy consumption. Think of how much more efficient our appliances and electronics are these days and how our homes are built for energy conservation.

Also, 70% of OKC streams and lakes are polluted.

I think radically bad numbers call for radical change. A lot of cities that find themselves in OKC's position decide to change for the better, and we need to do that. We need to become denser, less polluting, and build things to a higher standard. Examples abound.. Tyson's Corner, VA. Phoenix, AZ. etc

We need to focus on transit more than anything, such as Phoenix--this dispels the notion that transit serves density. No--density develops around transit. We also need to follow Tyson's example and redevelop all of our parking lots and setbacks and build our density up.

Watching the PlanOKC initial meeting, I saw a lot of hope. The council chambers were actually filled to the brim, a promising sign that OKC cares about city planning and sustainability. A lot of the questions were really interesting, too--people asked about "complete streets" (a concept I might mention soon), mixed-income neighborhoods, and other current planning concepts.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rockin' Reunion in Capitol Hill

This looks really cool: The alumni groups for the four high schools on the south side, Capitol Hill, Southeast, U.S. Grant, and Mount St. Mary's, are having a huge all-southside reunion block party Capitol Hill--using all of 25th Street/Commerce between Walker and Robinson.

They're planning on having a chili cookout, a vintage car show, an art show, several bands playing music from different decades, guitar art contest, guitar hero tournament, and vintage clothing set up for sale.

It was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday of this weekend..but it was rescheduled until JUNE now. I'll mention something about it again before the event. What I really need to do is put together a calendar on here of the events I am recommending..

Friday Night on the Plaza

I am now officially in love with the Plaza District. Imagine a piece of OKC that 5 years ago was NOTHING and today is lined with trendy LOCAL shops, coffee shops, countless art galleries...and far more importantly, PACKED with people. Yes--imagine a neighborhood in OKC that is truly built around pedestrians that go from shop to shop, from gallery to gallery, from cafe to cafe, enjoying the sights and sounds, people watching, and especially enjoying the live music scene.

Virtually every shop has a stage area in the back for a concert, the coffee shops, galleries, even the Velvet Monkey salon also feature live music on Friday nights. People who couldn't book a stage just take their guitar to the sidewalk and serenade their friends outdoors.

The area also has a special Okie identity that separates it not just from other urban districts elsewhere but also from OKC's own urban districts. Because all of the shops are local, many of them sell shirts and stuff that feature edgy Native American depictions, many incorporate the OKC skyline, and so on. And who would have thought a designer could do that and make very cool clothing at the same time? The reality is that most of it is far cheaper than what you would pay for as good a shirt at the mall--the locally-designed tees in the Plaza's shops are only $15/$20.

I think when it comes to solving OKC's identity issues, the Plaza District shops have the answer. This place is on to something. I also think that there is something priceless about a neighborhood with so much character. You can not people watch like this anywhere else in OKC, not even Bricktown--not for lack of people in Bricktown in the evening, just for lack of interesting people, really. There is infinitely more value in what's happening in the Plaza District than anything else going on in OKC--I really just can't rave about it enough.

BUT I would be forlorn if I didn't make the two most important points about the significance of the Plaza's rise:

1. It all happened with a community block development grant in which the community actually raised the money for the streetscape project first and got a funding match from the City of OKC. Did Bricktown ever take the initiative on its own to find funding for the canal and ballpark? Did downtown ever do that for the convention centers and Ford Center and so on? Of course not--primarily because they don't have to, being at the center of the city. The Plaza, being off-center and waaay off the radar, had to come up with a vision for this all on its own, and I doubt any of it would have ever happened without the presence of the Lyric Theater.

2. Look at the economy and all of the projects that have stalled and all of the momentum that's been lost in areas like Bricktown and Deep Deuce. "The economy" mantra has grown so old to me that I've been forcing people to look at all of the development in Tulsa, BUT instead of Tulsa, just look at all of the development going on in the Plaza. Hopefully that will be "OKC enough" for the Tulsa-haters. Jeff Struble and others have, in the middle of a recession that has crippled development everywhere else in OKC except NW 9th and Broadway, spurred a tremendous revitalization and landed OKC with a major asset in my opinion: a local culture. Perhaps there's something to be said here about the ability of local culture and local establishments to withstand and weather a recession much better than the big national chains who rely on financing schemes and fuzzy national economic trends.

Without much further ado, here's some bad pictures taken on my phone (I'm not going to go all heavy-duty photog when I'm hanging out with my friends):




















Where's Waldo: Whoever finds first the local celebrity whose back is in one of these pictures.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Shoppe Crawl in the Plaza District

This looks cool: Plaza District's Alliope Shoppe Crawl. I have no idea on earth what "Alliope" is but I know what "crawl" is and how it's done and it sounds cool and so I think I will be there. Maybe I'll even find out what "Alliope" means, so I will have learned something too.

It is tomorrow evening. The Plaza District is always a good time every 2nd Friday of the month.


THIS Friday May 14th 7-11 PM
NW 16th between Indiana & Blackwelder

Quick Peek for LIVE on the Plaza April
Outdoor: Outdoor Arts Market and POPS 66 Truck for soda and food
Velvet Monkey Salon: Artwork by Lindsay Martin and Micheal T. Bane
Collected Thread: Welcoming Spring with new fashions by Nora Ivy
DNA Galleries: Artwork by Dylan and Amanda Bradway
Shop Good: Sugar Free Allstars CD Release (6pm Kids Show, 9pm Grown Up Show), Art by Julie Robertson
Bad Granny’s Bazaar: 10% off everything in store with Shoppe Crawl Damages and Dire Wolf live music 8 pm
Curious and Curiouser: Open House
JuJu Gallery: Open house, Shoppe Crawl discounts
Midwest Media: @1614: artist Ryan Cunningham
Chaparney: Open house
No Regrets Tattoo: $40 Thunder Tattoos
Warpaint Clothing: New spring fashions
Paula & Co Realtors: Karaoke Cookout

Me and friends were planning on going to the Plaza District tonight for live music anyway. Not sure if the Shoppe Crawl is worth doing too, but if it looks good, I think I'll partake as well. I've heard rave reviews of the Plaza District scene and can't wait to see it for myself, since I've been away for so long.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cityshot XLIV




Bonus picture as well. 9th Street was skid row a year and a half ago, architects and engineers even strongly advised developer Steve Mason to tear everything down and rebuild. Instead he had a unique vision..reuse the existing warehouse and dilapidated houses and put unique businesses in them. Today..the area has been an incredible success.

I think keeping the overgrown green, just trimming it up a little bit, also contributes a lot to the cool environment.. it gives it kind of an "under the radar" feel, and it also provides shade on hot muggy Oklahoma summer days.