Sunday, February 27, 2011

Preach unto thee...insanity

In case you haven't heard, the two Tea Party candidates running for City Council wards (running against Ryan and Salyer), go to the same extremist Baptist church. They have been trying really hard to appeal to people's sense of inner righteousness to get elected and to eliminate MAPS, stunting the growth of the city. They have dodged any direct questions that have to do with actual policies and plans with the city and have, in true Tea Party fashion, not shown up for any of the debates with other candidates. This op-ed in the Oklahoman is interesting, because their pastor (or leader or savior or whatever arrangement they have in their cult) says they're just trying to "keep a low profile" which they should be commended for. Wow, what a load of baloney. You skipped out on the debates and refuse to be in the same place at once with the respected city leaders who you're trashing for moving the city forward.

Without further ado

History's first 'MAPS' project was the Tower of Babel

Published: February 25, 2011

'Forum flight: Some challengers to Oklahoma City Council keep low profile' (Our Views, Feb. 22) focused on Adrian Van Manen and Cliff Hearron not attending a forum for city council candidates, but it passed over two other candidates who also weren't at the event. Since the number of Ward 6 and Ward 8 residents in the forum audience isn't known, it makes sense that Hearron and Van Manen would rather knock on people's doors in their wards and talk to actual voters.

I'm glad that Van Manen and Hearron are focusing upon bolstering our police and fire departments. If you study the Bible, you'll see that God instituted human government in order to protect and defend, not to burden citizens with higher taxes to fund projects not necessary to maintaining peace and safety. Oklahoma City residents would be wise to remember that the first 'MAPS project' in human history ended with God confusing the languages at the Tower of Babel.

Rev. Tom Vineyard, Oklahoma City

Vineyard is pastor of Windsor Hills Baptist Church and a leader in the tea party movement, which supports Van Manen and Hearron.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is streetcar moving too fast?

That's what Jane Jenkins says in the Gazette.

“I think that’s jumping way ahead,” said subcommittee member Jane Jenkins. “I’m willing to vote that we’re adopting this map as a starting point, but I don’t know that this is where we’re going to end up. I still think we need to slow this process down. I think there are a lot of things out there, and I think we’re moving way, way too fast.”

Bezdek said the subcommittee would waste millions of dollars if it proceeded too slowly.

“So what?” Jenkins said. “I’m sorry, I think we can come back and do that later. Wasting millions of dollars as opposed to making a mistake? I think we’re moving too fast.”

Jenkins said before going further she wanted the subcommittee to review transit projects currently being studied, as well as get more input from planning and transit professionals.

Does anyone else think that the streetcar process is moving too fast? I personally am swayed heavily by the point that Project 180 isn't going to slow down, no matter the whims of the streetcar subcommittee, but it is interesting to me if some of the subcommittee members themselves feel uncomfortable with the pace of the process.

I also think there is a political clock ticking. The makeup of the City Council won't stay the same forever..

Friday, February 18, 2011

The latest on UNP

Here is the new updated flier for the University North Park project. This is an absolute crime. That whole deal is as corrupt as it gets. The old switch and bait, once the citizens give the developer the TIF he wants.

What's a shame is that there are other developers who build shoddy strip mall crap, probably a little better than this, who still play by the rules and pay property taxes and don't get the city to build parks and infrastructure for them. What kind of a message does this say toward that? What kind of a message does this say in terms of validating the free market? All this is: corruption, cronyism, lack of vision, and incompetence.

And the saddest thing is that OU's foundation was behind this project from the beginning.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Score some more for Deep Deuce

In today's Oklahoman, there's a Lackmeyer article about a housing project that OCURA hear in their meeting today. That's pretty routine business for OCURA, what makes this newsworthy is that the proposal is by Ron Bradshaw, who just finished a big project with the 2nd Street Lofts, and he's proposing all-rental now, and using one of the architects that's done a lot in Uptown Dallas. We know that this will be a 139-unit, $16M project. This project is at 4th and Oklahoma Ave--I suspect this is the site that will back up to the new Brownstones at Maywood Park, so it won't be a full block like LEVEL.

In the article, he admits that he and other developers put the cart before the horse in going full steam ahead with condo, which has proven to be a harder sell. Also interesting, aside from that we suspected Bradshaw would move on to another project soon, is that he proposed this so soon. He earlier said he would wait until selling out his project on 2nd Street, which makes me wonder if sales had picked up over there.

At any rate, it certainly looks like the economy is picking back up, and that downtown development is really taking off again. This project seeks to break ground this summer at 4th and Oklahoma Ave. It will be under construction simultaneously with the next phase of The Hill, the 7-story Aloft Hotel on Walnut, Richard McKown's full-block LEVEL development, as finishing touches are put on the Clark Bldg on 2nd Street, all in Deep Deuce alone. That will be a huge amount of construction in one area. Add it to the potential for some new mid-rises in St. Anthony, Dick Tanenbaum wanting to break ground as soon as he gets his hands on the old Mercy site, all the infill in SoSA, two proposed hotels in Bricktown, and some A-Alley renovations--there is a TON going on right now.

Downtown development is looking less and less dominated by Devon Tower and Project 180/MAPS3/Public and civic sector projects.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My streetcar proposal

I just wanted to once again draw people's attention to what I'd propose for a starter streetcar system:

How would I expand this and turn this into a city-wide system, you ask?

(The wide lines represent double tracks, although also keep in mind several single tracks are spaced just a block apart, effectively forming a double track/transit mall.)

Like this. Mostly, something divided into a northside system with 23rd Street as the main drag, and a southside system with Robinson Ave as the main feeder, and all of it coming together downtown. It would be a system with 3 separate hubs, a main hub downtown for the downtown-area streetcar lines and for cross-town transfers, and a north and south side hub to separately run those systems as efficiently as possible.

That is how I'd turn OKC into a big streetcar city once again. The lines look funny. The system is pretty big and overbearing. But it is quite simple when you break it down into southside and northside, with downtown being the point of emphasis between the two.

The starter system alignments matter. The future expansion alignments don't matter that much. As long as certain districts get served, it is not worth debating as much as the starter lines. The reason for the difference is that how a Phase 2 or 3 district gets served doesn't effect how other districts get served in the same way that how Mid-town is served will have MAJOR effects for how Plaza and Paseo get served, and so on.

I also want to say one thing intended directly for the subcommittee: You can't focus too much on development potential, because all of OKC has that, even North Broadway. Don't let someone tell you that Broadway is difficult to develop or already mostly developed, because that's insanity, and you're not a development task force, you're an infrastructure task force. You guys are experts on infrastructure and have studied streetcar systems, not development, and I assure you there are experts on OKC development in their own right, and they all have differing opinions of their own. You guys need to worry about initial ridership numbers and making sure that the starter system is successful. That means it needs to go somewhere and appeal to existing districts. You guys need to focus on the Bricktown, Mid-town, Arts District, CBD, Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley, and other districts. You need to connect those districts to be successful, and that involves actually touching them, not throwing bones. Be pragmatic about where people go downtown right NOW, not where they could go 20 years from now, which unfortunately won't come soon enough for the starter system.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Choctaw Town Square

Interesting things happening in Choctaw. They actually broke ground on their new Town Square development, at 23rd and Henney.

Choctaw Town Square Development from Mark Seibold on Vimeo.

Somewhat, urban? Interesting indeed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Planning curriculum in the schools

How allow school kids to take a hands-on approach to the lessons they learn in class and apply them to the environment they live in. The Sun Belt desperately needs this.

The #2 city for transit is..

This just in: The #2 city for public transit, in the U.S., is... Salt Lake City! The irony is off the charts.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Something has me stumped. Can someone explain how Chesapeake has been able to demolish everything between I-44 and Nichols Hills without ever showing their cards, ever alluding to an overall plan, anyone ever knowing about it until the buildings are gone, ever actually presenting a masterplan to the city, or anything of that sort?

First of all, let me say I'm not suggesting a conspiracy, I'm truly stumped. What has me stumped is how you ca drive down 63rd and every time it's a new experience seeing another mid-rise office building gone, and you're asking yourself, "Wait, I know there was an apartment complex right there last week?? I had a friend who lived there. What on earth??" It's bizarre.

If you scour the city council agendas you will never find any mention of Chesapeake. So what is the process for this? For instance, Chesapeake demolished the funeral home long before they ever announced Whole Foods, even though it was a done deal long before. Why wait so long to make these plans public? I don't get it.

There's a great old brick office building, built in the style of most OKC Public Schools (so I guess it's an old school), that now has yellow tape around it and boarded up windows. In fact, if anyone drives by it tomorrow, they'll probably be scratching their heads wondering where it went. Or maybe someone will send me an email telling me it's already gone. Or maybe it's being gutted and renovated instead. But there's no way to tell! We'll never know, until it's finished! (I'm hoping that my writing style at this point conveys a sense of facetiousness) To be clear, I think it is going to be renovated, and not torn down.

Very frustrating, though. How are they able to get away with forcing people out of their homes left and right, demolishing virtually an entire chunk of the city in the middle of the night, and then waiting until the building permit is already in-hand to announce what it's going to be, if we're lucky? I mean, there's normally a long drawn-out process where we get to see what developers are planning. The city typically has to approve construction projects. We do not have "commercial use by right" zones like some other cities (to my knowledge), which don't require an approval process as long as there's no zoning change. We have a review process that is important in this city.

Right now, all we know is that Chesapeake has the "Triangle at the Curve" under construction now (Whole Foods, likely other big tenants), and has applied to demolish some more houses in the neighborhood behind Classen Curve for more Balliet's parking. Also, most interestingly, Stanton Young (as a long-term OCURA guy, probably one of the most informed people about development in this town), filed a suit against Chesapeake to derail plans to build 5-story condos behind his Nichols Hills mansion. Chesapeake's response: We have no such plans. Riiiiight... (the case was dismissed)

"It's [not] the economy, stupid"

Everyone stop what you're doing, there's a really quick important message you need to see: Stop blaming the economy. It's getting old. By now, if you're a successful developer whose head isn't up your bum, you've figured out how to make things work.

This guy (Stanton Nelson), is not a successful developer. His project, the University North Park/University Town Center (not), has been in limbo for a few years. It started with a bang, winning approval from Norman residents for a TIF district which helped pay for basic infrastructure, lured an Embassy Suites hotel as an anchor, and he was able to build big retail anchors such as a Super Target and Kohl's among others.

Then the problem came with what was next: The lifestyle center, which he was contractually obligated to build, was supposed to be built in the next phase, due east (across the super-nice 24th Street with curves that the city built him) from the Target. Was it the economy, or was it that he was never prepared or willing to build the lifestyle center from the beginning? You decide. But one thing is clear, this guy was a clown from the beginning, and Normanites were delusional to ever believe him while he was blowing smoke and naming potential tenants that wanted to sign with him, tenants such as: Oh yeah, Restoration Hardware, Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Trader Joe's, a Whole Foods of course, and a whole host of other big-name retailers that OKC and Tulsa have even been clamoring for (except Tulsa already has several of them). First mistake: real developers don't drop names like that. Second mistake: real developers don't do things contingent on taxpayer help, without which their project is doomed. Third mistake (lookin at you, OU): real developers don't name a project after a university that is located 3-4 miles away.

This guy is not a real developer.

Now Norman is looking to move on. He will likely not be involved in this development much longer, so Norman is hoping for the best case scenario: move on, shut him down with penalties, and get a more competent developer to come in. Sounds good.

The problem is that it hinges on the development of the Legacy Park. The contract the city and he entered into was that the city would build the park, he would build the lifestyle center. If one party failed, the failing party would pay a penalty to the other, in this case, it will be the developer. The city will spend $5.9 million on the park and then probably get that back under the terms of the penalties, but in order to prevent that from happening, the developer is refusing to donate the land to the city in the first place, which was also in the contract.

He's citing economic problems for why he can't donate the land to the city. It's great that he's looking out for the city's best fiscal interest, but it's plainly obvious he's just trying to prevent what would proceed after that from his failure to develop the lifestyle center, I believe by 2016 (it is now 2011, obviously..4-5 years into the development schedule of this project). Call a spade nothing but a spade. The city has the money because it comes from the TIF, which has been generating a lot of revenue ever since Target went in, and would generate even more revenue for the city if Stanton Nelson were actually a serious developer capable of pulling this project off.

Here's my take: Recall James Carville's famous quote, "It's the economy, stupid." In this case, Mr. Nelson, "It's not the economy, stupid. It's you." Look all around the metro, and even more, look in some of the cities across the nation that are still being very successful. Large developments are still occurring, quite contrary to Nelson's lame argument that "nobody is building lifestyle centers right now." Which begs the question, if that were true, then what ARE they building? Because Moore is moving forward with the Fritts Farm project (Target has already broken ground WITHOUT taxpayer subsidies in this case), the Moore Warren is fixing to pull of another ambitious expansion that will make it truly impressive, and among countless other projects, even Midwest City is going forward with the next expansion phase of their town center which is far better than anything built in this area of Norman lately. In West OKC, the walls have been going up for a few months on the massive new outlet mall out there. You don't think that project could be pulled off if "nobody is building lifestyle centers right now" ?? The City of OKC invested in that project purely to defend its tax base from the other ankle-biting suburbs.

Clearly the economy is not stopping the momentum in Moore, which is continuing to literally suck the life out of Norman's tax base at this point. This is something that the City Council, looking for its livelihood to support its civic services and infrastructure, is most concerned with. A guy who can not build a lifestyle center in a development that is already anchored by an Embassy Suites, a city-developed park, a Super Target, a Kohl's, and more--and then makes lame excuses for himself, is not just a failure in this particular project, but is a total all-around business failure. I am a college kid, give me a chunk of land already anchored by all of these things that other retailers would clamor to be around, and I could do better than what Stanton Nelson wants to finish out his development with: Jack in the Box, GameStop, Portrait Studio, Discount Tires.

I think penalties are a euphemism for how the City of Norman should treat this guy, who must be a secret double agent developer working for Moore on a mission to prevent Norman from growing its tax base and retail amenities. That is the only explanation I can think of. I'd say the city needs to file as many actions as possible to take this guy to the cleaners literally (or whatever he built instead of say, the GAP, or Dillard's).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Councilman White resolves his streetcar dispute

I wanted to mention, although late, that Pete White has resolved his dispute over the streetcar and backed off. I think he was just reacting negatively to what he saw from AA and felt better once the subcommittee was able to reassure him it would be a worthwhile endeavor, or so we all hope. He backed off a while ago. Doug also did this really nifty video.

I don't like to toot my own horn, so I didn't mention it back in January when I went before the City Council (namely Pete) and spoke in favor of keeping the streetcar element in MAPS 3. But Doug did this little video and I thought my speech was actually fairly decent this time, although it gets off to a pretty shaky start with some trepidation as I rattle off the usual respectful openings.

I'm not sure how much pressure that social media actually puts on local city leaders. But I'm sure that Doug's videos (he made about 4-5 of them) did help the situation some. I hope Doug will continue to utilize social media outlets and help rally people when he sees that the public MAPS 3 program is taking a detour in any way. Even if Doug felt awkward by using these weapons against a long-time friend of his, Councilman White.

Sorry it took me so long (it's been a crazy few weeks), but good job Doug, and good job to the guys like Jeff and other subcommittee members behind the scenes!

Stockholm: Klarabergsg

I like this boulevard in Central Stockholm's Norrmalm region. It's simple, but grand at the same time. The tree-lined canopy framing both sides of the street makes a nice impression. It's extremely busy, and there's a lot of life taking place here. It's also pretty simple. Why couldn't OKC try to replicate this, instead of some 8-lane monstrosity? Is Stockholm's Klarabergsg, which serves as a central artery that connects Norrmalm and Sodermalm, any less impressive?

Are we really going to build OKC to be more urban and more impressive than...Stockholm? Be real.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Major irony

Anyone else notice the irony in the convention center study that council just approved? More on this later. Just a tease...

Hint: Go back and review groups that have conducted all of the prior studies on the convention center.


There answer is that the study is going to be executed by Populous. Populous is a spin-off of HOK, which is a large consulting firm that is probably the #1 experts in the field of arenas, stadiums, and convention centers. HOK did a convention center for us a year or so ago before the MAPS3 vote. So now the convention center studies are officially coming full circle. I wonder if this will even have the exact same people, exact same criteria, but shockingly different results?

I wonder what is going on...

P.S. It's also interesting, but maybe just to me, that Populous lists their Norman office on a page with the header "Kansas City Office" and uses a graphic that is basically the Calgary skyline, taken from the Stampede. They don't list an office in Calgary.

Tea Party/KKK set sights on City Hall, where they have no business

First off, let me just say, I don't do partisan politics. Probably Grudge #2 of mine against Mayor Mick is that he's always pandered to conservative partisan politics from the get-go when he labeled his first opponent a liberal and surged to an electoral win. But I do not like the Tea Party, and now that they've set their sights on City Hall (which they've labeled as ultra-liberal...darn those crazy liberal OKC city councilors!!) I feel compelled to combat some of these crazies, birthers and birchers alike (actual different wings of the Tea Party, aside from the Palin-worship that binds them all together).

Toward the end of last year I saw where Edmond's attempts toward sustainability were foiled by the Tea Partiers. I thought about writing about this, but I let is slide because I didn't want to acknowledge it or justify it with a response, and I didn't want to go political. I also don't have any stake or concerns about Edmond, and I believe they can do whatever they want, and more power to 'em. I'm just now getting to this now that this political ideology has taken aim at the Horseshoe.

It all goes back to when a meeting held by the City of Edmond was stormed by a crowd of angry Tea Partiers who were upset about anything sustainability-related (I assume that includes saving money). They weren't upset however because they disliked density, or because they were afraid roads would get less priority, or because of schools, or some possibly understandable but misguided reason that would be on-topic. They turned out because they were devoted to stopping Agenda 21 in its tracks.

Look, I know urban OKC better than anyone, the projects, the neighborhoods, and so on. And I'm an environmental design major to boot, so I know my stuff about urbanism and design and sustainability. But I had never heard of Agenda 21 before, I just had no Earthly idea what it was, so I had to look into it. Apparently it is part of a U.N. meeting in which the U.N. listed as a "Millennium Goal" for the world to have, among other things, clean water, safe air to breath, and well-designed cities. It is interesting to me that they list American-style sprawl among other maladies like infested water supplies or polluted air, but they're totally right to do so. Sprawl is a health and living issue. It makes you fat and drives you insane when all you do is sit in a steel box and obey color-coded lights. People who live in walking cities are healthier, and this is a fact.

So I guess I support Agenda 21 without even knowing about it, but now I do, thanks to the Sooner Tea Party. First of all, I don't understand what is wrong with the U.N.'s Millennium Goals. I dislike the U.N. as much as anyone, but I just haven't given it any thought since it kind of became irrelevant a few years ago. Is it going the way of the League of Nations? Who knows, and who cares? I support what I do and believe what I do regardless of who agrees with me, and it's blatantly obvious that the Tea Party wouldn't even care about urban planning (a truly non-partisan debate if there were ever one) if the U.N. didn't have a position.

To be fair to them, you can read the thoughts of these nutjobs in their own words here, here, and most-interestingly here, where a Letter to the Editor (of the Edmond Sun) concedes that Okie urbanists don't talk about eminent domain, "mandatory rules" (you mean like Don't Ask Don't Tell and abortion laws?), etc., but that it still matters that we defeat the U.N. conspiracy. See, I'd have thought that the issue should go away once they address what Okie urbanists actually talk about, but I guess not, amazingly. You take away the crux of the issue and still have an issue, I suppose.

Some excerpts from the ironically-named American Thinker write-up (can't call it an article):

Undoubtedly, residents of any town, county, or city in the United States that treasure their freedom, liberty, and property rights couldn't care less whether it's called Agenda 21 or smart growth. A recent example of this can be found in Carroll County, Maryland, where a smart growth plan called Pathways was drafted by the County Planning Department. The plan, if enacted, proposed a breathtaking reshuffling of land rights:

* Rezoning of thousands of acres of beautiful, low-density agricultural farmland and protected residential conservation land into office parks
* Down-zoning of agriculture land to prevent future subdivision by farmers
* Up-zoning of low-density residential land around small towns into higher density zoning to permit construction of hundreds or possibly thousands of inclusive housing units, including apartments and condominiums
* Inclusive housing with placement of multi-family construction on in-fill lots within existing residential single family communities
* Endorsement of government-sponsored housing initiatives (subsidies) to ensure healthier, balanced neighborhoods

This is a kenard. It's not even close to smart growth to rezone farming land into office parks. That's anti-smart growth, which actually would seek to preserve the farming land, in that instance, and to LIMIT SPRAWL. Furthermore, the rezoning is just that, rezoning. It gives greater freedom to developers to do development they want. It would be a different case (that I would still support) if the rezoning put a density minimum on developments, but that has never been the case. We should explore that, but it would be politically very unpopular. Also, when they throw around words like "protected residential conservation land," the term "land rights," and mix it with political rhetoric, which I've never seen done before, I get a distinctly Soviet vibe from these people. That's just me, though. I'm also curious to know what up-zoning means, but I suppose it's them not knowing what the hell they're talking about. Kind of like when my elderly grandmother always calls Wal-Mart "Greider's," which used to be a big supermarket in South OKC. I'm sorry grandma, did not mean to bring you into this! My point though is just that if you're going to demagogue about city business, know exactly and precisely what they hell you're talking about. These clowns don't.

And I'll also quote the Edmond Sun letter:

Edmond Sustainability will probably talk about smart growth (means United Nations Agenda 21, UN resolution 44/228, etc.) at 6 p.m. Monday at the Downtown Community Center.

I guess we can agree that philosophically, urban planning is a liberal idea. It's one that we've accepted for over 200 years in this nation, as we've always planned our cities. D.C., our nation's capital, was masterplanned by a French planner. I bet that wouldn't have gone over well with the Tea Party back in the 1800s (by which I mean the real nation's founders who also wore 2010-style wigs and old-timey dress). Oh wait, they supported it, and they wore wigs because that was normal then. Now that is ironic.

For those who are stumped and find it difficult to agree with my use of language in the title of this blog post:

So if we agree that planning is liberal, then so is getting an education. I don't mean having government fund it, I mean even getting one, because we're using a very specific definition of wicked liberalism here. We're all liberals in that case, because we support human rights for African American citizens. I think the KKK also had a resolution or two opposed to liberalism of any stripe, and I see more of a connection to that than I do between urban planning and the U.N., which does not award degrees, certify planners, or even think-tank on it (that would be the APA in every case).

When it comes to KKK, resolutions, I am opposed to anything they have to say. I do not even need to find out what it's saying, because it's the KKK. It's like speed, I don't even need to try it. I oppose any political thought from people who dress up in creepy garb. I do not even need to know what they say. This is especially the case if they do not even care what us normal-dressing people actually say.

Down with the KKK. Support your existing council, with the exception of Brian Walters, who is not part of the KKK, but still kind of backwards. Support the city council because it has been a shining example of putting policy BEFORE politics. It can prove to the world how a strongly conservative-dominated group (with exception of Pete, Skip, Sam, and probably Meg as a safe guess) can be as far from backwards as possible, and can push for smart growth, saving money, and better built environments that make healthy lifestyles possible, if you want to pursue that for yourself. They've proven that it IS important to give people options of different neighborhoods and lifestyles. We have it all here in OKC, even though the urbane is more fledgling.

So in summary, I oppose the KKK, and any resolutions it has regarding classical liberalism and governmental institutions like planning and education. I therefor have empathy for the Tea Party in its quest to defeat the U.N., but I would encourage them to visit NY or Brussels and save it for someone who cares. About the U.N., that is.

What's next, a boycott of grocery stores that sell products from U.N. nations? After all, it could bring us one step closer to a financial, economical, and governmental one-world order that the aliens in Europe are trying to control us in...