Thursday, March 31, 2011

If you have 20 minutes...

You need to do two things. First, listen to this video, it is 20 minutes long. Then the second thing you need to do, if you have another 20 minutes on April 5th and live in Ward 2, go vote! If not, spend 20 minutes between now and then telling people who live in Ward 2 (generally OKC city limits from NW 23rd up to the other side of The Village, excl. Nichols Hills, etc.) about Dr. Shadid, who is exactly what OKC needs.

If you don't have 20 minutes right now, here are the most interesting points you would have gotten from the video.

1. Dr. Shadid talks about bringing a unique perspective the other 7 can't offer onto the "horseshoe" -- that of a physician. He talks about his insight into OKC's health and lifestyle problems, and how OKC needs to focus on not being dead last on almost every health index of major U.S. cities. Or even 500 cities in the case of walkability..
2. Dr. Shadid talks about being an advocate for BUY LOCAL and truly supporting small business, not just throwing government money at big businesses in the name of "subsidies." He talks about the harm it does to the local economy and local business when we throw money and advantages at these out-of-state businesses and retailers (i.e., BASS PRO). He cites the difference of 70/30 and 30/70; the ratios of money reinvested locally when you buy local! That is refreshing for a candidate to proclaim because it is so true.
3. He says we need to "bring streetcar into the neighborhoods." He talks about how pushing the streetcar back risks millions and millions in federal funding, without which, we simply can not make ends meet, we will not have more than a downtown streetcar system anytime soon. He talks about the opportunity RIGHT NOW at last to get $60-120 M to really bring the streetcar system up to NW 23rd and beyond.
4. He talks about being a disenfranchised voter in the past and never bothering to vote in past city elections because of the pervasiveness of the good ol' boy network in this city.
5. He wants to frame the convention center discussion in the total context of the project, which includes an addition $50 M subsidy for a convention hotel that can not be funded by M3. He calls this intellectual dishonesty with the people. Well, it is. We have to have it now that we already passed the $270 M convention center, only, they didn't mention that at the time (it was just implied).
6. He calls out public transport for what it is right now. Busing as a temporary solution. How it is not permanent and unsustainable to rely on bus systems. He talks about the need for a transit system with lasting permanence, and how you can build a city around fixed-guideway transport. He talks about the true economic benefit of rapid transit in Dallas and Portland.
7. At 15:80 he describes how he got endorsed by the police and fire departments. He describes the irony of Swinton using that endorsement against him to paint him as anti-MAPS, when Swinton went before the public safety unions just as he did and made a pitch to them for his support. They simply likes his independent and pro-neighborhood pitch over the talk of Swinton.

...And if you should have even more time, and want to really be informed on the matter (and haven't already been to Doug's blog), you should most definitely check out Doug Loudenback's reasons for supporting Dr. Shadid. Doug, as usual, has put together a true resource on the matter. Complete with quotes, stances (or soft stances, in the case of Swinton), and more background info than you can get anywhere else.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is your vote worth $409,000?

I'm having trouble understanding the current Ward 2 council race right now. Has there even been such a big-money council race in OKC's history?? The total amount being spent on this one inner north side ward is in the ballpark of a HALF MILLION DOLLARS. The "Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum" has pumped $409,000 into the races, a disproportionately large portion of it ($166,000) on behalf of Charlie Swinton. Charlie Swinton himself has directly pumped $104,000 of his own money into his campaign, and raised other contributions as well.

That's $270,000+ for ONE candidate in this race. This coming from the candidate who earlier in the race said, "When you are in a race with someone who has unlimited resources, you've got to keep running, and I don't have those kinds of resources..." His opponent is local doctor Ed Shadid. Dr. Shadid's campaign has raised $78,000. Perhaps Shadid should have made the poverty plea instead?

Another bone to pick with Swinton. It is absolutely impossible to get in contact with him, and I'm not alone in feeling that way. M3 Streetcar Subcommittee member Jeff Bezdek attempted to get in touch with Swinton after he made some disparaging comments toward rail. Swinton declined to meet this esteemed community member, who has been a very important person in the MAPS 3 process. Others have found it impossible to talk to Swinton, unless you come with a check in hand. I haven't been able to even load Swinton's website, and on his Facebook he has no contact info. He is un-reachable.

Not only does Dr. Shadid have contact info on his website which is perfectly accessible as well, but Shadid actually emailed me last month. He wanted to have a chat over coffee about issues facing the city, and talk about issues of urban planning, walkability, sustainability, and quality of life I assume. Not only did he say he was interested in these issues but he said he likes my blog. OK, well that was awfully nice of him, although I imagine he is way too busy right now to spend time reading a blog for crying out loud. I don't even know if Shadid really does read this blog, but given the way I see the "real" issues facing OKC, even if he just saw the blog and contacted me I think that says a LOT about how he sees the issues facing OKC.

So while Swinton is un-reachable, Shadid is extremely reachable. That's good in someone who is running for council. If you can't even reach a candidate, imagine how they will ignore the citizens once they're in office?

A third bone to pick with Swinton: Mudslinging. Shadid has ran a campaign arguing for more sustainability and actually producing innovative ideas. Often they are ideas about how to improve OKC's sustainability. Swinton has meanwhile used this to portray Dr. Shadid as some Green Party terror activist-extremist person, "Too extreme for Oklahoma," and the works. A very typical, unimaginative, and tired campaign line. Dr. Shadid is none of these things. In fact, Swinton took a $1,000 check from the esteemed State Representative Al McAffrey, the only openly gay representative in the state house. The Campaign for OKC Momentum is a chamber front whose goal is move the convention center up the list of MAPS3 priorities at the expense of other projects. Just calling a spade. If anything, Swinton is "too extreme for Oklahoma." And I like McAffrey, he's a cool guy that just represents his district. I like the Chamber a lot, their hard work moves OKC forward. Just pointing out how hypocritical Swinton is with his politicizing of the ward race.

Maybe that's just a poster you don't want to stand in front of, but I think it's refreshing to see someone actually "stick up" for the greenies. I would also point out that the outgoing Ward 2 councilman, Sam Bowman (who is extremely well-respected), also has a picture taken in front of a Sierra Club poster. Was Bowman "too liberal for Oklahoma" ?? What does that even mean for a CITY COUNCIL race?

It's just sad that politicizing these things often works. Look at how Mayor Mick won his first election, in a race that was Jim Tolbert's (Full Circle owner, Bricktown developer) to lose. Cornett blasted him as being an "old liberal crank" and surged to victory. This plays out time after time...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Major news

Film Row is perhaps evolving as downtown's most under-reported news story. Not blaming Steve Lackmeyer, OKC Business, the Journal Record, the City Sentinel, or any other news outlet, but simply put, there are two major developments that have me giddy, and should have every urbanist in OKC giddy as well.

#1. Bicycle lanes in the new Film Row streetscape. These are actually the first urban bicycle lanes in OKC, ever, and probably all of Oklahoma as well. Way to be progressive! This is an occasion.

#2. Film Row's first restaurant will be Joey's Pizzeria. It's going into the Film Exchange right next to the IAO Gallery. Joey's is currently at Classen and 18th.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Neat idea from Helsinki..

Well, I was in Helsinki this last weekend. The above "!" doesn't exactly convey the level of my enthusiasm for Helsinki..To be honest, I was pretty underwhelmed and unimpressed, and that's even considering my expectations weren't all that high. But it was a fascinating trip from an urban design standpoint, since there are so many interesting things that they've done successful and so many enormous planning blunders that I think they've made. All in all, not really a well-planned city to be honest. In fact it's probably Europe's version of Oklahoma City. But it does have a beautiful city center.

In said beautiful city center is a really fascinating idea: they have a permanent urban planning exhibition center where they have 4 really cool things:

1. An exhibit of urban planning in the Finland-Estonia region, which surprisingly has a lot of really interesting modern architecture.
2. A huge-scale aerial of the city mapping large development projects, showing a cohesive masterplan for the entire city.
3. Literature available for all of the big urban planning projects, to inform citizens of urban planning. Literature is available in Finnish, Swedish, Russian, English, and more.
4. City of Helsinki staff on hand (sitting at an actual desk) to answer questions about urban planning and talk to citizens, take suggestions, etc.

At the very least, it would be nice to have a total downtown masterplan in City Hall that shows Project 180, Devon, streetcar, convention center, Core 2 Shore, central park, Oklahoma River, and countless other major improvements. Something like this:

And of course, I can't help it but to make some sort of band reference:

Who on earth would draw lyrical-musical inspiration from the architecture in Helsinki?? Schiza! That is a very spartan reference indeed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Maybe C2S needs to be scrapped

I am thinking more and more lately that Core2Shore needs to be scrapped. Not even pursued. Not a dime spent in that direction, even though it's too late..

These are the reasons: Yes, it would be nice to have a model contemporary, urban city. Yes, C2S is a neat opportunity to build that. However, I don't trust OKC to build that. I don't trust OKC to turn what is essentially brownfield into a model urban city.

The urban boulevard would have been nice.

The urban central park would have been nice.

The convention center located across the tracks would have been nice.

The urban waterfront would have been nice.

All of these things and more would have been nice.

All of them are being screwed up. Either there is a grand conspiracy to prevent urban from ever happening, or this city is simply clueless when it comes to building urban things.

Consider the boulevard. It's not going to be anything close to a model urban boulevard. The city is insisting that someone other than the city pay for it, and that means ODOT--so it's going to meet their specifications for new roads. It will have super-wide lanes, 6 or 8 lanes, and it will have pedestrian tunnels and bridges encircling it in every direction. Not people-friendly at the street level. The boulevard is already going to be a cluster, there is nothing that can happen at this point to mitigate that. The plan for that is already set in stone. The city could tell ODOT last minute to drop the project and the city could pursue it on its own, and build a much simpler boulevard on its own, but that isn't going to happen.

Consider the central park. This last week the council voted to do a new pedestrian TUNNEL underneath Robinson, presumably, between the convention center (the site the mayor is HELLBENT on) and the central park. First, I was bracing for the impact of the park just being a front lawn for the convention center. I had no idea they would take that even further and have tunnels leading from the front door of the convention center to practically the middle of the park. That is turning out to be a nightmare worse than I would have ever imagined. You don't even at least have to cross the street there. Oy veigh...

What is wrong with crossing the street? Why do we need all these pedestrian tunnels and bridges? Are we planning for some alternative future universe where humans will no longer be born with 2 legs that work?? Unless we're trying to get people across I-40 or across the tracks, that seems totally worthless and unneeded. Why are we spending money on that? Ugh.

What is wrong with simple 4-lane boulevards (2 in each direction) with a wide landscaped median or something? That would cost a fraction of what this street-level superhighway that meets ODOT specs is going to cost. It would be less of an urban nightmare, as well.

This city does not need Core2Shore. It doesn't need anywhere new to build a park and a convention center, even though the park is already being built. It doesn't need any more available land downtown. Downtown already has a huge inventory of vacant lots and abandoned buildings that aren't close to finding uses. I am scared at what OKC is going to end up building in C2S.

And I'll tell you how this will end up: It will just be a continuation of the superblock cluster. There will be virtually zero mixed-use development around the park or anywhere in Core2Shore. It will be parking enterprises and low-impact development like maybe a few restaurants and maybe a convenience store. It will have all these super-wide streets and million-dollar infrastructure pieces that nobody uses unless there is a big convention or a big event in the park. It will be absolutely dead. It will feel like an expensive, government-built ghost town. It will go down in history as the biggest urban renewal folly since the 1970s, anywhere. It will absolutely fail to attract private investment because people will not want to go there. Everything in it will probably be named after Mayor Cornett.

That's not a legacy I would want. Perhaps it is absolutely for the best that the MAPS3 Convention Center Subcommittee decided to scrap the two C2S sites from consideration. I would much rather see what they can do within the context of an existing area, which will at the very least put limitations on the project. More limitations are what we need as long as somebody very high up is listening to morons who know nothing about urban planning.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mixed emotions

Today it was finally announced that it is indeed (no shock) Continental Resources who is moving into Devon's old digs. Mixed emotions here. It's very good for OKC to gain a new headquarters of a large corporation, obviously, especially one primed for growth. And it's a good move for Continental in the end. But it is sad to see it happen to Enid, which is a nice town. You never want to cannibalize an in-state sister city for jobs. Here's wishing good things further down the road for Enid.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Greetings from Tram-sterdam

Just got back from a 4-day weekend in Amsterdam, which was absolutely amazing. What an incredible city. What an incredible test tube for urbanism. It's hard not to be interested in the trams from an American standpoint at this point in time, with so many cities wanting to adopt modern streetcar, and it's so easy to be quickly overwhelmed by the size and scope of some of these European transit systems. Amsterdam's trams..just wow. Unfortunately my camera died on my second day, but here's one photo:

Keep in mind, that Amsterdam is possibly one of the world's most famous cities for transit, but it's not the trams that earned it that reputation: it's bicycles. The city is the most bicycle-friendly place in the world, and it goes without saying you haven't experiences Amsterdam until you've spent an entire day on bike.

The tram system actually reminds me of a significantly enhanced version of the Toronto streetcar, with an intense network of mostly linear tram lines:

[Might have to open the pic in a new window to get to see it] So it's amazing that a city of about 800,000 people has all of these tram lines (granted at any given time tourists clearly outnumber locals). It's also amazing that it supports this in addition to a highly-developed underground metro system, commuter trains to other close-in regional cities, elevated rail similar to Chicago (they call theirs "the tube"), the bicycle-centric focus, and even the canals and River Amstel serve a transit function. It's truly a transit city. Not to mention so many areas in the Centre Ring are pedestrian-only.

I think perhaps all of these modes of transit have grown up around each other. At first it might appear to be a lot of competition for ridership--are the Dutch really that "on the move"? But then you realize, the simple fact is that having a car in Amsterdam is a nightmare! I saw it first-hand several times in the Centre Ring, and never more than when I saw a taxi trying to squeeze in with the bicycles and pedestrians through a crowded bridge a block from a busy weekend market in De Jordaan. Cars in Amsterdam simply go against the laws of physics.

Now obviously, this is not the case in any American city except perhaps NYC, and even NYC is packed full of too many cars. But the point still stands: there is no competition for ridership in a true transit-centered environment, as long as the different modes of transit each serve a real purpose. If Amsterdam was not the bicycle haven that it is, would the tram system be as well-used? Probably not. Would the commuter trains or even the inter-city trains to Den Haag and Utrecht be as heavily-utilized? Probably not.

Lesson that OKC can take from Amsterdam: In order for big-time streetcar utilization to work successfully, grow as many different complementary modes at once. This is why Project 180 coinciding with the streetcar timeline is actually an enormous opportunity, not a duplication of efforts. The city needs to do a lot to expand basic walkability and human access, including a real bicycle strategy that doesn't just involve the system of scenic park trails. That's not really what we need...

I see no reason OKC couldn't use a system of bicycle roads. Bicycle-only intersections, even bicycle round-abouts. Special bicycle lights at each intersection, some busier intersections even with dedicated bicycle left-turn lanes. Or at the very least, sidewalks on every street, that are actually usable. That would be a good start, even if it's just in the inner city! Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself here and forgetting just how many 100s of years OKC is behind other cities in terms of basic sidewalk infrastructure. It is beyond embarrassing.

One great phrase you will never hear in OKC: Lekker fietstocht!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

OKC Streetcar-opoly

I was in the mood to do something interesting. You'll have to click on it to view the larger version, but this illustrates some of the conflicting pressures on the streetcar process right now, just to highlight a small few.

The expedited planning process, which has worked because most of the committee members have really invested a huge amount of time in such a short period to this, has kept this streetcar project ahead and on top of all these pressures. That's the simple truth.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

OKC City Council stays "liberal" (aka nonpartisan)




See ya Walters.. "In a striking blow to the tea party's foray into local politics..." -today's Daily Oklahoman.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Real questions for candidates

Here are some real questions (not idiotic ideological questions) I'd like to see Van Manen, Hearron, or any other Tea Partying clowns answer before they set their sights on OKC civic affairs:

1. How will you balance the budget if we continue to have a sprawling population that taxes the infrastructure and funding systems?

2. How do you address quality of life, do you have a plan for it, or do you reject the notion that it matters? Is attempting to improve quality of life a "Tower of Babylon". Which is a DIRECT quote from your pastor/campaign managers.

3. How will OKC remain as economically competitive as it is now if we don't remain on the cutting-edge with our downtown?

4. How will you bring prosperity to Oklahoma if you oppose economic development measures (that have not only already passed and happened, but already been SUCCESSFUL!!!) like the NBA, downtown development, conventions, and so on?

5. What kind of people do you think are going to move to Oklahoma to keep us prosperous? Do you think we need growth, or do you reject that notion?

6. What more can OKC do to improve walkability and make the streets more accessible to everyone??

7. How would you suggest that we go about building a community for urban-minded people, or do you reject that notion? Would you insist that everyone needs to live in a suburban Dallas-style house with a yard and a dog? People who want urban living in OKC aren't insisting that suburbanites live their way.

8. Do you think OKC should have a diversity of living options, or should it only offer one kind of lifestyle? Do you think a successful city can get away with doing that? I know the Tea Party mantra is "personal liberty, freedom of choice, blah blah" but the point is that there is NOT a viable alternative to an unhealthy lifestyle in OKC. This is why it is important where you stand on even trying to foster a healthy urban lifestyle in OKC.

9. How will you work to improve the health problem (OKC is the most obese major U.S. city)? Do you believe that a change in lifestyle options can improve this, or do you reject that notion? Do you think City Hall can just continue to maintain an official diet website and expect things to change???

9B. If you answered yes to that last question, when was the last time you had your head examined?

10. Why are you opposed to the investment in fixed rail-based infrastructure systems in the name of providing transit for the "needy?" Do you recognize that transit has failed in OKC? Why do more of the same? If you acknowledge the failure that is mass transit in OKC, and the waste of money it has been and will be as long as it continues to operate in its current functionality or lack thereof, then how would you alternatively fix that? Do you really think that more BUSES is going to attract more RIDERS? Have you legitimately considered what rail transit could do for reshaping transit in OKC?

Bonus: The voters overwhelmingly responded to approve MAPS. It was passed by a margin of over 5 points if I recall correctly, which was a shock because of how close the race was down to the wire. Why are you part of the movement to usurp this vote and go around the voters to cancel the progress that was promised?? Why is the downtown streetcar system (the measure that literally carried the ballot in spite of how unpopular the new convention center was) one of the main things you criticize? Voters already approved it in a referendum strictly on those issues. An election for people is not the same, because there are so many different, more vague issues at play. What makes you think you can decide this issue, and have the right to change it when the voters already responded?

OH WAIT. We'll never get to ask these questions, because they dodged every opportunity to participate in a public debate. May the voters decide... (yikes)

Somebody is not very smart

And that somebody works for OKC Public Works. Is this a comedy sketch or something?? Does someone at Public Works have a "What Would Amy Poehler Do?" poster above their desk or something?

First it was NE 2nd Street, which became sidewalkgate--several weeks of crucifixion by the blogosphere and anyone interested in walkability. Public Works rebuffed questions from reporter Steve Lackmeyer, refused to take responsibility, acknowledge that something was wrong, and was even lousy about getting back with the veteran reporter from the Oke.

Actually before that was an incident that peeved me, but nobody else seemed to press the issue at the time: The new Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Anyone want to guess why that beautiful new building was supposed to have an un-pedestrian friendly relationship with the surrounding street? Because Public Works refused to consider some solutions for the nightmare of navigating the Gaylord/Broadway split. Of course the Chamber didn't want people getting mowed over by motorists on Gaylord, but they took the public blame for that, and nobody pressed the real issue which was the crappy city engineers who refuse to consider "innovative solutions."

Now, they put a light pole in the middle of a handicap ramp. Seriously. On NE 10th and I-235. They must really hate the NE side of downtown or something. How could these people be THIS idiotic??