Choose Tulsa's future
Locals can vote for their favorite scenario representing how future growth in Tulsa could look.
After a year of workshops, surveys and interviews with thousands of Tulsans through the PlaniTulsa initiative, Fregonese Associates has developed four scenarios representing how future growth in Tulsa could look. The scenarios will include visual representations of Tulsans’ ideas, including maps, photos and sample building types.
Tulsans can vote for their favorite scenario by visiting www.planitulsa.org, or ballots are available at any Kum & Go store, library or Tulsa Parks and Recreation Center. Ballots can be faxed or mailed until June 18.
Once a scenario is selected, it will be presented to city officials to develop final plans. John Fregonese, president of Fregonese Associates, says a final 30-year comprehensive plan will be presented in early 2010.
A vision for the future
John Fregonese is president of Fregonese Associates, a Portland-based urban and regional planning firm that is coordinating Tulsa’s PlaniTulsa initiative. After months of workshops, surveys and interviews, the firm presented four scenarios to Tulsans May 12 with various visions for the city’s future. Here, Fregonese gives his assessment of the PlaniTulsa process thus far, provides his vision for Tulsa’s future and describes how citizens can get involved with making their dreams a reality.
As told to Joy Jenkins
How was the participation from Tulsans for the PlaniTulsa workshops?
We had great attendance at all the workshops. We had a lot of enthusiasm at the meetings. They gave us a lot of good feedback. I think people were pretty engaged. They were talking about options. They were debating among themselves.
You held a variety of different forums for getting the information — neighborhood meetings, surveys. Did different information come out of those different processes?
With surveys, that happened early on, and you just surveyed existing attitudes, and then when we got into the citywide workshops, we got some ideas of what people were thinking in terms of options for the whole city and things they’d like to try out. When you get down to the neighborhood level, you get down to a more human scale and what people would be interested in, in terms of their actual neighborhoods, what they might like to see. … Now we take all those ideas and we put them into scenarios to really lay out some options. We’ve followed different groups of policies and ended up with (four) different futures based on them.
Tell me about the scenarios. They’re going to include some photos and some depictions of what buildings might look like?
There is a roll-out pamphlet that is a basic guide to the scenarios that we’re going to be publishing on (May) 12. And there is going to be both a tear-out sheet in the back where they can give their opinion and also there is going to be a Web site that offers more information … and other ways to participate. (Visit the Web site at www.planitulsa.org.)
Does each scenario include the entire city or are they limited to certain parts of Tulsa?
They include the entire city, but in different scenarios, different parts of the city get more or less developed. Actually there are ranges of development in terms of how much of the regional development is helping it.
How far do the scenarios expand (geographically)?
We’re really just dealing with the current city limits. Tulsa has a fairly large city limit with a lot of vacant land in it.
Did you see any particular area having more feedback, such as downtown?
Certainly in the workshops, people were interested in redeveloping and reinvesting in parts of the city that are already built. Not just downtown but north, east, west and south. They were interested in areas that are still vacant, particularly … the other side of the river and north Tulsa. They’re interested in alternatives to not being so car-dominated and having a walkable, bike-able community, and, of course, walking and biking involves changing the way you design the city.
Making that more feasible is not expensive, but it does involve changing the way you design streets and neighborhoods, and transit involves that and costs a significant amount of money. So in each of these scenarios, we built everything from a very modest to very robust transit system, but we kept each one to about what Tulsa’s expecting to spend on transportation over the next 30 years, about $2 billion. … There’s no right or wrong with this. … I want people to look at it and really think what’s right for Tulsa, what’s feasible for us.
… What comes out of this is a vision, which is the desired end; it’s the summary of where they (Tulsans) want this plan to go, and then the next step is to get down to the nitty-gritty and actually write the details to get you there. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, we’ll want to get people to weigh on what the goals and the objectives and the outcomes are. And we want people to visualize the Tulsa they want. And the clearer that vision gets, the easier it is to build a plan for that.
Did you find, in going through the discussion process, that there were particular themes that emerged? Where there other ideas like transit that people really seemed excited about?
People were concerned about the economy. They really want Tulsa to have a fundamental economy that brings prosperity to the city. They’re worried about taxes; they’re worried about what all this is going to cost. We’re going to be really making sure that these options are cost effective and we know what the costs are. Not only do they want to know what they cost; they want to know that there are no hidden costs that they don’t know about that are going to surprise you later.
I think people are concerned about schools. We’re working with the school district to make sure our plans really help build quality schools. I think there’s an innate thing with schools in terms of, do good schools make this neighborhood or does this neighborhood make good schools? We don’t know which comes first, but I think they’re very much associated together, and we want to make sure that in building a good neighborhood, schools are integrated into the community, and kids can be participating in their schools in a safe environment.
Once these scenarios are presented May 12, what is your firm’s role in seeing the final scenario be carried out?
We’re with it until the end. This is just a middle part, the middle of the process, where we start to settle on a direction. We’re going to be involved in gathering that information and we’re going to try to digest it and present it to the Mayor and (City) Council and Metro Planning Commission as a concept and have some open houses and discussion in the community in the fall. Based on that feedback, I’ll put together the final plan with all the details and all the nuts and bolts in place that make a solid plan.
Do you have a particular date for that final plan to be presented?
It will probably be January or February (2010).
The balloting process that’s about to start, that’s purely to pick the scenario that we want to focus on?
It’s more of a survey than a ballot. In a ballot, you’re going to vote for one candidate and there’s a winner and a loser. This is more like taking items off the menu. … We’ve made four scenarios that you can mix and match the elements of those scenarios: how much we grow, what kind of economy, different housing — those are all things that are options. We just wanted to show people, based on the best computer modeling available, what Tulsa might look like in the future. So we basically built Tulsa in the future, and you can visit four different futures. It’s kind of like “A Christmas Story,” but these are four Tulsa futures. And the idea is you can visit those futures and you can decide what you like or not, and we can do our best to try to get you what you like.
Would you say it’s a combination of adding to things we already have and also building new things? Or is there a focus on one over the other?
There is building on things that we’ve got. Tulsa has a pretty great road transportation system, in terms of both infrastructure and the fact that you’re built on a big grid system. A lot of cities went away from that and really regret it, and it means you’ve got very low congestion levels and will continue to have that. You have a great park system and the River Parks — you’ve got all these great assets and a great downtown, which has a lot more potential that it’s showing now.
In terms of building new things, certainly a lot of people are interested in more higher-density, mixed-use buildings, more of an urban neighborhood feeling. It’s not for everybody, but people feel that a lot of people might like it. … And as we mentioned before, there are transportation options that give us greater choices than we have today. Those are going to be some new ideas that come in — building on the best of what there is now and Tulsa’s current strengths.
Our parts of town are so diverse, from north to south and east to west. Is there a challenge in bringing everyone together to accept one plan for the entire city?
There is a great diversity and there’s sometimes a feeling, especially in the north and west, that they’ve maybe been ignored. But I think in this planning process, we’ve seen people who are really interested in the whole city of Tulsa doing well. … I haven’t seen people becoming parochial at all. I think that even though Tulsa is a very diverse community, people feel a tie to the community as a whole and seem to be pretty good about working together as a whole.
The Mayor and Council have been very supportive in letting us go at this in a very public and transparent way. They’ve been involved but have been really hands-off as we develop this. When it comes down to it, it will come to them to make tough decisions. They’ve been great about supporting the process and just listening and seeing where it goes, letting it run its course.
In general, in going through this process, what do you think Tulsa could look like in 30 years? What kind of city do you think we could have?
I’m very enthusiastic about Tulsa. Two things you have that are really great: One is you’ve got people who have been there a long time, who have done well by Tulsa and who are putting money back into Tulsa. This is both the foundations and developers and other investors. Secondly, you have a cadre of young people who are really enthusiastic about Tulsa. And I think there’s a young, creative talent pool that will be an important part of Tulsa’s future economy, and that’s really great.
In terms of what it’s going to look like in the future, you can look at other Western cities and see places that have sprouted on both good local investment and good luck and young people migrating to a place because it’s the new, cool place to be. You can see what happened with Austin and Denver and even other cities in the Southwest and Midwest and you can even go as far away as the neighborhoods of Chicago, little pieces of that being adaptable to Tulsa. But I think that more you work in Tulsa, the more you realize it’s going to be unique. It might borrow these ideas from here or there, but the landscape and the shape of the city are really unique. There’s not anything exactly like Tulsa, certainly not in this part of the country.
… My hope for it is that Tulsa is a prosperous place with a lot of vitality and a lot of diverse neighborhoods and that it becomes America’s next great city. It is already a great place, but I think it has the potential to be one of those cities that is a lot bigger than its size would indicate in terms of when people talk about great places to visit and to live.