Thursday, January 3, 2013
I spent two weeks in Oklahoma City during the Winter Break. It's a wonderful place full of good restaurants, warm people, and interesting shopping. For those who don't follow politics in fly-over country, Oklahoma is also one of the "reddest" areas in the country. Mitt Romney won EVERY COUNTY in 2012. McCain won every county in 2008. Hell, George Bush won every county in 2004.
Given this, it's worth noting that Oklahoma City is in the middle of an Urbanist renaissance. In the last 15 years, the city has built a 15,000-seat downtown ballpark; constructed a new downtown library; built a pedestrian-friendly entertainment district; developed a trolley transit system; integrated the North Canadian River into the city, redesigned the sidewalks and public spaces downtown, and moved the interstate out of the center city in order to build a park(!).
And what's truly fascinating is that most of these improvements have been paid for with tax increases. In 1993, citizens voted to approve a penny sales tax (in one of the most anti-tax jurisdictions in the country) to pay for these defined capital projects that help to increase density and urban living.
I mention this because I sometimes get the feeling that people think the urbanist agenda stops somewhere around the Mississippi River and doesn't pick up again until you pass Las Vegas, or that it only applies to places that have subways. But this is wrong. There are a lot of places in the middle of the country (like Oklahoma City) that are ripe for more creative thinking about land use and urban policy. Sure, people there will always love their cars (and really, it's just too damn hot to walk) but there's a lot of low hanging fruit to reap for young lawyers and planners willing to live outside of the I-95 corridor.
(Image: Oklahoma City's Bricktown Neighborhood)