Good morning class and welcome to Civics 101; on this beautiful fall day in Tulsa, September 5, 1960. Your assignment this semester is to come up with a plan to stymie Tulsa’s population growth for the next 50 years or so and beyond. We have a good thing going here and we must keep it that way.
Be prepared because this will be no easy task. You will need to mitigate the value of a growing number of enormously appealing community assets and reverse population growth trends that have been building for decades.
Our first order of business will be to survey the landscape, find out where we are and establish a baseline upon which we can accurately measure our progress or more fittingly our lack thereof in attracting newcomers to our community in the coming years.
With a population today of approximately 260,000 spread over a land area of 50 square miles, Tulsa is presently the 19th most densely populated large city in the United States. Your challenge is to achieve the lowest population growth of the following cities competing against us: Oklahoma City, Wichita, Omaha, El Paso, Kansas City, Ft. Worth, Austin, Portland, Indianapolis, and Louisville.
To help you get started we will share some ideas that you should find useful. First, you might want to consider tricking our competitors into thinking we really want to grow our population by embracing a massive annexation that will triple our land area overnight, taking us from 19th in population density to 222nd.
With this strategy we can dilute our precious resources and easily be among the nation’s leaders in suburban sprawl. We can go from 50 square miles to 197 square miles in one day, an area larger than San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., and Miami…combined.
We can then build a street network that would serve a city twice our size and cost Tulsan’s much more to support and maintain than those in our competing cities.
Are you beginning to see the possibilities? We are now on our way to creating an auto centric culture that favors strip malls over the corner drug store, pollution and noise over peace and tranquility, wide streets and fast traffic over sidewalks and pedestrian connectivity.
Each year the cost to finance our public works department and maintain our beloved streets will grow and grow and grow. This will lead in turn to our justification for disinvesting in those quality of life amenities that might encourage more people to come live in Tulsa. That is our goal isn’t it; to protect our way of life and keep population growth to an absolute minimum?
So, when competing cities are building new libraries, do not worry when a new one is proposed here, we simply can’t afford it. They invest millions in their zoos but we know funding zoos is not a core service; anyway we can’t afford it. River improvements, forget about it, it’s fine just the way it is; besides we can’t afford it.
Brace yourselves because one of the biggest threats you will face is funding education, a huge draw in attracting families. Be prepared to send representatives to the state capital who understand conservative values and the need to keep education costs down. As for Parks and pools, well they would be nice, but remember, streets come first.
Plan to build more streets than you need, ignore routine maintenance until they are crumbling then play catch up by ignoring all other capital spending needs like parks, pools, transit, sidewalks and quality of life amenities.
When other cities build fancy arenas to rejuvenate their downtowns, stall as long as possible. When you finally build an arena, let that be the end of it. While other cities periodically spend millions or even hundreds of millions to upgrade their arenas and convention facilities we will do the sensible thing and require ours to finance their own capital improvements from operating revenues; that’s the ticket.
Do not be deceived because there will surely be obstacles along the way. You need to be prepared well in advance by stacking the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment with individuals who understand the threat posed by any kind of serious change in the way we do things here in T-Town.
At some point the usual suspects will come forward and concoct some devious plot to design a new comprehensive plan, intent on creating a more livable city.
Watch out for the keywords, like walkability, bicycle friendly, sense of place, improved transit, sustainable development and small area planning. These are code words, designed to mislead you and mask their real intent, which is to deprive you of your civil liberties and take away your cars and they will stop at nothing.
This is where you call in the big guns, the old school developers and their lawyers. They know what’s best for the built environment; how do you think we got into this enviable position in the first place? Using threats and intimidation they will meet this challenge and protect your way of life.
Utilizing their financial resources and political connections they will throttle these Machiavellian conspirators and saboteurs once and for all by exposing their real motives and by creating fear and disinformation among the people.
If at any point these progressive types appear to be getting the upper hand, your fallback position is obvious. Challenging all of the empirical data suggesting it is inadvisable, you propose adding more lane miles and streets in south Tulsa.
And finally, when your back is against the wall, you can arrange for the sale of the local family owned daily newspaper to an out of state media conglomerate who better understands our local political persuasion and can tailor an editorial policy a little more reflective of our community’s interests and values.
Follow these simple suggestions and the natural order of things will be restored assuring you of coming in first, I mean last in the population growth sweepstakes. God I love this country.
Published in Urban Tulsa Weekly – August 29, 2013