Tag Archives: Oklahoma City

The future of this city

When a city embraces its potential

In a great piece written by Kyle Whitmire over in Weld, what happened in Oklahoma City–in part due to the voters’ approval of several MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Strategy) initiatives starting in 1993–is contrasted with what hasn’t happened in Birmingham–in part due to the voters’ rejection of a MAPS initiative in 1998 which was closely modeled on the one in OKC. One of the many downtown improvements that have transformed OKC’s central core after that initial 1993 vote is the SkyDance Bridge (above), a new pedestrian bridge linking a soon-to-be-constructed downtown park with reclaimed riverfront development across I-40. The design by S-X-L collaborative out of Oklahoma City is at once practical and inspirational, a gorgeous new icon on the skyline. [We previously discussed the revitalization of OKC’s Bricktown neighborhood around their new baseball park here.]

Feasible?

Our firm is now working on the feasibility study for a new pedestrian/bike bridge that would connect 16th Street North downtown to Railroad Park and the Southside (projected northern terminus of the bridge, above at First Avenue North and 16th Street looking south). This is an extremely exciting and challenging project, and we are honored to be working on it with the City of Birmingham and MBA Engineers. Our goal is not just to design something practical and beautiful, but also to help link the Park into a network of greenways, bike lanes, and street improvements that will fan out around the adjacent neighborhoods. This bridge will be an important part, but only a part, of a greater plan.

Birmingham has struggled to overcome its troubled past to move forward decisively. Part of this struggle is evidenced by our lack of long-range planning: OKC first took the leap in 1993, and methodically built consensus around early successes to link subsequent initiatives together in a coherent, strategic fashion. Birmingham tends to create a project here, develop a pocket there–but there is no overall strategic plan to bind these together into something greater than its parts. It is our firm belief that Railroad Park, and the upcoming development surrounding it, will break this cycle. This bridge, if indeed proven feasible, will be part of a rejuvenated 16th Street, a revitalized mixed-use Civil Rights District, and a greenway and bike system stretching east, west, north, and south across the City.

So get ready to embrace a new era, Birmingham. A bridge is just the start.

[thanks to tylerokc for the SkyDance bridge pic]

Cars and people

Heavy emphasis on walking. Not so much on driving

As we await a review of detailed site and design documents for the newly named Regions Field (thus far no presentation has made it to the agenda of the Design Review Committee), it’s worth considering transportation access to this new venue.  In the rendering released at last week’s groundbreaking (above), we see the corner of First Avenue South and 14th Street (the super-graphic faces 14th). Whether by design or not, the rendering is filled with lots of people, but only one car. No bikes or public transit are visible either. One of the first questions, as a matter of course with large, destination sports or entertainment venues is: where do people park?

It's all about providing a connected environment

Part of the answer is seen above, in a shot of the Bricktown entertainment district around the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in downtown Oklahoma City. This former warehouse district has been revitalized into a restaurant and entertainment center around the ball park (note the great reuse of existing historic warehouse structures). There are multiple small lots, and some structured parking, scattered throughout the district; the idea is not to park everyone coming to a game in one attached deck, but rather for fans to find multiple locations to park and enjoy dinner and a stroll before the game. People don’t mind walking a couple blocks as long as the walk is engaging, with lots of pleasant distractions and “window shopping” to be done. This appears to be the strategy at Regions Field, where it’s been determined that within a certain walkable radius of the facility, there’s more than enough on-street and existing parking facilities to handle the fans.

Lots of options across a well-planned district

The map above illustrates the scattered parking plan for the Bricktown district. Needless to say, the plan would be much less attractive if the streets weren’t lined with active, inviting businesses and diversions. Interestingly, the canal you see in blue weaving through the district was built from scratch in 1998 as a tourist attraction to complement the district; the water taxi service along this canal has become quite popular.

It took some vision

This is not to say that water taxis are in the cards for our new Parkside district. But it’s encouraging that the development is going with a scattered parking strategy: this should promote foot traffic throughout the area, spurring additional private development. Now, let’s just get those sidewalks paved around Railroad Park, and some more bike lanes marked, and we’re starting to make this area a model for how cities (and zoning departments) can think outside the dated, 1950’s paradigm of “every facility has to have its own parking”. We can scatter it, share it, and encourage other modes of transit instead.

These boots were made for...

Which brings us to a final note on that oddball city, New York, where zoning laws have been changed for some time to deliberately discourage developers from building on-site parking at their projects. In a fascinating recent article from the New York Times, we learn that in the last 30 years the number of off-street parking spaces in Manhattan has fallen by 20% (and this in a city borough which has gained about 100,000 in population over the same period). Part of the outcome? Well, besides increasingly expensive rents for off-street parking spaces (which routinely fetch over $1000/month), transit ridership is way up, bike lanes have been constructed everywhere–and, of course, people continue to do a lot of walking (midtown intersection, above). New York had the right idea changing its zoning laws. We need to consider the same thing here, in certain areas where it makes sense. This can only enhance the density and diversity of our urban environment. So get those boots on and get ready to walk through Parkside to all the new urban attractions that will soon await us.

[thanks to alanoftulsa for the Bricktown overview pic; babselder for the canal pic; flickr4jazz for the Manhattan pic]