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The city and the future


Blair Humphreys July 15th, 2010

In May 2010, the Oklahoma City Planning Department kicked-off "planOKC," a comprehensive planning process that will provide a new long-term vision for Oklahoma City's growth and development. This is only our city's fourth comprehensive plan in its more than 120-year history, and thus offers a unique opportunity to collectively envision the city we wish to create in the decades to come. 

Historically, our comprehensive plans have attempted to direct growth and shape policies to address the perceived challenges of the day. Our first comprehensive plan, the 1930 Hare & Hare plan, responded to elements of disorderly early growth and increasing infrastructure needs in the state's burgeoning capital.

In 1944, Harland Bartholomew, a trained civil engineer and leading proponent of the Interstate Highway System, was contracted to produce our second comprehensive plan. Adopted in 1949, this plan proposed major new infrastructure projects in the midst of national post-war trends toward more auto-centric cities that favored freeways, strip retail development, isolated suburbs and increasingly uncompetitive downtowns.

The most recent plan, created in 1977 and last updated in 2000, set out to preserve and revitalize existing neighborhoods and improve the efficiency of the continued outward suburban growth. And the most recent update in 2000, perhaps following the lessons learned from MAPS, added a commitment to revitalizing the city's central core. 

While these plans have certainly had an impact on Oklahoma City's growth and development, there is a significant difference between what we have planned to do, and what we have actually done.

For instance, although the 1977 plan focused on preservation and called for efficient growth, the development that has occurred over the past 33 years ostensibly runs counter to those objectives. Since 1977, our population has increased by 40 percent, but land development has occurred at approximately two-and-a-half times the rate of population growth. And in order to provide "convenient" access to this scattered development, we have expanded our street network at a frenetic pace, increasing the amount of paved right-of-way by 275 percent during the same period.

Without passing judgment as to whether or not this growth pattern is a good or bad thing, it is at least clear that it is not in keeping with the vision laid out by the citizens that shaped the plan. It is important that we not mistake planning for achievement.

The Oklahoma City Planning Department certainly understands the challenges of producing a plan that will yield results and is approaching the project accordingly. The most significant stakeholders in this process will be the citizens themselves; the planOKC team is working hard to engage the public and get citizens to actively contribute to the process. City staff has also been working for some time to coordinate the process with various city departments and related organizations. Hopefully, these efforts will help to ensure that there is consensus as to the content of the plan and a holistic commitment to its implementation. 

With Oklahoma City's progress over the past 15 years, we have gained a new sense of pride for the city that we are today and even higher expectations for the city we will be tomorrow. PlanOKC is an opportunity to envision a future Oklahoma City that not only meets, but exceeds our expectations.   

Humphreys is a fellow at the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma and an adjunct professor for OU's College of Architecture.
 
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