The Edmond Sun

August 21, 2012

Gathering touts 'New Urbanism'

William F. O'Brien
Against the Grain

OKLAHOMA CITY — The issue of the future development of the Oklahoma City area was addressed at a recent gathering that was convened by Oklahoma City Councilman Dr. Ed Shadid. The event included  presentations by Shadid, Mark Lenters, whose firm constructs roundabouts, and former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, who is now affiliated with an entity known as the “Congress of New Urbanism.”

Shadid spoke of how when urban renewal took place in Oklahoma City, planning decisions were made in favor of cars and not people, and cited a recent walkability study that concluded the city is not hospitable to walking or biking, and that its problem was not too much traffic but too much roadway. He also pointed out that a mass transit system is currently planned for downtown Oklahoma  CIty, and that it will serve the increasing number of people who are choosing to live in the  downtown area, and that it in time it may extend to Edmond and the city’s other suburbs.

Lenters' presentation included a live feed to a roundabout his company had constructed in Nova Scotia, Canada, several years ago, and he pointed out to the attendees that they could see how it serves to reduce the speed of the vehicles who used it and kept traffic moving. Roundabouts, Lenters said, reduce the number of collisions that occur on roadways. He reported that the Colorado communities of Vail and Avon have both built several roundabouts in recent years and that they are working well.

Norquist began his presentation by saying that he was impressed with the Bricktown Canal, and how that the old buildings that surround it preserve part of Oklahoma City’s past. The former mayor explained that the “new urbanism” is an effort that is being led by a variety of urban planners and civic leaders who want to bring people back to the nation’s urban cores. He faulted the zoning that had been put in place in most cities after the Second World War that created separate areas for housing, shopping and recreation and highways that often went through their urban core.

These efforts were designed to make cities less congested, and they were successful to the point that most downtown areas became sterile environments that were only hospitable to automobile traffic, Norquist said. He cited as an example the city of Detroit, which in 1946 was one of the most successful cities in the world, but now has 35 percent of its land vacant.

In recent years, Milwaukee’s former chief executive reported, people and commerce are beginning to return to downtown areas, and retail firms such as Walmart and Target are now opening smaller stores in cities across the country.

Mass transit systems are part of the new urbanism, Norquist reported. Those systems are linking cities to their suburbs, and property values in the areas that are served by mass transit systems have increased, he said.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.