Broken Windows in OKC

You have no doubt heard of the broken windows theory.  Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made the phrase almost a kitchen table concept that had American cities fronting new battles with unions and labor associations as they all tried to get cops of the cars and force a more comprehensive responsibility upon public servants.  In short, if you saw something wrong, you did something about it… no matter how minor it was.  Failure to do that and the whole theory wouldn’t work.

An article in my January edition of Governing Magazine reminisced of decades when the very notion of minor crime (graffiti, broken windows) begetting higher crime (assaults, drugs) was thrust upon a political structure seeking answers and alternatives.  The new concept fell favorably on the young but budding politician, Rudy Giuliani and the rest is history.

There has been so many well written piece on both sides of the debate as to whether or not the theory holds water.  I don’t want to pretend to know enough to make a stance.  However there is some aspects to the theory that certainly is related to me and my family.  As we walked down Broadway this beautiful winters evening, I couldn’t help but notice for the countless time, the sheer number of street lights that are burned out in this city.  In some places I thought that perhaps there was a whole blog out only to see one lone shinning example of power flowing through the wires.   Enough is enough sometimes and so while I walked along tonight I opted to report the lights out as we went.  Needless to say our walk was much shorter tonight.  In a few short blocks I reported over a dozen street lights out.  The worst part is that these are not areas where there are no people.  We are talking about along Broadway and where $250k condos have been recently built.  I wish now that I had counted the total number of street lights that we passed.  I would be surprised if it was more than 75.  Even if it was 100, that would mean that 10% of the lights along the route we took were burned out.

Houston we have a problem.  I have noted the street light issue around Bricktown lately especially as I have watched a few street lights stay burned out for months now without getting fixed.  If you walk Bricktown a lot, another theme is emerging.  Graffiti, and not the “Steve hearts OKC” kind, can be seen on almost ever light pole.  It is a problem that we need to address.

Oklahoma City, someone is breaking out our windows and we need to quickly step up and address it.  I encourage you, if you see ANYTHING wrong in your neighborhood, please report it.  I prefer to publicly document it on SeeClickFix but don’t get hung up on the how.  Just do it.

Out Of The Mouths of Tourists

Walking through Bricktown today I spotted a couple of folks taking pictures of the Devon Tower from inside of Bricktown.  The tower was especially stunning today with the blue skies and white puffy clouds reflecting back down upon OKC.I took the opportunity to remark on how beautiful it was as as I walked by.  They heartily agreed  and were quick to offer up the fact that they were not from here.  Quickly they asked, do you know the best way to enter the canal so that they could see the entire canal from start to finish.  My destination was going to take my right by the splash park on Sheridan so I offered to get them started on their way.

During our short stroll they informed me that they were tourists from Los Angeles and travel the world quite a bit.  They were intrigued by how pretty Oklahoma City was.  One of them remarked that Bricktown was very similar to some smaller cities in Europe around Amsterdam with the canals.

“But with more cars!” the second one giggled.

I’ve spent time in Delft and can relate to how beautiful canal streets are, lined with beautiful brick shops, apartments, and large cobblestone plazas that seem to find you no matter the direction you are headed.  I was glad to hear they liked Bricktown but was also saddened to know that these tourists were going to leave Oklahoma City with the impression (factual albeit) that OKC is a nice town with too many cars.

The irony is that they live in LA, I know.

Apathetic Citizen

Oh, no sir. I’m not apathetic.  I am quite passionate about what I believe and work very hard to further that cause.  Just because I dislike bigoted speeches and distortion-rooted politics and wont attend your meeting doesn’t mean I lack vision and purpose for my country.  I participate in town hall meetings that are usually held in backyards of friends or at round tables in coffee shops.  My block captain is my city councilor and we have a convention once a month at City Hall.  We discuss the issues facing our neighborhoods and we seek to work with others in authority to find solutions.  The only money I give is to the local non-profits that don’t spend money on TV ads, but instead feed the hungry and help improve the city I live in.  There is no blame game at the sidewalk level.  Just us and our desire to create a better community, a better country, for our children. 

COTPA goes mobile

Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA) has unveiled an iPhone and Android application.  I just downloaded the Android app to my DROID and gave it a once over.  It currently only has the number 13 and the number 5 routes showing.  Not sure if it is a bug or they don’t have the rest of the data available yet.  I can’t check the iPhone app but I assume it is drawing off the same datasets.

I was recently in Denver and tried out both their ‘official’ transit app and a third-party option.  I have to say, it was way easier to use Google Maps.  They had Denver’s transit data and for the several times I took a bus or streetcar, Google was much faster at getting me what I needed.   I am glad to see this app in development, but I encourage transportation authorities to consider the already existing platforms as well.  The nice thing about feeding Google our data is we don’t have to rely on folks downloading our local apps in order to be able to figure out our bus routes.  Anyone with a smartphone can use what they already have access to — the internet.  Another strength to the Google Maps platform is that I can get transit directions.  That is just my .02 on the subject of custom apps.It does have location awareness so it can show you nearby stops.  This will be helpful when you are in areas in which you are not familiar with.  You can then see how long until the bus will be at the stop.  You can manually refresh this or set it to auto refresh in the settings.

In all, I appreciate the step forward. Until more routes are added, the app won’t be incredibly useful for most people, but it is a start and for that — thank you COTPA!

Download links:
Android
iPhone

Visit gometro.org

Being Honest About Walking

There are a lot of articles out there, especially this time of year, that attempt to address the issue of fitness in our society.  Most are pretty simplistic — eat less, exercise more — and some even attempt to blame bad genes.David Frum said yesterday in this article what I think needs to be repeated over and over…

First lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating her special project. Good for her, and let’s hope her efforts lead to success. But if we are to succeed, we should understand: The campaign against obesity will have to look a lot less like the campaign against smoking (which involves just one decision, to smoke or not to smoke) and much more like the generation-long campaign against highway fatalities, which required the redesign of cars, the redesign of highways, and changes in personal behavior like seat-belt use and drunk driving.

It is not only the truth, it is the only truth.  We simply can’t live in a world where we get our cake and eat it too. It is like the old irony that we spend billions a year in fitness equipment yet fight for the closest parking place.  When given two choices, to try to get more fit while at the same time acting less fit, we tend to pick…well both of them.

So does this mean that we should remove one of these options?  Should we simply force people to walk more?  No, in fact as I just stated, people will actually choose better options for themselves.  The reality is, walkable places are some of the most demanded to live in.  That isn’t to say that everyone will choose to live in a place that is more conducive to a healthy lifestyle.  Just like not everyone buys a treadmill to keep up with their exercise.  Or some people choose eating healthy over regular exercise diets.

Walkability isn’t just about yuppy, dense, neighborhoods.  It is amazing how walkable some places can be with just a little effort.  Sidewalks, pedestrian laws, and mixed uses go very far, even in “suburban” contexts to providing more ways for people to simply get out and walk a little each day.    This isn’t to diminish reasons like walking should be a fundamental right.   The idea that you are practically required to own a car to even legally move from your house to the grocery store is to me, a slap in the face of the values and freedoms this nation was founded on.

Nevertheless, rebuilding spaces to ensure that walking is indeed an option can and must place a roll in helping America get back in shape.  I say back in shape because it really wasn’t too long ago that we had this under control.  We can do it!

The City as a Stage

No one believes that people want to live in a crappy town. I just believe that too often we fail to show others what is possible.  And when we attempt to inspire, the goals tend to be about programming (what people will be doing) rather than show how certain, fundamental concepts will give them the freedom to do many different things with the city.Prosperity and productivity are by-products of efficient, happy work within an efficient space.  We need to demand more efficient use of our city space and make them inspiring so they promote happiness.  We must always be showing people how certain built environments are going to improve our lives, not burden them.

Sidewalks shouldn’t be spoken of as a form of access, but a place for work, communication, and entertainment.

The city itself is our outdoor room for the theater that is tomorrow.  We must build better stages — plain and simple.

Speak Up

One thing I am troubled with increasingly in America is the lack of participation with government at the local level.  I get it if we are busy, which we all are.  But one excuse I keep hearing bothers me and I wanted to address it.

“I voted for my representative to make the hard choices, to see that things are being done.”

I could not agree more with this statement, but it begs the question, “Is everything getting done?”

Turning over the reigns make sense, but you wouldn’t leave your kid completely alone at age 10 even though he probably could be.  You are going to check on things and interject as need be.

Our leadership is counting on us not waiting until after the vote to be heard if we have something to say.

So speak up.

An Argument Against Walkability

Houston, we have a problem.  In our efforts to identify and solve a serious crisis in this country, we have held up places, neighborhoods, and communities against the light of so-called walkability.  But in the process we have, ironically, diminished our ability to provide citizens with their right to move freely.  A bold statement, but let me explain why we need to stop and think about how or why we use the term “walkable”.We need to be careful about labeling cities walkable or unwalkable.  Stringing a sidewalk between the houses in a neighborhood does not equal walkability if the citizens find themselves threatened by vehicles the moment they exit their neighborhood oasis in order to get to the store.  Neither does a narrow strip of cement running alongside a bustling thoroughfare constitute a practical sidewalk.

A city, by definition, should not be permitted to be unwalkable. Because any area that exists within the normal boundaries of an incorporated municipality comes with the clear assumption that basic government services will be provided.  If you can’t safely walk from your home to the market or to your place of business, then one of the most basic tenets of government has not been met.  Government is not there to provide power, water, or anything else before it allows for [safe] public egress along a public right-of-way from one property to the next.  This is a principle that is grounded deep in our nation.

An unwalkable place is synonymous with an unincorporated area.  A place where local government services are not implied to be provided.  Unwalkble is uninhabitable from any urban sense.  You wouldn’t say that a city is “unbreathable”.  A city, presumably full of people, can’t freely exist without air.  Of course, you could force everyone who lives there to buy oxygen tanks (and then of course you could tax the oxygen).

We don’t have cities where every citizen is required to own a gun and therefore no police protection is provided.  We don’t have cities where every home is expected to have a fire hydrant, proper suppression equipment, and necessary training in leiu of fire protection.  Why then have we allowed cars to literally crush the rights of non-car-owning citizens by forcing them to essentially pay a automobile tax in order to live there?

The real head-scratcher for me is that so many people want to claim that walkability is anti-conservative.  That it smacks of collectivism.  For the life of me, I can’t fathom how that makes sense. Collectivism implies force or a lack of choice.  It appears that the current state of most cities, where I have NO choice but to get in a vehicle if I want to go anywhere, is much more collectivist than any truly walkable locale where pedestrians, bikes, and vehicles share the space.  Automobiles, at least in the context of current engineering methodology, don’t exist on our roads without an encyclopedia of laws.

Let’s be more conscious about defining real walkability as a goal, and growing in understanding of what that means.  Let’s be bold in stating the fact that being able to walk out of my house down a public right-of-way to the grocery store is in fact a right.  And when we address it, we need to address walkability not as a selling feature, but as a basic requirement for a productive, incorporated area.  If we don’t, if we continue to treat it like a metric we can have more of or less of in an urban or semi-urban (suburban sometimes) context, then we have already given up much of the battle.  We are admitting that it is a plausible option for cities to literally tax their citizens by forcing them to own an automobile in order to survive.

Is it?