Since the workshop: Tulsa, OK tackles infill housing

Downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma from above the Blue Dome District. (Image source: JustTulsa, Flickr)

Tulsa, Oklahoma worked with Smart Growth America to implement parts of the city’s comprehensive plan and better understand how development decisions made today will impact its budget decades into the future.

In 2010, Tulsa updated its Comprehensive Plan and by 2016 the implementation of most of the plan was completed or underway. But some smart growth-related items—like expanding housing options and creating smaller neighborhood plans—remained unfulfilled. The city had invested in development downtown in some neighborhoods, yet there were many existing vacant and underutilized properties in neighborhoods that continued to experience disinvestment.

To help guide its future investments, Tulsa applied for an economic and fiscal health workshop and a fiscal impact analysis from Smart Growth America; both were made possible by an EPA Office of Community Revitalization Building Blocks grant.

The workshop and analysis focused on four areas of the city:

  • 71st and Memorial—the site of a large regional shopping center with more than a third of its land area dedicated to parking.
  • Pine and Peoria—a neighborhood with limited retail and a bus rapid transit system (BRT) in development.
  • 23rd and Southwest Blvd (Route 66) / Eugene Field—a transitional area close to downtown with several large parcels ripe for redevelopment.
  • 21st and Yale—an evolving retail area.

During the workshop, we worked with the city to envision how each of the four focus areas might redevelop. Several national examples of revitalized neighborhoods—including large shopping malls—and conversations about changing demographics and good land use/streetscape design helped provide the a foundation for the visioning.

As the city refines and implements the plans for those four focus areas, it shouldn’t come at the expense of downtown. The downtown is sprinkled with historic buildings and has an existing arts district and other major entertainment destinations, but there are still a lot of opportunities. Surface parking lots could be redeveloped into more housing while improvements to walking and biking infrastructure and placemaking projects would better connect housing, businesses, and cultural destinations in the region’s core.

The fiscal impact analysis also helped plan for the future by quantifying the impact of different development plans on city budgets. As the city grows—it’s expecting more than 45,000 new residents and jobs over the next 20 years—more roads, sidewalks, and utilities will be need to accommodate that growth, but just how much more depends on the type of growth.

If Tulsa continues with the status quo (low density suburban development at the city edges) it will cost the city an estimated $892 million in new roadways, sidewalks, and water and sewer systems over 20 years. But a focus on infill development downtown and in other walkable areas could save the city upwards of $400 million. Add in the increased tax revenue from more people would actually result in a net positive for the city budget with more infill; the status quo would bring a net loss to the city.

Since the workshop

Since the workshop Tulsa has embraced the recommendations. A parking lot at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center downtown will be transformed into a mixed use development with a grocery store, one of the city’s first art deco buildings is now being renovated, and other mixed use projects are in the works.

In Pine and Peoria, along the future BRT line, the city implemented a rezoning program to encourage property owners to support more housing and a mix of uses. While the program was only available for six months, 12 rezoning applications affecting more than 18 acres were approved at no cost to property owners. Another opportunity for rezoning may occur in 2019 once the BRT opens.

In other neighborhoods, small area plans will help Tulsa incorporate more housing and amenities like parks to create the kinds of spaces people increasingly want to live in. Tulsa’s efforts today will ensure it is able to accommodate future growth without breaking the bank.

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