In his 2007 State of the City address, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett cast things in a reasonably rosy light: "We've had a history of good times and not so good times and I think it is clear that we're in good times." No argument here. I got to watch some of the not-so-good times firsthand: in 1979, our little family bought a house for a shade under $41,000, and sold it at the beginning of 1982 for $59,000. Then came the Great Oil Bust. We got out at the right time, evidently: the same house subsequently was resold for $28,000.
Still, no times are so good that they can't be made at least slightly better. Cornett knows this, and he's calling for suggestions for a potential MAPS 3 package to would follow the original 1990s Metropolitan Area Projects and the 2000s MAPS for Kids. After thinking things over, I'm persuaded that we don't need new construction so much as we need new philosophies. A sampling:
- You shouldn't have to have a motor vehicle to survive in this town.
Yes, they're wonderful devices, and I wouldn't be without one of my own, but they're damnably expensive and becoming more so, and fuel prices are so volatile they're becoming impossible to budget with any degree of consistency. We have public transportation of a sort, but it's not really adequate to the task, and there are people who will never, ever ride the bus, simply because they're persuaded that they'd have to spend entirely too much time in the company of creeps and weirdos. Perhaps they can be lured onto a shiny new rail line. The city has already written off one of its major rail connections, the yard adjacent to Union Station, to make room for the new Interstate 40, which inevitably means that implementing a rail system will cost more and take longer than they'd hoped. If you buy into the proposals of the Central Oklahoma Transportation & Parking Authority's Fixed Guideway Study, you'll see a little bit of rail and some expanded bus service, with the return of the electric streetcar on a limited basis. Inasmuch as most of this stuff, assuming all goes well, won't be in place until 2030 or so, I think it's time for a crash program for more mixed-use developments, with retail and residential and offices together, with the idea of minimizing the amount of travel one has to do.
- There should be broader incentives for the local housing pool.
This past year a new development called Las Rosas took shape along SE 25th near Shields, and it's reportedly quite nice, especially considering where it's located, but not everyone is in a position to buy a new home for even as little as $100,000. I'm starting to think that the city should buy up a bunch of fairly dilapidated structures, such as the ones that were presumably bulldozed to make room for Las Rosas, and sell them off for next to nothing to people who are willing to fix them up and live in them. There's plenty of housing stock in this town, and some of it is even affordable; we'll do our lower-income households far more good by giving them a chance to own something than by issuing them a stack of Section 8 vouchers. There are housing markets where it's clearly a better deal to rent; this is not one of them.
- A bit of frivolity would come in handy.
Seattle has an advocacy group called Citizens for More Important Things, which exists to make sure no taxpayer dollars are expended on keeping the NBA's SuperSonics and the WNBA's Storm from moving out of town. They've already succeeded at one task: they persuaded the electorate of the city to vote against any expenditures for the team. The result, as could be predicted, is that the Sonics and Storm will definitely move out of town, and if there's no new arena deal in the Seattle suburbs, the teams will move out of state. And the most likely place they'd move to is right here in Oklahoma City, where we don't have large organized groups of people who insist on their right to decide what is "important" to the rest of us.
- And so would a bit of accessibility.
We're closing in on 540,000 people in the city, which means that each of the eight members of the City Council represents about 67,500 people. Meanwhile, each member of the State House represents about 35,000 people. I asked Sam Bowman of Ward 2, where I live, about the possibility of expanding the Council; he said that there wasn't a great deal of support for the idea just yet. I'm thinking that since they have to redraw the lines after the 2010 Census anyway, this would be an ideal time to put a couple of extra seats on the horseshoe.
I must point out here that next week, the filing period opens for four City Council seats; I hasten to add that I am not considering running for one of them.
22 January 2007