The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

28 February 2005

Inside, looking out

A few days ago, I came up with this:

Those who worry about urban sprawl must be utterly mystified by Oklahoma City. There is serious development way out on the fringes, but there is just about as much serious development in the very center of town. In between, not much is happening. (My own neighborhood, closer to the center than the fringe, is stable in its sixth decade.)

The Downtown Guy follows up:

If you can have both, if you can have a strong core with thriving suburban areas, and maintain both with existing revenues, it could be the ultimate hat trick.

Of course, that sprawl will cost more money. New roads, sewers and utilities must be built. And those new areas will require more fire stations, more police posts, more police patrols. And traditional sprawl opponents have long argued that growth can only be covered by dropping services in older areas. And as the core gets worse, what was once sprawl itself becomes part of the rotten core.

But is that happening here in Oklahoma City? It certainly was through the early 1990s. I remember Hefner and Western when it was a good neighborhood, a newer neighborhood. Now it's a war zone. It's been that way since the mid-1980s. Southwest 59th and Pennsylvania is another area that's taken a turn for the worse.

And that may be the challenge ahead. It's the architecture of the old neighborhoods, ultimately, that helps make them attractive for revival with a bit of help from the city. But these neighborhoods built up in the 1960s and 1970s aren't so quaint. To be blunt, it's disposable construction both residentially and commercially. And that makes me wonder about what's being built today. Will we be so enamored with Dallas-style houses 30 years from now? And what will we do with all those big box stores once they're deemed obsolete?

I think it takes way more than thirty years for any particular architectural style to come back into vogue; no one these days is building, say, Tudor Revival houses of the sort that you see in areas like Gatewood, and I suspect the demand for simulated French châteaux will vanish shortly and not return until well beyond 2050. (Dallas-style homes are now being built in Ireland, of all places. Go figure.) The prevailing style in the 1960s and 1970s was a seeming lack of style, which can't be good for neighborhoods built during those decades, at least right away, but it should be remembered that Oklahoma City's historic districts sport lots of Craftsman-style homes, and that's "Craftsman" as in Sears; even if Sears, Roebuck and Co. didn't actually sell the kit, a lot of houses were built to look like Sears (or Montgomery Ward) designs. And even Levittown, the archetype for little boxes made of ticky-tacky, has evolved over the succeeding years.

The question of extending city services is more serious. The Fire Department has established stations in fringe areas — the farthest out include 11630 SW 15th, west of Mustang Road, and 17700 SE 104th, east of Triple XXX Road — but water and sewer lines take longer, and the police are still rather far away. Some argue for deannexation, noting that the urbanized part of the city is less than half of its total area; I'd point out that most of the cities in serious decline are those which have no place to expand. (St. Louis, which once was the fourth largest city in the nation, and had 800,000 people as late as 1940, is now down below 350,000, barely making it into the top 50; it's been stuck within its 61 square miles since about 1880.)

It's hard to argue, though, with this observation:

For now, it looks like we can have our cake and eat it too. But at some point, we may suffer a pretty nasty case of indigestion.

Well, it won't be because we bit off more than we could chew.

Posted at 6:27 AM to City Scene


I suspect Charles that our homes were of much better construct and that explains the reason they are still in such good condition today. I know several people with homes newer than mine who are ready to tear them down and rebuild. Have you ever watched a new home being built? The cheapness with which they do so anymore is frightening.

Posted by: ms7168 at 8:36 AM on 28 February 2005

Which leads to the question "When did construction quality start going to hell?" My father bought a new place on the southside in 1969; it's had all manner of issues in 35 years, though none of them were particularly severe. I do know the Seventies-vintage apartments I used to live in were fairly slapdash.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:51 AM on 28 February 2005