The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

17 April 2006

Formerly the sticks

Judy Gibbs has a piece in The Oklahoman today about the steep growth curve in and around Piedmont, a municipality west of Edmond and north of Yukon. A resident is quoted as saying that yes, the 40-minute commute to downtown Oklahoma City is a drawback, but otherwise, everything is wonderful.

For the first half of the decade, Piedmont was the fastest-growing community in the state, says the Bureau of the Census. I've been saying all along that growth in the Oklahoma City metro is right in the middle and around the edges, but not much in between, and this fits the pattern.

Opponents of urban sprawl no doubt are appalled by this sort of thing, and point fingers at American practices that seem to encourage it. Yet sprawl exists worldwide; London has been expanding outward for centuries. Witold Rybczynski writes:

Sprawl is and always has been inherent to urbanization. It is driven less by the regulations of legislators, the actions of developers, and the theories of city planners, than by the decisions of millions of individuals — Adam Smith's "invisible hand." This makes altering it very complicated, indeed.

Especially since "altering it" would involve having to explain to happy Piedmont residents why they should give up what they consider a slice of the good life for the sake of [fill in name of dubious collectivist goal].

Posted at 11:05 AM to City Scene

Having a friend with a master's degree in this stuff, I don't think the opposition is to expansion in general. "Sprawl" generally refers to expansion without much planning - kind of like buying more computers without a plan for where they go on the desktop.

If you know where they'll go and what they'll do, that's one thing. If you just keep buying more without the furniture to support them, well, you have issues. :-)

"Good" expansion and population growth means that places plan for the growth, including utilities, zoning, not forcing people to drive everywhere, good sidewalks, suitably wide main streets and suitably narrow residential streets, etc. In a bigger city, good planning may mean more apartments and condos in good places and less dropping of houses on the fringes willy-nilly.

But a city can only expand in the XY or Z planes, that is, "out or up." If it can't go up, it has to go out. The goal is to make sure each idea works as well as it can.

Or, to put the sports spin on it, it's the difference between the carefully laid-out parking at Lloyd Noble Arena vs. the organic mess around Oklahoma Memorial Stadium or the State Fairgrounds. It takes a lot more people to make OU football or State Fair parking flow smoothly than it does for anything at Lloyd Noble. City planning should have a similar goal, but with, you know, people instead of cars.

Posted by: Matt at 4:13 PM on 17 April 2006

Oddly, I just bought a computer, and I have no idea where to put it.

I definitely think we need more sidewalks, if only because we have a lot more pedestrians, to include runners, dog-walkers and such, and apparently Oklahoma City abandoned the idea many years ago, since my neighborhood (going on 60) doesn't have any at all.

Maybe this is a job for Michael Bates' "popsicle test": "Can a child safely walk from his home to the store to buy a popsicle? The absence of this kind of walkability means a loss of independence for children, the disabled, and the elderly who no longer feel confident behind the wheel of a car. It also gives us less flexibility to cope with rising fuel costs — we can't choose to walk to the corner store rather than drive to the supermarket."

This sort of thing has been generally lacking in fringe developments, and not just around OKC, over the years. I'd like to think that a developer might get higher sales prices, or at least Brownie points, for providing it.

Posted by: CGHill at 4:35 PM on 17 April 2006

Check the time stamps, CG: I saw your computer post before I replied here. You're slipping a bit. :-)

By the way, the Oklahoma News Report on OETA did this same story tonight, but it was Claremore/Tulsa instead of Piedmont/OKC.

Posted by: Matt at 9:27 PM on 17 April 2006

At the time, I hadn't picked it up from the dealer yet. It was 6:00 before I got it into position.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:52 PM on 17 April 2006

This sort of thing has been generally lacking in fringe developments, and not just around OKC, over the years. I'd like to think that a developer might get higher sales prices, or at least Brownie points, for providing it.

Part of the problem is that the kind of zoning approach that would make the popsicle test meaningful -- since few popsicles would last the three miles or more (often more like ten in a lot of places) most kids would have to walk each way -- has long since been anathema.

Seems somewhere along the line the idea of interspersing commercial properties in among residential, got show down because people see small stores as crime magnets, and nobody wants a Wal-Mart on the same block as their home.

And of course it never occurs to anyone to contemplate anything lying between these extremes...

Posted by: McGehee at 9:25 AM on 18 April 2006