City of Norman’s Fifth Density Dialog Charade

Kaye Beach

August 14, 2012

I am completely frustrated with the City of Norman’s “community dialog” meetings on density development.  Last night was the fifth meeting.

(You can find out more about the meetings and see some of the materials from the meetings here)

Previous posts on the subject are here and here

We were told in the beginning that the meetings were for the purpose of discovering whether or not Norman residents even wanted high density development.  That question could have been answered in much less that the six scheduled meetings being held but then the planners would not have had the opportunity to manipulate the attendees into agreeing to the sort of development that they have in mind.

I am not opposed to the building of high density housing units.  If there is a market for it and it doesn’t harm the rights of property owners nearby, then why not?  But there is much more going on here than that.

Last night we really got down to the nitty gritty after we were instructed by City Planner Susan Atkinson on exactly what constituted “good design”  Good design, we were told, is three stories, built right up to the sidewalk, retail on the bottom, residential on top, meager parking, hidden in the back.  Good design means wide sidewalks and narrow streets.  Why?

I’ll tell you why.  Because public transportation REQUIRES high density development,( located right  next to the tracks) that discourages the use of automobiles.    The planners aim to take away your choices so that their goals are met.


The city is working on what is called Transit Oriented Development only they will not simply tell you that because if they did and we understood what they were really up to, many of us would not agree to it.

(Read the Central Oklahoma Transit Supportive Guidebook)

Transit Oriented Development  (also called New Urbanism or Smart Growth) calls for high density mixed use developments. link

Today, TOD means building high density projects at transit stops, such as a light rail stations. Providing places to live, work, and shop within close distance of a rail station helps drive ridership on the transit system. http://iqc.ou.edu/2011/09/28/urban-design-in-territorial-oklahoma/

Transit-Oriented Development — moderate- to high-density, mixed-use neighborhoods concentrated at transit stops and designed to maximize access to and use of public transportation. http://www.epa.gov/dced/codeexamples.htm

So, who really wants transit oriented development?  The federal government does.  And ACOG wants it because federal transportation dollars are contingent upon it.  The city wants transit oriented development because it is part of ACOG’s regional transportation plan.

Since when does the federal government dictate city planning?  The answer is they can’t, not directly anyways but by using the carrot and the stick method the federal government is doing it and ACOG and our city council rather than standing up to this travesty and letting the good people of Oklahoma who value their sovereignty and local control are working right along with them.  And this, we will be told, is what WE want.  It is OUR plan.

Here is just one example of new federal initiatives that have completely changed the game.

Obama Administration Proposes Major Public Transportation Policy Shift
to Highlight Livability
Changes Include Economic Development and Environmental Benefits

In a dramatic change from existing policy, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today proposed that new funding guidelines for major transit projects be based on livability issues such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits, in addition to cost and time saved, which are currently the primary criteria.

In remarks at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting, the Secretary announced the Obama Administration’s plans to change how projects are selected to receive federal financial assistance in the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts and Small Starts programs.

“Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it,” said Secretary LaHood. “We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.” http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2009/fta0110.htm

If you are wondering what these “livability principles” are, you can click here to read them.

In an March 2012 ACOG transportation  meeting, Commissioner Mark Sharpton goes on record calling out the ‘Livability Principles” for what they are and his reaction to the suggestion of incorporating them into our region-wide transportation policies brought forth an entirely appropriate response form this red-blooded American;

You know, I actually feel for the city council and even ACOG.  They are between a rock and a hard place for sure.  But you know what?  I am more concerned about the people of this great state and what the future will look like for us and our children if this is allowed to continue.

We don’t get to vote for those who presume to represent us on ACOG (which is just one of a number of problems with the whole arrangement) but we DO vote for our city council members still even though they often appear to be being led by the nose by their staff.  They have to stand up for us or pay the price at the ballot box.  We should insist that our City Council put an end to this farce!

I am sending a copy of this post to my councilman.  If you have concerns, you should contact yours as well. You can find their contact info here

They said they just wanted to know if we want higher density development.  How about NO?!

The residents of Norman should know that the City cannot accomplish their hidden goals without our approval.  Do you think that they would bother to mess with all of these meetings to manipulate us into agreeing if they didn’t have to?

“Because the projects are routinely deemed illegal under local zoning laws and go against most conventional development practices, the new urbanists have pioneered new approval techniques (notably the town planning charrette).” Link

I have much more to say about this charade (I mean charrette!) the City is putting us through but for now I will leave you with this incredibly thoughtful speech made by Lolita Buckner Inniss, J.D., L.L.M. Associate Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall School of Law,  Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio in 2008.

. . .what I’m going to be offering here is a critique of New Urbanism in general and “form-based code” in particular and as a tool of New Urbanism. I also want to talk about the fact that form-based code, while it’s often touted as being more flexible than zoning and is a great method to overcome a number of the problems that we see in our cities—urban decay, segregation, economic downturns, what I began to see, however, particularly as I taught the first year on property, is that form-based code is not generally doing what advocates said.

. . .First and foremost, it tries to do by design what was ultimately spontaneous. What it comes down to, and I’ll talk about this in more detail, is that in the city as we have known it and have come to understand it in the United States, and certainly also in Europe, city growth was spontaneous growth. I think it’s problematic from the outset to assume that you can do now by design what it has taken us one hundred years to do in our urban areas. I think you would have to challenge any plan that purports to design something that didn’t come about by design. So that’s one of the first problems I’ve had with it.

. . .

Next, New Urbanism. As I’ll talk about in a few moments, when you talk about form-based code, you’re really talking about one of the principal tools of what’s called the new urbanism, sort of a way of getting back to the “old urbanism” and the old city. What I’ll discuss is the fact that the new urbanism, like the old urbanism—that’s deeply contested. The city that you and I may remember may be very different than the city that somebody else remembered. So again it’s problematic when someone purports to put together a plan that’s supposed to take us back to the old urbanism. We all remember and lived in different types of cities, and so there’s no way that we’re going to design something that reflects a vision. There is no single vision. There are multiple visions that could never begin to be incorporated in any one single vision, So that’s another problem.

Finally, the charette process, as Carol mentioned, relies on the “community” in order to sort of pull together form-based code plans. All too often it doesn’t work out as claimed, which is one of the things I talk about in my essay where I discuss the rebuilding of New Orleans that’s the basis for this talk. That’s a wonderful example of what happens when you claim that the community is going to be represented. All too often, form-based code plans end up representing the elites who put them together, who bring in the experts, who all too often monopolize the talk that’s going on. And it’s a wonderful way for a very, very small strand of people in the community to have their views represented as “what everybody wants.” All too often, that’s simply not the case.

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4 responses to “City of Norman’s Fifth Density Dialog Charade

  1. Pingback: City of Norman’s Fifth Density Dialog Charade | GrassrootsHeadlines.com

  2. Jesus Christ, Kaye, you’re dumber than a box of hair.

  3. Very enlightening James. Impressive. No really- your wit is piercing.

  4. I see that you have an obummerbot troll also…

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