By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Maybe it was the location — the Loveworks Building on downtown Main Street — but something different happened Monday night during Norman’s interactive design charrette workshop.
“This one’s not developer driven,” said one Norman resident who attended all of the high-density talks last year and has participated in all of the public segments of the Center City Visioning process so far.
“This one” is community driven, and it’s bringing people once at odds together in a dialogue of shared values. Led by Bill Lennertz of the National Charrette Institute, the charrette is a weeklong process with opportunities for lots of public input.
Norman residents drew their vision of the city center Monday night and shared priorities with the Center City Vision team. The interactive public meeting opened with a brief explanation of the charrette process and some basic design concepts.
Next, small groups brainstormed and gathered ideas, then shared those ideas with the larger group.
“We’re basically creating a working office here — we’re setting up a virtual office where we’re going to work day and night,” Lennertz said.
That work will be on view daily today, Wednesday and Thursday between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Loveworks, 127 W. Main St. An open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, also at Loveworks, will bring the ideas together. The final presentation will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday.
“We are starting honestly with a blank slate,” Lennertz said. “We’re waiting to hear from you before we start drawing this.”
The point of the workshop was to create ideas within a collaborative, small group context.
“We’re going to be coming up with a whole bunch of ideas and refining them down,” Lennertz said.
Experts on form-based code and complete street transportation were on hand to explain elements of urban planning and to answer questions.
A public meeting in March gathered initial public input. At least 140 Norman residents attended that meeting.
On Monday, Lennertz and his team shared the ideas that emerged from that meeting. People like generous sidewalks, tree-lined streets, active street frontage, mid-rise buildings and public places where people can gather.
“There were a lot of buildings people liked up to about five stories,” said Mary Madden, an urban planner with Ferrell Madden, who is part of the design team.
Taller buildings were not as well liked, she said, but in general overscale buildings were most disliked. So while height was a factor in how people responded, if a building was overly tall or overly long, it was viewed less favorably as were monotonous facades.
“All places evolve,” said Dan Parolek, architect, city planner and team member of Opticos Design. “Our goal is to put a framework in place to guide the evolution of Norman, Okla.”
Parolek said the book “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time” by Jeff Speck delves into the principles used by the design team. He suggested it as good reading for people who want to learn more about revisioning the urban landscape.
Parolek said it’s important to build upon the culture of a place and to look at the city’s historic archives. He showed photos of early Norman contributed by Bob Goins. The design team will study where the city has been and how it has changed as part of the process of creating a vision for Norman’s future.
To create a vision the community can support, he said the design must be “rooted and unique and specific to this place.”
The visioning project will look at both short-term and long-term opportunities for development and redevelopment within the study area. The defined corridor under study is bounded by Gray Street on the north, Flood Avenue on the west, Boyd Street on the south and the BNSF Railroad on the east.
Team member and engineer Wade Walker, of Alta, is a complete streets regional leader. He talked about creating a transportation strategy that includes multi-modal choices such as public transit, pedestrian, bicycle and roadway networks.
“One of the things we do is make sure we have options about how people move around,” Walker said.
To create a connected, “urban walkable” corridor that includes downtown Main Street and Campus Corner, the environment must allow people to move around without getting back into their cars. They can “park once” and get to the places they want to go without driving within a five-mile radius from core areas.
The walking experience also must be pleasant.
“We’re not just looking between the curbs,” Walker said. “We’re looking beyond the curbs to the building faces and how they all relate.”
Walker said cars’ speeds matter in collisions. A pedestrian’s chance of survival when hit by a vehicle going 20 miles per hour is good, but at 40 mph, there’s an 85 percent chance that pedestrian will die.
“You guys have a parking problem,” Walker said. “The bad news is we’re never going to solve it, but the good news is you can manage it.”
He also cited statistics that showed people are driving less. He said 46 percent of 17-year-olds have not gotten drivers’ licenses, and that’s increasing.
The Center City Visioning project is designed to create a vision but also to give guidance that will make sure the vision created through this process is implemented, Lennertz said.
The study is not just about buildings or density but about what is pleasing and how people move through the city.
“You can’t look at land use and transportation alone,” Lennertz said.
The charrette is a public process and is open to all interested persons.
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