Tulsa Street Grid Map

Tulsa Street Grid Map

Since 1982, the amount of arterial street lane miles in the City of Tulsa has doubled while the funding to maintain them has been cut in half.[1] Just one example of how it has become increasingly apparent that Tulsa cannot afford to maintain its existing infrastructure and continue expanding into new areas.

It is also painfully obvious that much of the recent growth in the region has been taking place in the suburbs and surrounding rural counties, having a direct impact on tax revenue collections for the city.[2]

These realities, coupled with the need to repopulate the already developed areas of the city lead to the realization that suburban development needs to be balanced or at least managed in order for the central city to thrive again.

First, the city should set an example and not annex any more property itself and should not extend utilities and services to areas within the city limits that have not yet developed, nor should these areas be zoned for new development.

An effort to coordinate growth across the region by getting the cooperation of suburban communities to restrict low-density development and embrace compact communities is desirable but may prove a difficult political problem even though these communities still greatly depend on Tulsa for their employment base.[3]

Urban growth boundaries around each municipality might offer an effective strategy for this issue but would probably require new state legislation and is unlikely to be greeted enthusiastically by lawmakers, local officials or land owners.[4]

The city does have some clout with water service since several suburbs receive water from the Tulsa distribution system and Tulsa could push for service area limits and increased supply fees to reduce low density development in these communities.[5]

Given the difficulties of addressing this problem in the public realm, a private effort to limit peripheral growth might be more fruitful. Philanthropic trusts that acquire property directly or purchase development rights might be able to cordon off some areas of future development or at least slow expansion of development on valuable natural and agricultural lands.[6]

As private transactions these examples would not be restricted by jurisdiction or raise concerns about eminent domain or regulatory takings. Transferable development rights also might encourage developers to acquire rural development rights, which can be used for redevelopment in established areas.[7]


[1] See pages 17 through 34 of the “Tulsa Streets” powerpoint presentation produced by Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson and Tulsa City Council Research Director Jack Blair at:


[2] A summary of the Tulsa’s municipal revenues and fiscal constraints was prepared by Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson in 2007 and is available at the City Council website: http://www.tulsacouncil.org/pdfs/R&PD/other_reports&presentations/City%20of%20Tulsa%20Revenues%20and%20Fiscal%20Constraints%20-%20Bill%20Martinson.pdf.

[3] Minneapolis, St. Paul and their surrounding communities coordinate growth through the Metropolitan Council: http://www.metrocouncil.org/. As elaborated on page 277 of Contemporary Urban Planning, 6th Ed. by John M. Levy, the council operates under a 1975 law that establishes a metropolitan framework describing urban service areas for housing development and rural development areas where municipal services are restricted. In 2003, the City of Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky merged, greatly increasing regional development cooperation. The Brookings Institution has an extensive report from the merger entitled “Beyond Merger: A Competitive Vision for the Regional City of Louisville”: http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2002/07louisville.aspx. The region’s emphasis on education and its link to economic development through the Greater Louisville Project is also of interest: http://www.greaterlouisvilleproject.org/.

[4] Growth boundaries have their origins in Ebenezer Howard’s greenbelt concept. The City of Portland’s growth boundary is perhaps the most well know. It was created in 1980 pursuant to a 1973 Oregon law: http://www.oregonmetro.gov/index.cfm/go/by.web/id=277. Growth boundaries have been adopted statewide in Oregon, Washington, and Tennessee, as well as in Miami, Boulder, Colorado; Lexington, Kentucky and many cities in California. Samuel Stanley and Gerard Milner from the Reason Policy Institute link growth boundaries to increased regional housing costs, but page 12 of their study, “Urban Growth Boundaries and Housing Affordability: Lessons from Portland”, confirms the effectiveness of growth boundaries in increasing density and redevelopment in central areas . They further state that the magnitude of housing cost increase due to growth boundaries is uncertain. View the report at: http://www.reason.org/files/65590101cc82afbe097e264f97deb13b.pdf.

[5] Counties in the State of Maryland use another growth management approach: Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances (APFO). These ordinances require infrastructure and services to be in place before real estate development can occur. Models and guidelines for AFPOs are available from the Maryland Department of Planning: http://planning.maryland.gov/PDF/OurProducts/Publications/ModelsGuidelines/mg24.pdf. The University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education report on APFOs recommends that their use be combined with state and local programs to fund adequate infrastructure. Moratoria on development without adequate public facilities should also have time limits:  http://smartgrowth.umd.edu/APFOWashington.html.

[6] Land trusts have been used for many years to buy land or development rights to hold in trust and conserve land. The 2010 Land Trust Census from the National Land Trust Alliance documents their growth in recent years: http://www.landtrustalliance.org/land-trusts/land-trust-census. Some well-known trusts operating nationwide are the Nature Conservancy: http://www.nature.org/ , the Trust for Public Land: http://www.tpl.org/, and the American Farmland Trust: http://www.farmland.org/. Examples of regional trusts are the Columbia Land Trust based in Vancouver, Washington: http://www.columbialandtrust.org/about-us, and the Allegheny Land Trust in Pittsburgh: http://www.alleghenylandtrust.org/index.html.

[7] An evaluation of Transferable Development Rights (TDR) is available fromResources for the Future:

http://www.rff.org/RFF/Documents/Walls_McConnell_Sep_07_TDR_Report.pdf.  TDR programs in Florida, Maryland and, New Jersey are examined.


Editor’s Note:

This series of articles by Shawn Michael Schaefer was originally published in March, 2009 on his Places LLC WordPress Blog site under the heading Ten Strategies for the City of Tulsa’s Future Planning and Growth then revised June, 2014 and reprinted here with permission from the author.


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