Turkey Mountain View

Tulsa has abundant natural landscapes and a rich architectural heritage worth preserving, but we need to act soon because much has already been lost. Much of our riverfront property has been spoiled by industrial development and some of our high points offering sweeping vistas are now private property with restricted access. Our downtown area has been decimated by urban renewal and surface parking lots.[1]  The old historic neighborhoods have lost some of their charm due to tear-downs, inappropriate infill and encroachment from commercial areas.

A series of large, forest preserves should be created at Turkey Mountain, Lookout Mountain, and Holmes Peak to protect their cross timbers and high overlooks.[2] These areas should be developed as recreation areas and connected with paths extending to the Riverparks, Gilcrease Museum, Chandler Park and the rest of our trails. Restore and preserve the riparian zone along the river as a natural area.[3]

Much has been said about river development, but it should be limited and respect the natural and recreational areas along the banks. Prohibit developments that turn their backs on the river with large parking lots out front and incorporate key properties along the river, like the Blair Estate, soon to be the Gathering Place, into the public park system.[4]

Philtower Building

Philtower Building

Enact a moratorium on the demolition of buildings in downtown until an intensive level survey to assess their condition, historic significance and risk for destruction can be completed.[5] Create a trust fund to buy and maintain dilapidated or abandoned historic buildings until the day they regain their economic viability. Meanwhile, historic residential neighborhoods, such as those found in much of midtown, need protection in the form of conservation easements or historic preservation zoning to protect individual properties and the overall pattern of lots and blocks.[6]


[1] The whole of downtown Tulsa was named to the state’s list of the ten most endangered places by Preservation Oklahoma. Refer to the Preservation Oklahoma News, Volume 12, Number 3, from April 2006: http://www.okhistory.org/shpo/pok/POKApr2006.pdf.

[2] Forest preserves where identified as early as 1908 in Daniel Burnham’s Plan for Chicago. Today the Cook County Forest Preserve system is a model for the world: http://www.fpdcc.com/. A complementary effort would develop a comprehensive urban forestry plan similar to Vancouver, Washington:


[3] Much of the Arkansas River riparian zone in the City of Tulsa comes under the purview of the River Parks Authority: http://www.riverparks.org/ and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: http://www.swt.usace.army.mil/ , which as public stewards see that the public has access to the river, provisions of federal law such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Protection Act are followed and development of the river banks is limited and appropriate. Rivertown: Rethinking Urban Rivers edited by Paul Stanton Kibel available from MIT Press has case studies from around the country of restored urban rivers with appropriate development: http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11245.

[4] The Tulsa World reported on March 11, 2008 that the George Kaiser Family Foundation purchased the 33 acre Blair Estate: http://www.tulsaworld.com/archives/famed-blair-estate-to-be-purchased/article_ac53d07c-7417-552d-b087-de4354045bb2.html. Many additional articles about the Gathering Place Park are available through the Tulsa world archive.

[5] The Tulsa Preservation Commission’s report from 2006 entitled: “CORE – Current Opportunities to Reinvent & Energize Downtown Tulsa” outlines an inventory process as well as steps to protect buildings from demolition: www.tulsanow.org/news/CORE_Proposals.pdf. Athens, Georgia adopted a moratorium in 2007 to allow for historic assessment and code development for protection of historic areas: https://www.athensclarkecounty.com/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/186, see item 4.

[6] The Tulsa Preservation Commission administers the city’s historic preservation overlay zoning ordinance: http://tulsapreservationcommission.org/zoning/neighborhoods/. Five neighborhoods have developed development guidelines for new and existing buildings in these districts. City council researcher, Jack Blair, created a policy document for neighborhood conservation districts in 2008. The original documents are not available online from the government agencies but copies are maintained by Michael Bates at his blog:

http://www.batesline.com/archives/2008/03/10/Conservation%20District%20Memo%2011-20-07.pdf. A draft enabling ordinance was subsequently produced but was tabled by the Tulsa Area Metropolitan Planning Commission (TMAPC):


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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