Sunday, January 3, 2010


LaFortune Park

As we all cinch ourselves in to take on the resolutions we made three days ago, I wonder what our city, if it was a person, would determine to do in twenty-ten.

Like 100 million of my fellow Americans, I made a few New Years resolutions myself. For one, I pledged to eat less white bread-wrapped white bread stuffed with, what else, more white bread. Me and the simple carbs, we go way back. I've decided we need to take a break, see other people - for me, that means dinner dates with more veggies, more lean meats. I'll be pretty wild-eyed by the end of this month, I know. But, odds are, I'll live through this. I might even emerge from 2010 as less of a person, in the physical sense.

I've been thinking for awhile about what I would resolve for Tulsa to accomplish this year. I'm not a fan of long lists - to me, they're just bulleted paths to disappointment and failure (that is, unless the list is about things to do this weekend) - so I decided to choose just one thing we could do to make this city a better, more comfortable, more exciting place to live in this first year of what promises to be a totally rad decade.

The resolution: I think we need at least one bright, shiny, new, kid-friendly park downtown. As Jeff Martin, local author and Tulsa People columnist said of kid- and family-friendly venues and events sprouting downtown, "If you build it, they will play."

LaFortune Park

I don't think a park with a smattering of new toys and swings would be incentive enough to bring families downtown who weren't already coming for some other reason. I do think such a park could eventually give rise to small, daytime, enclave-sized festivals, which do have the capability of bringing families from all over T-Town toward the city lights.

Or, at the very least, a park would give parents who trek to the downtown area for work, lunch or dinner a place to let the kids run wild before a nap or bedtime. Maybe while they're there they'll notice that downtown's not full of pick pockets, prostitutes and violent homeless people after all. Maybe a trip or two to such a park would help young couples with small children become more interested in spending a few years renting a downtown loft before they take the plunge and buy that McMansion out south.

Heck, maybe they'd find they like downtown so much they don't want to leave for the 'burbs after all. Maybe the young mom would open her law practice two floors up from the family loft, and Dad would head downstairs every morning to open his breakfast counter. Maybe if the walls of geographical segregation, which are quite tall in this city, started to break down as such, Mom and Dad would decide not to load up the kids every morning and bank them at daycare centers and private schools across town. Maybe we'd even start to see school buses on routes through downtown.

LaFortune Park

I know some of what I wrote will make a lot of you uncomfortable. I know because I'm right there with you. When earlier this summer we thought about buying this handsome, newly renovated, not-so-little bungalow near downtown, we just couldn't get our pros-and-cons list to work out. It still makes the most sense for us to stay where we are, in a home we own just south of I-44. We're still a one-income family, making finances the main reason we decided not to sell our house and buy downtown. There were, of course, other reasons, too.

I don't like it, the disparity between what I want to see happen in Tulsa and what I'm able to do to help it happen, with respect to our financial goals and what we want for our son and any other children we manage to manufacture in the coming years.

I'm sure I'm not the only family gal who feels this way. I know and have read about plenty of single people and childless married couples who live in downtown Tulsa. I personally know just two families with small children who opted to live downtown.

I dream of downtown residential space being occupied by a variety of folks. It shouldn't be just a "filing cabinet for widows and young professionals."

Name that movie. If you do, I'll give you a high-five that'll bruise your left eye. But, true to the rules set forth in said movie, you won't be able to talk about it.

LaFortune Park

So, there's my resolution - to take steps toward curing this disparity between my talk and my walk. It's a resolution for me, yeah, but I think it's a resolution for Tulsa, too.

If you could come up with Tulsa's New Years resolution, what would it be?


Michael said...

I should start by saying I love this piece. I think it's the best thing of yours I've ever read.

Now the downtown family question. From an urban development standpoint, young professionals and wealthy single/married couples with no children are, logically, the early adopters. They've got less to lose, as it were. In addition, the first types of developments we see downtown are bars, restaurants and more adult-oriented entertainment venues because lets face it, they're at least a little bit more of a sure thing. The kid-friendly development is the next logical step, though. But it's tricky. What is it exactly? I think the park idea is great. But in addition to that...what's next? Shopping? Museums? I think we're headed in the right direction.

So in short, I like your resolutions for Tulsa. :)

Maria said...

I'm sorry, but until the schools warrant staying IN Tulsa and away from private or suburban schools, downtown living is of little draw to me and my family, which is sad, because I am an urban dweller. As is, we live in midtown (21st and Harvard) and already drive our son to a private school. So, while you'd like a park, I'd like a decent downtown school. Until then, we drive... and are looking to sell the midtown house we love to move closer to our son's school.

Tasha said...

Maria, I think I get you. I've thought for awhile that school quality determines the development how-and-where in this city, as well as in a lot of other cities in this part of the country.

At the same time, I hate to hang the dunce hat on any public school. I say this as the stepdaughter of a school teacher at a Tulsa school with a reputation of being one of the roughest in the city, as well as a former mentor of at-risk kids at Roosevelt Elementary (next door to Owen Park).

I know not all teachers and administrators in the public system do, but many of them give up their free time and significant portions of their disposable income to do right by kids in our public school system. Plus, these aren't bad kids. The challenges they face at home day after day would cause any of us buckle. I loved this argument that I heard from a downtown business owner/a fellow Tulsa parent - if we take the kids with any and all advantages possible both in and outside of school out of these classrooms, we perpetuate this problem of quality of education, both real and perceived, in these schools. While I don't claim that as my own opinion - I'm still mulling it over for myself - I really like how it sounds.

I don't think it's impossible to get a good education in today's public school system in Tulsa, Oklahoma, not at all. What's tough is the thought of sending my son through a set of metal detectors so he can go to school, and subjecting him to a set of experiences in school with which, as someone who was never in a class larger than 20 and who never shared a classroom with an African American until college, I am totally unfamiliar.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, it's easy to talk patriotic about the revitalization of downtown, including any commentary on improving the quality of nearby schools to attract young families. But, how do we do it? Who has to take the first step?

Tasha said...

Longest. Comment. Ever. Sorry, all.

suburban hippie mama said...

When my 2 oldest were still in diapers we lived downtown. I thought I would love hubby could ride his bicycle to work and we raise our boys urban style....yeah....reality was it just wasn't kid friendly. The apartment building parking lot just wasn't cutting it. A more kid friendly downtown would have kept us there least until school age.

A downtown park would be nice. But I think if you want to get young families to move or stay downtown we need to focus on public schools. It's just a fact that South Tulsa Union schools are "better" me this just isn't fair. Maybe Tulsa's resolution should be to better it's public schools...magnet schools, after school programs, teacher raises, ect.

The main focus in buying a house for our family was the schools. We can't afford to send all 4 kids to private schools!!

Brooklyn said...

I liked this post.

Anonymous said...

"Fight Club"!

Parks with decent play equipment would be a good start.


Joy said...

I appreciate the personalness in this post. It's nice to see you peeking through the words. :)

This is a topic I would love to debate over a drink. I have many ideas and opinions, loves and dislikes about Tulsa's culture. We (Tulsans) are nothing if not opinionated, eh? :)

Maria said...

Long comment, but nothing I had not thought of. I went to a public school in a very small town in Minnesota, which has a considerably more progressive education system-- a system that is (overall) well funded and of high quality.

Truth be told, I dislike that I feel like we need to send my son to a private school (yes, we started with preschool, but he will undoubtedly stay the course), but I also refuse to sacrifice his education and future based on principle alone.

I also believe in alternative forms of learning, which public schools in general are not able to offer. Sitting at a desk all day would not work for him. ( that a dead give away for where he goes to school?) Ironically, a similar program to his is being started in Tulsa, but Union schools.

As for the first step, TPS and the people living in and working in Tulsa need to make a commitment to the public schools with proper funding, training, and all around pride in the schools. Unfortunately it is not there.

How often does a school like Union or Jenks have a referendum shot down? Those districts are willing to pay more (higher taxes) to support the schools. I don't see that in TPS. It's unfortunate.

Maria said...

Oh, and I didn't go to school with anyone really but pretty pure white (rural MN for you), but my son faces a different disadvantage in that he comes from a mixed race family (my husband is black).

Michael said...

Well here's a start: lets all share our thoughts with the new mayor. Posting them online, blogging, tweeting, commenting...that's all fine and good (I'm a big fan, obviously) but what would happen if we funneled all this ambition towards those who have the power to make substantive change? Just a thought.

Tasha said...

Maria said: Truth be told, I dislike that I feel like we need to send my son to a private school (yes, we started with preschool, but he will undoubtedly stay the course), but I also refuse to sacrifice his education and future based on principle alone.

At the end of the day (don't we all just looove this phrase? ha!), this is how I find myself feeling, too.

As for funding, I wonder how much we'd have to raise taxes in Tulsa to meet or exceed the what schools in the 'burbs get from their constituent households. I don't know what the difference is between household income numbers in Tulsa and Owasso, BA, Bixby, Jenks and the like, but I assume it's pretty significant.

As for pride, YEAH, that's a huge issue in TPS, and I think it's still an issue for Tulsa itself. I started to feel real pride in my city when I learned more about its history, as well as about what was being done to move it forward and the passionate people involved. Would the same approach work in our schools?

Ed said...

Reply to above comments.

1) TPS has, in their system, the BEST schools in the state. Booker T. Washington, Carver, Eisenhower... literally, the best. Unfortunately, they also have some of the worst - which is true of every single urban area in the country. Face it, we are an actual city. Pretending that the entire city should be an idyllic suburb is misguided.

2) If you send your children to private schools, there is a fine private school downtown. Holy Family. Uniforms and everything.

Tasha said...

Ed! There you are. I was wondering when you would chime in...

Ed said...

It was inevitable. :)

btw, I love the topic of your post. It would be quite meaningful for a number of city leaders to read it and to start a dialogue about bringing families downtown.

Although, my personal take is that families will continue to be a minority stake in downtown Tulsa long-term. We just do the single-family detached house with lawn and privacy fence so well here. There's tons of inventory, both new and historic and everything in between. Options abound for raising kiddos in that environment.

But that doesn't mean that downtown shouldn't become more family-friendly over time. The interesting study would be the expectation level of the community as to what amenities that would require. Manhattan isn't "kid-friendly" by our lots-of-grass, playground equipment and SUV parking mindset. Would we have to "suburbanize" our urban area too much to meet the family-friendly expectations of the community? You either want an urban lifestyle or you don't. And don't forget, Maple Park, Woodward Park and 41st & Riverside are a 10 minute drive or less from downtown.

A good kid-friendly park AND dog park right in the heart of downtown, walkable from the loft apartment buildings, would be a wonderful addition to the emerging urban village downtown. Better public transportation is another critical step. But living downtown with kids will require a certain stepping out the comfort zone we're used to here. You either want it or you don't.

Brigid said...

I spent K-7th grade in a very progressive private school and 8th-12th grades in two of the lowest-performing Tulsa Public Schools. I think I got a great education both places, but certainly you had to seek it out more at a public school. We can blame the district, yes, but part of the problem is that TPS is huge and underfunded. Why? For one, the tax base is far poorer than Union, Jenks, Owasso, Broken Arrow, etc. That's just a fact of the way the city is as a result of gentrification. When people flee to south Tulsa, they take their tax dollars with them. Now, I'm sure there are ways TPS could better manage its money, but it also doesn't have nearly as much per student to spend. That's what really sucks.

All that said, if I ever reproduce while living in this town, I would prefer to send my demon offspring to the private school where I started out. It's in midtown, though, and I have absolutely no plans ever to live in south Tulsa. I'll keep contributing my meager taxes to local schools.

Jennifer said...

Let me tell you a little bit about "high-performing" private schools. They get to choose their students. They get to keep their class sizes as low as they want. They have an entire different set of family life/problems than public schools, who teach everyone who comes in the door, regardless of their ability, their socioeconomic status, whether their parents read to them, or whether their parents are even able to keep the water bill paid.

All this said, I both graduated from and teach in Tulsa Public Schools. While my educational opportunities differed, for certain, than my private school peers, I do not feel I was inadequately educated. Additionally, schools aren't meant to be the only place you learn. It was a STARTING POINT for me.

I could go on. :) I won't. Ed's right. TPS is the largest district in the state. We teach everyone. You have good and bad. Everything is what you make of it, as well.

Tasha said...

I just might have been able to learn something about myself and one of my many neuroses in the process of this conversation. Like I said, the No. 1 reason we don't feel justified in relocating downtown has to do with our finances. I admit, though, that reason No. 2 is about schools.

For me, I think my ambivalence about sending my son to TPS comes down to trust - or, in this case, a lack thereof.

I'm learning that, in my still somewhat new role as a parent, it's been very difficult to imagine fully trusting my child. When I think into the future and imagine that moment when my son gets off the TPS bus and walks through the door, I'll want to ask him 578 questions about what he did in school that day, how was AP class, did he get an A on his Calculus final and, oh yeah, how many kids offered him an opportunity to try hard drugs that day, and how many guns and knives did he see in his friends' lockers?

Maybe part of my own solution here is to learn more about TPS and its schools and what they have to offer, particularly the ones my son will attend as long as we live where we do.

Then I'll work on trusting my kid to be curious and to make good choices about seeking out learning opportunities and to stay the heck away from the harmful stuff that could land him in jail or worse. And I'll work on not smothering him with said learning opportunities and warnings about the harmful stuff and chilling the heck out.

This might not put us into a loft in the middle of downtown, but I'd like to think it's a start. Eh?

Blake said...


Super insightful. I think you're right. "Trust" is the right word. My wife and I have this conversation quite a bit and I have to remind myself that my propensity to trust is far different from hers. This isn't saying anything good about me or bad about her. We're just different. As a mother, she's more likely to want to protect our children from any danger and to give them the absolute best (or at least the best we can). As a father (especially of boys), I'm more okay with them experiencing adversity. I look back and think of my negative experiences and the way that they shaped me and I'm grateful for them.

As a restaurant owner, I've had to learn to "trust" certain things as well. I'm just way more used to it than she is. I entrust the largest investment of my life to a team of people in their early twenties every day. When I'm not here, I'm leaving my "child" in the hands of others and trusting that it will be okay. I could not function if I could not "entrust" it to others. I'd be a basket case.

Mostly, I will trust my kids. I will trust that because they've been raised in my home, they will tend to make the types of decisions that people of our values and character make and that when they don't, the structure and integrity of our family will help us to learn from those mistakes and move forward. I "trust" us. I was raised in a wonderful family and went to Nathan Hale. My parents won. Trust won. I'm better for it.

When I think about the men that private schools will shape versus the men that public schools will shape, I'm choosing Tulsa Public Schools. (I totally understand those who don't, however. It's a bold choice). I want my sons to be men who have shared a classroom with people of a different race, socioeconomic background, and family structure than theirs. I want my sons to be men who have been educated socially because I think it's far more valuable than an academic education. I want them to be honest, open-minded, empathetic, and understanding that our world is made more beautiful by the very different people with whom we share it. I think the way we live our personal lives has moral implication that we don't often consider. Is suburban sprawl a moral issue? Is "white-flight" a moral issue? Is it immoral to seek out people like us and to locate ourselves in proximity to them? It is moral to promote one set of values about selflessness and sacrifice and then move my family to place where I will not have to do either as it pertains to their education? For me, these issues ping in my mind. These are my issues. I'm not saying they should be all of our issues.

As for the actual academic education part. I blame most of the "test score" differences on the parenting and family structure of students in our lower performing schools. It's not nearly as much about the teachers, the books, the computers, the facilities, or the resources. Union teachers went to the same colleges as TPS teachers. They have the same heart for their students. They use the same books. The primary difference between Union and TPS is the parent involvement. My kids will be raised to study and learn and to appreciate knowledge and education. They will do their homework. They will be expected to pay attention to their teachers and they will be expected to do as well as they can on their tests. They will receive a fine academic education. . . and I will trust them to learn some valuable lessons about their city, country, and world no matter where they attend school.

Micah K said...

I know the commenting on this post has moved in the direction of public schools, but I saw this on the utility of dog walkers and dog parks and thought it relevant:

"Dog walkers contribute positive activity not just to streets and sidewalks but to parks. It's very easy for a park to devolve into a dangerous place. One technique for people committed to disorder to keep people (especially families and children generally) out of parks is to break a lot of bottles - broken glass keeps a park free of children, making it easier to conduct illicit business and activities.

"Dog walkers help rebuild neighborhood groups committed to providing support and focus to neighborhood parks..."

A lot goes into the vitality of a place, and if families with young children aren't quite ready to leap, there are plenty of other early adopters that certainly could. And those adopters, with their dogs and walking, will make it a more welcoming place for the families that follow.

Anonymous said...

Berryhill was definitely not a TPS...

Tasha said...

Heh. You can say that again, Anonymous.

Micah and Ed, I think the dog park idea is a great one. When I worked downtown, there was this prissy, not-so-little English bulldog - I think her name was Lucy - who used to ride the elevator in her building, the Philtower, with her people. Seeing her always made my day. I could definitely go for some more of that.

Ed said...

I remember Lucy! She was so sweet, but yes, a little prissy. If you were the unofficial mascot of the Philtower, you might be too! :)

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