I went into Trailnet’s Livable St. Louis Conference on Friday with high hopes for memorable sessions led by visionary people. I was not disappointed. In fact the title of the Conference – Bold Community Visions – gave me the courage to vocalize my vision for biking in the region. I believe we can do this, and I will work to make it happen: by 2017 bikes will be used for three times as many trips as they are now – commuting to work, running errands, visiting friends and family…any trip we now make by car is up for grabs.
The conference began with Mick Cornett, the mayor of Oklahoma City. He spoke for nearly an hour without slides, visual aids, or even notes. He told Oklahoma City’s story – something that Tom Downs, former Amtrak president, referenced at last year’s Livable Conference. He said we need to spend some time narrating St. Louis’s story. Wouldn’t that be an interesting project, especially given our rich history, our diverse citizenry, and what our priorities have been and are?
While that interesting work, for me, at least, would be mission drift, working for our region’s future and paying close attention to what’s being done here and elsewhere to build desirable environments that will attract businesses and innovators is exactly what Trailnet is cut out to do.
Oklahoma City has done the work of documenting its story and Cornett began his presentation by painted a picture for us of a city that had experienced some significant down times. We all know about the Oklahoma City bombing at the federal building in 1995 but we may not know that through their city snaked the nearly dry North Canadian River, an eyesore for which there was a line item in the city budget for “mowing.” In 1993 it was renovated as one of their original MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) initiatives. That river, now called the Oklahoma River where it flows through Oklahoma City, quickly became a popular destination for fitness and recreation as well as a host of national events such as the Olympic Kayak Trials.
Cornett spoke about the 2007 Men’s Fitness magazine survey that ranked Oklahoma City No. 8 on its “Fattest City” list. He called a press conference announcing he was putting the entire city on a diet and was starting a web-based, weight-loss awareness program. A collective 1,000,000 pounds was lost by 47,000 participants and then citizens voted to invest nearly $1 billion in infrastructure designed to promote a healthier and more active lifestyle. This year’s March issue of Men’s Fitness listed Oklahoma City as No. 23 on its list of America’s fittest cities!
Gary Toth, the Director of Transportation Initiatives with the Project for Public Spaces was the lunch plenary speaker. His presentation was interactive and filled to the brim with slides that showed compelling examples of successful “placemaking” – some of which, to respect his time allowance, he had to speed through, eliciting more than a few “aww”s from the audience.
The word that most describes for me Toth’s presentation is “uplifting.” It was filled with possibilities and strategies and hope – that we can peacefully and affordably (“lighter, quicker, cheaper”) transform the transportation landscape in America by integrating into our planning efforts context sensitive solutions, the power of 10, and questions requiring quantifiable answers (“What makes a successful place?").
Breakout sessions included living history lessons – “Central West End Story: How a Walkable, Diverse Neighborhood Bounced Back from Decline;” a focus on the future – “Rolling out the Red Carpet: Neighborhood Greenways and Bus Rapid Transit” and “Setting a Bold Vision for Biking in St. Louis;” and practical ways we create vibrant, green places – “Art is Livability” and “Greening Our Region.” “Community Engagement 2.0” focused on meaningful resident engagement and the “Bold Ideas Open Source Session” was meaningful engagement in action.
While there is no substitute for being there, we do have the conference presentations loaded up on our website. Please take a moment to look them over. I hope you will come away with what I did – a conviction that moving our region from good to great is not only possible, it’s happening.