Mayor Cornett “gets it”.

NO one is more surprised than I to make this admission. But after reading City Council Studies Future of Bus Transit in today’s Daily Oklahoman, I can come to no other conclusion. The meat of the article is this paragraph —

White and Cornett said the city should consider shrinking its bus system to a more centralized area and cutting service on the fringes of the city.

He may not completely understand what he “gets”, but nevertheless, his voice in this article is prophetic about the future of Oklahoma City. Going forward, the theme of the 21st Century will be “managing contraction”, or “mis-managing contraction” (as the case may be) as James Howard Kunstler puts it in his blog entry this week.

Kunstler and many other modern commentators (The End of Suburbia, et al) note that American cities have grown at an unsustainable rate and as the availability of both energy and money decline, suburbs will be de-gentrified and abandoned. In Europe, you find slums at the edges of cities, and in 30 years, that’s what the situation will be in Oklahoma City. The high quality of services generally experienced by Oklahoma City residents will in the future only be available (my guess is) in the areas bounded by I-44, I-240, and I-35. Suburbs like the 73132 zip code, where my job at Epiphany Church is, will be the slums of that era. Those big suburban homes will be chopped up into duplexes and four plexes, or torn down to build cheap apartment buildings. Real estate agents will use the same tactics they pioneered before the Civil Rights area to chase out the middle class and pave the way for the slums — which, by the way, are enormously profitable for many people, and all kinds of people will make money off the de-gentrification of Oklahoma City’s suburbs — bankers to drug lords and most points in between.

This doesn’t have to happen, but if we want to change that future, there are things we need to do now, but alas, we are not doing them, mostly because the situation is as the Mayor observes in the article –

“In today’s Oklahoma City, where traffic flows freely, gas is affordable and everyone has at least one car for their family, it’s really hard to have a system you can be proud of,” Cornett said.

This of course is true and not true. I know lots of people who don’t have a car, who can’t afford gasoline, and getting around for them is a real problem. And while it is true in the present, we can ask ourselves — will it be true tomorrow? For it to remain true, we are dependent upon the good will of Islamic fascists in the most unstable part of the world. We could wake up tomorrow and find that one of the most corrupt aristocracies on the planet — the rulers of Saudi Arabia — were beheaded in the night and the new radical Islamists in power are not interested in selling oil to the Great Satan. Overnight — any overnight, without any warning — gasoline could go to five or six bucks a gallon, and then what happens in car dependent Oklahoma City?

Perhaps the Mayor has looked into the future, and concluded that no matter what, nothing can be done right now — he is no doubt a master at reading the political possibilities – so he will try to save what he can and pave the way for one of his successors to say, “Well, we really can’t afford to pick up trash everywhere, so we need to contract our services and cut them at the fringes of the city. . . ” and “Well, we really can’t afford to provide police and fire service everywhere, so we need to contract our services and cut them at the fringes of the city”. . .and “Well, we really can’t afford to provide water service everywhere, so we need to contract our services and cut them at the fringes of the city.”

And it will be true. Oklahoma City will not be able to provide services everywhere in the present boundaries of Oklahoma City. We’ve done WAY too much mal-investment over the years — $500 million for the Crosstown Freeway, $300 million for a tourist convention center, $120 million for an NBA team — the issue is not that we don’t have money, we have lots of money, but rather the way we are spending our money right now. Because of the decisions we are making now, the future of Oklahoma City will be very different from what most people think it will be.

So it comes to pass that the Great Contraction, driven by peak oil/energy and economic irrationality, for Oklahoma City begins with mass transit.