May’s Arkansas River flooding taught us again that nature’s power is overwhelming and irresistible.
It’s important that Tulsa takes the right lesson from that painful experience.
Some have suggested that the community’s response should be to back away from its commitment to develop the Arkansas River for public use, that money to make the Arkansas River a more attractive and usable space is wasted because the river might — will — someday flood again. That’s exactly wrong.
Tulsa’s River Parks and the privately funded Gathering Place are unifying public spaces that capitalize on the natural beauty of the Arkansas River. The people of Tulsa have repeatedly endorsed those ideas in their overwhelming use of the parks and in their 2016 approval of Vision funding to develop low-water dams in the river, which passed with more than 63% of the vote.
The parks are what set our community apart from the competition for talent and economic growth.
They also are a critical buffer zone between the river and Tulsa’s residential and commercial districts. When the river rises — and we all should agree that it will rise again — the uninhabited park land can absorb the worst of the damage, leaving humans out of harm’s way.
As Mayor G.T. Bynum shows in an op/ed column on the cover of today’s Opinion section, the dams and other amenities planned for the river in the 2016 Vision package were specifically vetted for their flood neutrality. They don’t make the risk of flooding any greater, and they don’t shift flooding threats to other parts of the city.
Will public building on the river mean repairing that work when it is damaged? From time to time, it will. But repairing public park land is a periodic investment in making Tulsa an attractive community and far preferable to the human and economic costs of leaving the land open to other uses.
Tulsa was built on a beautiful river, which naturally attracts humans to it. The city should not waste the opportunity created by the river for fear of flooding. Prudent public development can make the Arkansas the ribbon that ties Tulsa together and sets it apart.