Interview: Oklahoma City Planning Director John M. Dugan

November 9, 2006, 7:00 AM PST

By John M. Dugan

Planetizen talks with city planning officials to get an insider's perspective on the planning issues facing cities. In this interview, John M. Dugan, Director of Planning for the City of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, discusses the planning issues facing his city.

Photo: Oklahoma City Planning Director John DuganName
John M. Dugan, AICP

Last position and location
Director of Planning and Community Development, Topeka/Shawnee County (Kansas) Metropolitan Planning Department

Current position and location
Director of Planning, City of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Brief Description of current position
Manage Planning Department for city of 550,000 population and 620 square miles. 50 Staff, 5 divisions, Administration, Community Development, Urban Redevelopment, Current Planning, Urban Design and Long Range Planning. Budget $39 million.

What is the most significant planning issue currently facing your community? What is the solution?
The most significant planning issue is balancing rapid greenfield development on the periphery of the city with attendant public service and infrastructure costs with urban infill and center city redevelopment. A series of site-specific suburban sector plans are underway to evaluate growth related public costs as a basis for future zoning and impact fees. In the City Center a series of site-specific master plans are underway to determine streetscape improvement criteria and strategic redevelopment sites to insure higher quality infill development for 8,000 new housing units and millions of square feet of new commercial and office space.

In what ways do you think your community can improve?
Oklahoma City can improve the most through adoption of better design criteria for new construction and through reaching a regional consensus on expanding public bus and rail transit options.

What elements of other cities would you like to see implemented in your city?
Transit Oriented Development around a system of streetcar or light rail stations. And a viable downtown residential community of at least 10,000 persons.

What was the biggest planning-related hurdle your community faced in recent years and how was it dealt with?
Oklahoma City residents invested $400 million in sales tax revenues to construct a series of central city and downtown public facilities, including a Triple-A minor league ballpark, 20,000 seat arena, central library, performing arts center, mile-long canal/entertainment center, and 3 lakes to form a 7 mile central city waterfront. Planning for and encouraging private sector development compatible with this public investment was a major planning challenge, as there had been little private sector development in the central city for twenty years. A Downtown Strategic Action Plan has been very useful in leveraging $2 billion in new construction since 2000. Equally as important was the plan's focus on organizational power-sharing and coordination between downtown development organizations.

How has your perception of the field changed since you first entered the planning and development community?
I had my first public planning job in 1973. Planners were seen then as development regulators. Now planners are key partners in collaborative development efforts involving for profit, non profit, and community interests. There is also a lot more emphasis on quality design of new structures and community public space.

What book had the most influence on you as a planner?
Lewis Mumford's The Culture of Cities. The best book written about the place cities play in human experience.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the field?
Planning is a great field for people who want to change the world a bit for the better and are interested in the myriad topics that planners address, such as urban design, architecture, environmental justice, transportation efficiencies, quality neighborhoods, and economic viability. I have never regretted the decision to become a planner.

Where did you attend school and what degrees did you earn?
I attended Oklahoma State University, Tulane University (BA in philosophy with a minor in urban sociology) and Harvard University's Graduate School of Design for a Master of City Planning.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school/entering the field of planning and development?
I wish I had known this work would entail so much conflict mediation and meeting facilitation. I would have studied those fields in more depth.

How would you define "planning" to a layperson in 100 words or less?
Planning is the art of helping communities define and realize a vision of the future that anticipates community needs but does not unduly constrain future generations from successfully addressing needs and aspirations we can't foresee today. Planning is all about reaching community consensus about the character, quality, design, and location of new development and redevelopment and the conservation of valued environmental and cultural resources. It is also about fostering social and economic equity and local access to public services and amenities. It is about making communities better places to live, work, visit, and invest in.

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