Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Urban historians have documented the decline of downtowns across America. Downtown Tulsa was no exception; it experienced a decline starting not long after the above postcard portrayed a booming mainstreet (looking north) in the late 1950's or early 196o's.

Sociologists interested in changing American demographics have paid close attention to declining social capital and its affect on communities. Sprawl has often been named as an important factor in the loss of social capital, but students of social capital have paid relatively little attention to the effects of downtown decline as an independent agent affecting social capital.

Americans have joined volunteer organizations for nearly every purpose- business, civic, religious, fraternal, benevolent and patriotic. My research will examine, through interviews, photography and geospatial analysis, the changing numbers and locations of volunteer associations over the period 1950-2000 in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the beginning of this period, nearly all of these groups clustered in or near downtown; over time they migrated steadily away.

Was social inclusiveness fostered by this clustering, and if so, did it disappear along with the community's once-thriving downtown?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The loss of American social capital-connectivity among individuals thought to be critical for the health of a community- is believed by many to be a byproduct of social, cultural and demographic changes that have occurred in the last half of the twentieth century. Scholars have yet to understand whether the disappearance of a healthy downtown as a community’s shared center contributed to this loss. This study examines the historical decline of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, as revealed by interviews with Tulsans who witnessed the transformations, and as quantified by GIS spatial analysis of the number, concentration and dispersion of civic and fraternal organizations for each decade from 1950-2000. City directories were used as a data source for exploring geospatial densities of volunteer association locations over time. The study reveals a linear decline in the number of organizations per 10,000 population over time and indentifies an even more dramatic geospatial dispersion away from downtown which exhibits a pattern of exponential decay.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tulsa's Civic Organizations

Civic Organizations in 1950

In 1950, the Standard Deviational Ellipse (SDE) representing 68% of Tulsa’s civic organizations was 2.3 square miles. This area is represented by the green shaded area. The blue rectangle represents Tulsa's core downtown, an .86 square mile area.

Tulsa's Civic Organizations 1950-2000

Over a five decade period, the ellipse containing 68% of Tulsa’s civic fauna grew from 2.3 to 46.2 square miles. As downtown declined as a habitat for civic organizations, the groups moved steadily away from the core downtown area (blue rectangle) toward the southeast. 2000’s SDE barely captures half of the former downtown core.

By 2000, citywide civic fauna (as represented by the SDE) was only 2.2% as geographically dense as it had been in the downtown
Tulsa of 1950. To the extent civic fauna density promotes opportunities for interaction between members of different groups, the answer to whether downtowns matter is clear.