Cornett’s thesis is that Americans will be drawn to less-populated yet vigorous urban areas as the nation’s population continues to grow and as housing prices in elite cities become prohibitive. These less glamorous cities have been transforming themselves to become more attractive options for residents and businesses. The Next American City charts Oklahoma City’s transformation, offers examples of similar turnarounds in other cities, and describes Cornett’s personal journey from sportscaster to mayor.
One of Cornett’s major policy innovations was MAPS, or Metropolitan Area Projects. Oklahoma’s municipalities rely on sales taxes for revenue. On three occasions, the city used a referendum to approve temporary sales-tax increases to finance capital campaigns for specific improvement projects. The higher sales taxes came with clear sunset provisions, and the city used a pay-as-you-go method for the improvements, rather than issuing bonds against the anticipated proceeds. Doing things this way made projects slower to finish but also reduced financial risk, keeping the city clear of any debt. The city also appointed a citizens advisory commission to review all spending and provide an additional layer of public input and oversight. While many other cities struggled with debt and an inability to raise funds for infrastructure, Oklahoma City, with its MAPS approach, could invest in capital assets like schools, parks, sidewalks, and a convention center, without endangering its financial future. Cornett’s approach offers a promising template for investing in public infrastructure.
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Featured image credit: “Automobile Alley in Oklahoma City” by katsrcool/Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0