Oxonians, experts discuss city's future

By ERROL CASTENS / Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Oxonians and a team of planning professionals are spending three days this week looking at what works in Oxford, what is threatened and what may need changing.
The team’s three-day visit is sponsored by the American Institute of Architects’ “Communities by Design” program. By way of introduction, Oxford architect Tom Howorth told several dozen people at a “town hall” forum on Tuesday that the program aims at sustainability.
“How can we make better communities through design – whether that’s architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, transportation planning – all the things that make a community healthy and, ultimately, sustainable?” he asked. “When we create new technological changes for ourselves, how can we create new policies that protect us against ourselves?”
Monday’s forum began with each of the out-of-town consultants – a housing director, a transportation planner, a preservationist, a stormwater manager, an architect and the head of a large downtown revitalization group – asking a question of the audience.
Some were predictable: “What makes Oxford special? What makes you want to stay and live here?”
Others were more challenging. Noting a conflict between a car-based community and the pedestrian downtown that people find so charming, one panelist asked how willing Oxonians are to alter their driving habits.
Another, acknowledging that some projects reap more cooperation than others, asked, “Whose responsibility is it for building consensus?”
Audience suggestions were wide-ranging, from better educating the public on such issues as historic preservation and energy efficiency to preserving greenspace and concentrating development.
Some urged mandates to make residences handicapped accessible, to require downtown workers to ride public transit, to charge Ole Miss students a sustainability fee.
The three-day “charette” continues today at 9 a.m. with topic-specific sessions at Oxford-University Methodist Church. It concludes Wednesday when the design team presents initial results at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.