Oklahoma City Maybe… Possibly… Finally Gets It?

An interesting story out of the Oklahoman today about construction around the Deep Deuce area of Oklahoma City. It seems a team of real estate developers and architects have ideas about how to make the neighborhood more livable, sustainable, and scalable. As anyone who has visited the area knows, the idea is one that should be copied throughout the city. I’ll admit, I only recently moved back to OKC, but it seems the problems it faced haven’t changed much.

Ever since condos started appearing in Deep Deuce, people have asked how to make the area inviting. Certainly, the lack of any real public transportation is one huge hurdle. At the moment, residents are forced to drive anywhere they need to go, including most grocery shopping, and have limited options for parking their vehicles. That doesn’t even begin to address the rent situation, which also keeps a lot of diversity away. In short, the current development scheme gets some things right while getting lots of other things wrong.

One of the key components would be a light rail system allowing residents access to other parts of OKC and Bricktown without relying on automobiles. Of course, the current powers that be in the metro aren’t having any of it, despite lip service and a slew of studies to point out the obvious: OKC needs commuter rail. No, much more important is the fealty to the NBA. Granted, the Thunder, OKC’s new professional basketball franchise, has been successful but the money spent to acquire it could easily have been invested in an infrastructure that would have doubled its success. How many more people from Midwest City and Edmond would be willing to come downtown if they knew they didn’t have to worry about driving?

Another problem seems to be the lack of organic growth. Bricktown is full of gargantuan spaces that the average local retailer or shopkeeper can hardly afford. Allowing for a subdivision would allow entrepreneurs to develop at their own pace, as opposed to relying on grandiose, all-or-nothing blocs of developer planning. The success of the rapidly growing Plaza District could point the way , proving that small, local businesses can thrive if nurtured in the right way. Allowing more mixed use structures, with owners frequently living in the rear of their spaces, could go a long way to attracting more sustainable growth.

The development of the new apartment complex, including the developers’ planned focus on walk-ability and livability, is a huge step in the right direction. I applaud the steps OKC has taken towards urban density, as this is what makes cities exciting, affordable, and inviting. I only wish we would stop moving forward with one leg stuck in the past.

(cross-posted from the examiner.com)

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