Guests blogs on the future of downtown Oklahoma City continue with this latest post by architect Dennis Wells. Dennis is one of those guys I still need to enjoy a long cup of coffee with – most of my conversations with him have been by phone. He has become a leading voice (though not for all) in the residential section of MidTown (he calls it SoSA, others call it the Cottage District). If you’re looking for a traditional neighborhood consisting of identical Dallas-style homes, stay far, far away from the area around NW 8 and Shartel where Dennis is a leading champion for bold modern architecture. Dennis, count on me calling you soon for a cup of coffee. I’ll let you pick the place – that’s always a good insight into who a person is!
What should downtown Oklahoma City look like in 2020, and how can this vision be best achieved?
Oklahoma has some uniquely positive attributes characterized by our people and geography: We are abnormally friendly… We are more Native American than any other state… We reside on top of large amounts of petroleum… We have a rich country music and blues heritage…
There are also some not-so-positive images: We are perceived as being red-neck… The weather is often windy, and seasonally dangerous… Our State is not known for its high-profile natural beauty…
Our downtown should represent us by amplifying our good attributes and by spinning our negative images in surprising ways. Amplify and surprise. Our urban design should showcase our friendliness and somehow promote our perceived negatives as positives.
Right now Bricktown is maturing into a truly world-class entertainment district. Several CBD rim districts are growing into vital niche neighborhoods, and the Devon tower is ratcheting-up our urban image physically and psychologically. This important momentum is happening even in the midst of global economic downturn, and should be protected and nurtured.
The relocation of Interstate-40 opens opportunities for redevelopment of the abandoned highway and creates challenges for unifying the proposed Core to Shore district. A budding river environment offers incredible potential. This is an enviable position, and moving forward here’s what we need to do…
Protect and nurture the existing momentum: There are certain components of the Core to Shore vision that should happen now, but opening large new parcels for development will absorb projects and stunt the growth of all the other rim districts including Bricktown. The existing CBD and adjacent districts need more time to mature and “finish out.” There are too many gaps in the existing downtown that need to be filled with housing and other good urban architecture.
Validate the Boulevard design: Why are six new lanes of traffic needed where previously there were zero? An impressive new boulevard will be great where it’s justified, but Core to Shore will already be lacerated once by the new I-40; why would we purposefully construct another pedestrian barrier? Where is it written that ALL of the old I-40 space has to be used for a boulevard? What if local artists competed to transform remnants of columns and/or roadway into works of art, or unique public spaces? The avoided demolition dollars could be used to create a signature landmark for the city.
Create seamless pedestrian access between key nodes: The existing pathways between the convention/hotel area and Bricktown are offensive. There are several ways to improve them, but canal extension is the best. Some sort of transit system that is frequent and fast should be provided between other CBD nodes and the rim districts… This service should be frequent and free between high density tourist nodes. MAPS-3 should include a component for ensuring top-tier connectivity between Bricktown and key adjacent areas.
Most of us are not urban planners or engineers or politicians, but the process for determining and implementing any urban plan requires all of their skills. Steve Lackmeyer does a great job of extracting our thoughts, and this web log is useful in that regard but ultimately we must make sure we’ve got the right planning team, and then rely on them to do their jobs well, and on the voters to approve their work.
…Now, how do we spin our redneck image? Easy… stock the canal with giant catfish and get Larry the cable guy to host an annual Bricktown Noodling Festival, which we’ll schedule during peak tornado season!