By Andrea Buglione, P.U.M.A. Associate
In the 1990s, I’m told, almost no one lived in Oklahoma City’s downtown. The sprawling city’s urban core was for workers occupying sterile office buildings until heading out for the day at five o’clock. Today, the area is home to nearly 10,000 residents, helping make it what we call an “18-hour city.” Projections indicate that the existing downtown population could nearly triple by 2030. As one of P.U.M.A.’s millennial lifestyle litmus testers, I can tell you with certainty that I’d try a few years living in downtown OKC.
Not much about downtown Oklahoma City is particularly unique: there are 60s era office buildings and a highway that cuts off downtown from surrounding neighborhoods. What is perhaps unique, and definitely impressive, is how the city and partners like the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership (DOKC) have championed civic investments—large and small—since OKC’s ‘renaissance’ started in the 1990s. This was undeniably catalyzed by bold leaders and a population willing to tax itself for civic improvements. Downtown Oklahoma City has attracted more than $5 billion in public and private investment since its MAPs programs (a voter-approved one-cent sales tax) launched in the mid-1990s. The programs have generated millions of dollars for major infrastructure projects ranging, from the Bricktown canal to new schools to streetscape improvements and a modern streetcar system expected to debut in early 2019.
I could live there, but that’s not because Oklahoma City is perfect. It’s because there’s palpable momentum, a burgeoning arts scene, and serious change makers. There are motivated individuals within organizations like the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership coalescing around livability, placemaking, economic development, and fresh perspectives.
DOKC, a P.U.M.A. client for the past 20+ years, has contributed to the city’s revival by maintaining the improvements, activating public places with art and events, branding and marketing downtown’s distinct neighborhoods, and advocating for a more livable urban core.
DOKC curates annual events that bring in hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors. One of the organization’s priorities moving forward will be to develop more events catering to the growing residential population, meaning smaller-scale evening and weekend programming.
Another of DOKC’s next challenges will be an emboldened advocacy role. For example, advocating for adequate housing at a variety of price points to ensure people from all walks of life are able to live downtown, including a growing homeless population. They must also continue to work with partner entities to encourage more retail and innovative businesses to locate in downtown storefronts to bring a steady stream of people and dollars to downtown corridors.
Downtown has plenty of amenities to keep a high-maintenance millennial like myself safe, interested, active, and engaged. Cafés, bars, parks, museums, and expanding bike and transit networks are all great additions to a developing downtown area.
The next ten years and beyond, P.U.M.A. believes, will be marked by a new wave of small scale and granular projects (activating public spaces, filling in the physical gaps, and maintaining civic assets). Rather than being overshadowed by high-profile infrastructure projects, these small-scale interventions are absolutely paramount to ensuring a truly livable, inspiring, and economically sustainable downtown.
Footnote: DOKC has been a P.U.M.A. client since Brad Segal was first hired to help create what is now the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership (DOKC) in the late 1990s. P.U.M.A. was brought in for strategic planning services numerous times since then, including the most recent 2018 Strategic Plan.