At first glance, the news release from the American Architectural Foundation that came out last month about an urban design award being given to Oklahoma City was a bit confusing.
On March 2, the foundation announced, Mayor Mick Cornett is to be honored at the 24th annual Accent on Architecture Gala with the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Award for Leadership in Urban Design.
It's a big deal. But here's the catch: The award is for guiding “the MAPS 3 initiative from concept to implementation.” The announcement lauds how MAPS 3 was drawn up to replace the nearly 50-year-old Cox Convention Center and to create a 70-acre downtown park, an inner-city streetcar system, improvements along the Oklahoma River, senior wellness centers, new sidewalks and trails.
The projects are funded. Locations for the improvements are tentative or under continued discussion and debate. But implemented? Hardly.
Cornett graciously shared the credit with his predecessors, Kirk Humphreys, who launched MAPS for Kids and finished the original MAPS, and Ron Norick, who is widely credited as the man who made MAPS, both as the original Metropolitan Area Projects initiative and the concept, a reality.
The award in its third year is a follow-up to recognition given to mayors in Chicago and Philadelphia. And this sort of recognition can be invaluable for Oklahoma City as it remains on the cusp of becoming a “buzz city” — a community talked about, studied and applauded by academics and media worldwide.
But the focus on the latest incarnation of MAPS — the one that hasn't been implemented — was bewildering to several folks I've spoken to in recent weeks.
‘Power to transform'
Ron Bogle, the chief executive officer at the architecture foundation, is no stranger to Oklahoma City. As an early organizer of the MAPS for Kids effort (he was an Oklahoma City Public Schools board member before leaving to take a job in Washington, D.C.), he knows the real MAPS story.
Bogle knows it was Norick, faced with a lethargic Oklahoma City that was struggling to recover from the 1980s oil bust, who then launched an unprecedented “pay as you go” public improvement campaign. That original MAPS initiative gave Oklahoma City a new arena, an expanded convention center, the Bricktown Canal, the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, a revived Civic Center Music Hall, a new library, State Fair Park improvements, the downtown rubber tire trolleys and a revitalized Oklahoma River.
The original MAPS was indeed launched and fully implemented — and is still praised nationwide. MAPS for Kids is nearing an end with just a few schools left to rebuild or transform as part a citywide makeover of public schools.
MAPS 3? It's not even close to being implemented.
Bogle wanted to see Oklahoma City's efforts acknowledged — and believed no other city was more worthy of such recognition.
“Architecture has the power to transform cities,” Bogle explained when the award was announced. “We know no better example of a city that has used the tool of architecture design and construction to literally transform itself over a period of a few short years.”
Show of confidence
The Riley award, however, is for a sitting mayor, and is named after the highly acclaimed 10-term mayor of Charleston, S.C. Riley is a longtime member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, once served as its chairman, and is a founder of the Mayors' Institute on City Design.
The award was established in 2010 by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Architectural Foundation.
For Oklahoma City to be honored with such an award, the man to receive it has to be the sitting mayor — Mick Cornett. And by most accounts, his legacy will be the luring of the NBA to Oklahoma City, and MAPS 3.
“We're confident, because of the quality of the work completed through now, that MAPS 3 will equal or exceed that quality when done,” Bogle explained Monday. “Oklahoma City has established a commitment to excellence in design.”
The technicalities may limit the award to MAPS 3, but Bogle promises he's among those eager to tell and share the entire MAPS story, and hopes this award will spread the word about Oklahoma City's transformation. In Bogle's thinking, the recognition isn't just for Cornett — it's also for Norick, Humphreys and all of Oklahoma City.
“What makes this an extraordinary story is that it spans 20 years and three different mayors,” Bogle said. “You've had more time to do things than most mayors get. The baton is passed to Mick, and he is carrying forward with the legacy. It's a story I've not seen anywhere else.”