Readers are sometimes surprised to learn that while I've spent most of my career writing about downtown Oklahoma City and enjoying its revival, I actually live in a suburban neighborhood.
Have no doubt — there's a part of me that would love to live downtown. But my own situation, my kids, my wife's work, led me to live in north Oklahoma City.
I'm not alone among suburbanites whose hearts are downtown. With the passage of the original MAPS in 1993, it appeared as if Oklahoma City residents had concluded that downtown was a neighborhood shared by all.
And when that neighborhood hit rock bottom in the 1980s, people throughout Oklahoma City felt as if it were in a death spiral that wouldn't come to an end.
Twenty years after the first MAPS was passed, downtown is an altogether different place. Bricktown continues to evolve as a vibrant entertainment district, the Oklahoma River has become a recreational hub, Deep Deuce and MidTown are rapidly becoming fully developed mixed use downtown neighborhoods, and the Central Business District is livelier than ever.
Add in a revived Film Row and Automobile Alley, and the picture looks pretty good.
Over the last year, however, a growing voice of discontent with echoes from the 1970s is being voiced from suburban neighborhoods:
“Too much investment is taking place downtown. Quit worrying about the urban core, and fix the streets, hire more police.”
This time around, however, grumbling is taking place among downtown's growing population as well:
“Quit allowing development in suburban Oklahoma City. Suburban sprawl is inherently bad, and nobody is going to want to live in these new housing developments in a decade.”
The grumbling is being heard by city council members, who then struggle with approving further investment in the urban core. It even creates a backlash against projects like the flourishing development along the Oklahoma River that is transforming the city's image and attracting new residents.
Consider that the core lifts the whole city — and that the core also needs the whole city. A city with a rotten core dies — we saw this in the 1980s. A city with a thriving core thrives as a whole — we see that now.
Likewise, not everyone is able to live in urban core; that doesn't make them bad or anti-urban core. Suburbia is part of the overall city, and the city has continued to spend hundreds of millions on streets, bridges, sidewalks, trails, libraries and schools throughout the metro.
Investment in the core, meanwhile, is proven to benefit to city as a whole. I offer up the following evidence:
Without investment downtown, we wouldn't have an arena. And without the arena, we wouldn't have the Thunder. And then we wouldn't have had Kevin Durant, the NBA, Nike and the Thunder each donating $1 million to tornado recovery efforts in south Oklahoma City and Moore. Yes, that's right — no downtown investment, no $4 million toward relief efforts in the south Oklahoma City metro.
Without investment downtown, Devon Energy's co-founder Larry Nichols has stated repeatedly the company would have ended up in Houston. Without investment downtown, Continental Resources wouldn't have moved to Oklahoma City. No downtown investment, no 2,500 employees (at least) buying homes throughout the metro.
Without investment downtown, we have a struggling Bricktown and an a boarded-up Automobile Alley. MidTown is a ghost town with an abandoned St. Anthony Hospital. Film Row is still “skid row.” Oklahoma City doesn't have UpTown 23rd or the 16th Street Plaza District.
Downtown can't go it alone — if it's the living room for the whole city, the rest of the house must be maintained as well. We've seen Oklahoma City fail as a whole in the 1980s, and we've seen a united Oklahoma City thrive this past decade. Which path do we want to follow through the decade that follows?