I recall when all the buzz in planning circles and academia seemed to surround cities such as Austin, Texas, Charlotte, N.C., Seattle and Portland, Ore. That buzz now is hovering over Denver and Fort Worth, Texas. A plethora of lists, many of them compiled by Forbes.com, have given Oklahoma City leaders a reason to do some chest thumping. They say Oklahoma City is the most recession-proof city, they say it's clean, it's a great place to live and work, etc. And we're told, rightly or wrongly, these lists matter.
Perception gameBut is Oklahoma City making progress where it matters most — in the perception game? Maybe. For every front page New York Times story glowing about the Oklahoma River or downtown Oklahoma City, it seems that there's always this subtle effort to put the city back in its place by reminding readers of the 1995 bombing or the Dust Bowl. Over the past couple of weeks a discussion has been under way at my blog, www.okccentral.com, as to whether downtown Oklahoma City is really on the cutting edge or whether there are other cities that deserve just as much or more attention. Interestingly enough, readers suggested taking a glance at two other cities that suffer from being in "fly-over” land overlooked by national interests — Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb. And over the past couple of weeks, I've started a You Tube video tour of these and other downtowns.
Making the cutApparently, I'm not the only one seeking to compare my downtown with those elsewhere. Sunday the Kansas City Star started an in-depth series that suggests to readers that their hometown's downtown improvement efforts paled in comparison with peer cities. And here's where it gets interesting. That list includes the obvious — Indianapolis, Nashville, Tenn., Salt Lake City, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Denver. And add to the list one more city: Oklahoma City. A decade ago, such an inclusion wasn't even thinkable. Every one of those cities — except Oklahoma City — was clearly on the tier-two level. They all had healthy convention business, busy airports and major league sports franchises. The Kansas City Star reported the obvious — that downtown Oklahoma City has come a long way even before the pending arrival of the NBA. The report showed Kansas City and Oklahoma City were the only cities of the 13 surveyed not to experience a net loss in downtown business establishments, and it also showed Oklahoma City had one of the highest jumps in downtown hotel room bookings. And, miracle of miracle, I've not spotted one comment about the bombing, the Dust Bowl or the "Grapes of Wrath.” So what's more important to Oklahoma City's image? In the perception game, I'm gambling that Kansas City's nod to Oklahoma City as a peer worth watching might just lead to bigger things.