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Interest in 'place-making' grows in Oklahoma City

Hundreds gathered last week at a “place-making” conference at the University of Oklahoma.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: April 9, 2013

Edmond, the city's growing, sprawling suburban neighbor to the north, is seen as leapfrogging the city when it comes to such efforts as drafting a “complete streets” plan that requires that all street projects be designed to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transit.

The experts convened at OU insist such efforts are key to improving public health and economic development.

Christopher Leinberger, with the Brookings Institute, notes the industrial age peaked in the 1970s, and in that era, everything was built to accommodate vehicle transit. This was not a conspiracy, he said, but a response to demand.

In the mid-1990s, the trend shifted away from vehicular traffic, with younger generations indicating they wanted more walkable, urban communities with alternate transportation choices.

“Now look at what's going on with young people,” Leinberger said. “For people between ages 18 and 34, their driving peaked in 1991.” Overall miles driven peaked in 2004, he said, and the rate of driving among the younger generation is “falling off a cliff.”

Making a place

Ethan Kent, with Project for Public Spaces, advises that “place-making is taking a place you can't wait to get to into one you don't want to leave.” It's an effort, he said, that provides the link between urban excellence, economic development, sustainability and public health.

Not long ago, this emphasis on creating a city infrastructure that does anything other than carry vehicular traffic would have been dismissed at the city's public works department, which oversees these projects.

It was just a dozen years ago that I heard the late city engineer Paul Brum argue that “people don't like trees.” And it was just a few weeks ago that the current city engineer, Eric Wenger, attempted to “temporarily” remove a barely completed dedicated bicycle lane along Walker Avenue due to concerns about vehicular traffic (the lane was restored after the change was hit with protests).

As evidenced by downtown and Edmond, a change is coming as the younger generation demands an alteration in city design that was born with the baby boomers and may slowly fade with that same generation.

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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