Is Karl Francel the future of downtown Oklahoma City?
The 22-year-old was a lifelong suburbanite who grew up in Piedmont and then left home to pursue a biology degree at Stanford University.
When Francel graduated, he faced the typical temptation of joining friends who made their homes in San Francisco and other big cities. And two decades ago, this story would end with Francel joining the state's “brain drain.”
Francel, however, is part of a growing percentage of Millennials who are returning to Oklahoma City — but not quite back home. Instead, Francel, long fascinated by the rebirth of downtown Oklahoma City, chose to set up his new home at the Level Urban Apartments in Deep Deuce. It is there that Francel also is starting up his new business, Olympic Prep, which provides ACT test tutoring for high school students.
The Level apartments are the newest addition to downtown's growing residential offerings, and to Francel, it's the perfect transition from college where “everyone seems to be 28.” Francel is quickly making new friends and acquaintances in the complex's courtyard, and is among the hundreds of area residents eager to see the Native Roots grocery at his corner opening this fall.
The attractions for Francel and his generation continue to stack up with the addition of a Spokies bike-share station outside the future Native Roots and plans for a streetcar system that someday will connect Deep Deuce with Bricktown, Automobile Alley, the Central Business District and MidTown.
Theories abound about why suburban kids like Francel are turning into full-time downtowners as they come of age.
This month's issue of The Atlantic features a long essay on “The Cheapest Generation” that suggests the latest wave of twentysomethings are simply wanting to downsize their dependence on costly automobiles and traditional homes in the suburbs. Competing with the Joneses, it is theorized, is no longer that important.
As a Generation Xer, I see another possible cause for this shift to downtown living. My generation was the last that saw the suburban lifestyle idealized on shows like “The Partridge Family” and “The Brady Bunch.” Starting with “The Cosby Show,” and continuing with “Cheers,” “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” this latest generation grew up watching cool, interesting people living up life in the city. Did anyone really want to live the suburban life portrayed in “Roseanne” or “Growing Pains”?
The cause of the Millennials' move may be far more nuanced, but in Oklahoma City and elsewhere, have no doubt — downtown living is increasingly their dream come true.