Anyone with a memory of the late 1970s traveling southbound into downtown likely will remember that Broadway Extension ended at NW 36 and travelers continued onto Robinson Avenue until they got into the Central Business District.
The drive was a bit depressing — the influx of traffic turned a string of vintage apartment duplexes into nuisances for the surrounding Edgemere neighborhood along Robinson between NW 32 and NW 36.
In my memory as a kid riding with his father to his office, the corner of NW 10 and Robinson was perhaps the dreariest part of the drive. On the northwest corner stood a boarded-up building, and across the street was a motel that always seemed to be a choice of lodging as a last resort.
Some 20 years later, during my start at The Oklahoman in its old downtown home, I discovered the intersection hadn't changed much — with the exception that the motel was abandoned and its windows were smashed (it was razed in the mid-1990s).
A drive along that stretch in 2013, however, serves as a guide to why the new buzzword in urban planning circles is “placemaking.” The word doesn't appear in the dictionary, but it was enough to draw more than 800 people in a heavy downpour to the University of Oklahoma on April 3. It's also a key topic set to be discussed at Wednesday's Mayors Development Roundtable hosted by Mayor Mick Cornett.
The idea is simple — create a place that will attract people, that will make them stop, make a community or place their home. In the broadest sense, the original Metropolitan Area Projects was an exercise in placemaking before such discussion entered the public realm.
Consider that one of the MAPS projects — the Bricktown Canal — is at first glance a nonsense public works project. It's not carrying water from one body of water to another. It's a very long cement swimming pool that is traversed by “water taxis” that allow passengers to get a unique view of the old warehouse district. Those rides have been a hit since day one, and the canal has proved to be an effective tool for redevelopment.
A place was made.
Placemaking, however, doesn't require massive public spending. Consider that developers Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming have recast NW 10 and Robinson as one of the most interesting, vibrant and visually intriguing corners downtown.
They took the building at 201 NW 10 — the one that remained boarded up for at least 30 years — and reintroduced its history as a former Packard car dealership.
They placed a neon sign at the corner, and they restored large storefront window openings that were used to show of the once-proud automobiles.
The building is home to an art and wine shop, offices and Packard's American Grill — a restaurant operated by the same folks who own The Interurban restaurants.
The developers also bought the neighboring Guardian garage, itself a victim of years of neglect, and turned it into a mix of housing, with Hal Smith's The Garage hamburger restaurant set to open on the first floor.
An alley (historically known as Park Place) between the two buildings could have been left as just that — a hiding place for trash bins and junk. Instead, Howard and his partners hired architect Bryan Fitzsimmons to turn the alley into a lighted courtyard — a design that hearkens back to the early 1900s.
A more modern rooftop garden, meanwhile, was opened atop the Packard Building.
The apartments are full, the commercial and office space are pretty much leased out. A place has been made — one that offers far more excitement and interest than a typical strip shopping center or apartment complex along Memorial Road.
The Park Place alley and rooftop patio may be seen by some as frivolous — as frivolous as the Bricktown Canal. But they change a community's view of itself, and provide a unique gathering spot where bigger dreams can be realized.