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OKC Central: NW 10 and Robinson is example 'placemaking'

Steve Lackmeyer: Downtown Oklahoma City is a prime example of the new buzzword ‘placemaking.'
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: May 14, 2013

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.

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