More than 30,000 people sent a message this weekend that the status quo won’t suffice anymore.
H&8th, the monthly outdoor food and entertainment festival in Midtown, started its 2014 season Friday and drew more than 15,000 people. Just two days later, the city’s first Open Streets festival drew an estimated 25,000 people.
In between the two events, hundreds, if not thousands of people, could be found throughout the weekend strolling the Bricktown Canal, visiting the Oklahoma River and enjoying Myriad Gardens.
Oklahoma City craves community. It craves a model that doesn’t involve air conditioned cars and staying indoors.
We want to know each other. We want to care about our neighbors. We want to swap stories. We want to experience the diversity of our city.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma City is designed for and by the Baby Boom generation. We’re still building four-lane streets to every corner of the city, and the inclusion of real bike lanes is a painful, almost forced contrition when it happens.
Uptown’s NW 23 is the city’s latest thriving urban district, yet it is an ugly street for pedestrians. As a result, while it has become a popular destination, I am hard pressed to think of a time when any single restaurant, bar, shop or venue has drawn more than 100 people at any given time.
Residents in nearby Heritage Hills, understandably, have worried about how more bars, restaurants or music venues might increase traffic on their streets. They worry about a parking overflow on the narrow residential passageways.
Yet Sunday, some 25,000 people gathered along NW 23 when parking could not be found anywhere except at the eastern and westernmost gateways to the district at Broadway and Classen.
They couldn’t drive to any of the businesses along NW 23 between those two streets.
Yet businesses thrived and enjoyed some of their best numbers ever.
All of this was accomplished without a single lane of traffic being open to vehicles and only the most remote parking.
Baby Boomers, it’s time to give up your now obsolete model of city planning.
My generation, Gen X, has stood by and quietly waited for you to relinquish control.
But the Millennial generation isn’t wired like that. They’re not waiting. They’re taking over, and they’re not going to be told no.
They don’t like cars. Cars don’t define them. They are defined by access to cool urban gathering spots and public transit.
They’re OK with homeownership, but it’s not critical. They’re changing our city with or without us older folks, and their numbers were seen this past weekend.
They welcome us to join, but they’re not going to let us hold them back. The next big challenge, the next big test for city leadership, will be how it responds to ongoing complaints about parking, walkability and traffic on NW 23 between Broadway and Classen.
Public transit worked. Opening lanes to bicycles worked. Wide pedestrian corridors worked.
Will this urban experiment lead to greater changes ahead led by those now in charge? They’ll have to respond somehow – because the Millennials won’t take no for an answer.