There's a lot going on in Oklahoma City's urban core and the surrounding area. Community planners hope some workshops this week will keep the conversation going on how to make the inner city more friendly to people who want to do a lot of their commuting, shopping and socializing on foot.
Dan Burden, co-founder of the Washington state-based Walkable and Livable Communities Institute and a renowned civic planner, is the featured speaker in two walkability workshops and tours this week hosted by Oklahoma City's Sustainability Office.
Burden and his group work to help communities plan pedestrian-friendly redevelopment.
“The goal of this visit or any visit that we do is to help people realize what their assets are and how to make their town more walkable by starting with particular districts or locations and seeing what can be done to enhance those areas,” Burden said. “We are in a position in our country where we just so gave up on walking and livability that we have to get it back one oasis at a time.”
Key to planning
The walking tours will include visits to the Plaza District and nearby Gatewood and Classen-10-Penn neighborhoods, all are in the area between downtown and the NW 23 corridor. There already has been city bond-financed work to improve pedestrian-friendly amenities in the Plaza District in particular, and Burden will tout an audit system at the workshops that can help measure how well the city has done so far and what else it could do.
“We wanted to make this (workshop series) a template for other neighborhoods and other neighborhood leaders,” said T.O. Bowman with the Sustainability Office. “Even if they're not involved in the Plaza District, they can take this information back to their neighborhoods to use. These are the general principles of walkability and why it's good for your neighborhood.”
The area the tours will focus on is of particular interest of the city, because pedestrian access from Oklahoma City University and the surrounding neighborhoods like Gatewood is a key to its development moving forward, said Russell Claus, director of the city's Planning Department.
Having outside experts like Burden helps reinforce lessons the city has already learned, and provide examples on what is worked for next steps.
“They can bring examples from elsewhere to illustrate other communities that have already carried out improvements, and what the benefits of those are and what the response has been from the community and what that is leading to,” Claus said.
Oklahoma City ready for more
The continued development of a more dense inner core in Oklahoma City provides a good opportunity to refocus on walkability where people want it, Burden said.
More housing density, the MAPS 3 park and commercial and retail development in and around downtown are all ongoing projects in Oklahoma City that experts have said can be positively impacted by pedestrian access. Blair Humphreys, executive director of the Institute for Quality Communities, is another featured speaker at the workshops.
Burden said Oklahoma City's interest in developing a few more pedestrian-friendly areas is a good sign.
“It's always a breath of fresh air when people are ready to make these changes, and so we work with people where they feel like they've got their greatest assets that we can polish,” he said.