Officials from cities across the country often come to Oklahoma City to study the renaissance that started with the original MAPS tax vote. But that doesn't mean the city can't learn from other places that are a few steps ahead on the path local leaders want to follow.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett hosted his annual development roundtable Wednesday at the Cox Convention Center downtown, and one of the featured speakers was his counterpart from Utah's largest city. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker hails from a town that has already seen the fruits of labor that Oklahoma City is currently undertaking, like the MAPS 3 modern streetcar that will serve downtown and parts of the surrounding area.
Salt Lake City's streetcar and its integration with a light commuter rail system serving outlying areas of the city and suburbs was particularly important to spurring private development, Becker said. Long-range plans for central Oklahoma have long considered a similar system here to help combat issues of urban sprawl.
“I think Salt Lake City can be a great role model for us, and a city we really need to take a close look at,” Cornett said. “What they've done with rail, and creating a great urban center for that region, I think are a couple of steps that Oklahoma City can learn from.”
Growth follows transit
Salt Lake City used to have the same empty downtown on evenings and weekends once lamented by Oklahoma City leaders before Bricktown, Becker said. But the linked rail and streetcar system helped inspire growth that also included people moving to downtown Salt Lake City about as fast as the city could handle.
“Our ridership has doubled projections,” Becker said. “It's making a huge difference in both where people concentrate their economic investments, but also in relieving congestion and providing ... a pretty clear path to what our future of surface transportation will be.”
The progressive efforts for modern, sustainable redevelopment with a nod to the rich histories of both cities stand out in states that are known to be among the most politically conservative in the country. That could help Oklahoma City residents be more willing to look to Salt Lake City for direction, Becker said.