When Matt Ralls bought a house near the historic Uptown District with his wife more than seven years ago, those close to the couple questioned the decision.
At that time, the NW 23 corridor from N Broadway to N Blackwelder was far from the ideal spot for raising a family. The once booming post-WWII marketplace had become a breeding ground for crime that provided little incentive for business or community interaction. Buildings sat vacant while surrounding areas thrived.
“At that time, even my parents were surprised we bought a house here,” Ralls said. “It was pretty rough. There were certain times of the day and night that you might not want to be in this area.”
But under a sunny, blue sky Sunday, it was difficult to envision the despair that once plagued the area. An estimated 20,000 people flocked to Uptown for Open Streets OKC, an inaugural block-party- themed street festival that brought together food, music and exercise. Vehicle traffic on NW 23 from N Robinson to N Western was cut off from noon to 4 p.m. to make way for 75 vendors and a community hoping to breathe continued life into a once proud district on the comeback.
“To know that now I can bring my family and walk up and down these sidewalks, from restaurant to restaurant, and some of the shops we have here, it’s amazing,” Ralls said. “I think Oklahomans are community-type people. We come to these events to see our friends and neighbors, to talk and hang out. All the extracurricular activities make it a fun day.”
Ralls is member of the Uptown 23rd District Association, a group aimed at continuing the revitalization of the area. For the past three years, Uptown 23rd has worked to draw new business and foster a new sense of community.
NW 23 connects six historic neighborhoods, Interstate 235 and Oklahoma City University. Since Big Truck Tacos moved onto the street about five years ago, an array of eateries, shops and bars have sprung up.