Peter Dolese anticipates that the heart of Oklahoma City will beat more mightily than ever in the next 20 years.
“We will at that point have shifted back into a nucleus of downtown, where there’ll be a lot more ... people living in downtown. It won’t just be young people transitioning in life; it will also be married couples with kids. There’ll be more schools; there’ll be more infrastructure to support family, urban living in downtown,” said Dolese, the executive director of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City.
“Oklahoma City will become one of the go-to places to be anywhere in the country.”
Two decades from now — in 2033 — Oklahoma City will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its renaissance-sparking Metropolitan Area Projects, even as the last incarnation — MAPS 3 — comes to an end. Dolese expects one of the MAPS 3 projects — the proposed 70-acre Core to Shore park between the Central Business District and the Oklahoma River — will be another MAPS game changer for the growing community.
“It will literally be a linchpin, a key area of gathering for Oklahoma City, with concerts going on there like we see right now out at the zoo. I think we’ll see ... more museums and more cultural activities in the downtown area,” Dolese said in an interview at his downtown office, situated on the plaza where the council hosts its annual Festival of the Arts.
Along with the proposed $130 million park, currently set to include a cafe, lake, gardens, fountains and a grand lawn, Dolese expects to see more changes in the air over the next 20 years.
“I think downtown’s skyline is going to look different than it does right now. My prediction would be that there will be two or three more additional large skyscrapers — and big businesses (will) come to our town that may not have even considered coming here 15 or 20 years ago.”
A fitter community
Additional bicycle trails and light-rail commuter trains running across the already-sprawling metropolitan area are additional physical changes he hopes are coming. He predicts parking and fuel will be at a premium, traffic will get heavier, and residents will become more open to interurban alternatives to driving.
If the community embraces biking and walking to public transportation stations, he also anticipates Oklahoma City could become “one of the fittest communities in the country.”
“I think that our transportation system is going to be vastly improved in the next 20 years,” he said. “Even though we’re getting bigger, I think our dependence on public transportation will increase. Like, dramatically. Some people may not even own a car. ... If you could ride your bicycle to the train, take the train to Norman or Guthrie and then get on the bicycle and ride (to your destination), I think it would just be huge. I think bicycle transportation is going to become like it is in Austin.”
Some of the decisions legislators and leaders make now will influence what Oklahoma City looks like in two decades: He noted that state lawmakers passed a bill in the 2011 session that suspended the Oklahoma Art in Public Places requirement for state agencies to incorporate art into their capital improvement projects. That former requirement is what paved the way for the soaring scissortail flycatchers, sprinting horses and Oklahoma peace shields adorning newly built highways like Interstate 40.
“I think it’s essential that as we move forward that we build new art into our infrastructure ... because that’s part of the cultural landscape of our community, which we’re passing that down from generation to generation,” he said. “The new highway systems with the scissortails and the buffalo used in bass relief on the walls underneath the bridges, it’s an excellent identity-builder for our state. And it also builds pride in your community with those iconic symbols that represent who we are. I think that art plays a vital role in helping to define our identity as a community, and my hope is that we can get the legislature and everyone to back off of that stance because I think it’s really important money to be spent.”
As he witnesses the ongoing restoration of areas like Film Row, he is optimistic that more neglected parts of the community have the potential to thrive.
“I see Capitol Hill having the opportunity to grow dramatically. You know, they’ve got that beautiful Oklahoma Opry space down there, and I see some of those spaces being refurbished. I see Capitol Hill coming back into its original grandeur,” he said. “Various places around the city that may be rundown at this point will blossom. ... I think it’s both pride and need with the population (growing).”
Dolese expects the creativity and energy circulating through the heart of Oklahoma City to pump out into suburbs.
“Oklahoma City is going to do nothing but get bigger over the next 20 years. It’s going to get bigger, and it’s going to get more efficient and it’s going to be a really amazing place to live, even more so than it already is,” he said. “I mean, I see the momentum building, and I think many of the things that are happening now, we’re creating the platform right now for how amazing we’re going to be 20 years.”