Ask Wayne Coyne what kind of a place he envisions Oklahoma City to be in 2033, and you might expect him to predict pink robots flooding the job market and travel agencies offering “Christmas on Mars” vacation packages.
But the fanciful frontman of The Flaming Lips is pretty down-to-earth when he focuses on the future of Oklahoma City and what he hopes the biggest changes will be.
“Well, let’s hope that this growth that we’ve seen in this little arts district down here in the Plaza area where I’m at, let’s hope it just sort of keeps growing and takes over, and this little area of Oklahoma City becomes something like an Austin, Texas, started out to be — a bunch of artists who want to live by their own ways and don’t want to get normal jobs and don’t want to move away,” Coyne said. “They want to hunker down here and make it work. I think that’s happening already, but I hope it can keep happening.”
A lot of that change in what is now called the 16th Street Plaza District can be credited to Coyne, who has lived in the adjoining Classen-10-Penn neighborhood — a residential district that has seen its share of blight — since 1992. It’s an area he has actively shown affection for — the neighborhood where he grew up, and returned to as an adult, even after his fun-loving psychedelic-pop band, the Lips, had signed a contract with Warner Bros. Records.
For his presence and influence in the transformation of the Plaza District into the trendy arts and entertainment district that it is today, Coyne was honored with the neighborhood association’s annual Urban Pioneer Award in 2012.
“Now, as far as the rest of the city, I don’t know,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that the Thunder has changed about the way people view Oklahoma City, so let’s hope that still keeps happening. But I know in my little area there’s really been a drastic change in the past four years for sure.”
As for physical changes to the cityscape over the next 20 years, Coyne hopes to see more green among other things.
“In this time as we push into the future, I think people are going to start to become more aware of the old trees that we have around here and the old houses and the old businesses, instead of tearing everything down,” he said. “There’s already been a couple more things torn down in Bricktown, a couple of things along 10th Street.
“I understand why they do it. You know, some things, they’re just too screwed-up to fix. But I think as we go, I think this idea of the endlessly sprawling suburbs of generically built new homes that don’t have any trees around them, I think that’s going to be a thing of the past. I think people are gonna realize that that is ugly. That’s not what people want, and it makes for too generic of a city.
“If anything, we want Oklahoma City to be this unique one-of-a-kind place that you have to visit, instead of being, like, well, the way it is now — if you’ve been to Omaha, if you’ve been to Tulsa, if you’ve been to Kansas City, you don’t need to go to Oklahoma City because it’s all the same. I think we could, if we worked on it, we could have a unique area here.
“But we can’t keep just tearing everything down, making it look like every place else.”
Change in thinking
And where does Coyne see the greatest potential for positive change in Oklahoma City?
“For me it’s not necessarily in an area; it’s in just the way the people think,” he said. “This idea that people should support arts and music and the local weirdos, I think is going to be the best way and the coolest way to keep them here, you know? Otherwise, all these unique people are gonna leave, because they’re not in the same position I’m in.
“I’m lucky that all this sort of stuff kind of worked out for me. But I’m lucky. I think a lot of them would not put up with the fight that I’ve put up with to live where I live, and do things like the Womb Gallery and stuff down there (in the Automobile Alley district).
“So I’d say the more the city changes to embrace this sort of stuff and take some chances, I think the better Oklahoma City will be.”