Oklahoma City can build a vibrant future by revitalizing neighborhoods and dramatically improving its transportation infrastructure, said Kristen Vails, executive director of the Plaza Arts District.
In her vision for Oklahoma City circa 2033, Vails sees a thriving city where its citizens are literally connected by transportation and figuratively connected to the distinctive areas surrounding them.
“I think one thing that we’re moving toward and is on everybody’s mind is walkability,” said Vails, who spearheaded efforts that transformed the Plaza District from a blighted neighborhood to one of the most vital cultural districts in the city. “People want to be able to access places easily on foot and on bike, and have our transit options improved.”
Oklahoma City’s incorporated area is one of the largest in the nation in terms of land mass, and for decades, neighborhood and commercial development spread in one direction — outward. But the revitalization of downtown, Bricktown, Paseo Arts District, Midtown, the Plaza and other key areas has filled what city planners used to ruefully call “the doughnut hole,” the center of town where commerce, tax base, culture and residential vibrancy dried up in the 1970s and 1980s.
But Vails sees plenty of room for continued growth, and thanks to the city’s commercial district revitalization plan, Oklahoma City is moving in the right direction.
“From a neighborhood standpoint, I’d like and hope to see our districts across the city connected to each other,” she said. “Transit is the first step to connecting those places, because as it is now, it’s difficult to get around to these places — especially if you’re unfamiliar with the city.”
Currently, Vails said she sees the Farmers Market district as an area that could be rehabilitated and revitalized in the same way that the Plaza District came back to life in the past decade. She is currently working with Better Block OKC, coordinating a May 4 family-oriented event at the Farmers Market with music, food and activities that will reacquaint city residents with the area.
But bringing the city’s various thriving districts together, and making them accessible, will take a coordinated effort, she said.
“Something I’d like to work toward in the future is working with the Paseo and Stockyards and Western and all these districts, have a cohesive marketing platform and join efforts,” Vails said. “Together, we can educate people on what we all have to offer.”