A Call to Arms: The Midtown Plan

On Saturday, the OKC Midtowner group sprawled out across the lands of the Midtown district to collect the discarded cigarette butts, water bottles and whatever else mangled miscellaneous trash that frequents the area.

After a well-intentioned hour and half, and five trash bags later, we reconvened at Peloton to do some afternoon examining of the Midtown Plan. While most might not see an afternoon of delving into an urban renewal plan as an exactly fascinating way to spend a Saturday afternoon, we had been looking forward to it.

The 30+ page plan is packed full of analysis of our current urban landscape and hits on a lot of areas for improvement that we all find ourselves discussing vehemently, sometimes a little too loudly, over beers on a pretty regular occasion. To keep it simple, think blighted/vacant buildings, walkability, transit, parking, curb appeal, etc. And there are maps. Great maps.

Example:

vacant-lots-map

A simple post doesn’t do the Midtown Plan justice. So, here’s some highlights for now:

•    “The Plan is intended to further define the Renewal Area as a sustainable, vibrant and inclusive urban environment.”
•    The purpose of the proposal is to combine planning, urban design and policy for the continued redevelopment of Midtown.
•    Key players: OCURA, the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, Planning Department of Oklahoma City and Butzer Gardner Architects.
•    Eight months were spent meeting with stakeholders and members of the community (here’s looking at you, Midtown residents), collecting data, analyzing and drafting.
•    The plan offers two streetcar concept proposals: the Hudson line and the Walker/Broadway line (we’ll be back with a better perspective on this after July 15, hopefully).
•    Street frontages and streetscapes: reduce those driveways. They are a nuisance for pedestrians and vehicles, and they are eating away the potential for on-street parking (you know, like most urban areas have an abundance of). Advance our statement of the Midtown identity by addressing the tree deserts, need for proper street lighting, trash receptacles, paving, etc.
•    Parking, an issue we’re all familiar with in OKC. Shared and structured parking could help minimize the empty surface parking lots taking up valuable space. We understand this in Midtown, considering we’re often labeled “Church Row”.
•    Blighted/vacant buildings or spaces: think back to the “Mullet of Midtown”, otherwise known as the Merkel X-Ray Co. building. The plan refers to examples like Merkel as “Catalytic Sites”. Right now, 30.8% of the area is used for surface parking and 17.7% is vacant land.
•    A notable amount of passion and policy combine to harp on this point: placemaking is integral to the renewal of the district. And this goes beyond curb appeal and amenities to a deeper commitment to the intelligent design of unused or underdeveloped land, urban density strategies and fostering an identity of Midtown that is sustainable.

For your homework, a reading assignment with a humble request: get engaged. Send your thoughts, feedback, comments, exclamations of uncontainable joy or dismay to Dustin Akers.

Be swift, though. All comments need to be submitted by July 9.

The plan will first go before the Urban Renewal Authority Board of Commissioners for consideration on July 17. From there, it will go to the Planning Commission and City Council.

Here’s to you Midtowners, Downtowners, Uptowners, everyday urban-planning enthusiasts and regular OKC devotees to vocalizing your hopes and heartaches with the Midtown Plan.

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