Oklahoma City Planning Director Russell Claus and his staff cannot speak personally with every resident in the city as they work on shaping a project called planOKC.
Instead, city planning staff members held a meeting with neighborhood associations to rally citizens and arm them with the resources they need to identify needs and concerns, and dispatch them back to their neighborhoods to gather ideas for making the city safer, cleaner and more efficient ” in short, better.
The first meeting between neighborhood representatives and planning officials was held July 15 at Langston University’s Oklahoma City campus. More than 150 participants heard an overview of the plan and worked in groups to identify problems that plague the city’s neighborhoods.
Susan Miller, division manager for the city’s planning department, told neighborhood groups how to organize their hopes and concerns in order to be a formative part of the city’s next comprehensive plan. Each neighborhood association received a “Meeting in a Box” kit from which they could collect neighborhood data to return to planning department staff.
Although planOKC is in its information-gathering and community-input stages, the goal is to form recommendations that will become the city’s next comprehensive plan. Oklahoma City has not adopted a new one since 1977, and has been operating under an updated version of the 1977 plan since 2000.
“This will be the fourth comprehensive plan in the history of Oklahoma City,” said Claus, who also spoke to the assembled group about their roles as leaders within their respective neighborhoods.
Ken Bryan, senior planner for the city, discussed “livability factors” at the meeting, such as a sense of community, appearance and quality of parks and open space. Other factors, such as access to places and services, public transportation, walkability and public schools, were mentioned. Safety issues in communities, including streets and traffic, were also included in the list of indicators.
Sarah Welch, an urban planner for the city, spoke about characteristics of ideal neighborhoods and what threats each association faced to achieving those ideals. Many associations mentioned the usual suspects ” from gangs and a lack of park space to flaws in infrastructure and blight ” that lead to crime.
Participants quickly found that many neighborhoods in the city face the same challenges, and through planOKC, they could hope to find solutions. However, to some, it was clear that there was a need to be vocal about the challenges specific to their particular area.
Patricia Mays Caddell, who works for an education information resource center, attended on behalf on her neighborhood, Creston Hills South, on the city’s northeast side.
She noted that transportation, a big issue in her neighborhood, was only mentioned by the other neighborhood alliances once.
“People who are using public transportation probably didn’t come to the meeting simply because it was in the evening, at a time when public transportation doesn’t normally run,” she said.
For Caddell, it’s important that her neighborhood show an interest in order not to miss opportunities. Without that, she said, the ideal neighborhood cannot be realized.
“It seems like in Oklahoma, the neighborhoods are really segregated, like, you don’t talk to the neighbors,” she said. “A man who was sitting at the table with me said you could live in a neighborhood for years and not even talk to your next-door neighbor. You might not even know who it is.”
Another participant, David Puente, a retired employee of El Reno’s Federal Correctional Institution, spoke of his former neighborhood association, Woodson West, now defunct. He now coordinates Friends of N.W. 10th Street and sits of the board of The Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma.
“My main concern is being Hispanic, and the Little Flower area,” Puente said. “There’s very few of us around who own property down there, and we’re just wanting to know if the city planning department is going to continue to take land and be prepared (for it).”
Puente is speaking of the purchasing of land where Interstate 40 is going to be relocated, but said he knows it is hard for landowners to turn down an offer for more than a property’s worth.
Puente said that although safety and blight are concerns in his area, of equal importance is the preservation of what he sees as culturally iconic public places, like Manuel Perez Park, which is located between S.W. 13th and S.W. 14th on S. Harvey.
It commemorates the Hispanic Army private who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his valor in World War II.
“We hope to find out if we’re going to be a participant in the future plans of Oklahoma City,” Puente said.
The next step, planOKC’s stakeholder meetings, will be scheduled in the fall. “Meeting in a Box” kits are still available for neighborhoods and can be requested by calling 297-2283. “Sarah Clough Chambers | Kelley Chambers contributed to this article.
photo Aubrey Hammontree, with the OKC Planning Department, leads attendees at the planOKC community meeting. photo/Kelley Chambers