Several years ago, a group of neighbors came together to preserve one of Oklahoma City’s oldest known open spaces.
Memorial Park, located along Classen Boulevard at NW 36th Street, was scheduled for a city-funded makeover. While neighbors welcomed rehabbing the 15-acre park, a primary issue was ensuring renovation efforts echoed the venue’s historical character.
Originally called Putnam Park, the area was renamed following World War I to honor veterans. In 1927, its prominent fountain was unveiled to the public. Over the years, the large park featured a pool, playground, Shakespeare garden and tennis courts.
Georgie Rasco, Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma (NACOK) executive director, recalls attending the city’s parks department public meeting as neighbors, community leaders and school officials offered valuable input.
Last year, Memorial Park reopened after $1.8 million in general obligation bond funds helped restore it. Today, parents push strollers along wide walking paths that guide visitors around a restored fountain and grounds.
“I think back to the public meeting, and exactly what the public called for happened in this park,” Rasco said as she discussed the power of citizen engagement.
NACOK’s mission is to motivate metro neighborhood residents to be involved in shaping their communities. As the city readies to present its next general obligation bond program, neighbors play an important role in determining the list of projects.
“No one knows more about the neighborhoods than the citizens,” said Kristy Yager, City of Oklahoma City public information director. “This is the first time we are specifically going out and asking people what they want to see in this next bond issue.”
Unlike past bond programs that were heavily influenced by citizen surveys and citizen complaints, this time around, the city joins NACOK and University of Oklahoma graduate students to engage citizens and collect their ideas on improving neighborhoods and districts though infrastructure projects. Those projects will be considered by the Oklahoma City Council for the 2017 bond program, which will be called for a Sept. 12 public vote.
Over the next few months, via surveys and neighborhood meetings, OKC residents will answer the question, What would make your neighborhood better?
“If a bond project could improve your neighborhood, what are those things you want to improve?” Rasco asked. “Not everyone is saying all projects will be funded. We don’t live in that dream world, but we do live in the world where our city is saying they need us to tell them where the needs are.”
What is a bond?
It is common for Oklahoma municipalities to use bonds to help fund building and rebuilding streets, bridges, sidewalks, parks, public safety facilities and other projects. Bond dollars come from property taxes. In the state’s largest city, 14 percent of collected property taxes go toward city government. The rest is distributed to schools and county and other government entities.
The city’s most recent $835.5 million bond program, approved nine years ago by voters, distributed funding to projects including streets, bridges, traffic, drainage, libraries, police and fire facilities, parks, transit and economic development. More than half of the bond funds went to street projects, such as resurfacing and widening. Other major projects included construction of the downtown police headquarters and municipal court building, three new fire stations in south OKC, the Patience S. Latting Northwest Library and the Woodson Park multiuse soccer complex.
The city has finished about half of the planned 2007 bond projects and estimates all projects will be completed over the next four years.
Oklahoma City neighborhood leaders are encouraged to gather their neighbors for one-hour meetings and complete a four-page paper survey that seeks feedback on streets and traffic, walkability and bikeability, public transit, drainage and parks and recreation. Each individual completes a confidential survey, which graduate students then review to create a complete report that will later be used by city leaders to determine bond projects.
“What areas need street resurfacing? What areas flood regularly when it rains? What streets need bike lanes? Do we need a park, or what additions do we need to our park?” Rasco said as she listed questions neighbors will hear during meetings.
From now through the end of February, residents from an estimated 80 neighborhoods will be surveyed. Neighborhood leaders facilitate meetings, but NACOK staff or a student will lead some of them. As of last week, eight neighborhoods had sent in surveys, and more are scheduled in upcoming months.
Most recently, Capitol View Neighborhood Association delivered a package of 100 surveys to City Hall. The community’s boundaries are NE 23rd to NE 36th streets and Lincoln to Kelly avenues. Yager wants to see similar packages from the more than 400 active neighborhood associations within the city’s 620 square-mile radius.
The city is also soliciting public comments from a general resident online survey and city-planned public meetings expected to kick off in December. The city meetings will educate residents on bond programs and gather input on future projects.
“It is really important to get surveys from areas of the city that might be underrepresented,” Yager said. “Even if residents have taken the neighborhood survey, we encourage people to go to the website and take the resident survey, which we ask people to prioritize areas of improvements.”
Resident and neighborhood surveys are available in English and Spanish at okc.gov.
Write it down
Many community resident surveys will undoubtedly find a consensus for upgrades to streets and sidewalks, street light improvements and other infrastructure needs. Rasco said it’s also important that neighbors share their neighborhood aspirations. Residents can suggest any project, such as creating dog parks, installing bike trials, building bus stop shelters, renovating community centers, lighting sidewalks and creating pedestrian corridors.
“I think we as citizens can get overwhelmed because we think about how we aren’t planners or engineers; will anyone value our opinions?” Rasco asked. “We often forget that, by the mere fact that we live and spend most of our time in our neighborhoods, we are the experts. Citizen input is so important to making the city the livable and walkable place we all want it to be.”
Print Headline: Community building, Neighborhood improvement projects could be listed in a 2017 bond proposal with input from city residents.