I recently spent a weekend in Oklahoma City. I stayed in Bricktown where I weaved around the construction of their new streetcar line and ventured out into nearby downtown neighborhoods and several residential areas. It was my first time in the city and I was impressed with their downtown’s progress. Though there are many moving parts and not all of the city’s development plans may come to fruition, I saw seeds of greatness and a lot of things Dallas can learn from.
Downtown Dallas is making great strides in attracting new residents and converting older, vacant buildings into apartments, but something is still missing which downtown Oklahoma City is capitalizing on. From my hotel room I could see their minor league baseball stadium, a movie theater, a laser tag arcade and a wall climbing attraction. A very nice banjo museum was right down the street from the hotel and a 24-hour IHOP was next door. Their botanical gardens was an oasis within their downtown. You could truly forget you were in a city while strolling through it.
Downtown Oklahoma City is becoming a fun, family-friendly destination that compliments the bar and nightlife scene which already exists in Bricktown. While the city has a lack of bike infrastructure just like Dallas, it’s doing a good job of creating a critical mass of mixed use elements and destinations which can be linked by bike infrastructure in the future. Once streetcar construction is complete, several employment centers and major recreation destinations will be connected, creating a synergy that will benefit the entire city center.
Downtown Dallas has also made great strides in the past decade but needs a few more things to make it great. Infrastructure is usually the first thing pundits talk about when critiquing this neighborhood, but I’ll focus on other, equally important issues for now. Here are things we could learn from Oklahoma City.
- Family Friendly Attractions. I believe Downtown Dallas already has a critical mass of residents (about 10,000 within the loop), but there needs to be more of a reason for out of towners and suburbanites to visit besides Neiman Marcus and the occasional Opera. Family-friendly attractions like minor league ball parks and even indoor rock climbing places can serve as a good compliment to the night life downtown already has. Downtown should become more well-rounded and this is a great way to do it.
- An Oasis. Klyde Warren Park is great but it’s not really an oasis within the city. A more passive park with less programming and a bigger contiguous area would be an excellent counterpoint to Klyde Warren’s activity focus. The park should also be big enough so surrounding traffic isn’t seen. Hopefully the future Pacific Park will fill this void.
- Easy Eats and Easy Clothes. Some people may laugh when I call a 24-hour IHOP a neighborhood asset, but in an up and coming neighborhood this kind of restaurant is critical. It’s affordable and well known to people from all across America. Likewise, not many people can afford Neiman Marcus’ $200 t-shirts, so having places like Old Navy or H & M can fill a market gap for middle class people moving to Downtown Dallas.
- Culture. The Old Red Museum and 508 Park are already great downtown assets but it seems few locals and visitors know about them due to their peripheral locations. Having a few more places that educate visitors about the history and culture of Dallas (and Texas) and marketing our existing cultural venues can help round out the neighborhood. A history of blues museum, for instance, would be a big win for Downtown Dallas.
- Urban Convention Center. Oklahoma City will be building a new convention center soon and integrating it into other downtown amenities. From the renderings it looks like it has good street engagement and integrates well with other downtown amenities. While Dallas’ convention center is most certainly bigger, it’s size and suburban super-block design creates a barrier between downtown and the Cedars neighborhood. If our convention center is ever rebuilt, it should seamlessly fit into our downtown street network and have an engaging street presence.
I look forward to reporting back on Oklahoma City’s streetcar once construction is complete next year – and perhaps even plan a car free stay next time.