A Pessimist in Oklahoma City


A Pessimist in Oklahoma City

OKC, look how much you’ve grown. It seems like just yesterday you were wearing diapers and learning to walk. Now you’re a millennial with attitude and a brand new checking account.

I’m a pessimist by trade.  It’s a skill that took me many years to perfect and I think I’ve moved past my amateur status straight to pro level at this advanced age.  I mean, how could I not be a pessimist growing up in a city that seemed like it was moving backwards for decades.  The state of this city was enough to make the greatest optimist question this place.

But lately, with the help of a lot of tax dollars and many yoga sessions, I’m seeing things in a different light.

This pessimist is definitely trying to change his ways!

In the beginning...

Oh, OKC!  Look how much you’ve grown.  It seems like just yesterday you were wearing diapers and learning to walk.  Now you’re a millennial with attitude and a brand new checking account.  You drink PBR and your beard is 12″ long!

Twenty years ago, Oklahoma City was just trying to figure itself out and grow up a little.  The city was kind of stuck in adolescence and couldn’t even break out to puberty, much less adulthood.  Our only claim to fame was the horrific Murrah Building bombing, the invention of the shopping cart, and parking meters.  Hardly something you want to remember from a city this size. (The second largest city in square miles in the U.S.)

The childlike OKC was a victim of a number of things that kept it in infancy.  Lack of funding for civic projects, the failure to pass a bond issue for about two decades, and (as a result) urban sprawl, were just killing the city.  No one wanted to go downtown.  You went there to work and get the hell out.

As the energy and medical industries grew, incomes grew.  Housing was cheap so the population started buying larger homes for little money on the north/far north side of the city.  The result was a city without an identity and no reason to invest in the downtown area or any of the other up and coming neighborhoods.

Then it all changed!

Then came MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Plan).  By some act of god, then mayor Ron Norrick convinced this heavily Republican city to pass a $.01 sales tax to invest in the downtown area.  The funny part is that the tax costs the average consumer about $12 a year.  That’s not a bad deal.

Two of the early projects were the riverwalk and the installation of a massive bait shop downtown called Bass Pro (not actually part of the MAPS program, but important nonetheless).  I’m not a fan of Bass Pro because I think it makes us look like rednecks.  But let’s face it, Oklahoma is kind of known as a redneck state so I guess it fits.

OKC Riverwalk in Bricktown

Now in something like the 4th iteration of MAPS, the program has been immensely successful in taking OKC to the next level…or LEVELS.

All grown up with a new hipster wardrobe, an NBA team, and big city problems, OKC is now livable.  Sprawl is slowing and people are moving back into the downtown and midtown areas.  Rental prices are going crazy.  Home prices in those areas are rising.  From downtown to midtown to previously sketchy  areas are now the place to be! 

Through all of this, you have to ignore the insane politics, bat-shit crazy religious ideologies, and out of control weather that’s as unpredictable as the flip of a coin.  According to some studies, religion is actually on its way out (slowly…very, very slowly) and as much as the politicians try to go against the (voting) will of the people, we are actually taking up figurative arms and battling for positive change to bring OKC into the 21st century.

Liquor laws are slowly coming in line with other modern cities.  We have a lottery that’s failing pretty miserably, but totally fun to play when that number hits half a billion dollars. 

Microbreweries are popping up everywhere and Oklahoma can now claim to have some of the best brews in the country.  The OKC Thunder have been a huge success and really put the city on the map as a big league city, which is how it was marketed when they came here.

Healthy lifestyles are on the rise with miles and miles of new trails and a plan to connect three major parts of the city via multi-use trail.  This pessimist is just amazed at the level of activity these trails have fostered.  Even smoking rates are down.


It ain't all whipped cream and cherries just yet...

However, where my pessimism is finding a smaller pool of problems to swim in, it definitely still has room to tread water.  This city is cheap.  I don’t mean penny pinching cheap.  I mean cheap!  Roads are crumbling because they are built cheaply.  According to odometer.com, OKC comes in at number 10 for the worst road in the nation.  It should come as no surpise to see Tulsa in the number 11 spot too.  Another chart has us cracking the top 10 in the 8th position.

That new arena?  The original cost was $87 million.  It was a bargain we were told.  That’s right we got a bargain $87 million piece of junk and to attract the Thunder, the city had to pass another sales tax increase to raise another $120 million just to make it viable.  My question is this: why didn’t you just spend the $200 million in the first place and build it right the first time?

We’re also getting a new streetcar that will take tourists and drunks through to midtown and through some of the new, up and coming areas.  While this is a really cool concept and will put another notch in the identity belt of the city, it came at a high cost to some local businesses that were institutions here.  We definitely lost some good ones.

But there's much more...

I’m at the point where the optimism about this city is outweighing the pessimism.  There are just so many cool things here it’s going to make it hard to leave when I win the lottery and move to Colorado.

Oklahoma City is now the national Olympic training center for rowing and paddling sports.  

As a side note, I was schooled a couple of weeks ago regarding the difference.  Rowing is backwards; paddling is forwards.  Don’t confuse the two.  The people involved get kind of pissed.

We now have another bait shop on the north side called Cabella’s.  They’s kind of a Bass Pro that jacked up the prices.  Same products, twice the cost.  That should be their motto.

We have a growing local business community with loads of coffee shops, restaurants, specialty shops, and more.  OKC lacked that for decades.  I love to see local shops pop up everywhere because that money is staying here to help build more local businesses.  I’d love to see the WalMart’s of the world die a painful death and while I know that won’t happen, every time I see a new business open shop I’m encouraged by the fact that they are taking just another small part away from WalMart.

But one of the coolest things we’re getting is a new park downtown.  It’s like OKC’s own Central Park.  There will be water events/sports, a large sound stage, walking paths, mosquitoes, and homeless people.

Hey, we wanted big league!  We got it.

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