Nine years after Prevention magazine named Oklahoma City the least walkable city in the United States, the city’s downtown core has been wholly remade, with a redesign of its streetscapes and two major park projects completed or in the works.

Today, the downtown has a Walk Score of 74, rivaling Seattle and Washington, D.C. “It’s incredible, the amount of private businesses and urban housing that’s come in. It’s a vibrant, bustling downtown, which is amazing,” says Scott Howard, ASLA, one of two principals at Howard-Fairbairn Site Design. The firm has worked alongside larger international firms to help guide the transformation.

The city planted more than 2,500 street trees downtown.

 

Oklahoma City’s transformation

Oklahoma City’s transformation is unusual for how swiftly it has been realized. In the past five years, an elevated highway has been replaced by a street-level boulevard, a 70-acre central park has been planned, and streets in the central business district—eight linear miles in total —have been rebuilt, from building face to building face, with a focus on pedestrians, bicyclists, and improved traffic flow. at Howard-Fairbairn Site Design. The firm has worked alongside larger international firms to help guide the transformation.

Streets in downtown Oklahoma City have been rebuilt as a part of Project 180.

Oklahoma City’s transformation is unusual for how swiftly it has been realized. In the past five years, an elevated highway has been replaced by a street-level boulevard, a 70-acre central park has been planned, and streets in the central business district—eight linear miles in total —have been rebuilt, from building face to building face, with a focus on pedestrians, bicyclists, and improved traffic flow. downtown and fronted the city nearly $100 million for the streetscape project. Jereck Boss, ASLA, a principal at OJB, says the funds allowed the team to build momentum quickly.

Design details include custom manhole covers that depict the city grid.

“We wanted to make an announcement, break ground, and build that first street as quickly as we possibly could so that the community could see that this was really going to happen,” Boss says. (OJB renovated the city’s Myriad Botanical Gardens during the same period.) OJB’s palette has been incorporated into nearly every project that has followed, including the boulevard—set to open next year—that replaced Interstate 40. “That framework of design, because it’s been so well received, is sort of splintering off in other areas,” Howard says. “It’s really kind of expanding the project.”

The new central park

The new central park, designed by Hargreaves Associates, broke ground this summer. It extends south from the boulevard, hops the new I-40 via Hans Butzer’s Sky-dance Bridge, and continues roughly a mile to the Oklahoma River, realizing the bulk of the city’s 2008 Core to Shore Plan. (The riverfront is not included in the current park project.)

At 70 acres, the park is large enough to allow people to escape the city, but Hargreaves principal Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA, says it also was important that the streetscapes along the edges of the park take their cues from the newly designed streetscapes in order to continue the downtown’s growing connectivity.

For Boss, the city’s metamorphosis “shows the power of infrastructure improvements,” he says. “Project 180 was a great transformation for [the city], and I think as they’ve seen the benefits, it makes it much easier for Mary Margaret and Hargreaves to work through this next iteration of green space in the downtown.”