By Tim Farley
Photos By Shannon Cornman
or decades, the coinciding patterns of urban sprawl and neglect
of downtown Oklahoma City created a disjointed and unallur-
ing landscape.
It was a scene not unique to Oklahoma City. Across the
country, transportation and social patterns dominated by the
car, interstates, interchanges and suburbs had eroded the charac-
ter and energy of many American cities.
But now, even in the most unlikely of places, things are starting to turn
around. And biking and walking are at the heart of that rejuvenation.
In Oklahoma City, demographic shifts in inner-city neighborhoods began
in the 1970s, when many residents and businesses moved to the outskirts
of the city. Shopping malls and large corporate buildings sprang up on the
fringes, while most upscale residential developments headed for the suburbs.
Downtown was not a welcoming place after 5 p.m. on weekdays, as the exodus
of workers left behind an area populated predominantly by vagrants.
Mass transit, for the most part, was allowed to wither. By and large, living
in Oklahoma City required a motor vehicle. The terms “walkable,” “bikeable”
and “sustainable” were not part of the city leadership’s vernacular 40 years ago.
Slowly, that mindset is changing. In
city residents voted to fund the
Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) ini-
tiative, a limited-term, one-cent sales tax
which raised $350 million for downtown
revitalization. MAPS kick-started the city’s
climb into the urban “big leagues,” says
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
But what really brought walkability
and bikeability to the forefront of issues
for the city’s two-term mayor was a crisis
that was spreading across the country,
described by many as the most pressing
public health challenge since AIDS. “My
awareness began after I started looking at
the obesity issue in 2007,” Cornett says.
We were placed on the list of the most
obese cities in the nation.”