O’Connor: Placemaking necessary for Innovation District (Journal Record)

By Cathy O'Connor

An innovation hub has several key ingredients: stellar research institutions, an ecosystem of firms and entrepreneurs and collaborative networks. The Oklahoma Health Center excels on these points, but an early finding of the Innovation District study by the Brookings Institution and the Project for Public Spaces shows the area is lacking a vibrant community outside of work.

Placemaking is the planning, design and management of public spaces to encourage people to come together and connect. It capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration and potential to create vibrant communities. As part of the Innovation District placemaking task force, we are developing a plan for making the area a hub where people want to work and hang out.

One key attribute to successful placemaking is accessibility. The Health Center complex, like most medical centers, was built to accommodate cars, not pedestrians or cyclists. We are looking at how to improve routes and bring more connection points both within the campus and on the major streets that access other parts of Oklahoma City, such as Fourth, 10th and 13th streets.

Another key attribute is sociability, or life on the streets. The Health Center complex was developed where students attended classes, researchers worked in their labs and patients came and went for medical appointments. Successful placemaking encourages people to stay in the area for reasons beyond work or school. We’ve identified several underutilized spaces in the district that through improvements, or added programming, would bring people together. Some of the ideas are increased food truck activity, pop-up shops and markets.

Connectivity with surrounding neighborhoods is another key attribute. Off-campus ideas include activities in nearby neighborhoods such as the historic Page Woodson auditorium and Washington Park, which will soon be renovated and upgraded. The Health Center complex also has room to expand its communications with nearby residents to promote educational and career opportunities.

It will take intentional planning to create a porous campus where people want to be a part of the environment. Long-term projects, such as changes in infrastructure and substantial street work, will take time to develop. Other projects can happen quickly, such as fitness classes, job fairs, or simply adding seating to an open area, which means we can begin the placemaking transformation now.

Cathy O’Connor is the president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.

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