by Nancy Love Robertson
I love Oklahoma City. I really do. I am a life-long resident and have watched our community ebb and flow over the span of my 53-year lifetime.
In my life, it seems we’ve ebbed more than we flowed for so long, and I, like many of us, experienced discomfort when people from other parts of the U.S. would grimace when I’d tell them where home was.
Today, however, I sing a different tune. I defend my hometown with the fierceness of a momma lion. I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past 15 years or so.
As a community, we invested in ourselves and made the first MAPS happen in 1992. We marveled at our pretty new ballpark, and applauded when we stepped into the Civic Center, Downtown Library and Cox Convention Center for the first time. It all looked good and making progress FELT good.
We the people stood tall on April 19, 1995 and survived the Oklahoma City bombing with dignity and compassion. The whole world watched us in awe, and through the profound sadness of that time, we found our voice as a community with heart.
The momentum of the 1990s propelled us to further our city’s promise when we took a stand to advance public education in our city in 2001. We made a down payment toward our future by telling children in our town that they mattered when we passed MAPS for KIDS in November of that year. “Good for us,” I thought at the time. “I’m proud of you, Oklahoma City!”
So, that’s our community basket of golden eggs we laid over the past 15 years. And, to paraphrase a Joni Mitchell line from For the Roses, “Who’s to know if the next one in the nest will glitter for us so?”
Don’t mistake my question as doubt or as a complaint. That’s not my intention at all. On the contrary, I have an idea on how we can produce another golden egg that will sparkle for our city long into the future.
Thankfully, Oklahoma City as a micro-society is finally beginning the dialogue of what the pressing environmental issues of the day mean to our way of life. Don’t forget, we used to pride ourselves on being the largest city, in landmass, in the United States. Thankfully, Jacksonville, Florida, now owns that dubious distinction. However, in our quest to “be somebody” back in the 1950s and 1960s, Oklahoma City sold its soul to developers and thus created a scenario that took decades to create. Now, it will take decades to unwind.
For what it’s worth, I am throwing my voice behind my fellow Oklahoma Cityans who’ve been calling us on our BS for the past several years about having one of America’s most livable cities. They’re correct. If we really want to be a livable city then where are the sidewalks? Where is the network of running trails and bike lanes? Nothing spells “l-i-v-a-b-l-e c-i-t-y” more than a community that encourages walking, running and cycling. So, what have we done to put our collective muscle to work on this issue? First of all, doesn’t it make sense to create a world-class city for the residents who live and work here before we cast our net to the larger world?
Fortunately, we’ve been blessed with the hard work of a few. A case in point: Every year, thousands of us enjoy the fruits of the labor of those dedicated staff members and volunteers who breathe life into the Lake Hefner Trails. I have personally logged many hours and miles running or cycling around that lake. And, as a birder, I truly enjoy the opportunity to connect with nature in such close proximity to my home.
Or, take the mountain bike trails at Lake Stanley Draper. In less than half an hour, my partner, Shelly, and I can be resetting the little computers on our mountain bikes (one of us captures time, the other distance) at the Draper trail head. Generous people give their time and sweat equity to creating and maintaining the patchwork trail system at Draper Lake so folks like Shelly and I can have a getaway that is restorative far beyond the two hours we spend flying through the woods, practicing German and playing like two little kids. For those of you responsible for making that space the oasis that it is, I say, “Thank you.”
I am certain there are many more examples in our city that illustrate my point. All of them can inspire us to do more to make our city livable and sustainable. And, these examples of what could be might be the indicators of the next golden eggs we produce in our nest.
So, how does a grassroots initiative get traction in Oklahoma City? In reality, it starts with civic and business leaders.
Attention please! Mayor Cornett, take note. Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, tune in and pay attention. Your constituents might be onto something here.
How marvelous it would be if the next MAPS project involved a network of sidewalks and cycling/running trails that would be the envy of forward-thinking cities like Portland, Oregon? We’ve had MAPS and MAPS for KIDS. How about MAPS for LIFE (Living in Full Enjoyment)? Like two of the other three MAPS projects, (MAPS for Millionaires was a step backwards) this MAPS project, Living in Full Enjoyment…of our community, of our healthy bodies, of our scenic beauty (our sunsets have been known to take one’s breath away) and of each other…has something in it for everyone in our community. I also like the metaphor of a network or web of life for our city. What a gift to be connected to people and places, via a bike trail, to parts of town that are off of our beaten paths. How awesome it would be to figuratively stumble onto a celebration of a culture that’s different, while running along a trail that connects one part of town with another.
I like imaging how this could weave together for the good of our community.
In addition to promoting recreation, fitness, a sense of community, sustainability and livability, there’s a pragmatic side to bike lanes, running paths and sidewalks, and it’s called safety. Here’s what I mean, and it begins with an image that’s burned into my mind’s eye that I never want to see again. It’s an image borne from years of unsustainable city planning for our way of life and a visual that would’ve been less painful to see had there been a sidewalk.
Right before Christmas, Shelly and I were driving on May Avenue just north of N.W. 63rd. It was a freezing cold and blustery Saturday afternoon. Against the curb as close as they could get for safety, was an elderly couple. The man was bundled up in a wheelchair and he had an oxygen tank in his lap. Behind him a few paces, was an old woman in a car coat, clutching her purse and holding onto what was left of her dignity. In the face of this dangerous situation, both of them appeared stoic. Shelly and I were stunned at the sight, and I am confident that the other motorists who saw it were equally as horrified. There was so much traffic, there wasn’t an opportunity to stop and help them, so we moved our car as far to the left in our right-hand lane to give them as much room as possible under the circumstances. Nothing was in the headlines the next day, so I trust they made it to where they were going.
Now, back to sidewalks. Is this the image we want to project as a city? Does the scene I’ve just described bespeak a community that’s forward-thinking, sustainable, livable? For those whose jobs it is to bring commerce and people into our town to expand our tax base, it might be a wise investment of time to take a look at an initiative that has broad implications for the common men and women in our city. MAPS for LIFE would not only promote a healthy lifestyle for our community, therefore enhancing the quality of life for everyone. It could also say to residents and ultimately the rest of the country that we are doing our part to be sustainable and leave a smaller footprint as a city. While this utopian network of sidewalks and trails isn’t the light rail system many of us dream will someday connect our suburbs with the city center, it is likely to come into being more quickly and for less money. Yet the long-term benefits would be far-reaching.
What about the next golden egg? MAPS for LIFE could be the next one in our community nest that could glitter for us so.