At the end of March, the UDC attended the Congress for the New Urbanism in Oklahoma City. After a week of learning from and connecting with fellow urbanists, the final day was upon us. An award ceremony was planned to follow breakfast, but I had planned a bicycle rental with a couple of colleagues, so we would spend some time exploring the city by bike instead. I was staring at a piece of honeydew skewered on my fork, wondering at the astonishing ubiquity of that fruit in breakfast buffets across the world, when a stranger took the seat next to mine. We started a conversation, and he asked what my plans were for the day. I told him my colleagues and I were going to explore Wheeler District south of the city and the Plaza District and surrounding neighborhoods north of the city by bike. He was from Oklahoma City, so he was curious who we were renting from, and as it turned out, the company was his. Small world, right? He gave me some tips about where to go, where to find repair stations and some route maps. I finished my honeydew, decided Ryan was no longer a stranger but was now a friend, and headed off to pick up the bikes.
It was a perfect day for a bike ride with a light breeze, temperature in the mid-70s, and not a cloud in the sky. We rode through the Wheeler District, a New Urbanist development on an abandoned corporate airfield and Scissortail Park on our cruise south. We lingered a while in the park, crossing into it over the canal on a bridge we dubbed “Mt. Saint Oklahoma City”. It was the most significant elevation gain we experienced the whole trip other than the flight out and back. Although it was still early spring, the foliage was busy hibernating, I still thought it was a beautifully designed space. A wide, oval-shaped grassy area faces a bandshell at its center, on the site of what was once asphalt parking lots for car dealerships. This space is bordered by a water feature, natural playscapes, a splash pad and other multi-generational public space programming. All kinds of folks were hanging out in the grass or playing on the playgrounds, while what appeared to be a food festival was afoot in the plaza adjacent to the newly completed convention center. The park was designed by Hargreaves Associates, while Populous and OKC-based architecture firm GSB designed the convention center. Both are worth a quick image search if you’re curious to see what they look like. I wanted to stay at the park and bask in the sun a while, but there were miles to go still before the adventure was over.
Heading north, we dodged light-rail tracks through downtown making our way towards the Plaza District. We cut back northeast through Paseo and finally over to the capitol building to see the oil derrick in front of the capitol. Unfortunately, it’s not a functioning oil derrick, but it was still cool. On our ride, we reveled in the bliss of cycling through a street network laid out on a grid, pointed out local architecture curiosities, and remarked on the bumpiness of a concrete road. I’m a little puzzled by that one, but I’ll leave that to the transportation engineers to explain. There really isn’t any better way to explore a city than via bicycle. It puts you in a position to cover a lot of ground, at a pace that allows you to slow down and really absorb what’s going on around you. There’s a palpable sense of local cultural identity overflowing from OKC’s historic homes and business districts, which is always fun to experience. All in all, it was a great day. If you’re ever in Oklahoma City, be sure to get a bike to do some exploring. The terrain is flat and perfect for a leisurely cruise — our 20-mile ride felt like a 2-mile ride. And Ryan, if you’re reading, thanks again for the bikes, man!