In 2020, the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG) reached out to the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Quality Communities (IQC) to ask for assistance with their Community Economic Resiliency Initiative (CERI). The Initiative was developed to help local governments respond to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three Oklahoma communities were selected to receive urban planning services from the IQC. These services would emphasize community identity and placemaking.
Through the IQC, Gibbs College of Architecture faculty and affiliate faculty were able to apply for a Community Engagement Fellowship, which awarded them a grant to manage one of the CERI projects. In Spring of 2021, three cities were selected to receive planning services through the IQC: El Reno, Guthrie, and Harrah, Oklahoma.
Each city selected a different project for the IQC and OU faculty to help develop. The City of El Reno aimed to study and improve a stretch of Route 66 that ran west of their downtown. Project leaders hope to present plans that would make the area a better place to both visit and live in. This includes capitalizing on Route 66 tourism and improving conditions for residents in Sunset Drive neighborhoods. Michael Höffner, an affiliate faculty member with the Division of Architecture and principal of höffnerdesign studio, and Emily Fitzsimmons, a graduate assistant with Regional and City Planning, led this project.
The City of Guthrie aims to improve educational and recreational opportunities in the “Noble Park” or “The Elbow” area. Noble Park is a historically Black neighborhood that has a history of severe flooding due to its proximity to the Cottonwood Creek. The CERI team hopes to recognize the cultural heritage of the area, planning to collect oral histories and memorabilia from those who have connections to the neighborhood. Using this research, they will develop cultural heritage tourism in the area, possibly utilizing augmented reality technology. Dr. Sarah Little, an assistant professor with Landscape Architecture, and Camden Crittenden, a graduate assistant with Construction Science, lead the Guthrie project.
The third community selected for this initiative is Harrah, Oklahoma. Town leaders hope to improve Harrah’s downtown area, called Sweeney’s Switch. The IQC team looks to build upon past development, including a community garden and the redevelopment of a historic lumberyard into a restaurant and venue. The project team is looking into ways for the downtown area to both be a source of economic growth as well as a placemaking opportunity that embraces the history of Harrah. Shawn Schaefer, director of OU-Tulsa Urban Design Studio, Dave Boeck, associate professor with the Division of Architecture, and Courtney Graham, a graduate assistant with Urban Design, lead the Harrah project.
Next steps for these projects include community research as well as implementation of a community engagement strategy. Eventually, the teams will draft their recommendations for their project and use feedback from community leaders to present a final proposal.