The Next One in the Nest

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Current Affairs, Local Economy, Local Government, Nancy Love Robertson, Oklahoma City, Public Works, Travel | Posted on 16-05-2009

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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. 

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