A study produced by the National Trust for Historic Preservation using data from Seattle, Washington D.C. and San Francisco suggests that neighborhoods and districts with a variety of architecture, including historic buildings, are good predictors of community vitality. This same research also suggests that older buildings are especially popular with millennials.
I’m not surprised. My favorite places in OKC — Midtown, the Plaza District, Automobile Alley, 23rd Street — all incorporate the building diversity that this study mentions. I don’t just consider these areas of commercial value to me. I feel welcome there. I consider those districts my community, my OKC.
However, prior to last week’s Downtown Design Review Committee (DDRC) meeting, I wouldn’t have considered myself a preservationist. Although I care for historic buildings and the character that they contribute to their neighborhood, I had resigned that it was another generation’s battle to wage publicly. It took an application for a demolition permit on the art deco Union Bus Station — a building that I could easily imagine as a local restaurant — to make me aware that I am responsible for my own voice in these conversations.
I attended the DDRC meeting that was determining the fate of the bus station. The executive director of Preservation Oklahoma and I were the only members of the public who stayed through the multi-hour meeting to share our comments. The meeting was during a workday and was especially long. The political conflicts that many active citizens face when making public comment against a project of this magnitude can’t be overlooked either.
But at one point in the meeting, a partner in the proposed project approached the podium and stated, “No one would ever visit a Greyhound bus station!”
I heard muffled laughter from his peers in attendance, including several members of the DDRC. I was taken aback with how out-of-touch that comment was with my generation. Locally, the wait is at least an hour on weekends to eat pizza at an old laundromat in the Plaza District.
A recently opened restaurant called The Grey in an old Greyhound bus station in Savannah, Georgia, also comes to my mind. I would definitely visit that.
Sitting in the pew in City Hall, listening to the dialogue, I realized that the input from my peers needs to happen from a leadership role to make a difference.
We need like-minded citizens to serve on the boards, commissions and our city council. Speaking to my generation directly: We can’t use the excuse that we are millennials anymore.
We aren’t going to inherit this city. Instead, we already inhabit this city. We have bought homes here, we support businesses here and we are equal to every other citizen.
Being involved in grassroots community projects goes a long way to improving our city, but it can’t stop there if we want the city decisions to be reflective of our opinions.
I filled out the application on the City of Oklahoma City’s website for a board or commission. I hope that you’ll join me.
Allison Barta Bailey is a local retail consultant and cofounder of Better Block OKC.