Downtown Tulsa not a fully functioning urban space

It is not always possible for people to walk between districts in downtown Tulsa due to poor urban planning.

Over the past few years, downtown Tulsa has changed from being an area with work buildings to Tulsa’s urban center. With the opening of new stores, districts and restaurants, people flock from all over to have fun downtown.

A few years ago, Tulsa was considered uncool and didn’t have a lot going on. But since downtown has become a happening place, I have met several visitors as well as recent transplants to Tulsa who say that Tulsa is now exciting, especially downtown.

The revitalization began over 10 years ago when the city, private companies and nonprofits like the George Kaiser Family Foundation began to make a concentrated effort to improve the dilapidated area. With the opening of big event venues like the BOK Center, ONEOK Field and Guthrie Green, downtown began to gain momentum. Private companies began to invest, and soon, downtown Tulsa began to resemble a true urban center.

Now the area is thriving. There are many bustling sections such as the Tulsa Arts District and the Blue Dome District. Guthrie Green is a welcome verdant space that attracts many visitors. Tulsa Art’s First Friday events are on every Tulsan’s calendar.

Fun shops like Spinster Records, Ida Red and the nonprofit bookstore Magic City Books have opened recently. Restaurants and bars like Prairie Brewpub, the Tavern, Laffa and Valkyrie bring people in to eat and hang out.

All of these wonderful things show evidence of progress, but there are still some issues that need to be addressed. One of these is that downtown is highly compartmentalized. The districts feel separate, and between those populous sections, there are decrepit areas and abandoned buildings.

Even the most popular downtown area, the Tulsa Arts District, is right next to vacant buildings. With all the development in these nice districts, it is surprising that these things are side by side.

Even within the thriving districts, there are deserted buildings that one might look at and think could easily be a cute coffee shop or boutique. But since the owners haven’t invested in turning the shabby building into something profitable, they must not think they can gain enough revenue after their initial investment.

This begs the question: is downtown Tulsa a successful urban center if there is still so much abandoned real estate? I think it’s getting there, but there is still a way to go before we can consider it full-fledged urban center.

Another, perhaps bigger problem is how physically separate the districts are. They are an almost unwalkable distance from one another.

A Tulsa People article titled “An Insider’s Guide to Downtown Tulsa” lists the districts in downtown Tulsa and how to navigate between them. They list the Tulsa Trolley system, biking and driving as the best methods of transportation. They do not mention walking because the distance makes it infeasible to go between the districts on foot.

There are not always well-maintained sidewalks between the districts. When you walk between them, you pass through sparsely populated or abandoned areas, so walking isn’t always the safest either, especially if you are alone or out at night. There needs to be something done to connect the districts and make them more walkable to make navigating downtown safer and more economical.

Downtown Tulsa is cool now, and there have been great strides toward making it a modern urban center. I hang out there frequently. But as the city continues to develop, these issues need to be fixed to make the experience even more enjoyable.

Post Author: Lizzy Young