I am now officially in love with the Plaza District. Imagine a piece of OKC that 5 years ago was NOTHING and today is lined with trendy LOCAL shops, coffee shops, countless art galleries...and far more importantly, PACKED with people. Yes--imagine a neighborhood in OKC that is truly built around pedestrians that go from shop to shop, from gallery to gallery, from cafe to cafe, enjoying the sights and sounds, people watching, and especially enjoying the live music scene.
Virtually every shop has a stage area in the back for a concert, the coffee shops, galleries, even the Velvet Monkey salon also feature live music on Friday nights. People who couldn't book a stage just take their guitar to the sidewalk and serenade their friends outdoors.
The area also has a special Okie identity that separates it not just from other urban districts elsewhere but also from OKC's own urban districts. Because all of the shops are local, many of them sell shirts and stuff that feature edgy Native American depictions, many incorporate the OKC skyline, and so on. And who would have thought a designer could do that and make very cool clothing at the same time? The reality is that most of it is far cheaper than what you would pay for as good a shirt at the mall--the locally-designed tees in the Plaza's shops are only $15/$20.
I think when it comes to solving OKC's identity issues, the Plaza District shops have the answer. This place is on to something. I also think that there is something priceless about a neighborhood with so much character. You can not people watch like this anywhere else in OKC, not even Bricktown--not for lack of people in Bricktown in the evening, just for lack of interesting people, really. There is infinitely more value in what's happening in the Plaza District than anything else going on in OKC--I really just can't rave about it enough.
BUT I would be forlorn if I didn't make the two most important points about the significance of the Plaza's rise:
1. It all happened with a community block development grant in which the community actually raised the money for the streetscape project first and got a funding match from the City of OKC. Did Bricktown ever take the initiative on its own to find funding for the canal and ballpark? Did downtown ever do that for the convention centers and Ford Center and so on? Of course not--primarily because they don't have to, being at the center of the city. The Plaza, being off-center and waaay off the radar, had to come up with a vision for this all on its own, and I doubt any of it would have ever happened without the presence of the Lyric Theater.
2. Look at the economy and all of the projects that have stalled and all of the momentum that's been lost in areas like Bricktown and Deep Deuce. "The economy" mantra has grown so old to me that I've been forcing people to look at all of the development in Tulsa, BUT instead of Tulsa, just look at all of the development going on in the Plaza. Hopefully that will be "OKC enough" for the Tulsa-haters. Jeff Struble and others have, in the middle of a recession that has crippled development everywhere else in OKC except NW 9th and Broadway, spurred a tremendous revitalization and landed OKC with a major asset in my opinion: a local culture. Perhaps there's something to be said here about the ability of local culture and local establishments to withstand and weather a recession much better than the big national chains who rely on financing schemes and fuzzy national economic trends.
Without much further ado, here's some bad pictures taken on my phone (I'm not going to go all heavy-duty photog when I'm hanging out with my friends):
Where's Waldo: Whoever finds first the local celebrity whose back is in one of these pictures.