MDR: 'Your glory days are still ahead of you' 

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  • Aaron Renn

Oklahoma City ain’t Portland. But that’s okay.

That was the message from Aaron Renn of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research who was a morning keynote speaker at the Mayor’s Development Roundtable on Wednesday.

“You would be far better off being the best Oklahoma City you could be rather than the poor man's Portland,” Renn said. “Places like [OKC] are now in the game for business and residents like you never were before"

Renn remarked that second tier cities like Oklahoma City, Nashville and Indianapolis are competing with cities like Chicago and New York in new ways. While NYC is still America’s premier urban center, Renn said, new technology and the spread of speciality businesses has allowed places like OKC to offer high quality urban lifestyles.

However, while Renn remarked on OKC’s recent success in downtown, he said challenges remain with continued development in the communities just outside the urban core.

“You need to have that product in your arsenal,” Renn said about high density in the urban core. “Where a lot of cities your size run into challenges is that next ring out.”

A lack of sidewalks, transit infrastructure and medium density is a challenge in the urban neighborhoods outside of downtown Oklahoma City, Renn said.

Other points made by Renn:

-OKC should consider ways to attract the 30 to 45 year-old demographic that is currently moving out of many cities. Renn said OKC can offer downtown amenities that are hard to find in larger cities.

-Outer suburbs need attention as they are not at the level of other cities.

- “If your parks, your schools, your streets and your crime levels are terrible, that [cool downtown] stuff doesn't matter,” said Renn, offering advice to keep close attention to the more mundane aspects of urban life that can be overlooked in the quest for new stadiums and skyscrapers.

-The cities of the northeast and the Rust Belt have past its prime but “Oklahoma City is just now starting to emerge as a great American city,” Renn said. “Your glory days are still ahead of you.”

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