Four-time Oklahoma City mayor Cornett sees a promising future for America’s flyover cities, some of them places that you might not expect.
Associated with a notorious bombing and tornadoes, among other noted negatives, Oklahoma City isn’t a garden-spot destination of the sort that travel agents tout. But not so fast: Cornett, a former TV news personality, recounts a long and successful campaign to undo some of the unpromising elements of the economically sleepy city. The campaign involved considerable planning built around themes that now seem common-sensical but took some selling to pull off, including the notion that “moving the city from a good place to a great city would depend on our ability to connect.” That connection is not merely rhetorical, but instead literal: Vibrant cities are easy to move around in, with sidewalks, bicycle paths, streetcar and light rail lines, pedestrian trails, and other corridors serving transportation by various means. Other ingredients include civic pride–building institutions such as schools, libraries, and sports venues, though he cautions with the last against giving away the farm in order to recruit teams, citing Sacramento’s program to build a new stadium with the team paying for “overruns or delays in construction.” Of particular interest is Cornett’s account of how he persuaded his fellow citizens to lose a collective million pounds in order to remove OKC from the list of America’s fattest cities—no easy task given that there were twice as many Taco Bells, by his reckoning, in his city than in the five boroughs of New York. The author won’t win any awards for his prose—“well, I’m here to tell you that the middle is actually a great place to be”; “there we were, right near the top. OMG”—but his achievements are real: OKC has undeniably risen in stature, and other “middle” cities of the heartland have done the same.
Valuable lessons for students of urban design and planning as well as local governance.