MAPS 4 projects ‘tie to each other’

Via The Journal Record 

By Janice Francis-Smith 

Choosing which of the proposed MAPS 4 projects would have the greatest impact on Oklahoma City is a little like choosing a favorite among your children, said Aubrey McDermid, assistant city manager for Oklahoma City. The 16 projects all work together, she said.

McDermid, along with Embark Director/Administrator Jason Ferbrache and Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Director Doug Kupper, spoke about MAPS 4 on Wednesday at a forum held by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. The vote on MAPS 4 is scheduled for Dec. 10.

“These independent projects have such a tie to each other,” said McDermid. “When you think about building out the city, you can’t do one thing without the other. You can’t have transit stops if you don’t have sidewalks to connect to them. You can’t have a park system unless people are able to access it and enjoy it.”

Many of the projects included in the MAPS 4 proposal deal with human needs, health and quality of life – areas that when overlooked make it hard for a city to attract economic development, said McDermid.

“These may be kind of underlying, under-the-radar, not the big, sexy original MAPS projects, but this machine of building connectivity throughout our community makes us so much stronger when we do these things all together,” McDermid said. “If you are investing in individuals, the cumulative effect on community is amazing.”

McDermid reminded those in attendance that the original MAPS proposal was sparked 25 years ago when United Airlines rejected Oklahoma City as the site for a $1 billion maintenance center in favor of another city perceived to offer a better quality of life for the company’s employees.

“They left our community because they couldn’t imagine their employees living here,” said McDermid. “Think about what if they’d seen Oklahoma City today.”

Both the city’s transit system and parks system have made huge strides in recent years in making up for decades of underfunding, said Ferbrache and Kupper, and MAPS 4 would go a long way to put Oklahoma City in a position to compete for future economic development.

“Transit is becoming more and more of an issue and a deciding factor for the workforce,” said Ferbrache, adding that most of the users of the city’s bus system today use it to get to work.

Ferbrache said Oklahoma City needs to invest in its existing transportation systems to create an infrastructure strong enough to support additional improvements such as the Regional Transit Authority’s plans to create a rail system connecting Oklahoma City, Edmond, Norman, Midwest City, Del City and Moore.

“We can have all the rapid transit we want, but if people cannot connect to it from their neighborhoods or from their businesses or the sidewalk or trail it doesn’t do a lot of good,” said Ferbrache.

Similarly, improvements to trails and bicycle routes are less useful if residents have to load their bicycles in a car and drive to somewhere they can bike, said Kupper. But Kupper said he was most excited about the economic impact that could be made possible by the proposed sports centers and youth centers.

“Our residents have to go elsewhere to play in a soccer tournament,” said Kupper. “They’re going to Frisco, Texas, they’re going to Olathe, Kansas or Kansas City, Kansas. They’re using our interstate, right through our city, but we don’t have the assets here for them to stop and spend their money here. But worse, our residents have to spend their money going elsewhere.”

Children from Oklahoma City’s inner city can’t afford to go out of state and so are denied the ability to compete, he said. Providing the resources here in Oklahoma City allows even economically disadvantaged children the ability to participate in world-class sporting events “so that they can be discovered by college recruiters and possibly improve their lives by going to college,” said Kupper.

The youth centers are not just for disadvantaged children, Kupper said.

“Any child between the ages of 12 and 18 is an at-risk youth,” said Kupper. “Some of them have access to things even more when they have money available to them.”

Teenagers from all kinds of families often feel alienated and would benefit from the activities and programs available at the youth centers, he said. Youth centers could provide support to single parents along with fundamentals like food and clothing when and where it is needed.

“We want to try to sever the connection between fifth graders and the 200 gangs that are in Oklahoma City,” said Kupper. “Think about it: $1,000 for a rec center staff person keeping a youth from going down the prison route, where it costs us $100,000 to incarcerate that person. I think it’s a pretty good investment.”

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