Developers of The Wheeler District are accepting ideas from many on the shape the neighborhood will take.

by Steve Lackmeyer

Ideas for the Wheeler District were submitted by hundreds of participants from around the metro attending a charrette for the Wheeler District on Wednesday. Photo provided

Some of the most extraordinary accomplishments are born out of delays and failures.

When Grant Humphreys first unveiled his vision for The Waterfront in 2006, the plans showed a mixed-use development at the former Downtown Airpark site, 1701 S Western Ave., along the south shore of the Oklahoma River.

The plans were ambitious, but also based on residential and commercial development trends of the time. The economy crashed, the project was put on hold, and Humphreys went on to developing property acquired at Lake Eufaula that is now the innovative and successful Carlton Landing.

Grant Humphreys’ brother, Blair Humphreys, spent those interim years obtaining his master’s degree at MIT in Boston and overseeing the Institute of Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma before agreeing to take on the airpark project in January.An entirely new approach – one that could revolutionize mixed-use development statewide – is emerging from Humphreys’ work with Miami-based planning firm Dover-Kohl. About 300 people from throughout the metro area accepted Humphreys’ invitation to join his planning team at a kick-off “charrette” Wednesday night at The Grill on the Hill in Capitol Hill.

Having covered urban development for the past two decades, I’ve never seen such interest and excitement for what amounts to an exercise in urban planning, albeit one that has a real shot at becoming a reality.

The emerging young professionals in Oklahoma City are clearly wanting change. They don’t want gated suburban apartment complexes and the Dallas-style country-cottage brick homes with brick mailboxes they are seeing in many new neighborhoods.The hundreds who attended the charrette all talked about mixing retail in with housing. They want bike and walking trails. They want public spaces, not just pocket parks, and most importantly, they want the sort of communities that disappeared when cars and roads took priority over the rules that had created cities throughout the world for centuries.

Humphreys, well wired into the planning community thanks to his studies and work at OU, became familiar with Victor Dover and his firm’s work with El Paso. “Plan El Paso” had won accolades and was named “America’s Best Smart Growth Plan” in 2011.

The airpark development, rechristened “The Wheeler District,” started off with 24 different lists of proposals submitted by participants Wednesday night. Over the weekend, Dover-Kohl, working with a team assembled by Humphreys, turned those ideas into draft plans that, if realized, will create a community different from any other in the state.