Dan O’Neil, the mayor of Edmond, Okla., wrote an opinion piece for the Edmond Sun. In it, O’Neil announced the city was selected by the Mayors’ Institute of City Design to participate in a study. The group tries to resolve urban design problems.
O’Neil lays out what he thinks needs to be addressed:
What project in Edmond did we pick for the mayor’s to study? I chose Route 66 east of I-35 to study. Edmond’s 5 miles of Route 66 looks nice, but it lacks the look of Route 66. We are building a new community softball park there and it would be nice to capture the Route 66 feel at the park and also improve the curb appeal along Arcadia Lake.
We all know East Edmond is changing rapidly and it is my hope we also could do a few things to help preserve and enhance the driving experience along Historic Route 66.
I’ve been critical of Edmond before, but I’ll try to be constructive this time.
Here goes. Edmond faces two big problems.
First, there are few historical landmarks left on Route 66 to preserve, save for parts of downtown. Edmond did jump on the Route 66 bandwagon, but was more than a decade too late. Many Mother Road landmarks are long gone.
Second, Edmond looks like Anyburb, U.S.A. It is rife with featureless strip malls, fast-food restaurants and ubiquitous chain stores. If you plopped someone from a typical retail sprawl town like Fairview Heights, Ill., into the middle of Edmond, they wouldn’t tell much of a difference. Route 66 travelers — and most tourists in general — don’t want to see stuff you can see just about anywhere else.
My suggestions: Preserve the few historical landmarks that are left and adopt strict architectural zoning on the Route 66 corridor. Require businesses to employ designs that are more retro and distinctive than the typical boxy look. Encourage the use of neon signs. Offer incentives to draw unique or locally owned businesses.
And Fontana, Calif., is gaining notice for converting parts of Route 66 into mixed-use developments designed more for walking than driving.
Edmond’s population is growing like crazy, so it should be able to adopt these policies from a position of strength. Businesses will grumble about the stringent rules, but they’ll shut up when a destination area is created in the process.