(Feature image by Lucas Mundt)
As Oklahoma City prepares to host Congress for the New Urbanism’s national conference in March, the city is abuzz with new urbanism talk. Some locals may not know that the Wheeler District’s design is based on new urbanism principles. So, what actually makes the Wheeler District a new urbanist community?
At its core, new urbanism is a movement focused on designing intentional, well-thought out and healthy communities that encourage people and businesses to flourish. This is accomplished through mixed-use spaces, high density housing, and walkable neighborhoods, among other concepts.
Think about classic neighborhoods in OKC, such as Mesta Park, or must-see communities in destination cities like Boston, Chicago, NYC or Seaside, FL. Neighborhoods that are bustling and thriving today were intentionally designed way back when to be vibrant and extremely livable.
The Wheeler District community was designed by the legendary urban planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners, with input from interested citizens of OKC. The masterminds behind Glenwood Park in Atlanta, Ion Village in South Carolina, and South Main in Buena Vista, CO, Dover Kohl is made up of international experts on livable communities, sustainable development and how to fix cities, neighborhoods and towns.
Members of the local Wheeler District team, along with planners from Dover Kohl, spent one week compiling ideas submitted by the community during an interactive public design charrette. The gathering hosted more than 1,000 community participants who gave input to lay the groundwork for the Wheeler District.
The result of the expert planning process is Wheeler District’s unique design — compact, mixed-use and dedicated to prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists, with generous sidewalks, integrated bike paths and narrower, safer streets. Interior parks, plazas, and walking paths make strolls inviting; shops and recreational facilities give a purpose to walking. Unlike most new neighborhoods, Wheeler District is built on ideals that have proven to last for generations.
This is what drew Wheeler District resident Jonathan Teal and his family to the area. “We get to own a brand-new house in a diverse area of the urban core that’s walkable and involves a sense of community,” said Teal. “This doesn’t exist anywhere else in OKC.”
Human Scale Design
One of the most common questions about Wheeler DIstrict’s design is, “Why are the homes so close together?” The answer can be summed up in two words: walkable urbanism. The more compact the neighborhood, the more accessible the neighborhood amenities and sense of community. Walkable neighborhoods create a connected community.
Even the architecture of each home facilitates the principles of new urbanism. Wheeler District architecture is on a human scale – or optimized for human use (rather than for cars!) Sizable front porches maximize curb appeal and connection to neighbors who are always just a few steps away. Discreet garages accessed from the rear via a private alley allow the front of each home to be the focus of the exterior elevation, not a bulky garage.
New Urbanism is alive and well in the Wheeler District, which is why CNU attendees will get a chance to tour the community and see these principles in action right here in the heart of OKC. Stop by sometime and see for yourself!