The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

30 December 2004

Blight refractions

The OKPartisan looks across the river, and she doesn't like what she sees:

We have a serious blight problem in many areas of OKC, but Southside is in particular trouble. I felt like I was driving through an encyclopedia entry on the Modern Great Depression. So many empty strip malls! Bargain stores, check cashing centers, "cheap cigarette" stores, broken up by a few chain drug stores and clusters of chain restaurants on I-240. Bricktown is great. Oklahoma City is coming into its own. But what can we do to help our decaying, sprawling city? Why is it that there is so much new building on the periphery with the very large center of the city languishing?

Well, the last question is the one most easily answered: families with children are used to hearing that one must avoid Oklahoma City schools at all cost, and therefore they're fleeing to Putnam City or Edmond or Moore schools, all of which have substantial numbers of students actually in Oklahoma City limits. (I'd be very surprised if the majority of students in the Moore district didn't actually live in OKC.) How much effect MAPS for Kids will eventually have on this perception remains to be seen, but I do know that right now in my neighborhood, adjacent to one of the better OKCPS grade schools, you'll find young couples and empty nesters, and not a whole lot in between.

One other factor that should not be overlooked is the fact that neighborhoods on the northside are far better organized than neighborhoods to the south; it's no accident that all the Historic Districts and all the Urban Conservation Districts are north of the river, and the grease tends to follow the squeaky wheels. And I suspect that organizing a neighborhood in the inner areas of the southside might be trickier than usual, if only because the increasing Latino population in this area tends to suggest the possibility of, um, undocumented residents, who just might be resistant to the idea of mentioning their existence to city committees.

It might be true that the southside suffered even more than the rest of the city during the Great Eighties Bust; the house we (I was married then) owned circa 1980, in the Almonte neighborhood west of May and north of SW 59th, which we sold at the end of 1981 for $60,000, was resold seven years later for less than half that. Prices have since recovered somewhat. And areas in Cleveland County (south of SW 89th) are clearly thriving. But there's no easy fix, and I'm sticking by what I said a few months ago, when I visited a less-than-beautiful area just west of downtown:

Now the roads through there aren't great, and I suspect the rest of the city's infrastructure is probably an upgrade or two behind schedule, but this struck me as a relatively nice, if obviously not at all upscale, neighborhood. (I spot-checked a couple of houses for sale, and you can still buy in around here for thirty-five to fifty-five thousand.) Professional worriers, faced with a few blocks like this, would undoubtedly start screaming "Blight!" and calling for intervention. And indeed, there's room for improvement, starting with what appears to be, at first glance, a higher-than-average crime rate. But I am becoming persuaded that the kiss of death for any neighborhood comes at the exact moment when the studies and the surveys and the recommendations start coming out and the focus shifts from "How can we make this area better?" to "How can we get these people out of here?" I, for my part, am loath to tear up an area of affordable housing just because it's not pretty.

The city can wave whatever magic wands are at its disposal, but change comes from the bottom up, one street, sometimes one building at a time.

(Update, 2 January, 9:15 am: Added a link to justify the claim of "one of the better OKCPS grade schools," and corrected a pronoun issue.)

Posted at 9:55 PM to City Scene


God willing, we'll be moving INTO the city from Edmond this spring. Property values in Stepford are up insanely, and we can get rid of our second mortgage (adoption expenses) and still have money left over for a down payment in a stable or up-and-coming neighborhood.

Plus, there's the possibility that my son might see people of *gasp* different ethnicities. (That's not really fair to Edmond, which isn't LILY white, but it's close)

I like the area around Surlywood a lot, but we'll probably be closer to MWC, where one set of grandparents lives. (And babysits twice a week) So hopefully we'll be southeast of you a bit, near OCU. And we'll deal with schools in 4 years or so.

Here's hoping interest rates don't go up too much in the next four months.

Posted by: Dan at 12:11 AM on 31 December 2004

Who gives a lusty crap about "the possibilities of seeing different ethnicities"? If it happens, it happens...multiculturalism can kiss my latino-lebanese-caucasoid backside, with gusto I might add...sheesh

Posted by: paulsmos at 9:12 AM on 31 December 2004

Who gives a lusty crap about "the possibilities of seeing different ethnicities"?

Umm.. That would be we. That's why we're allowed to live where we want, whether you think our reasons are valid or not. My wife and I believe we are uniquely qualified to decide what's best for our family.

But obviously you know what's best.

Posted by: Dan at 9:38 AM on 31 December 2004

Well said, because of your perspicacity, I will wave the usual nominal fee...........

Posted by: paulsmos at 9:58 AM on 31 December 2004

As for the ethnic question - and back on topic - it DOES matter when it comes to the blight. The southside areas mentioned by OKPartisan are becoming something close to Mexican barrios. Illegal immigration is killing our culture an our cities. Whites flee now, not so much from blacks, as from city schools loaded with low-performing Mexican students that slow down the classes and grind real education to a halt. This issue is a serious one that must be addressed. The fact is that these issues raised by OKPartisan are largely a result of the ever growing latino invasion across our borders. This has nothing to do with "multi-culturalism" and everything to do with the national debate on immigration.

Posted by: Tom at 12:25 PM on 31 December 2004