The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

4 June 2005

Bricktown evolution

Last week, I posted this business about one particular local mindset that perplexed me: the notion that the Bricktown entertainment district, rather than being allowed to evolve, should be given a sharp push — presumably according to some, um, "intelligent design" — in the direction of young and hip and "urban."

The Downtown Guy brought this notion in front of his readers, and the discussion there has gotten interesting. A few excerpts from his commenters, very slightly edited by me, and my responses thereto:

Certainly, there are people who do not get or like the young trendy professional or creative artists that are attracted to more adventurous activities and design. But outlets for these people are in short supply in Oklahoma. And urban settings are generally where you find these people in other cities. So, it made sense that if we were trying to improve our city and downtown it would be with new and original developments. Let's face it, for the person in the post running down the art world [this was the lovely and talented Andrea Harris, whom I quoted in my original piece], OKC was already a haven for that individual. Anyone who is satisfied with large corporate mega-retail, black top landscaping, and prefab restaurant design should be happy with developments in OKC already and have no reason to leave the suburbs in the first place.

Nothing at all wrong with originality. But I'm not at all persuaded that originality, in and of itself, is necessarily an unalloyed boon; the farther out on the weirdness asymptote you go, the smaller an audience you can expect. While I'm not at all disinclined to see edgy and unorthodox developments in a town that has damned few of them, I believe that these things take root and grow on their own: you can't really direct the process from outside.

It has always been the core city's role to move the region's cultural curve. If the suburbs are meant to be "safe", it's the inner city's role to experiment and push the tastes of the rest of the region. I think dustbury jumps the gun in assuming that the "young trendy" types want to make it their preserve, when most consider it to be a tourist area. The fact is, Bricktown is successful because it appeals to all people — families and yuppies, the pubcrawlers and sophisticates, the active and passive.

Apart from my gun-jumping, this neatly encapsulates the issue here: Bricktown's success is due to its ability to draw people who think of themselves as suburbanites in addition to those who consider themselves urban in orientation. It's an uneasy balance, and maintaining that balance is, I think, more important than trying to push the district a notch or two toward either side.

As for some ideas of future tenants, here are some things that have worked in touristy areas of other cities: a Galleria, shops unique to Oklahoma heritage, Dave and Busters or GameWerks, high-end shopping or just plain different shopping than other parts of the city such as Neiman-Marcus, Saks, Nordstrom, Marshall Fields, etc. Weird little record stores like Waterloo Records, pool halls and other recreational activities, more GOOD live music, maybe an IMAX, what about an Apple Store those are cool. Maybe miniature golf, those oddly enough seem to make millions in places like Myrtle Beach, SC. What about ferris wheels and a boardwalk like Navy Pier in Chicago? And why is an area that some are trying to bill as "upscale" only seemingly able to support sports bars and steak houses? More often than not anything ethnic seems unsupportable there (see: Indian, Chinese, and Japanese).

I've been to Waterloo Records in Austin; I spent rather a lot of money last time I was there, in fact. The closest music outlet to Bricktown is a CD Warehouse in Automobile Alley, and while I'm glad it's there, it's simply not in the same league. I don't see Neimans or Nordstrom making any moves in this direction, though Saks has a Tulsa store (in Utica Square). Some greater restaurant variety would indeed be welcomed; right now, if I'm thinking dinner date, I'm more likely to go for Western Avenue than Bricktown.

Some folks seem puzzled, or perhaps angered, that Bricktown has Bass Pro instead of Versace. Why the Bass Pro? It's Oklahoma: by definition it is not "upscale"! This state is about something different, and will be for a long time. Part of it is money (probably most of it) and, mixed in with dollars, is culture. Yeah, that's all going to change, eventually (some friends toured a few million dollar homes in Rivendell last weekend: million dollar homes SOUTHSIDE!) but it will take many years. Did other funky downtown areas just appear overnight? Of course not. One respondant mourned our dissimilarity to Austin: I was there a few weeks ago, and 6th is indeed ultra-funky, but I was told (and have read) that's it's been like that for at least thirty years.

It has. (I started at UT Austin in 1969, and Sixth Street was already moving towards funkiness.) And time is always a factor: it took about thirty years to turn a decaying uptown corridor into the Asian District. Still, I think "upscale" is, well, "scalable," if only because having a great deal of disposable income is simplified by not having to spend an ungodly amount of money on housing, one of the major draws of this part of the country. (Yeah, you probably won't earn as much, either, but the Feds will be taking less away, which surely helps.)

As far as the quality of food in Oklahoma City: it can be hard to find good food even in a place like Manhattan. The trouble with Manhattan is that a lousy meal there costs $60 instead of the $15 it might cost here.

No argument from me.

And, to close out, something I probably should have said, but didn't:

There's no point in running around demanding that niche interests have mass appeal and any uncouth and vulgar development should be stopped. Equally annoying is the hostility from the other direction, demanding that these damn nonconformists just shut up and go to the damn Wal-Mart like everyone else. Both perspectives are elitist and counterproductive. This is a big city. Both Toby Keith (last seen shaming Chevy truck buyers nationwide) and Wayne Coyne (of the Flaming Lips, last seen walking across an audience in a giant plastic bubble) live here, and have done so without incident for many years. By the same token, the same crop of post-MAPS private investment brought us both Bass Pro and the excellent and very hip OKC Museum of Art. Irene Lam saved the gold dome, while her husband does LASIK for rich Edmondites.

I'll drink to that. Even in a Bricktown sports bar.

Posted at 10:17 AM to City Scene

I'd just like to point out that 1) I have never been to Oklahoma (I am almost the opposite of that Three Dog Night song, though I've never been to Spain either) in my entire life, so I have no opinion on Bricktown; and 2) I wasn't running down the art world, I was running down the crap, "shock the bourgeoisie" art world.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 4:16 PM on 5 June 2005

Of course, you have a standing invitation. (No, not to Spain.)

Posted by: CGHill at 4:43 PM on 5 June 2005

Heh. You never know what the future may bring!

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 9:36 PM on 5 June 2005

Well, some of the shock the bourgeoisie has appeared in the Paseo neighborhood and down in Norman around the campus.....

What is wrong with something that shows what it says it is and not some abstract crap that any value could be assigned to. I sure do hope Bricktown doesn't go that way.

Posted by: anstranger at 12:10 AM on 6 June 2005

having been to (and dropped out of) fancypants east coast art school and seen more crappy installation art, video art, performance art etc than anyone needs to in a lifetime, I can say that the problem is this: New York City. The very specific tastes of a very small group of very rich people dictate the aesthetic aims of literally thousands of artists, for whom getting into a soho gallery is like winning the lottery and getting a blowjob simultaniously. Ironicly, most of that very small group of very rich people are mostly concerned with being more avant garde and cutting edge than their equally rich social rivals, and probably have no real opinion on the art at all. I came back to Oklahoma when I realized that art is mostly something you should do for yourself, and that I could wait tables for free without paying 10,000 bucks a semester.

Posted by: NewPlains at 6:29 AM on 6 June 2005

I think there is probably no greater waste of money than to build something that is supposed to be cool but that you know nobody really likes. That's the pursuit of trendy, a disease small city officials get when they look at the tax revenues of larger "trendy" cities. "If only we had a _____" seems to be the thinking of many smaller towns, whereas "nobody else has a _____" might be a better view of things. Following other people into a small niche is an easy way to get stuck.

There's a certain charm to Oklahoma where even the rich people go fishing. They're building a monstrous bilding out here in Broken Arrow. Its not the new arena.. its Bass Pro. Every time I pass by I wonder, "Just how many tackle boxes will that thing hold?"

Posted by: bruce at 2:28 PM on 6 June 2005

From what I hear, it's going to be even bigger than ours, which is fairly huge and which turns over $30 million worth of stuff in a year. That's a lot of tackle. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 2:32 PM on 6 June 2005