As of this fall, Oklahoma City can boast the beginnings of an impressive 70-acre public park designed by Hargreaves Associates right in the city’s downtown core. Scissortail Park, the 36-acre first phase of which opened in late September, is a feat of publicly-funded, public space projects in a conservative city that has struggled to give itself an international name and offer its residents a more dynamic, urban environment. “It’s an aspirational park, in that it’s the kind of amenity that people in Oklahoma City used to imagine only existing in other places,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt told Citylab.
The $132 million park includes a lake and boathouse, a five-acre lawn with a main stage and seating for 25,000 people, playgrounds, woodlands, gardens, promenades, dog parks, and event pavilions. In short, it’s a major, long-awaited asset for the 1.25 million residents in the Oklahoma City metro region. The landscaping design features circular plots, dubbed lens gardens, with plants varying from cactuses to grass. “We like to strike formal moves [that] are clearly discernible as manmade. These perfect circles appeared within the field of ‘nature.’ [But] this is not nature. This is a made place. [It’s] form-giving to make a place memorable,” Mary Margaret Jones, senior principal at Hargreaves, told Citylab. Visitors are also met with a glowing 45-foot-tall tower designed by Butzer Architects and Urbanism, evoking a campfire in reference to the city’s place in the history of westward expansion and colonization.
While the opening on September 27 marked the completion of the first section, construction on the second half is scheduled to begin in 2020. The completed park will be bisected by the I-40, with the already completed Scissortail Bridge connecting the upper and lower halves of the park. Extending from the downtown core to the shores of the Oklahoma River once completed, Scissortail Park will be a major achievement for the city’s “Core to Shore” agenda to urbanize the underutilized and disconnected downtown and riverfront area.
The project was funded by a unique tax scheme called Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) that was first enacted in 1993 to fund urban revitalization and improvement projects. MAPS, a temporary voter-approved one-cent sales tax, raised a total of $777 million between 2010 and 2017, and the funds will be used to construct a convention center, streetcars, senior centers, and a host of urban space improvements, as well as completing Scissortail Park. In addition to being an achievement in itself, the park stands as a successful example of completing an ambitious public works project even in a conservative political climate.