17 May South of 8th: “Creating Space for NE OKC Voices to be Heard”
American physicist William Pollard once said, “Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.”
For many years, African American residents living in Oklahoma City were on the burden-end of receiving information. Residents were told what to do, where to go and where to live or not live, without having opportunities to make those decisions for themselves. Oklahoma City’s Black community was segregated from the white community, and it was during that time that OKC’s Black community developed its own economic culture, a culture that was thriving. However, the thriving nature of these communities wouldn’t last forever.
“It was Urban Renewal, the expansion of highway systems and integration that re-shaped our communities, so much so that even African Americans moved away from the once thriving areas that were created,” Gina Sofola, a Northeast Oklahoma City community planner and activist, said in a previous interview. “Folks moved, and the community started to change and to deteriorate.”
But these days, Northeast Oklahoma City is moving forward, and it is doing so with the purpose of informing the community and collaborating with its members as a part of the radically inclusive South of 8th initiative.
“The South of 8th initiative was launched with an intention to provide a platform that centers Northeast OKC community voices, history and goals in planning for the redevelopment of the OCURA owned lots that are south of NE 8th Street,” Vanessa Morrison, Co-Founder of Open Design Collective, Northeast OKC resident, planner and activist, said. “The design, planning and development of our built environments directly shape and impact our quality of life, and we believe the ability to participate in these types of processes is a basic human right.”
The collaborative South of 8th initiative ultimately aims to result in a master site vision for the area’s surrounding neighborhood, while also presenting a guide of recommendations for the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority (OCURA) to use as the organization releases properties for redevelopment in a way that is sensitive and responsive to the community’s needs.
And while this process is a step in the right direction, Morrison also notes that this initiative in no way erases what has happened in the past.
“We acknowledge that this visioning initiative will not eradicate all of the intergenerational challenges that have both spatially and socially impacted this area, such as racist real estate practices, gentrification, urban renewal and more,” Morrison said. “However, we do recognize that this project is helping to shed a brighter light on the challenges, solutions and opportunities for the future of this neighborhood.”
And with the South of 8th initiative making such a large community impact in Northeast Oklahoma City, where the Innovation District is located, the opportunity within the community’s next phase of developments looks extremely bright.
“Our hope is that the findings in the South of 8th initiative, co-developed by the Northeast OKC community throughout this process, will help serve as a resource for neighboring institutions, organizations and others to gain a deeper understanding of the historical, cultural and socioeconomic dynamics in this area,” Morrison said. “With a deeper understanding of community context that this project brings to the table, we hope our neighboring institutions will be strategic about how emerging educational, employment, investment and partnership opportunities can directly connect to this community to its future developments.”
Over the upcoming years, several developments are set to unfold across the OKC Innovation District that will directly impact and grow industry, education and workforce in Northeast Oklahoma City, such as the MAPS-4 funded Innovation Hall and the Henrietta B. Foster Center for Northeast Small Business Development & Entrepreneurship. And as these developments unfold, Ms. Sofola once again notes the importance for the community to stay informed with the process, so as not to fall on the ‘burden-end’ of receiving information once again.
“For businesses to succeed (in Northeast OKC), there needs to be density, people and understanding,” Sofola said. “The South of 8th initiative is important, and even more so, what the initiative’s deliverable leads to is more important, and that is to an informed community.”
Northeast Oklahoma City is a vibrant community with both a beautiful and wounded past. While its history cannot be undone, it can be insured to as not be repeated, and the South of 8th initiative, along with many others in the city’s northeast sector, are taking the lead to see this be the case.
“South of 8th has created a space for Northeast Oklahoma City voices to be seen, heard and valued,” Morrison said. “It’s in this that we can help contribute to a future vision where residents can better thrive in this neighborhood.”
Special thanks to Vanessa Morrison & Gina Sofola, for their time and help with this article.
To learn more about South of 8th, visit www.so8thokc.com.