NORMAN — Success, they say, is an inside job. For a city, that can mean transforming the inner city into a regional draw for the arts, sports and upwardly mobile, young professionals.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett spoke Friday to the Norman Chamber of Commerce about the renaissance of the greater metropolitan Oklahoma City area which started in the city’s core. The revival experienced by Bricktown and Deep Deuce have garnered national headlines, but Cornett said it’s a pattern of success than can be replicated.
“You are not going to have business with high standards in a community with low standards,” Cornett said. “I can’t believe what downtown looks like. Ten year ago if you lived downtown, you were probably in jail.”
Quality of life attracts talent, he said.
To spur the renaissance, Cornett had to convince the suburbs that improving the core of the city was tantamount.
“We’re creating a city where your kids or your grandkids will want to live,” Cornett said.
In previous decades, young people with advanced degrees moved away from Oklahoma City.
“Today, those young people are staying,” he said. “The grandkids are moving back.”
When the OKC Thunder located here, it jump started the city. Development of the arts has been major as well.
“The next generation is very mobile and very picky,” Cornett said. “You’ve got to have it all.”
Having it all brings in money, but first it costs money.
“It’s real easy to get someone to vote ‘no,’” Cornett said. “’Yes’ is more of a challenge. You’ve got to be convincing to get them to vote yes.”
Paying attention to the weak links in the chain is key. For example, education is important and several school districts are thriving, but inner city districts that struggle must receive attention. Police often go on truancy calls. Cornett said some ask why police resources are used to chase truants.
“We’re better off using those resources early on and keeping those kids in school,” he said.
Cornett got 88 percent of the vote in 2012 and was selected as one of the five most innovative mayors in the U.S., Andy Sherrer said in his introduction.
“It’s good to be back in Norman,” Cornett said. “I have lived here, I have worked here and I have recreated here.”
In the 1980’s over 100 banks failed in Oklahoma and we learned from that lesson, he said. We also survived the “emotional crisis of the bombing in 1995.”
Oklahoma City crawled out of the recession and has done really well on sales tax for the last four years, he said. Aviation and biomedical growth has broadened the state’s economic base.
To continue to move forward, Cornett said regional cooperation is key.
“Our biggest shortage as a metro area is public transit,” he said. “We’re not set up to succeed. We’ve sprawled incredibly.
While the upside of sprawl are a reduction in pollution, traffic and housing costs, there are down sides.
It’s hard to make public transit work. Cornett said commuter rail needs to be a regional effort and needs to connect Norman and Oklahoma City.
A regional dialogue is underway to move those issues forward.
“We’re advancing the conversation,” he said.