United Voice: Local Nonprofit Hopes To Engage NE OKC Community For Future Planning


Wednesday, November 10th 2021, 4:30 pm



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A nonprofit is hoping to engage the northeast Oklahoma City community in future planning. 

Their main focus is an area dubbed South of 8th.

"I don't think people understand the east side," said longtime northeast Oklahoma City resident Arthur Hurst.

Hurst was born across the street from where he grew up, and still lives on the northeast side of the city.

He told News 9 there's no comparing the NE 4th Street that people see now with the one he used to walk down as a kid.

"It was really a very popular area and probably the second largest Black business area in the city," said Hurst.

Now, one of the only buildings still standing is the Jewel Theatre.

"The Jewel Theatre, it's a cultural asset and anchor of not only the NE 4th Street corridor but this area as a whole," said Vanessa Morrison, the co-founder of Open Design Collective.

Decades later, Hurst owns the theatre and has dreams of reopening it, but the space around it is mostly empty lots.

"Over the years, several different exclusionary real estate practices and governmental forces began impacted the area and began displacing and disjointing the community," said Morrison.

Morrison told News 9 urban renewal, a federally-funded program, also gave cities across the nation funds to clean up struggling areas.

"Many cities took these funds and were working to clean up these areas, but ended up harming and erasing a lot of spaces and Black communities," said Morrison.

The collective is working to make sure the northeast side of Oklahoma City is included in future development with their focus being South of 8th, between Lincoln Boulevard and Lottie Avenue.

"Within this area of focus, OCURA, the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Alliance, owns several scattered vacant commercial and residential lots as a result of urban renewal," said Morrison.

Now, she and her team are working with OCURA to put together a vision with the community, while also ensuring the history and culture of the area is preserved and protected.

"I could see it being a very important area in the city," said Hurst.

Morrison and her team want to hear stories like Hurst's and their future hopes for the area.

The collective is hosting its first visioning sessions this Saturday, and this is a part of a nine-month process of community engagement.

"We are going to be doing activities to really center their voices and understand what is the history what are those cultural connections and the stories that make this space so special," said Morrison. "As we are working on the redevelopment efforts and planning those efforts to come back into the community, how can we be intentional about preserving that history and culture and making sure that's part of the process."

There are two sessions on Saturday and the group will be serving a free lunch.

Click here to RSVP to the listening event.

News 9 is part of a local initiative that brings all of our local media outlets together to give Oklahoma a United Voice in promoting a healthy dialogue on race. To see more stories, visit UnitedVoiceOK.org.

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