By Charlie McCabe
Several tunnels connect the park over roads to the river.
Until this trip, I've never visited Tulsa. I've wanted to, though—specifically the now four-year old Gathering Place, a 100-acre park built along the Arkansas River just south of downtown Tulsa. Through consulting with the Institute for Urban Parks, I finally got the opportunity and joined my colleagues Sarah and Sophie for several days there in late September.
Interior room of the main lodge, open to all.
The first surprise: tree-covered rolling hills. I've visited southern Oklahoma, up to Oklahoma City several times, which is much flatter, with fewer trees. (My mother-in-law comes from Enid, and her mother was from Yukon, just outside OKC.)
The second surprise: a downtown with buildings from the first boom era of energy companies, in some ways similar to OKC. We stayed in a hotel in one of these grand old buildings.
The park itself is thanks to the efforts of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a local philanthropic organization that has historically focused on early education, low-income housing, and neighborhood building or a better term, rebuilding. They have also brought the first modern public space (Guthrie Green) to Greenwood, the historic Black Wall Street area, a vibrant area that saw a racially motivated attack on the community, resulting in destruction and death of residents just over a century ago. The story, including the aftermath, is brilliantly told by an excellent new museum, Greenwood Rising.
The park was designed by Michael Van Valkenberg Associates, well-known for current innovative park designs, and it is primarily native plantings in a prairie setting. Only about eight acres are grass lawns.
The park is, in a word, stunning. The quality of design, the materials used, and the upkeep are just outstanding. I really couldn't believe my eyes as we toured the playground, main lodge, boathouse, landscape, sport courts, and even a pump track with the park's executive director, Julio, along with the team we've been working with through the Institute (Andrea, Sarah, Daiva, and Kyra). The connections from neighborhoods—as well as connections being built across the river (a massive bike/ped bridge)—will only further connect the park, extending a trail from downtown to further parks and neighborhoods beyond.
Native plants in late summer bloom.
Look for more from me coming soon about Tulsa and Gathering Place.
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