Having moved to Oklahoma City after two decades in Tulsa, we are often asked which city we prefer. The truth is that we would be happy in either. There are differences, however, many of which date back to the origins of each city.
Tulsa had the luxury of being built with money. When feral cats found oil south of town, it created something of a land rush. Wealthy prospectors rushed to Tulsa from the northeast. Their fortune grows, as does their generosity. Today, these fortunes still flow through the city’s veins.
Oklahoma City was founded with a different type of terrain. With a single shotgun blast, farmers, wanderers and cowboys lined up to claim their property. A tent city was born overnight. “All you had to do,” wrote Sam Anderson in his book “Boom Town,” “was get there, hammer your stakes, and battle your competition.”
Pull hard on your boots and you will get there.
Today, there is perhaps no better illustration of this difference than the creation of each city’s newest park.
The Gathering Place in Tulsa was built by George Kaiser and other philanthropists. It’s a show stopper. The design, amenities and creativity are world class. The Gathering Place was named USA Today’s Best City Park in 2021. Kaiser is to Tulsa what William Skelly and Waite Phillips were decades ago. He single-handedly changed his landscape.
Oklahoma City opened the lower part of Scissortail Park on Friday, officially completing the crown jewel of downtown. Spanning over 70 acres and a mile long, Scissortail includes playgrounds, a stage for shows, sports fields, paddle boats, trails, food trucks and restaurants, huge grassy areas and beautiful views. Stop in good weather and the place is lively. It became our porch.
Every park is a point of civic pride, and rightly so. But Scissortail’s pride comes from another source: it was paid for by its residents. Scissortail was built by MAPS, a series of sales tax initiatives through which residents literally remade their town by voting to invest in themselves. Thirty years later, MAPS has become the city’s Golden Goose.
Do you remember that first big purchase with your own money? It hits differently than something someone else bought for you. Ownership suggests more than possession. It’s a state of mind ― an acknowledgment of support.
That’s what we have at Scisortail Park. We imagined it, we planned it, we paid for it, we built it. This makes it unique. Oklahoma City has proven that it will take care of itself, whether it’s rebuilding a crumbling downtown, pulling itself out of massive tornadoes, or recovering from a deadly bombing.
I don’t regret George Kaiser’s gift to Tulsa. It requires both public and private investment, and we’ve had our share of philanthropy – for example, the Chickasaw Nation stepped up to complete the First Americans Museum, or the owners of the Thunder brought the team here. We owe them all our thanks.
But our chests swell a little more when we invest in ourselves, together.
Russ Florence lives and works in Oklahoma City. His column appears monthly in Viewpoints.