Initiative gets underway in OKC (The Oklahoman)

Every workday, the Oklahoma Health Center campus just east of downtown is home to almost 17,000 people who pursue medical education or work in health care, education and research-related jobs.

When their workday is done, they go home.

Now an initiative is underway to make the 325-acre campus more inviting as a place for people to linger after work by creating places to gather, eat, drink and perhaps even live.

The Oklahoma Health Center is home to world-renowned research institutions, hospitals and the various colleges of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

In October, the Brookings Institute announced Oklahoma City as one of two pilot cities that are part of a study into developing an Innovation District. It already has held informational meetings and tours to gather ideas on just what that might look like.

As president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Dr. Stephen Prescott has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Innovation District concept.

“One of our challenges right now is that the Health Sciences Center is not conducive to chance interactions,” Prescott said. “You don't just bump into people. The idea here is to encourage this type of behavior by connectiveness and making places where people can meet and eat easily.”

Innovation Districts feature density in development, housing, walkability and amenities that draw people out of their laboratories and offices.

Brookings is working with Oklahoma City partners to determine how best to develop the Oklahoma Health Center campus and adjacent Automobile Alley into a vibrant Innovation District. The initiative includes the Oklahoma Health Center Foundation, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the Presbyterian Health Foundation, the Alliance for Economic Development, i2E Inc. and OMRF.

Terry Taylor, president of the Oklahoma Health Center Foundation, describes the ultimate goal of an Innovation District as “placemaking.”

The current Health Center campus is full of wide streets, unconnected buildings and no place where people can live if they choose or even casually gather.

“We are looking to make better physical places within this geographic area,” Taylor said. “We can create a commercial area that will be a people place and will have different uses, different commercial activities. There can be a downtown center, for instance, a nucleus for people to come together when the come to get their lunch, their coffee, whatever. The benefits will be whatever spins off from all of that.”

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