Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Paseo District and First Friday - Carless Rating #9

Borrowed from VisitOKC website -- The Paseo District is Oklahoma City's local art district

Let's do a carless rating! But first, some thoughts on art and what it means to a city...

Creative types get a lot of flak in modern society, being seen as flighty, lazy, and self-absorbed; artists for artists' sake. But this viewpoint is poison. We're all artists; if we want to be.

Something that strikes me about the concept of art is its inherent uselessness. Sure, there's interactive art, but I think the real beauty of art lies in the fact that it requires concerted effort towards the creation of something that does very little more than exist. Objects in space that interact with the people who find themselves in their presence. And every piece of art, means a great deal to someone. We see ourselves in art -- the celebrated, and the forgotten, the realism and impressionism. Pieces of art are collections of the interior beings that created them, put on display for all the interested people.

                                           "Yes, I like this piece.. the colors, the brush strokes, the joining members..."

            "Look how the artist chose to mix media."
                               "It's as if the subject is breaking out of the frame, transcending worlds."

These matters of opinion let us into the mind of someone else for a moment. They're exposed. The psychology of association allows us to draw conclusions about another person's life, while we compare it to our own experiences.

A painter was painting this fantastic portrait during the First Friday event!

And can a city really be a city without local artists? Sure. But without culture, a city is just a machine. A robot. There are signs of humanity, but any emotional expression is superseded by the whirring of turbines, the clanking of steel, and the repetitious banging of hammers. 

That's why the Paseo District is important to Oklahoma City. 

We visited the Paseo District on a recent First Friday. Whether you like the art or not (and I do like some of it, but also feel there is waaay too much pseudo-Impressionist work -- making it feel like people acting like artists rather than artists contributing their insight to the culture sorry for being blunt!) there is an frenetic energy during First Friday that swirls through the air whispering in your ear how desperately Oklahoma City wants to express itself. Musicians occupy any gap in the sidewalk they can nest in, while their melodies overlap with their adjacent neighbors, creating a symphony of earnest creation.

This image is borrowed from our friends over at Downtown on the Range. It really captures the energy of First Friday.

So, in principle, First Friday is fantastic. In practice... it's still pretty great, but some things are amiss. Half of the so-called galleries are actually women's retail outlets that pass for galleries because they have aquamarine-colored stones in their necklaces (again, sorry for being so blunt!). I don't have a problem with these types of establishments, and First Friday is a great way to increase their visibility (thereby strengthening a very localized economy), but I can’t help but feel that it cuts the art walk in half (especially for men).

Regardless, I enjoy the galleries that do feature work from different artists. It seems that Paseo is halfway between being a retail district and an arts district, without completely being either one. There are shops with paintings and sculpture for sale, a pottery studio, and plenty of shops that sell odds and ends.

Yummy pizza and beer at Sauced.

As far as food goes, this is where Paseo impresses me the most. I've only eaten at Sauced and Picasso, but I've been very happy with the quality of food, service, and atmosphere. The price isn't half bad, either. SOS Bar is a great place to grab a beer and hang out, and is especially busy during First Friday.

This is us and our friend enjoying beers from SOS in the same area that patrons of Sauced eat dinner.

Alright, so now let’s move on to the carless rating:

We're going to change a section in this carless review to evaluate the walkable infrastructure located within Paseo (or any district from here on out). The letter values will still be A = 5, B = 4, C = 3, D = 2, and F = 1. There will be five categories: Distance from home, Infrastructure between home and the location, infrastructure within the location, atmosphere, and land use choices.

Aerial view of the Paseo District on a sleepier day.

Paseo is a 2-mile journey from our building. By foot it'll take a little more than a half hour, but by bike (our new favorite mode of travel to Paseo) we get there in around 15 minutes. This scores a C on our scale.

Infrastructure between Home and Destination
Getting to Paseo, we travel north on Hudson into Heritage Hills, then cut westward to Walker and go north across 23rd and up to around 28th Street. There are sidewalks the entire way (though they are not very accessible between 23rd and 28th), and there are bike sharrows the full way (though these are not a very powerful form of bike infrastructure). Unfortunately, bus line number four no longer comes by Paseo as it was removed from service with the recent changes made to the Embark (formerly Metro Transit) system. The closest route now is on Classen, a 7-block walk from the Paseo District. I'd give the sidewalks a B, the bike infrastructure a C, and the transit infrastructure a D. Giving an average of score of C for infrastructure between home and the Paseo District.

Infrastructure within the Destination
Sidewalks line the streets of the Paseo District, but there is surprisingly only one crosswalk along 30th Street.. There are no bike lanes and only one bike rack at a private business. Parking is limited to mainly on-street parking. It doesn’t seem like much thought has been given to making the area accessible to the surrounding areas, and would be low-hanging fruit to really improve the district. For Oklahoma City, this area scores a C, but in many cities Paseo would be a good example of bad walkability.

Land-Use Choices
As I’ve stated, Paseo is somewhere between a retail district and an arts district, being home to dozens of small locally-owned shops, all with unique qualities. There are restaurants, a bar, and even a convenient store. There are multi-family residences and single-family residences all around the district, and common areas for people to gather. Paseo is a good example of the benefits that a diverse land-use mix can have on an area (property values have increased steadily since the district has regained strength in recent years.) I’ll give Paseo District an A in this category.

Paseo teems with energy when events occur, and is somewhat sleepy at other times. It can be busy and crowded, or virtually abandoned. I’d recommend visiting at times of each, because the character differs in mostly pleasant ways. I really enjoy walking from store to store, quelling my curiosity around each corner. Musicians, painters, sculptors, restaurant owners, and residents all value the space and keep it a positive (wink wink) Paseo. I’ll give Paseo an A here as well.

So that is three C’s and two A’s, giving a final score of 19 out of a possible 25. We'll be recapping the first 10 carless ratings in an upcoming post to compare the different locations. 

Paseo is a great asset to the Oklahoma City community, and it would benefit greatly from efforts to better integrate it into the city’s transportation networks. I’d like to see a portion of Paseo permanently closed to car traffic to serve as a pedestrian mall, but a good first step would be to add crosswalks, bike lanes, and bike racks.

What do you think would improve the Paseo District? What do you love about the Paseo District?

Thanks for reading!

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