Like people, the best towns have personality. Doubling down on Enid’s identity, investing in its charms, may be the best ways to bring new people and businesses to town, guest experts said at Enid Regional Development Alliance’s quarterly luncheon Tuesday.
A paycheck alone isn’t what entices new talent to pack up, move and put down roots elsewhere, at least not like it used to, so communities need more to offer than employment.
“Today, instead of living in the place your job exists, you choose a community that you love, that fits your values, and has things you like to do and then you figure out where you’re going to work once you get there,” ERDA Director Lisa Powell said.
Two experts in architecture and city planning with the University of Oklahoma were invited to discuss the concept of placemaking.
As Shane Hampton, executive director of the Institute for Quality Communities explained it, placemaking is “using the buildings and public spaces in a community, and tapping into the local people, culture and assets, to bring out a sense of place and to improve quality of life.”
A town can pursue placemaking in a number of ways, but Hampton focused specifically on how the strategy pertains to retail.
Traditional retail looks like the businesses along Garriott, large buildings spread apart from each other, divided by busy roadways, lots of parking space. Everything is designed around car and driver.
Urban retail, as seen in downtown Enid, is more in line with placemaking efforts. It’s less rushed, it welcomes foot traffic and encourages window shopping.
“The new way of retail is more about the experience. It’s the quality of the place that will get people to spend time and money at my place,” Hampton said. “Is it comfortable, is it safe, is it interesting?”
Further, the “new way of retail” Hampton describes can’t be duplicated by Amazon or other online retailers.
Ron Frantz, a licensed architect who also is nvolved with the Institute for Quality Communities, focused on ways Enid already haqs created a strong sense of place.
He commended different improvements that have been made to the downtown area, such as efforts to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
“There are not many downtowns that are listed, and yet Enid is one of the largest and one of the most concentrated downtown areas in Oklahoma on the national register,” Frantz said.
At the end of the day, this interest in placemaking is about economic growth.
A consistent challenge Enid faces is having enough of the right people with the right experience or training that businesses need to expand operations, or to consider investing in town.
“This is the race we’re in around the nation, is who can recruit the most people,” Powell said. “Communities that are winning at this … have invested in improving quality of life to attract a young, talented, skilled workforce to their community.”
Story provided by Enid News & Eagle
Written by: Mitchell Willetts