Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City
For the third year in a row, Memphis magazine has issued “A Summons to Memphis” to the mayor of another American city whose experience in an urban environment has lessons for us here in River City.
This year’s invitee was four-term Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City. He follows Mayors Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans (2013) and Karl Dean of Nashville (2014), the previous honorees in the series.
Mayor Cornett appeared on Monday, September 14th, at a breakfast meeting at the River Inn, followed by a luncheon at The Peabody.
One of Mayor Cornett’s achievements was familiar to Memphis Grizzlies fans — his successful attraction to his city of an NBA franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder, a perennial contender (and perpetual rival to the Griz.)
The Mayor has also, according the official bio issued by his office, “invested over $2 billion in schools and quality-of-life infrastructure, and developed one of the most robust economies in the country.“
Further: “His progressive policies on health and wellness, urban design, and downtown redevelopment led him to be described in 2012 by Newsweek as one of ‘the five most innovative mayors in the United States.’”
More recently, Mayor Cornett was the only mayor named by Politico to its list of “50 Movers and Shakers.”
From the bio: “The son of a postal worker and school teacher, Mick Cornett was born and raised in Oklahoma City. From an early age, his parents taught him the value of public service and encouraged him to keep the faith, work hard, and dream big.”
The Mayor shared both his dreams and his urban heartaches at the breakfast with local leaders and with the well-attended luncheon at The Peabody.
There were times, he said at both venues, when the task of lifting OKC by its bootstraps was forbidding indeed. As he related, Oklahoma City was, unlike Rome, actually built in a day — on a day in the 19th century when the federal government opened up the Oklahoma territory to would-be homesteaders, with the result that some 10,000 of them convened on the site that would become his city.
For decades, Oklahoma City had trouble maintaining itself as a viable urban environment, undergoing economic depression and the infamous “Dust Bowl” depopulation of the ’30s, followed by a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t offer from United Airlines to locate a hub there.
The answer was two bond issues, sponsored by Cornett’s predecessors and continued by him. Called MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects), they would focus on making Oklahoma City an attractive place with cultural aspects.
An automobile-centric city that, according to Cornett, had “the most unfriendly walkability” of any city in America, suddenly sprouted an abundance of sidewalks and rehabbed neighborhoods. As the city gained in cultural attractiveness, it started making “best of” lists.
When it hit a snag, finding itself at the top of a “Most Obese Cities in America” list, Mayor Cornett launched a campaign for the city’s citizens to lose “one million pounds” in a year. Astonishingly, enough people got on board to make that happen, and OKC now found itself on a “most-fit-city” list.
The Mayor, who was introduced both by Memphis magazine publisher Kenneth Neill and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, drew ample connections between his city and ours — not excluding the fact that Tony Allen, the Grizzzlies’ defensive scourge of his Thunder teams, had been nurtured right in his back yard, at Oklahoma State University.