The Edmond Sun

December 10, 2013

Downtown development could bring north, south sides together

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — Peter Ackroyd is a British historian who has written extensively about the city of London. One of his most  recent works, “Thames: The Biography” details the extensive role that that waterway has played in the history of the United Kingdom.  

The word Thames is one of the oldest names  recorded in England, Ackroyd reports, and may owe its origins to the ancient Celtic word for running water. Julius Caesar constructed a bridge over the Thames in 54 BC to facilitate his invasion of the British Isles, and it was on the banks of the Thames at Runnymede where King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.

When Queen Elizabeth II commemorated her 50 years on the British throne several years ago by leading a regatta down the Thames, she was part of a thousand-year-old tradition of British monarchs sailing on that waterway.  

Ackroyd surveys books written about the Thames and concludes that in books concerning the Thames there are continued laments about the encroachments of the present upon the glories about the past. He writes about a theme that is found in some of the earliest of those works and shows differences between the people who inhabit the north side of the Thames and those who resided on south side of the river.

When King Alfred was on the British throne in the ninth century, he said that there were few scholars south of the Thames. The author quotes one historian who wrote in the 19th Century that “the progress of civilization does nothing for them,” about Londoners who resided on the southern side of that waterway, while on the northern side “railways are constructed,” and other urban amenities are put in place by the citizenry.

Somewhat similar distinctions have been made regarding those who reside on the north side and south sides of Oklahoma City. In the early 1980s, attorneys in downtown Oklahoma City were known to explain to their clients that the reason that it was difficult to garnish the wages or salaries of people who owed them money was because powerful state legislators from south Oklahoma City wrote into the Oklahoma garnishment law exemptions that were designed to protect their constituents who were often the subject of garnishment actions.

But the visionary who oversaw the creation of the Oklahoma River, Roy Ackerman, believed that the construction of that waterway would in time serve to erode the differences between the north and south sides of Oklahoma City. As the demand for housing in downtown Oklahoma City increases, builders will soon turn to  the area of south Oklahoma City that is adjacent to downtown as sites for new housing units.

Events that are held on the Oklahoma River, such as rowing events and holiday celebrations, bring residents from both sides of Oklahoma City to its banks.

The Humphreys Group, a real estate development firm operated by the sons of former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, has an ambitious plan to develop the land that adjoins the river that formerly served as an airfield. That plan will bring the ferris wheel that used to be in place on the Santa Monica Pier in California, to the banks of the Oklahoma River, and will include both commercial and residential units.

In accordance with Ackerman’s visions, in time the Oklahoma River and the structures along its banks may give all residents of Oklahoma City a shared sense of civic pride that will serve to transcend their differences.

William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.