Streets, Quality of Life, Education, Diversity

OKC Mayor David Holt Reflects on Goals for OKC

Article by Heide Brandes

Photography by Kimberly Richelle and provided

Originally published in OKC City Lifestyle

Since taking office as Oklahoma City’s new mayor, David Holt has focused on four key areas that he says will continue the city’s climb toward greatness.

In April 2018, David Holt took office as Oklahoma City’s 36th Mayor after being elected with 78.5% of the vote. Holt became the youngest mayor of Oklahoma City since 1923, the first Native American mayor of Oklahoma City and at the time of his election, the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with more than 500,000 residents.

With a year under his belt, we talked to Mayor Holt about his priorities, his goals and what he plans for the future. With that in mind, Holt discussed four main areas—core services, quality of life, education and incorporating Oklahoma City’s diversity into decision making.

Better Streets, Safer Cities

For Oklahoma City’s core services, Holt said the city leaders already made bold moves before he came into office, and his role now is to implement them and make sure people know they're happening.

“In 2017, citizens passed the Better Streets, Safer Cities initiative that put $800 million just in the street repairs,” Mayor Holt says. “We have a very unique challenge in Oklahoma City. I talk about this a lot because I find a lot of people don't know, but we are 620 square miles, which means we are one of the five largest cities in the United States. By land mass, you can fit a Boston, Miami, Chicago, Washington, Philly and Manhattan inside the city limits.”

Having a city with such a large footprint means that a comprehensive street repair program has certain challenges and takes time.

“Lots of people reasonably have hopes and dreams for certain amenities in Oklahoma City that just really don't work here unless you want to pay 10 times the taxes,” he says. “We're trying to create a more walkable lifestyle in the core of the city. But the perennial complaint has been streets. Because of the reality of how large we are, we've never had enough resources to keep up. So, hopefully, better streets makes a big difference.”

Although Oklahoma City passed the $800 million initiative, Mayor Holt said many people still aren’t aware of it. In addition to street repairs, the Better Streets, Safer Cities initiative also saw the addition of 420 new police officers.

Quality of Life

As Holt took office, the timing dictated that he would have to start the discussion for MAPS Four.

The MAPS projects are citizen-funded sales tax initiatives designed to improve the quality of life in the city.

The streets sales tax ends in March 2020, which means calling for a vote to continue the MAPS projects, keeping the sales tax the same by fall 2019. Agendas for the presentations about MAPS Four projects were released in June, and Mayor Holt says most of the projects are ideas the public has heard about already.

“I wanted these public meetings in July and August where the opportunity would be had for all the things to be presented to the public. Our citizens think MAPS Four is just for a stadium and state fair arena, but there's actually a whole lot more to it,” Mayor Holt says.

“It's really going to be focused on neighborhood needs and human needs to a great extent. That seems to be where the people's minds are at right now with issues like health and substance abuse and domestic violence and homelessness.”

Education and Diversity

Education is a concern for residents in Oklahoma City, and Mayor Holt says he plans to make that issue a priority in 2020.

“In our system, we divorced the city from the school district. In fact, we have 24 school districts in that 620 square miles I described earlier,” Mayor Holt says.

“I think that there's a lot of political capital that's held by city leadership to get the attention of the public and bring together the business community, the education leadership, the city leadership and the philanthropic leaders to come up with a unified vision moving forward for education. Education is definitely the thing of I'll be focused on in 2020.”

Another ongoing initiative for Holt is incorporating the diversity of the city into decision making.

“We are a city that's just transitioning in every way—demographically, generationally, politically. It is important for me to maintain the unity that we've had for so long. We have to manage that transition in a way that everybody feels like they have a seat at the table,” Mayor Holt says.

“We have had 36 mayors, and all 36 came from northwest Oklahoma City. They were 35 white males and one white female. But we have a lot more diversity in Oklahoma City.”

Holt says he can encourage more diversity on boards and commissions, focusing on ethnic, geographic, gender and age diversity to bring new voices into the conversation.

“I want to use my platform to expose people in Oklahoma City to all the things that make Oklahoma City interesting, special and diverse. As geographically large as Oklahoma City is, you can certainly live inside your bubble and be around people who have your own life experience. But there's a whole lot more now that the city offers, and we need to appreciate it,” Mayor Holt says.

What Lies Ahead for OKC

"Education is definitely the thing that I'll be focused on in 2020."

“It's really going to be focused on neighborhood needs and human needs to a great extent."

"We are a city that's just transitioning in every way—demographically, generationally, politically."

"There's a whole lot more now that the city offers, and we need to appreciate it."

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