Driving north on Western Avenue, it's all too easy for your eyes to slide straight from the Sonic on the corner of N.W. 56th to Grand Boulevard, missing the miniscule neighborhood nestled directly in between. Meadowbrook Acres, at just six square blocks, is quirky, eclectic and, thanks to the dedication of its neighborhood association, staying put.
Rob Littlefield, president of the Meadowbrook Acres Neighborhood Association, discovered the tiny hamlet four years ago when moving from the Lakehurst neighborhood and instantly fell in love with Meadowbrook Acres' diversity.
Meadowbrook Acres, Littlefield said, began life in the Twenties as a cluster of weekend retreats for visitors to the Belle Isle lake and amusement park. In fact, he said, some neighbors still have old rowboats sitting in their backyards. The neighborhood also sat at the end of the Classen trolley line, helping to continue development. But, like most inner neighborhoods, the area started a slow decline in the Sixties and, Littlefield said, "this little pocket just sort of sat here."
That is, until a few years ago.
Now, this tiny neighborhood with soul is finding its place among the corporate giants that surround.
When Littlefield moved in, he quickly discovered that the neighborhood's western boundary, along Military Avenue, was owned by a single entity and feared the land would be turned over to development, encroaching further into the small neighborhood. He was especially concerned by the growing campus of nearby Chesapeake Energy Corp. Littlefield turned to city government for the tools to help preserve the neighborhood and get a neighborhood association up and running.
Kim Cooper-Hart, a planner within the Urban Redevelopment Division of the Oklahoma City Planning Department, began working with the neighborhood association just weeks after they formed.
"Urban growth influences can be overwhelming to smaller neighborhoods, especially when there are conflicting interests in shared spaces," Cooper-Hart said, adding that building trust helped to reach a creative solution.
"Most people," Littlefield said, "don't understand how hard their city government works for them."
One such advocate was found in Councilman Sam Bowman, representing Ward 2, who has a long history of working with neighborhood associations.
"I saw a neighborhood in the midst of Ward 2 that I wasn't familiar with that could easily fall under development plans," Bowman said, "I just knew it was time to dig in."
Littlefield, along with his fellow neighbors and Bowman, met with investors and representatives from Chesapeake " before the company had even purchased the property in question " to introduce themselves and open the lines of communication. From that first meeting, held in Littlefield's living room, the neighbors both corporate and residential found compromise.
"Over the (past) two years, there's been give and take between the city, this corporate giant and this small, bohemian neighborhood," Bowman said. "I've thought from the beginning that Chesapeake wanted to be a good neighbor."
"Our situation is so unique," Littlefield said. "We're small and surrounded by this gigantic force, but we recognize them as a neighbor, not an adversary."
The work Littlefield did to preserve his neighborhood did not go unnoticed. In 2007, he was awarded the Good Neighbor of the Year award by The Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization.
"This was just really and truly something Rob did because of a passion," said Georgie Rasco, executive director of The Neighborhood Alliance. "It wasn't anything he had to do, but he saw a need and really devoted his time and effort to help his neighborhood."
Littlefield, who pointed to Neighborhood Alliance as being profoundly responsible for helping get the neighborhood association going, said, "I only accepted that award with the whole neighborhood."
ORGANIZATION OF A NEIGHBORHOOD
Littlefield wholeheartedly believes that it is the organization of a neighborhood that is important, not just individuals. He said it doesn't matter about the amount of personal wealth; together, people can have an impact on resolving problems as long as they're organized. Instead of waking up with a giant on your doorstep, he said, get involved and get organized so you can be a part of the planning.
"I know the successes (the neighborhood association) has today would not have been possible without them being well organized," Cooper-Hart agreed.
Blending the old with the new, Littlefield said the neighborhood association is "not just about preserving, it's about neighbors becoming neighbors."
Looking toward the future, Littlefield said the association is in the process of meeting with other corporate neighbors to the east with a goal of creating a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that coexists with a pedestrian-friendly development. It has also recently joined the Western Avenue Association.
"To think," Bowman said, "to be able to walk to businesses along Western and then home. It'll be an ideal place to live."
"We're a neighborhood," Littlefield said, "we're cool and we're going to stay cool." "Jenny Coon Peterson