There's no question that Norman has the sort of momentum that most cities covet. One of the most visible ways it's manifested itself is landing on lists compiled by national publications.
But Norman leaders got one of their bigger surprises last fall when the city was named to the 2009 edition of "11 Great Places You've (Maybe) Never Heard Of" by Mother Earth News in its October/November edition.
Norman had somehow already garnered the magazine's interest when long-time Norman resident Kara Joy McKee got a call in August 2009.
"'I've got Norman on the short list,'" a Mother Earth News reporter related to a surprised McKee. "So I gave him a list of things I thought were great about Norman and a list of people who are making a difference here," she said.
Those included community gardens that are increasing around the city, the "food not lawns" program, entertainment venues, the Norman Music Festival, the city and the University of Oklahoma's efforts at sustainability. Plus there's the Norman Sustainability Network, a group McKee helped to establish.
That an Oklahoma town would be recognized for its efforts to be environmentally responsible surprised some people. More often, those kinds of kudos go to cities on the coasts or in more granola-type burgs than a college town sans mountains or coastline.
That belies Norman's progressive efforts on the part of OU and the city to make significant strides to decrease their footprints, with the city and university constructing LEED-certified buildings and closely examining opportunities to save energy at every opportunity, whether it's retrofitting buildings or efforts to make Norman more bicycle-friendly.
Criteria for landing on the Mother Earth list was unscientific, but insightful.
"We toss out ideas, talk to friends, interview locals " all in search of communities that can inspire all of us, whether we ever visit them or not," Mother Earth News reporter Joe Hart wrote in the article accompanying the list. "A cadre of dedicated citizens with creative ideas and the energy to implement them; a progressive government willing to meet them halfway; opportunities to get close to nature; arts and cultural programs to feed the soul; a desire to meet the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy " these are all components of greatness."
Mother Earth News was one of several lists the city or university has landed on in the past few years.
In 2008, Norman was named No. 6 on the CNN/Money magazine's "Best Places to Live" for small cities. And only last month, Forbes recognized Norman as No. 3 on its list of "Top College Sports Towns" for not only for being a fun place on game day, but for its quality of life.
Add that to OU being recognized by several national publications. The Princeton Review named OU as one of its "Best Value" colleges. PC Magazine and The Princeton Review recognized OU as one of the "20 Most Wired Colleges" in 2006 and 2008.
OU even offers eco-friendly, biodegradable gowns to its graduates.
Stephen Koranda, executive director of the Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the lists aren't the top thing that draw new residents or businesses to locate in Norman.
"Education is by far the No. 1 and friendliness of the business community," Koranda said.
Koranda had this to say to The Norman Transcript: "Anytime you can get the two words 'Norman, Oklahoma' in a national publication, there's value." "Carol Cole-Frowe
Seeing an unmet need, Patrick J. McCann, the George Lynn Cross Research Professor at the University of Oklahoma's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is taking the lead on new technology to convert heat into electrical power.
Phononic Devices, a company McCann co-founded, is in the field of heat-to-electric energy conversion. It was one of 37 grant recipients to research clean energy technologies, with OU as a subcontractor in the research process on materials development.
"The amount of energy that this technology will ultimately produce, the amount of clean energy will be comparable and maybe greater than the amount of energy produced by wind and solar energy combined," McCann said. "Waste heat is what it is: waste. We are just wasting energy by having all this heat that radiates into the atmosphere. If we can just harvest some of that energy, even 10 or 15 percent of it, we will be able to produce just as much if not more than wind and solar."
Phononic Devices received a $3 million grant from the Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), allowing for further development and commercialization of this waste heat conversion technology.
McCann said while most of the research is being conducted at OU, other subcontractors in California are also working with Phononic Devices: the University of California Santa Cruz will focus on modeling and software development and the California Institute of Technology will do testing and validation.
With everything on schedule and in budget, McCann said the plan for a prototype product will be available in two years.
"It is an exciting project," he said, "and it is a real opportunity for Oklahoma to be a player in this new, emerging high technology materials tech work."
photo Patrick J. McCann photo/Shannon Cornman
'Great Places You've (Maybe) Never Heard Of' from Mother Earth News
1. Lanesboro, Minn.
2. Bonners Ferry, Idaho
3. Rock Port, Mo.
4. Silver City, N.M.
5. Cornwall, Conn.
6. Sylva, N.C.
7. Oakland, Calif.
8. Walla Walla, Wash.
9. Carbondale, Ill.
10. Mountain View, Ark.