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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

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Oklahoma City is the capital and the largest city in the state of Oklahoma. The county seat of Oklahoma County, the city ranks 31st among United States cities in population. The city's population, from the 2010 census, was 580,000.

Oklahoma City's city limits extend into Canadian, Cleveland, and Pottawatomie counties, though much of those areas are suburban. The city ranks as the eighth-largest city in the United States by land area (including consolidated city-counties; it is the largest city in the United States by land area whose government is not consolidated with that of a county).

Oklahoma City features one of the top livestock markets in the world. Oil, natural gas, and petroleum products are major components of the economy (the ity is situated in the middle of an active oil field and oil derricks dot the capitol grounds). The federal government employs many at the Tinker Air Force Base and the United States Department of Transportation's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. (These two sites house several offices of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department's Enterprise Service Center, respectively.)

The city was founded during the Land Run of 1889, and grew to a population of over 10,000 within hours of its founding. The city was the scene of the April 19, 1995 bombing attack of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in which 168 people lost their lives. It was the worst terror attack in the history of the United States before the attacks of September 11, 2001, and remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

Oklahoma City lies along one of the primary travel corridors into Texas and Mexico, and is just hours by car to the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. Located in the Frontier Country region of the state, the city's northeast section lies in an ecological region known as the Cross Timbers. Since the time weather records have been kept, Oklahoma City has been struck by nine strong tornadoes, eight (E)-F4's and one F5. On May 3, 1999 parts of southern Oklahoma City and nearby communities suffered one of the most powerful tornadoes on record, an F-5 on the Fujita Scale, with wind speeds topping 318 mph. This tornado was part of the 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak.

By the time Oklahoma was admitted to the Union in 1907, Oklahoma City had surpassed Guthrie, the territorial capital, as the population center and commercial hub of the new state. Soon after, the capital was moved from Guthrie to Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City was a major stop on Route 66 during the early part of the 20th century; it was prominently mentioned in Bobby Troup's 1946 jazz classic, "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66", later made famous by Nat King Cole.

Oklahoma City was home to several pioneers in radio and television broadcasting. Oklahoma City's WKY Radio was the first radio station transmitting west of the Mississippi River and the third radio station in the United States. WKY received its federal license in 1921 and has continually broadcast under the same call letters since 1922. In 1928, WKY was purchased by E.K. Gaylord's Oklahoma Publishing Company and affiliated with NBC; in 1949, WKY-TV went on the air and became the first independently-owned television station in the U.S. to broadcast in color.

Before World War II, Oklahoma City developed major stockyards, attracting jobs and revenue formerly in Chicago and Omaha. With the 1928 discovery of oil within the city limits (including under the State Capitol), it became a center of oil production. Post-war growth accompanied the construction of the Interstate Highway System, which made Oklahoma City a major interchange as the convergence of I-35, I-40 and I-44. It was also aided by federal development of Tinker Air Force Base.

As with many other American cities, center city population declined in the 1970s and 80s as families followed newly constructed highways to move to newer housing in nearby suburbs. Urban renewal projects in the 1970s, including the Pei Plan (Oklahoma City), removed many older historic structures but failed to spark much new development, leaving the city dotted with vacant lots used for parking.

A notable exception was the city's construction of the Myriad Gardens and Crystal Bridge, a botanical garden and modernistic conservatory in the heart of downtown. Architecturally significant historic buildings lost to clearances were the Criterion Theater, the Baum Building, the Hales Building, and the Biltmore Hotel.

In 1993, the city passed a massive redevelopment package known as the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS), intended to rebuild the city's core with civic projects to establish more activities and life to downtown. The city added a new baseball park; central library; renovations to the civic center, convention center and fairgrounds; and a water canal in the Bricktown entertainment district. Water taxis transport passengers within the district, adding color and activity along the canal. MAPS has become one of the most successful public-private partnerships undertaken in the U.S., exceeding $3 billion in investments. As a result of MAPS, the population living in downtown housing has greatly increased, together with demand for residential amenities, such as grocery, services and other retail stores.

Since the MAPS projects' completion, the downtown area has seen continued development. Several downtown buildings are undergoing renovation/restoration. Notable among these was the restoration of the Skirvin Hotel in 2007. The famed First National Center is being renovated.

Residents of Oklahoma City suffered substantial losses on April 19, 1995 when Timothy McVeigh set off a bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building. The building was destroyed, more than 100 nearby buildings suffered severe damage, and 168 people were killed. The site has been commemorated as the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. Since its opening in 2000, over 3 million people have visited. Every year on April 19, survivors, families and friends return to the memorial to read the names of each person lost.

The "Core-to-Shore" project was created to relocate I-40 one mile south and replace it with a boulevard to create a landscaped entrance to the city. This also allows the central portion of the city to expand south and connect with the shore of the Oklahoma River. Several elements of "Core to Shore" were included in the MAPS 3 proposal approved by voters in late 2009.

I have many fond memories of the Oklahoma City area. I was reassigned from Anchorage, Alaska to Tinker Air Force Base (outside OKC) many years ago. My older son, Tim, was born during this tour of duty in Oklahoma. My second assignment to the area was when I was reassigned from Frankfurt, Germany.

I am impressed with the growth of the area in spite of the economy. City leaders spent millions of dollars revitalizing the downtown area. The investment has paid off with countless restaurants, museums, and other tourist interests. I have gone back to the area many times since my Air Force assignment there. I am always pleased to find something new and exciting to do in the area each time I return.

If you plan to visit the Oklahoma City area, plan to spend a few days. There are so many museums and sights to see, you will be hard pressed if you do not plan ahead.

Oklahoma City Tour