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Notes on the Geography of Oklahoma: Norman in maps

A small collection of maps showing a century of growth in Norman, Oklahoma.

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Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 1

A U.S.G.S. topo sheet from 1893 shows the AT&SF railroad and the original townsite grid of two quarter-sections oriented to the track. It shows, on the south side, the first addition (the north half of the northeast quarter of section 31), along with small additions to the north. The streets of the southern addition remain oriented to the railroad, but the additions to the north set what would be the pattern for decades to come and are cardinally realigned to fit the public-land survey.

1890 population: 783.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 2

The plat of the original townsite, about as unimaginative as you can get, although tidy enough to please the most finicky. The blank corner at the northwest is, has always been, and remains a public park.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 3

Closeup, with the site of the railroad station (not yet built but with four tracks--three more than the surviving one) and a good view of the town's lot design: 20 feet wide, with alleys in back.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 4

Topo sheet from 1936, when the town had grown to about 10,000 people. The original grid is now wrapped north and south by new streets, but their extent is still very modest. The south half of town is dominated by the University of Oklahoma campus. An electric interurban line hugs the Santa Fe line toward Oklahoma City and by offering easy access to the big city will depress the development of Norman's downtown.

Census figures: 2,225 in 1900, 3,724 in 1910, 5004 in 1920, 9603 in 1930, and 11, 429 in 1940.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 5

Boom! Norman grew from from 11,000 in 1940 to 28,000 in 1950. This map is from a year later. The big changes are the North and South campuses. Both were built as naval air stations, which is why the north campus has an airport. (The south campus was for airplane mechanics and needed no airport.) The South Campus was reactivated during the Korean War but was finally abandoned in 1959. The city itself fits almost entirely with the four square miles centered on the original townsite. The bridge across the Canadian (bits of its foundation are still visible, long after the construction of I-35) was part of State Route 9, heading west across the state. Before the freeway, traffic to and from Fort Worth stayed on the east side of the river. (p)Census figures: 11,429 in 1940, 27,806 in 1950, and 33, 412 in 1960.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 6

Public history: along the railway track there's a plaque with a memorial map of North Base.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 7

And one of South Base.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 8

Topo sheet from 1965. Interstate 35 is complete, and subdivisions are working their way west toward it. A cloverleaf marks the crossing of Main Street, parts of which are still rural. The buildings on the military bases survive, though many are empty. The old bridge across the Canadian is gone, except for its foundations.

Census figures: 33,412 in 1960 and 52,117 in 1970.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 9

The east side of town is almost entirely rural. U.S. 77, the main north-south road before I-35, in intact but roadside business has been decimated by the interstate.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 10

The city's GIS division produces this map showing the area of Norman that was covered by subdivision plats in 1960. The map also shows streets as they existed shortly after 2000. The near-square block outlined northeast of the city's built-up area is Hall Park, an enclave incorporated in the 1960s but annexed by Norman in 2005. The city's great size, extending east to include Lake Thunderbird, goes back to the 1950s, when that lake was built partly to provide domestic water for Norman. The city was determined to control land-use around it.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 11

The biggest change between 1980 and 2000 was on the west side of the city, where work continued in the neighborhood called Brookhaven.

Census figures: 52,177 in 1970, 68,020 in 1980, 95,694 in 2000, and 122,180 (est.) in 2016. Now I know why I keep shaking my head at the traffic. I showed up in 1981, and Norman has almost doubled since then. Add in the students, who the census generally assigns to their parental home, and you've got busy streets.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 12

By 1980, scattered subdivisions existed almost everywhere except the far northwest, a flood-prone area. The east side had become a first-rate illustration of hopscotch sprawl.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 13

The city's land-use plan of 1997. Red is commercial, dominated by land along the freeway and section-road corners; downtown has shrunk to near insignificance. The dark green shows floodplains, chiefly on the Canadian River but also on the east-flowing Little River, Rock Creek, and Dave Blue Creek. Blue is institutional, dominated by the University, the old naval bases, and (on the east) the Griffin Memorial Hospital, a state-run mental-health facility. Yellow is low-density residential; brown is high-density. The serpentine street just west of the airport serves the University Town Center, a commercial area that was developed a decade after publication of this map.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 14

A watershed: the moment that Norman broke free from gridded subdividions. The diagram compares two hypothetical subdivisions, one gridded and the other laid out as blocks around open space. The diagram was intended to show developers they by abandoning the grid they could make more money while providing a greater amount of green space. The diagram wasn't as theoretical as it looks, either, because the diagram on the right was actually built as shown. The street on the north is Robinson; the one on the right is Flood. Lee Rogers, the planner, for many years headed the university's department of regional and city planning.

Oklahoma: Norman in maps picture 15

The same tract, as built. It's the Woodslawn Addition.

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