Parks We Love: The Gathering Place in Tulsa, designed with unity in mind

“A Park for Everyone” is the catchphrase of the Gathering Place, a beautiful 66.5-acre waterfront park situated along the Arkansas River in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  

Originally conceived by billionaire philanthropist George Kaiser to transform a "a flat, windblown and sun-baked site” into a welcoming and vibrant destination, construction began in 2014 with the support of local businesses, individuals and foundations—including more than 80 corporate and philanthropic organizations.  

The park officially opened to the public in September 2018, with more than 55,000 attending the grand opening weekend and a reported 300,000 visiting in the first month.  

“We remain consistent in our mission," explains the park’s website, “that we all become united in our love for our community. Relatives, close friends, neighbors, we are all family. We are united from every zip code, from the city to the suburbs, from the river to the hills, from the north to the south, from the west to the east. Gathering Place is the ultimate expression of Tulsa’s spirit of unity. A place for everyone.” 

Today the park’s offerings take the form of diverse playspaces including a sensory garden for STEM learning; sports courts, tracks and trails; dining options; and a host of free, diverse public programming that take advantage of the park’s many features. These elements are surrounded by lush landscape prioritizing the waterfront’s natural setting. 

The park is managed by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and was designed by world-renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The design process incorporated community input, and the vast space works to bring unity to a place with a divisive, and sometimes violent, history.  

“Tulsa has a long history of social inequality,” Van Valkenburgh observed in an August 2018 interview with The New York Times. “There’s hardly a better way to bring people together than in a democratic space like a park.” 

Popular with both residents and tourists, the park was voted “Best New Attraction” by USA Today in 2018, and was among the world’s 19 finalists for the Urban Land Institute’s 2019 Global Awards for Excellence competition. In making its award USA Today cited the park’s inclusivity, diverse attractions, and numerous plantings—among them, more than 80 tree species—as being among the features that earned it the honor. 

Today the diverse community programming, stunning design, and community-oriented planning process are all points for other cities and organizations to admire, and take note of, when developing future world-class parks.

In an interview with local TV station News on 6, Gathering Place Executive Director Tony Moore summed up what makes the space such a success; 

"It's a park for everyone. Everyone is welcome regardless of age, race, social economic, zip codes, this is Tulsa's Park, this is Oklahoma's Park and now this is America's Park." 


About this series: The Trustees’ One Waterfront initiative is a bold, new vision for establishing a resilient urban waterfront. Yes, the vision is big, and new for Boston, but we have the benefit of following in the footsteps of those who have paved the way. Many waterfront parks designed for climate resilience have emerged over the past few decades all along the world’s coastlines and are models to emulate and learn from. The lessons learned from these pioneering open spaces—in science, design, and beyond—have and will continue to provide The Trustees and our partners with an expansive knowledge base for planning practices as we progress toward our vision for iconic, public open spaces on the Boston Waterfront.  Click here to see past posts in our ‘Parks We Love’ series.

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