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Gathering in the glow

Tulsa’s premier park on a sunny winter weekend

Just over 100 days since its Sept. 8 grand opening, Gathering Place has become an essential part of life in Tulsa. A leading contender for USA Today’s best new attraction in the United States, the $465 million dollar park has ushered the city into a definitive new moment—a phenomenon without precedent in local, state, or national history. The general consensus seems to be that it’s way cooler than anyone

It’s something we are exploring as a community, and not just the figurative sense. We are literally exploring the premises, mapping it out, trying to find all the different ways to play in it.

On any given weekend, when the weather is nice, you’ll find Tulsa at Gathering Place. Many of us would live here if we could. (Some of us are probably looking into the feasibility of making pillow fort in the top of one of the castle towers, and commuting to work on a Lime scooter.)

A year ago, Tulsa was a great city. Today, due in no small part to the sense of excitement and awe surrounding Gathering Place, it’s is one of the most exciting places in the country to live. This one-of-a-kind public space offers us a brightly-colored rope ladder up to a quantum leap in the process of becoming.

The park’s fall launch was a huge success, but how is this place being used as temperatures drop? How readily is Tulsa adopting this experiment and seeing it through the seasons? How are families reacting?

We set out on a sunny winter weekend to find answers to these questions—to find images that reveal what we can’t put down in words about this great experiment in play, and to talk to the ones exploring Tulsa’s new frontier.

“Oh, she loves this,” says Jillian, who translates her one-year-old daughter Annabella’s baby talk. The tiny human is transfixed with the mirror maze, weaving in and out, gazing all around at the reflected versions of herself with boundless wonder on her very first visit to Gathering Place. Her shoes’ squeaky soles emit teeny chirps when they touch the ground. “She thinks it’s the best thing. She purposefully stomps them.”

After a stroll through the park looking at Christmas lights, a family from Broken Arrow finds themselves standing smack in the center of Mark Dion’s “Cabinet of Wonder” exhibit. Rebekah’s eyes scan the interior of the room, a carefully-stacked and assembled collection of artifacts and oddities that climb the curved walls. Adorned in this peculiar way, the walls seem endlessly tall. “It’s pretty cool,” she says, taking it all in, as her children point out objects that catch their attention.

Olivianna drove in from Shawnee yesterday, and this afternoon she’s hanging out with a group of friends on her first visit to Gathering Place. We spotted her on the dock, snapping an action shot of her friend Emily from Owasso. Like everyone else we spoke to, Olivianna is impressed by the abundance and variety of experiences the park holds. “Oh my gosh!” she exclaims. “There’s fun, and there’s activity, but it’s all through, like, art and architecture.” “And it’s just fun to be together,” Emily chimes in, referring to the group. “Aww,” sighs Olivianna, who just cannot handle the cuteness of her friend in this moment.

Finally: a free afternoon and good weather at the same time. Grad student, volunteer, and full-time social worker Stephanie is spending it soaking in the sun and cutting up the trails on her bike. “I’ve been planning for forever to come out here,” she says. Downtime is a rare, prized commodity for Stephanie. Patience and determination glow within her smile.

The setting sun casts longer and longer shadows over the 21-year old Tulsa natives, all college students. Two of them are home for the holidays, so they’ve all assembled at Gathering Place this afternoon to skateboard, shoot hoops, and mercilessly rip on each other. “That one over there in the white shirt, he’s 16,” cracks one of the bros as they introduce each other to us. The insistent thump of basketballs sound-off like war drums from the adjacent courts.

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