Walking the Walk


Urban design from the front lines

Kevin Klinkenberg

Using urban design to make our lives more enjoyable and create wealth

This site is for all those interested in the making of cities and towns, and especially the lives of the humans that inhabit them. Kevin Klinkenberg is an architect and urban designer who's practiced from coast-to-coast. 

Love Letters to Kansas City, April 4, 2014

Dear City of Two Big Rivers,

I know - I need to write more often. Life just gets so busy, doesn't it? It's far too easy to let people slip out of your life, and I don't think we should let that happen. After all, don't we mean a lot to each other?

BTW - I hear you've had a rough winter with a lot of snow and ice. My condolences. It's been so cold down here in Savannah that it even got into the 20's one night. I almost had to break out gloves, so I can totally sympathize.

At any rate, you know I follow what's going on with you, don't you? The Internets are great for that sort of thing - you can't keep your secrets from me.

I was most interested to read about the debates recently to extend the streetcar system. Oh, those halcyon days where we used to debate such things, struggle with Clay's goofy ideas and try to convince northlanders to vote for an overly-grand plan. Those were indeed the days!

I see now that at long last you're making real progress; tracks will even be laid this year downtown. Huzzah! It warms my heart.

But now all this conflict over taking it further - I can't help but give you my advice. You know me, I just can't shut up, and I feel the need to always make sure you're set on the right path. Just remember: tough love is still love. 

But in this case darlin', I think you got one right. It's just far too soon to extend a streetcar line all the way down to those handful of shops, bars and restaurants in Brookside (let alone those animals in Waldo). Bless your heart, as they say here down South, you've made a good choice.

Look at all the houses!

Look at all the houses!

You see, while I do love me some Brookside and Waldo, the reality is that they are the suburbs of KCMO. Granted, they're very nice suburbs (and what our predecessors should have kept building instead of the garbage further south and west), but suburbs no less. What are there, something like three apartment buildings south of 52nd Street? Heck, 51st Street to 75th Street is a distance of 3 miles, with nearly all single-family houses. That's a one hour journey on foot! If memory serves (and hey, memory is the first thing to go), that's about the same length as the whole streetcar extension from Crossroads to the Plaza.

These kinds of things cost a lot of money, and you know how I feel about that: you need to do a better job of taking care of your pocketbook. Those fools that spend $600 million on one freeway interchange to save one minute of time (without ever consulting their taxpaying citizens) will have it all come home to roost one day, mark my words. That kind of profligacy just can't last. You can be smarter and build for the future, like our parents always said.

Look, I know that might disappoint some part of you to hear me say it. After all, it's fun to build stuff and drawing train lines on a map is even more fun. Have you seen the game Mini Metro yet? Talk about a time suck. But anyway... I think that yes, one day it will make sense for you to take those rail lines and extend them further. It just will take some maturation that Brookside & Waldo aren't really ready for yet. As soon as the good people there are willing to upzone land along Brookside Boulevard, Wornall and in some other areas AND to modify those streets to be less favorable to speeding middle-age hipsters (guilty), then it'll be time. 

Because, like so much of your territory, you're just not dense enough to justify laying new rail tracks. Only those parts of you that are willing to accept them and the change that needs to happen to support them financially should get on board (I know how you hate my puns).

Don't feel too bad for everyone south of 51st Street, though. They can still build on what they have (which is pretty darn good) and try and make everything down at least to 85th Street a cyclist's paradise. A couple of protected bike lanes would be great, and probably as popular as that Trolley Track Trail. Bike sharing makes a lot of sense, and I hope it makes it way down there. It's cheap, it's fun, and it's safe with good design. Plus, it's good for your health. Heck, you can even ride a bike to the streetcar ending point - they work so well together.

You know that old adage don't you: get some success under your belt first, and then build on it. Rome wasn't built in a day. The tortoise beats the hair. All that stuff. I think the new plan makes great sense for you, and sure hope you have the wisdom to get it passed this year.

So yes, KC, I think you've made a smart decision. It's really about time: people have ben talking you know. 

Your loving friend,

Kevin

 
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