Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Kansas City

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I have been spending a few days here visiting my daughter, who decided to go to school here. The KC Metro Area is home to about 2m people, so in terms of population it is about the same as Metro Vancouver. I cannot claim a great deal of knowledge about the place after two days, but some impressions are telling.

Kansas became a wealthy and important place because of the railways that concentrated on the crossing point of the Missouri. Cattle could stand about a days travel in a cattle car – so Kansas City was the point where the meat packing took place. It was also an important centre for grain. Union Station built in the early years of the last century is monumental – only New York’s Grand Central is bigger. Passenger rail is now a shadow of its former self, although light rail is going to be on the ballot in the Missouri city. The state line runs north south through the metro area.

The dominant mode is, of course, the car. Freeways carve up the landscape. There is a grid of arterials. And mostly low density residential, single use neighborhoods, which get much less dense as you get further from the centre. The roads get much faster and wider too, with large commercial centres that seem to be mostly parking lots. In the newer areas, you can easily navigate to fill your needs, since the locations of most services within these developments are uniform. There are, after all, only seven types of development recognised by Wall Street, and the layouts follow standard patterns. After all, they have been shown to work.

But perhaps this very predictability is what spurs the regeneration of inner city areas. There is much renovation and renewal, and most attempt to restore the vitality of the street. Though full pedestrianisation seems to be taboo.

Union Station

Union Station

Union Station has become an entertainment and visitor attraction,thanks to a temporary injection of funds from a local sales tax. The huge war memorial, built in the 1920s, has become a national museum for World War 1 and is worth the journey here in itself. It is not as you might expect jingostic or slanted toward the US role. It is very objective and historically accurate, and a fascinating insight into how the war both impacted individuals and changed the world.

WW1 Museum

WW1 Museum

The great draw is the creation of a shopping and dining area near the major hospitals. The Country Club Plaza is designed to look like Seville, KC’s twin city in Spain.

The Country Club Plaza

The Country Club Plaza

And everywhere fountains and sculpture create focal points.

Very interesting

Written by Stephen Rees

October 17, 2008 at 6:51 am

Posted in Urban Planning

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