Kansas City is a city of neighborhoods. In fact, unlike many other major cities, Kansas City offers a multitude of interesting choices, from older ethnic neighborhoods like Columbus Park, to the stately homes in midtown and Santa Fe, to the newer suburban areas on the city’s north, east and south borders.
For metro area residents who may have heard sweeping negative stereotypes about Kansas City neighborhoods, this series should open your eyes about the many great things going on in these vibrant communities.
Because many KC neighborhoods were developed prior to World War II -- more than 30 percent of KC’s housing stock was built prior to the war -- they were constructed by craftsmen on a convenient grid system, with beautiful parks and boulevards that have added value to Kansas City homes despite other surrounding areas of economic neglect. Urban neighborhoods provide diversity in housing type, size and character that is only recently becoming desirable again and is even being duplicated in newer suburban developments.
The Star developed a clear methodology for defining, quantifying and comparing like neighborhoods and avoided the usual attempt to concentrate on negatives and rank dissimilar areas. The grouping of neighborhoods into 42 geographic clusters allowed for a manageable comparison of ages, styles and activity in like areas. They also used two sets of data, one for developing a report card to be used in future years, and the other for comparing neighborhood clusters. This data was most interesting in its identification of 34 quality-of-life measures, grouped into nine categories.
The measures chosen were descriptive of the factors that can be collected, quantified and compared -- but like most statistics, they do not always convey the true fabric of each neighborhood and the intangible reasons residents are attracted to them.
For example, in describing a community, can litter index scores, location of historic properties and property values clearly describe or compare one neighborhood to another? Or is it neighbors solving code enforcement issues with hands-on help for the elderly in Gracemor and Hickman Mills, Halloween parades in old Northeast, porch light programs in Ivanhoe, and shopping you can walk or bike to in Brookside?
There are complex issues that all neighborhoods, new and old, struggle to address. The question of what people value in their neighborhood, what attracts them and what makes them stay cannot be measured only by statistics. That said, The Star managed to get to the heart of describing neighborhoods by looking at their successes, talking with their leaders and recognizing what they have been doing right. The statistics and an interest in Kansas City’s neighborhoods directed The Star, and will lead readers, to many surprises about Kansas City’s neighborhoods.
The city and civic community should also view this series as reinforcement on how Kansas City has been addressing the issues of balancing neighborhood reinvestment and new development in a city of 317 square miles.
In the city’s comprehensive master plan, FOCUS KC, the city recognized that neighborhoods are inherently different and need different strategies to stay healthy. The city continues to adhere to high standards in building strong quality neighborhoods with unique characteristics in all areas, north and south.
The Ivanhoe-Paseo Corridor cluster of neighborhoods has shown the value of civic, government and community partnership to keep it healthy. Surprising, but maybe not unexpected, was the emergence of downtown as a cluster of neighborhoods doing well. The Northland has blended new and old to establish quality neighborhoods.
What the series does best is highlight the diversity of neighborhoods and the care it takes to keep them strong in a vibrant city.Urban experts Vicki Noteis is an architect, urban planner and former director of city planning and development for Kansas City. Bob Collins is an economist, planner, instructor in public policy at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and former city manager of Kansas City. During their tenure at City Hall, they implemented the Neighborhood Self-Assessment Program, in which more than 300 neighborhoods analyzed their own strengths and opportunities and developed plans for implementing improvement strategies in partnership with the city. Noteis and Collins are the founding partners of Collins Noteis Associates, a Kansas City consulting firm in community planning, development, governmental management and public policy.