More than 650 Overland Park residents spent Tuesday night envisioning how their city can become a great destination, distinct from Kansas City, 20 years from now.
So, they were asked, what would their choice description be, two decades hence? Participants wrote out the headlines they would like to see.
Some examples. Overland Park: Portland of the Prairie. Overland Park: Chosen for Tesla factory.
And perhaps the most audacious: Overland Park to Host Olympics in 2038.
“Now that’s big,” City Manager Bill Ebel said with a smile when he saw that idea on a big white board.
Probably not practical. But it’s the kind of bold thinking that city leaders were hoping for when they hosted a huge public gathering at the Overland Park Convention Center as part of the ForwardOP Imagine Tomorrow planning for the future of Overland Park, the metro area’s second largest city and the 125th largest city in the U.S.
“It’s an aspirational process of thinking about what we want to become,” said Overland Park Planning and Development Director Jack Messer, who kicked off Tuesday night’s meeting.
Overland Park has done lots of strategic planning, including Vision Metcalf in 2008. But this is the largest citywide visioning effort in recent memory, Messer said. It grew out of a City Council and civic leader retreat in October 2016, where participants agreed it was time to ask citizens for a plan and direction to propel the city forward in the next two decades.
The planning is costing about $185,000, with help from consultants Planning NEXT of Columbus, Ohio.
Most participants at the event said they want to build on what already makes Overland Park a great place to live: promoting world-class schools focused on science and technology training; growing strong neighborhoods and parks; and creating a more walkable, progressive, entertaining and culturally-rich environment.
“I’m hoping we have a place where we can have cultural diversity, and opportunities for people across income levels to live and work,” said Carol Cartmill, a 20-year resident who said she wants a city “where everyone feels welcome.”
Thomas Stroud, who has lived in Overland Park since the 1990s, said he wants a city where people can “age in place,” with walkable, mixed-use communities where seniors can thrive along with families with kids.
“Keep the charm,” advised David Miller, who moved to Overland Park eight months ago from Lenexa. He wants Overland Park to have its own identity and be an attractive destination alongside Kansas City.
Jack O’Neill, 15, a sophomore at Blue Valley High, said he would like the city to focus on more resources for families, including mental health services in the wake of several recent teen suicides. His friend Megan Mabry, 16, a junior at Blue Valley Southwest, called for more fun activities for families and young people.
“It’s a long drive to Worlds of Fun,” she said.
Some residents, like Linda Harbourne, voiced concerns about all the new building in Overland Park, including more dense, high-rise buildings. She doesn’t want huge population growth and wants the city to retain plenty of green space.
“How much more of an urban center do we want it to become?” she asked, saying she doesn’t want to go in that direction. “I’d like to see buildings remain on the lower side.”
Some skeptics may wonder whether these visioning exercises ever result in anything concrete. But a similar planning effort in Lenexa in 1997 called for the establishment of a major “city center.” That came to fruition last year with the $75 million Lenexa City Center, including a new City Hall, a recreation center and a public market, in the vicinty of 87th Street Parkway and Renner Road, according to Lenexa Community Development Director Beccy Yocham.
Money Magazine recently named Lenexa the best place to live in Kansas, in part because of that new civic center place.
The keynote speaker for Tuesday night’s workshop, Peter Kageyama, is the former president of Creative Tampa Bay and known for the books “For the Love of Cities” and “Love Where You Live.”
Kageyama focused his rapid-fire, energetic comments not on urban planning strategies or zoning trends but on the need for citizens to get involved in creative ways to move Overland Park forward.
“ ‘Where’s the fun’ is a great question to ask,” he told the crowd. “Play is important.”
Kageyama gave the example of Grand Rapids, Mich., where citizens created a giant street party and viral video to counteract a negative national image of a dying city. A pocket park in Portland and a giant blue bear in Denver have helped transform and highlight key city venues, he said.
Kageyama cited the Overland Park Farmers’ Market, the InterUrban Arthouse, and the city’s infatuation with gnomes as the kind of funky, creative programs that foster a unique sense of place that people can love.
Yes, there can be a cost to all this creative work, he said, but he cautioned against being bureaucratic budget hawks who say “no” to innovative solutions.
“Things have a value beyond financial,” he said. “Let’s talk about the cost of boring.”
Messer said people who couldn’t attend Tuesday night can offer their ideas and insights at www.forwardop.org. The ideas from Tuesday night will be compiled and an update will be provided in April, with more chances for public input. A final document is expected in August or September with goals and objectives to pursue.