Take a problem that everyone is familiar with and reshape it.
Suburban sprawl has contributed to the decline of cities, and if left unabated it will continue to threaten metropolitan areas, affecting the livability of both urban and suburban neighborhoods.
How to frame a more positive conversation around such a complicated and too-often divisive issue is a problem for cities nationwide. It’s also been the project for 11 seniors in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Urban Planning and Design Studio IV, through UMKC’s Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design.
Specifically, they took on Kansas City’s estimated 4,000 to 5,000 vacant lots. But they shifted the focus — less emphasis on past mistakes except to understand context, and more on better planning and design for the future.
“With big challenges like this, if it is just framed as a problem, then people want to figure out what is the quick fix,” said Jacob Wagner, associate professor of urban planning and design. Wagner is also a part of Kansas City’s Vacant Lot Task Force, a group that began meeting last year.
On Monday the students will present some of their findings from 3 to 5 p.m. in Room 101 of Katz Hall, 5005 Rockhill Road.
The correlation between highways and vacant lots will be one focus. The students found that 62 percent of the vacant lots studied were within a half-mile of a major highway, said Karie Kneller, one of the UMKC students.
Highways often “fueled inner-city decline and facilitated urban sprawl at the same time,” noted Wagner.
Thinking of vacant parcels of land as assets, not as blight, can help spur future growth, specifically rebuilding for higher density through multifamily housing.
Another area the students studied was the fast rate of demolitions within the past decade in Kansas City, Kneller said. But there didn’t seem to be a corresponding plan for rebuilding where things were being torn down. Those spaces can now be looked at to create the kind of density that will be needed to support urban transit.
Kneller spent her childhood in Harrisonville, her high school years in Brookside and now lives in southern Overland Park. She hopes to move her family closer to the city. She notes that people often move where their dollars and needs dictate. But they don’t always wind up with livable, affordable communities that can be sustained for generations.