Deep study of sprawl holds lessons for Kansas City and suburbs

04/02/2014 3:47 PM

04/05/2014 5:48 PM

We’re better than the infamously sprawling Houston, but not nearly as compact and connected as most other metropolitan areas. And we pay the price.

Kansas City as a region ranked 178th out of the 221 major metropolitan areas analyzed by Smart Growth America for

a report released Wednesday


It is a massive database of numbers that might not mean a lot upon first glance. The rankings come from judging residential and employment density, where activity and downtowns are centered, street connectivity, and how land use is split among homes, jobs and services. Counties were also individually assessed.

The accompanying context is where Measuring Sprawl 2014 gains heft. Going beyond the initial measurements, the study also looks at how and where we live affect health, finances, people’s ability to climb the economic ladder and their overall quality of life.

More compact, connected areas correlate with the positive gains.

That might be counterintuitive to the families who move farther into the suburbs to find larger and newer homes, escape crime and gain access to high-quality public schools. The study pops some of that bubble by showing how high transportation costs and inactivity by being so car-centric affect things like fatal crash rates and overall health. Economic opportunities, the ability to be upwardly mobile, improve in less sprawling areas.

Virtually every local headline of late can be related to the research.

Kansas City’s board of education voted against selling Westport High School. The successful charter school Academie Lafayette wants to establish an International Baccalaureate high school in the old building, a fantastic reuse of the vacant property and a sure bet to attract families nearer to the core city.

Kansas City’s bid to host the GOP convention depends on an assessment of many factors, including how accessible amenities are to conventiongoers.

The Star’s recent look at crime statistics showed the vast majority of it is isolated in one area of Kansas City. Obviously, the data reflect where people chose to live and businesses invest.

Sprawl has become almost a slur. But it’s not inevitable. People can have options in lifestyle. Cities can manage growth. And studies like this can help by measuring costs and benefits.

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