On Jan. 18 at a meeting organized by EPC Real Estate, West Side residents discussed a new development at 17th Street and Madison Avenue, where an abandoned warehouse sits.
EPC has planned a mixed-use project, 60 units, four townhouses, and commercial space. Although most buildings in the West Side are two stories, this one is four. The most challenging (and expensive) part of the project is digging down for a two-story parking garage, which may not create enough spaces to avoid on-street parking congestion. This, in addition to the transformation of the vacant school at 20th and Summit streets into upscale apartments, will add a significant number of people to our neighborhood.
I’m new to the West Side, without the roots many residents have, and I’m not a homeowner. But these projects threaten to destroy the West Side’s unique spirit, cultivated over time. Although designers claim integration, these buildings attempt to remake the West Side and may set us on a trajectory we can’t stop.
The meeting was at Los Alamos Market, an inexpensive grocery at the top of Summit Street. And that’s the first thing to know about the West Side — its economic and cultural diversity.
At the top of Summit Street are boutiques and a variety of eateries, several serving higher-end customers. Homes from the 1800s and 1900s sit next to modern ones, boxy and eco-friendly. Summit Street, surrounding blocks and Southwest Boulevard, with its hole-in-the-wall staples, are the West Side, too. Many of the homes have belonged to working-class families for generations. Some lots are abandoned, though probably not for long.
Recently, a neighbor who was selling his house told me that before he’d even listed it, a lawyer from one of the coasts had already made an offer.
The architectural mix and diverse population make the neighborhood creative and alive. And despite being in the middle of Kansas City, it feels like a real neighborhood. The streets are quiet and shaded. I take long walks. I know my neighbors. I love this about the West Side. And that’s what we’re afraid of losing.
Longtime residents say property values have been driven up. Although I’m not sure anyone has been misplaced — the working-class families and my low-rent apartment lead me to believe they haven’t. It seems the gradual and natural growth from new homes and businesses has brought energy without driving out history or families — yet.
But perhaps there’s a threshold for development.
I have friends on the top of the hill, and the businesses there are my favorites. But I also know the working-class families have been here the longest. They’re my neighbors. On the boulevard, I speak Spanish to buy food. The community garden and library, both places I volunteer, are where these two worlds intersect.
At the meeting, everyone showed up: white and Hispanic people, working-class families, millennials with and without kids, business owners and artists. A Hispanic man, who looked to be in his 80s, said nothing; I wanted to hear from him about how much the neighborhood has already changed.
Perhaps this sits uncomfortably with residents because the West Side is naturally a mixed-use space, a better one than the development promises. Just as the homes are eclectic, the people are diverse, living and working together, especially in this one important thing: keeping the West Side a neighborhood in the truest possible sense.
After only two years, I love this neighborhood, and I don’t think we need a fabricated version of what we already have.