This decade, downtown has been re-energized with lofts, apartments and art galleries. The Country Club Plaza is booming with new high-rises. Midtown home prices have skyrocketed.
So here, in the section often considered the heart of the city, with the most history, charm and things to do, which neighborhood came out tops in The Kansas City Star’s quality-of-life analysis?
Well, of course, Brookside.
Yes, it’s charming, safe, well-kept, stable and revered — the very symbol of the best traditional neighborhoods in Kansas City.
But there’s something more, too: It knows how to party.
In a neighborly sense, naturally.
The Star researched and measured the most livable residential areas in the city. We compared clusters of neighborhoods in almost three dozen quality-of-life statistics. And street parties were one of those, an indicator of neighborliness.
It’s one reason Brookside neighborhoods stood out from downtown’s renaissance, the Plaza’s chic, Hyde Park’s architecture and Waldo’s coziness.
Here’s how we compared these places:
Individual neighborhoods are too small to compare statistically, so we grouped them into clusters. Then we broke up the city into six “sections” and compared the clusters within those sections.
This week, we are profiling one section each day, and the top-performing cluster in it. Today’s section is the Southwest Corridor, along the state line from the Missouri River to 85th Street, and the top performer is Brookside.
Within the Southwest Corridor, Brookside had the most block parties over a recent two-year period. Actually, it also had more than any other neighborhood cluster in the entire city.
What, you might ask, does that have to do with anything?
Well, come along and drop in on one.
It’s a Saturday evening in the fall. As jagged sunlight flickers through towering oak trees, homeowners in a stretch of East 69th Terrace set up cone barricades at both ends of the block and begin gathering in the middle.
Here comes Tom Hilton, setting down some chips and wine on the folding table in the street. The block is so tight — the Tudor-style homes are barely 20 feet apart — that Hilton’s neighbors can tell what music he practices on his Steinway grand piano.
“I liked that Sunday morning when you played the entire score of ‘Oklahoma,’ ” says Don Beggs, who lives catercorner across the street.
It was Hilton who, while doing yard work one day, happened to tell another neighbor that the street once had block parties, and that set in motion their resurrection a couple of years ago.
“It’s important to know more of your neighbors,” Hilton says.
“Yeah,” Beggs chimes in, “the more people who get to know each other, the more they look out for each other.”
In rating neighborhoods, The Star grouped six clusters of neighborhoods in the Southwest Corridor. They are:
Downtown, with its formerly empty office buildings converted to lofts; Midtown West, with its stone houses in places like Coleman Highlands; Midtown East, with Hyde Park’s three-story homes; the Plaza, with its cosmopolitan urbanity; Brookside, with its old-fashioned, street-side shopping district lined with colorful awnings; and Waldo, which is so close-knit it has its own “mayor.”
This is the entertainment, retail, cultural and historical center of the city. Four of these neighborhood clusters, led by downtown, ranked 1 through 4 citywide in recreation and cultural amenities, from skate parks to libraries. And five of these clusters, led by the Plaza, ranked in the top 10 citywide in retail services per capita.
Residents in the Southwest Corridor openly state an obligation to support urban businesses — whether a big-box store like Costco or a homey needlepoint shop — instead of driving to the suburbs.
“They vote with their dollars,” said Diane Burnette, executive director of MainCor, which promotes businesses along Main Street in midtown. “If they want services here, they need to shop here. It’s a commitment to want to live in the urban area.”
Certainly the Southwest Corridor has its challenges. For instance, the per capita rate for crimes such as burglary and vandalism is higher in downtown and midtown than anywhere else in the city.
Still, these are neighborhoods that have withstood the test of time in Kansas City, neighborhoods that teetered a bit but have come back strong. They continue to have staying power after nearly a century.
Look at it this way: Kansas City’s history is littered with examples of fancy residential areas that lost favor and even died out after just a few decades. Many turn-of-the-20th-century Victorian homes in Northeast turned into boarding houses before getting demolished. And mansions once lined parts of Troost Avenue.
In the Southwest Corridor south of the Plaza, though, legendary developer J.C. Nichols put in place safeguards for residential stability.
They included deed restrictions, an early form of zoning to ensure residential streets didn’t turn commercial. And they included the Missouri side’s first homes associations. These were like neighborhood associations, except joining a homes association was mandatory and it carried some legal powers to keep properties respectable, while neighborhood associations were voluntary.
Consider two subdivisions under construction nearly 100 years ago: Nichols’ Brookside Park section north of 63rd Street, and T.B. Potter’s Marlborough Heights at 79th Street and Woodland Avenue. Both were aimed at the middle class. Both were at the edge of the city or outside it. And both advertised protected districts, with deed restrictions.
But as William Worley pointed out in a seminal book about Nichols, Marlborough’s restrictions ended after 10 years while Brookside’s were made self-perpetuating. Certainly, Brookside’s restrictions continued to exclude minorities until those racial covenants — and all others like them — were deemed illegal. Even during the subsequent decades of white flight and class shifts, Brookside’s home values outstripped Marlborough’s.
“What Nichols did,” said Worley, today a part-time history professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, “was make it easy for neighborhoods to maintain their character and their value.”
For further proof, just look at Brookside today, that cluster between 55-57th streets and Gregory Boulevard, from the state line over to either Oak Street or Troost Avenue.
In The Star’s comparisons of neighborhood clusters across the city, Brookside had the highest rate of owner-occupied housing, the fifth-best rating for housing maintenance, and it was third-cleanest.
All those strengths go hand-in-hand with the kind of communal responsibility that homes associations foster. In that role, homes associations are like a mighty river carrying the current of vitality — and block parties are the creeks and streams flowing into that river, raising and buoying it.
The Homes Associations of the Country Club District, an umbrella organization of the Plaza and Brookside areas, encourages streets and neighbors to organize block parties. At some, the Fire Department opens a hydrant for kids to play in. At others, residents take on actual responsibilities, like voting for extra snow removal to augment the city’s plowing. And at many, police officers are invited.
“It’s comforting to know that they know where your neighborhood is,” said Peg Horner, secretary of the Country Club Homes Association near swanky Ward Parkway.
Building relationships like that can come in handy for both sides.
Case in point: Police were pretty good at patrolling north-south thoroughfares such as Main Street or Edgevale Road, but patrol cars were rarely seen on side streets. Homes association representatives asked for more visibility on those streets, and they got it.
In return, several neighborhoods pooled resources and purchased bicycles for officers. Now they can be seen riding along the Wornall Road trail and elsewhere. And among all city neighborhood clusters, Brookside has had the largest drop in property crimes this decade.
“We literally have to band together because we all know crime is higher in the city than in the suburbs,” explained East 69th Terrace’s Hilton during his street’s block party.
So there they were that fall Saturday evening, together in the middle of the street, sharing beer and hot dogs and a sense of solidarity. Closing off the street requires a city permit, and plenty of streets and neighborhoods have parties without going to the trouble of getting that permit. But for those that do, it represents a deeper level of organization and commitment.
That evening, 69th Street’s organizer, Dan Newman, met someone new on the street, a fellow engineer like himself. He picked up the latest neighborhood news from a police officer living on the block. And he talked about moving onto the block four years ago and becoming friends with his next-door neighbor, Don Beggs, despite a quarter-century age difference.
“You live so close to each other, you can’t help it,” he said. “I like the old-fashioned sense of this neighborhood. People make a point of knowing each other, and you become good friends. It’s nice.”
Beggs, listening nearby, jumped in: “What’s that expression, ‘You don’t choose your neighbors, but you can choose your friends’? Sometimes if you’re lucky, you get both at once.
“That’s what we have here.”
Part 2 of 8
Beginning today, The Star focuses on one section of Kansas City each day. In the Southwest Corridor, Brookside is the top-ranked neighborhood cluster.
In Rating Our Neighborhoods, The Star has compared clusters of neighborhoods in different sections of town. Today’s section is the Southwest Corridor, and the top-performing neighborhood cluster there is Brookside. That cluster includes these neighborhoods and homes associations: Morningside, Brookside Park, Wornall Homestead, Country Club, Ward Estates, Greenway Fields, Stratford Gardens, Romanelli West, Armour Fields, Armour Hills, Oak Meyer Gardens and Holmes Park.
More on Rating Our Neighborhoods