If you need proof that we live in two Americas, consider what’s going on right here in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
In the inner city, there is angst about deteriorating and abandoned property. Meanwhile, in Prairie Village, just 20 minutes away, thousands of residents are up in arms over Cape Cod-style homes being bought and knocked down, replaced by much larger homes, which some believe are incongruous with the modest neighborhoods.
In the core of Kansas City, homeowners or renters who live in modest older homes rightfully complain when the house next door has been abandoned, oftentimes for years. That not only is an eyesore, it also provides refuge for illegal activities.
City officials would like to practically give the abandoned house away if the new owner would agree to fix it up. There are usually no takers, even if the price is free. Meanwhile, the property values in the neighborhood where families continue to occupy homes decline, and landlords find it harder to rent with abandoned properties nearby.
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A short drive west and south from the inner city of older urban homes brings you to Prairie Village, a planned suburban community developed by the J.C. Nichols Co. in the late 1940s, consisting of inexpensive, conforming rows of houses. Thousands of new residences all shared the quaint architecture of the Cape Cod home, which was available in four different floor plans with about 900 square feet on one floor.
Those homes originally sold for $11,000 each, with $75 down and payments of $80 a month. An optional dormer in the attic for future living expansion cost an extra 50 cents per month. My family lived in one of these Prairie Village homes during the first 10 years of my life.
While the property values of the homes in urban neighborhoods have languished at best, the current price for that same Prairie Village house has soared to about $350,000. The modest homes with one-car garages on treed lots are often selling overnight.
The reasons are widely known. Buyers want to be near the great neighborhood schools, the Prairie Village Shopping Center and the Country Club Plaza. You’ll rarely, if ever, find abandoned homes in Prairie Village.
In fact, the Nichols tract homes, now even more charming with mature trees, are being replaced here and there by new, larger homes of about 2,600 square feet with four bedrooms and three baths. They are built on the empty lots where original homes once stood. The prices have climbed to about $750,000.
If I still lived in that neighborhood next to the new larger house, I would be thrilled. The value of my house and the whole neighborhood likely just increased substantially.
Entire neighborhoods of those original Cape Cods could someday be transformed into larger homes for today’s lifestyles. J.C. Nichols, the visionary, apparently did not anticipate the high demand for large kitchens, walk-in closets and wide-open interior spaces.
But not everyone sees it that way. Some call these “monster homes.” In fact, a recent poll revealed that the community is split down the middle on this issue. Half see it as I do, a plus for the neighborhood. The other half thinks the new homes are ruining the neighborhood charm and congruity of the original Cape Cods.
The crisis in the inner city dwarfs the situation in Prairie Village. However, to the residents of Prairie Village, their issue is significant and could determine whether conformity within neighborhoods is more important than allowing changes to accommodate new needs and future demands.
Residents in struggling neighborhoods only wish this was their problem. They are frustrated over empty houses that cannot be given away. Not far away, half the residents are furious because they think their neighborhood is going downhill, alas, by overbuilding.