The evidence supposedly is everywhere: More Kansas Citians now crave an urban lifestyle.
They want to live in a booming downtown, in midtown or at least around the Country Club Plaza area. Ride the newfangled streetcar. Build more miles of bike lanes in close-knit neighborhoods. Enjoy First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District rubbing shoulders with millennials and baby boomers alike. Shuck the notion that boring suburbs are the place to be.
As much as the urban-lifestyle promoter in me wants to think otherwise, guess what?
Sprawl is still king in the Kansas City area.
The schools are solid in Johnson County and in districts such as Liberty, Park Hill and Lee’s Summit. Fuel prices have remained reasonably cheap.
The result: Plenty of people still want to work and live in suburban parts of the region.
▪ The new Cerner Trails campus that within 15 years could feature 16,000 or so employees isn’t being built on the riverfront or on the East Side, where cheap land abounds.
Instead, the first few office towers are rising out in south Kansas City, where Bannister Mall and other retail outlets once stood. One of the main features will be huge surface parking lots, used by thousands of people every day who will have few public transit options to get to work there.
The massive, heavily publicly subsidized Cerner project is worthwhile. Some new employees will move into nearby neighborhoods. But many also likely will live in Lee’s Summit or Johnson County.
▪ Go way up north in Kansas City and you’ll find the Twin Creeks subdivision.
The area of 15,000 acres is east of Kansas City International Airport and — over the next three decades — could add a staggering 70,000 residents.
The great majority of them will get in their vehicles to go to and from work or play, mostly because public transit options are still far and few between in the Northland. Yes, that could change over time. But why would it if people in that area desire to be in a car-centric, suburban-type environment?
▪ Head west to Johnson County and take a look at the newest redevelopment plan for the failed Metcalf South Shopping Center at 95th Street and Metcalf Avenue.
Lane4 Property Group wants to tear down the center and put up a Lowe’s Home Improvement store plus a dozen or so other retail shops. The main features to attract customers will be large surface parking lots with trees thrown in to add a little greenery.
This puny $80 million idea replaces a much grander, $320 million proposal that would have included housing, retail, offices and plenty of landscaped areas that would have made it an almost-urban type location in older Overland Park.
▪ Staying in Johnson County, the Gateway Project is well underway to expand traffic lanes and make other improvements on Interstates 435 and 35 along with Kansas 10.
This spending of $600 million is not happening to boost the urban core, folks. Instead, it will make it easier for motorists to get to the farthest reaches of Olathe and beyond, as the county’s outward surge of 10,000 residents annually continues.
▪ Population is still booming in exurban areas.
That includes the Northland in Kansas City, up an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people the last five years; Olathe, up 8,000; Lee’s Summit, up 4,000; and Gardner, up 1,000. Spring Hill, Raymore and other smaller cities are still gaining, too.
Back in the urban core, there’s no denying that downtown Kansas City is far healthier than a decade ago, featuring more residents, hotels, restaurants and other welcome construction. The future is bright for the heart of this region.
It’s also true that Kansas City continues to sprawl, with no end in sight.