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Kansas City is a perfect example of how open spaces, suburban sprawl & redeveloping small pockets leads to inconsistent values, plain homes, bizarre commerical design mixes and no real conformity.  

As home to the very first suburban shopping center and pioneer of the master planned community by the brave and forward thinking J.C. Nichols , Kansas City sure does have some major flaws in its design. Mr. Nichols had great concepts (not including racial restrictions) and the areas that he designed are the crown jewel of the Kansas City metro area.

Side Note: J.C. Nichols designed Prairie Village, Kansas specifically for GI’s after WWII and constructed cost effective housing that could be purchased with a GI bill. He left the top floors unfinished to lower the costs for the GI’s and give them room to grow. This community continues to thrive in value and appeal (unfortunately the foundations were made of concrete block construction and most owners have to deal with it at some point).

Most Kansas City residents who don’t live in these neighborhoods designed by J.C. Nichols don’t get to walk to the Country Club Plaza or the small coffee shop in the quaint & aesthetically pleasing shopping area. Most neighborhoods don’t have fountains and small parks that adorn their streets. Instead, most of the neighborhoods are lined with beautiful craftsman homes next to big brick four to six unit apartment buildings next to boarded up homes & commerical buildings. In parts of Kansas City you will have a 3,000 square foot Victorian home with amazing craftsmanship and personality next door to a double wide mobile home. There is no since of conformity and million dollar homes can be literally one block away for homes that are worth $10,000 or less.

When neighborhoods and school districts decline, people simply move to outlying areas where homes are bigger and “better”. As a result homes are boarded up, renters take over entire streets and the glory of classic neighborhoods diminishes. As I chat with local residents who have a long history in Kansas City I am often saddened by stories of summer camp outs on green belts where now you find neglected buildings, refuse disposal issues, high crime and unsustainable values.

There are those who create neighborhood associations and try to keep the old glory alive, but as long as people who can afford quality housing move away from the urban core, their fight will be a hard one to win. Not being land-locked is great for those who need to keep developing cheap housing with no personality and big price tags. The people who crave communities full of character and history are often left to deal with unconcerned renters, neglected homes and poor schools.

Big commercial development projects often follow the suburbanites to their communities since it makes the most since to build where the money is. What will be interesting in this capsizing housing market is how major retailers respond to recession and the overbuilt communities they built next to. Get ready for vacant anchor tenants and more ghostly developments to populate the metro map.

It is a shame to see a City with so much history, character & potential for outstanding communities fall victim to over-building, unattractive commerical structures, non-conforming neighborhoods & speculative revitalization projects that are quickly overshadowed by the next great thing that leads to perpetually unbalanced areas. 

To be fair, there are exceptions to above mentioned obsolescence and refreshing communities to contrast the gut wrenching neighborhoods in despair. My hope is that we continue the path of revitalization from the inside out, re-establish the “old glory” or classic neighborhoods and stop building out into the open spaces.

Unfortunately idealistic concentric development doesn’t always make money for the masses. In a perfect world we would have gorgeous buildings and universal health care. That doesn’t sounds realistic in the current state of affairs.