The Strong Towns Podcast

Live in Kansas City: “We’re a suburban community learning we can be urban.”

November 4, 2019

It’s hard not to be encouraged by what’s happening in Kansas City.

On both the Kansas and Missouri sides, there are indications that the conversation is shifting. The assumptions about development that led Kansas City to become one of most car-centric metropolitan areas in the world (it has more freeway lane miles per capita than any other U.S. city) are now being challenged.

Here are a few hopeful signs:

  • Kansas City, Missouri recently commissioned a groundbreaking fiscal assessment by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3. 

  • Last week, the Kansas City-based architecture and design firm, Gould Evans, co-sponsored an event with Minicozzi and our own Chuck Marohn, where they discussed what Urban3’s findings mean for fiscally responsible development in Kansas City.

  • Kansas City, Missouri is creating a new comprehensive plan. This is an opportunity to make the next twenty or thirty years of development radically different than the last seventy (which have been mostly disastrous). Kevin Klinkenberg—a Kansas City-based urban designer, planner, and architect—wrote just last month on our site about what a “Strong Towns master plan” might look like.

Today’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast goes deep on what is happening in Kansas City. Recorded in front of a live audience in Kansas City, Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn talks with Joe Minicozzi, principal at Urban3, Kevin Klinkenberg of K2 Urban Design, and Dennis Strait, principal and board member at Gould Evans. The four of them discuss not only what makes Kansas City an anomaly (including that pesky state boundary and the resulting clash of cultures) but also how its built pattern is representative of cities around the Midwest...and indeed around the country.

Also discussed:

10:00 - The “border war” between Kansas and Missouri, now thankfully in a truce, as both states raced to the bottom to lure big business with tax subsidies and development incentives

12:30 - The pressure among cities to “keep up with the Joneses” — in this case, through big, splashy projects (convention centers, downtown sports stadiums, etc.) — and how Kansas City is learning a better way

16:10 - Whether or not there’s any recognition of the damage done by 60 years of edge development, and how it is limiting cities from pursuing new opportunities

22:45 - Perception vs. reality on the “parking problem”

33:40 - Kansas City, Missouri’s streetcar “starter line” — and whether it is a vanity project or an important culture shift that’s bringing more cohesion to an urban area

43:00 - The challenges and opportunities of the comprehensive planning process in Kansas City, Missouri

55:30 - Important lessons that other cities can learn from Kansas City

Kansas City is justifiably well-known for many things—great barbecue and great jazz, for example. Maybe a few years from from now it will also be famous for pioneering a way for cities out of suburban-style development and into a stronger future.