Last week, the Bloomberg administration in New York City released a new manual for how future street development in the city will be done. The 232 page manual provides guidelines -- a "single framework and playbook" - for the types of projects that the adminstration will approve quickly as the city seeks to make over the 1970s-style streetscapes. Improvements include energy-efficient lighting, wider sidewalks made of a rubber byproduct that is durable and more comfortable to walk on, more benches on sidewalks, sidewalk cafes, types of utility poles, building facades and awnings, narrower streets with slower-moving traffic -- and overall, be more aestetically pleasing, environmentally friendly, and treat strets as public spaces, not just thoroughfares for cars.
Obviously New York's vision is, and should be, different from Kansas City's. But the problem is, what is our vision?
Probably the most influential document for the vision for -- at least the central business corridor -- is the Sasaki Plan that was prepared for the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City. Even though this costly plan was designed as a "framework," many parts of it have been virtually ignored by developers and the folks at City Hall. In just the past 4 years, things like the placement of the performing arts center, downtown baseball stadium, changed uses for Barney Allis Plaza, mass transit and the placement/use of parking garages and surface parking lots (especially the emphasis on shared parking spaces) have been largely ignored.
So, if we're going to ignore the only major document that shows a vision for the future of Kansas City, what should we use as a roadmap? Having a roadmap would provide us with better, prioritized use of taxpayer dollars, wiser use of TIF, provide a roadmap for developers so we would not have new development that doesn't fit into the longterm future of the city, and provide a guideline for what would, and would not, receive support and/or funding at City Hall.
Right now, it seems as if every new development opportunity is decided in complete isolation.
Light rail? Let's form a committee to see where it should go.
Dog parks? Let's form a committee to see where they should go.
Troost BRT? Let's form a committee to examine.
Redevelopment at Linwood and Troost? Let's form a committee.
What should and shouldn't go on our boulevards? Let's form a committee.
And this is just current projects. It seems that as a city we have no idea what our long-term strategy should be for dealing with the issues facing our city. No roadmap for redeveloping our neighborhoods, for Section 8 housing or for dealing with crime, abandoned housing or schools buildings. This doesn't even tackle futuristic issues like what do we do when there is greater public use of electric cars or better ways to enhance bicycling routes through our core.
It's time for us to build a roadmap. Put together a well-publicized document that people can stand behind and say THIS is the vision for Kansas City. Sure, not everyone will agree with it. But it will prevent us from making all future decisions for roads, parks, development and transit in a complete vacuum... and a little cohesiveness and vision can only be a good thing.