Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Large Cities
Number Five: Kansas City
Kansas City has more freeway lane-miles
per car than any other city in the country.
Lacking geographic limits like mountains and major water bodies, the Kansas City region
has sprawled like topsy. The bi-state metro area has also been influenced by an extensive
regional freeway system planned in the '40s, a state line that has made it difficult to
get citizens to think of the region as a single entity and a central-city school district
situation that has stimulated white flight.
In late 1995, an award-winning series in the Kansas City Star explored the causes and
effects of sprawl. The series title says it all: "Divided We Sprawl." And while
there is growing concern in Kansas City about sprawl, the region has yet to take the
problem seriously. The word "sprawl" just isn't uttered in polite circles.
Increased federal transportation funding promised in the TEA-21 bill recently signed by
President Clinton is likely to only make things worse, as it will be possible to build
most of the sprawl-promoting suburban road projects that local governments have on their
wish lists. Kansas City already enjoys the dubious distinction of having more freeway
lane-miles per capita than any other city in the country. The percentage of work trips
made by people driving alone is 79.7 percent, above the national average of 73.2 percent
(Kansas City Star).
Public transit is inadequate, as indicated by the fact that transit ridership per
capita in Kansas City is only one-third the average of a dozen other cities of similar
size. While there is currently a major effort to improve transit, the region still has no
formally adopted long-range transit plan.
Large-scale development projects in the suburban fringe continue to occur. Sprint is
building a 200-acre office campus near the southwest edge of the metro area to house most
of its 14,000 employees. Harley-Davidson built a new plant at the north edge of the area
using tax incentives intended for core city areas. A NASCAR racetrack and Land of Oz theme
park are being planned at the western edge of the region.
Some hopeful signs that Kansas City may slow its unrestrained expansion have begun to
appear. In response to citizen protests in 1995, suburban Johnson County decided against
building the "21st Century Parkway," an outer belt highway intended to promote
In 1997, following a five-year process that involved thousands of citizens, the Kansas
City, (Mo.,) City Council adopted a new comprehensive plan, the city's first since 1947.
Called FOCUS (Forging Our Comprehensive Urban Strategy), the plan lays out policy
guidelines to strengthen the urban core into an area where it will be possible to make
most trips using public transit and non-motorized modes. However, with some 150 square
miles of undeveloped land within the city limits and continuing competition for
development from suburban jurisdictions, FOCUS had to include "quality suburban
development" as well.
Another positive sign is the spirit of regionalism reflected in a sales tax increase
passed in 1996 by voters of four counties to restore Union Station as a "Science
City" museum. And the Mid-America Regional Council, the region's metropolitan
planning organization, recently received a three-year grant from the EPA to promote more
sustainable land development policies and practices.
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