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 more development.

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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