Tag Archives: Kansas City

Designing Cities for People

St Paul's at Sunset - April 2016

St Paul’s at Sunset

In older standards of measurement, the imperial mile (1.609 km) was not the longest measurement of distance available; the league filled that role instead. As I have understood it, one league is equal to the distance a person can walk in one hour. For me, that is around three miles, thus making 1 league equal to a decent distance for a nice morning stroll. In 2016 when I was undertaking my first Master’s degree, this one in International Relations and Democratic Politics, at the University of Westminster, I would occasionally decide to walk the league from the university on Regent Street back to my flat in the shadow of Fenchurch Street station on the eastern edge of the old Roman city.

The walk was quite pleasant, a stroll first down from the university to Oxford Circus, then eastwards along Oxford Street to Holborn, and then down High Holborn across the Holborn Viaduct and past the Old Bailey at Newgate, past St Paul’s and onto Cheapside, crossing in front of the Royal Exchange and Bank of England before continuing down Lombard Street and onto Fenchurch Street. At Fenchurch Street station, I would descend a short flight of steps leading towards St Olave’s Hart Street and under the station viaduct itself past the city walls and into my building on Minories.

What made this a nice walk was that I was able to see so much of the capital, everything from the imperial Edwardian grandeur of Regent Street to the new skyscrapers that are being built across the Square Mile to the east. It was an opportunity to experience London as so many had done so before, to get to know the metropolis by foot. In London this is something that can fairly easily be done, one can walk around the capital if one wants to. Sure, most of the suburbs are out of reach for the pedestrian, but with the well established system of underground and suburban railways, as well with the very thorough bus network, London is a city that a person can easily live in without owning a car, let alone riding in one on a daily basis.

When I moved back to Kansas City at the end of August 2016, I thought I would try at keeping up my walking, to walk the same ten miles each day. Yet that didn’t happen. Far from it, I found Kansas City to a.) be built largely for cars, and b.) with a climate far more harsh than the one I had known in London. As a result, not only did I not walk nearly as much as I had wanted, but I found myself hardly walking at all beyond going out of my parents’ house to get into the car and drive somewhere.

While my own lack of fortitude certainly is to blame in part for this sudden drop in my exercise, I also have to lay blame on the city planners here in Kansas City. This city, like so many others in the United States and Canada were designed, or re-designed, for motorists. In fact, it is illegal for a human being to walk in the street in Kansas City, Missouri; if you’re human, you have to stay to the sidewalks (pavements). The rest of the street is reserved for cars, buses, bicycles, vans, and trucks. We have built this city and so many others like it without the human touch that has made cities so universally human in nature.

For thousands of years, our ancestors have lived in cities that were not unlike the Central London; they were just big enough that an able-bodied person could walk from one end to another in about an hour. Cities were built with walking in mind, with the understanding that all of the basic necessities that a city offers should be within walking distance of each citizen’s home. Smaller medieval cities like Besançon in France, Canterbury in England, or Galway in Ireland are prime examples of this sort of pedestrian-focused urban planning.

“In fact, it is illegal for a human being to walk in the street in Kansas City, Missouri”

Here in the United States too there are some attempts at returning to this older model of having residential and commercial establishments within the same general area. Here in Greater Kansas City there are some newer developments that aspire to this goal. Two in particular that I visited this last Friday stand out to me as examples of how to undertake this task, and how not to do so. The latest pieces in the Town Center shopping complex, Park Place is an excellent example of such a development.

A set of winding, narrower streets lined by three and four story buildings, its street level fronts are filled with shops, restaurants, and some offices, while the upper levels are largely residential. In this way, one can live in a compact community, within which one does not necessarily need a car to get around. I first was able to experience Park Place two years ago when walking a 5K through the Town Center area. At that time Park Place was still under construction, yet even as a construction site it seemed vastly out of place when compared to its neighbours in the most arch-suburban of American counties, Johnson County, Kansas. What particularly makes Park Place odd, and in the end stunted in its growth and feasibility is that one has to have a car to access it. Sure, one could live within Park Place as a pedestrian, but going beyond its towering confines on foot can be a perilous exercise with traffic on the surrounding avenues averaging a speed of around 45 mph (72 km/h).

What Park Place does well is its compactness, including both commercial and residential in the same area. Another, equally new development a few miles south of Park Place ignores this principle of traditional urban planning, setting the residential aside from the commercial. This particular development is the fascinatingly misplaced Prairiefire complex on 135th Street in Leawood, Kansas. Another physically enormous complex, Prairiefire’s crown jewel is the Museum at Prairiefire, billed as Kansas City’s Natural History Museum, and an affiliate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York. While the Prairiefire Museum’s architecture is aesthetically beautiful, its size is much like the rest of the Prairiefire development: lacking long-term thinking.

My biggest problem with Prairiefire is the way in which its residential development is divided from its commercial sector by a massive concrete parking garage. Prairiefire was designed by a suburbanite intending to create their image of a compact urban community, albeit without ever having stepped foot inside of a traditional compact city. By splitting the residential from the commercial, they make it far less amenable to residents to take advantage of the shops, restaurants, and entertainment in the commercial side of the property. What’s more, the Museum at Prairiefire itself is deeply flawed in that it is not built with the ability to expand in mind. The current structure is small, built more like a community arts centre and less like a great temple dedicated to nature.

Our over-reliance on cars here in the United States is flawed at the utmost degree. Should there be a major energy crisis in the near future, the vast majority of our cities and states will find themselves paralysed, unable to function owing to the lack of oil to fuel our cars. Developments like Park Place and Prariefire might be able to last for longer, owing to their relative compactness compared to the more traditional suburban sprawl, yet their isolation amidst the sea of suburbia will soon find these two developments in the same situation as the traditional suburban developments.

Our cities must first and foremost be self-reliant; we must be able to grow our own food, and use our own renewable energy sources to power all aspects of our lives. Yet along side this if we are going to build smart, self-sufficient cities, we must build them more compactly, with ourselves in mind. Just consider, if you are suddenly without your car, and don’t have the option of taking public transport, how will you get around? You could certainly walk around your city, but that prospect is only truly viable if said city is designed for walking.

Today, I generally prefer using metric to the more traditional imperial standards of measurement, yet that most old-fashioned of imperial measures, the league, is one that should be maintained. It keeps us humans at the centre, and reminds us of our own physical limitations and abilities. When we consistently push ourselves far beyond those abilities, we endanger the stability of our societies, making any potential crisis even more disastrous.

Why Kansas City’s Catholics must Come Together

Let me begin by admitting to the fact that I haven’t written anything for this site in some months. After having written so frequently, so fervently on many a topic, I found myself exhausted, unhappy with the prospect of setting my thoughts to ink and paper. However, the greatest, most pressing issue at hand for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph, my home diocese, is one which brings my pen forth from its stupor.

As many will know, I have been highly critical of the now Bishop Emeritus Finn. His authoritarian leadership style, as well as his suppression of any official dialogue between social conservatives, liberals, and moderates within the diocese left me unwilling to offer anything but criticism towards his administration. All that said, I do not intend to demean his character. I have met Finn, on a number of occasions. On my first assignment as a journalist, at the 2009 National Catholic Youth Conference which was held here in Kansas City, I interviewed both Bishop Finn, as well as his counterpart from across the border, Archbishop Naumann. I found both men highly intelligent, and Finn in particular to be quite friendly and personable. For one thing he actually remembered my name, and stopped to ask me how I was doing the next time I was in the same room.

In most regards, as a liberal, I have frequently found myself in disagreement with my friends and colleagues. In recent years, as I have began to shed the scales of fear, I have in turn become more outspoken in my views, more willing to speak out when something that I find something good, or ill in the world. Let me be clear, though, to those who do not look on my views and persuasions favourably, that all that I believe, all that I espouse, is founded upon the two greatest commandments given by God to humanity: to love God, and love one’s neighbour. It is for this reason that I do not seek to insult Finn’s honour, only to speak out against his actions.
On Tuesday, I celebrated, and breathed many a sigh of relief. At long last, the leadership of the Catholic Church in my adopted city does not outwardly favour my fellow Catholics whose views are on the opposite side of the aisle from my own. Yes, I say yes, all things are political! All things are related to politics, especially in the Roman Catholic Church! Any body as old as ours, as powerful as ours, as wealthy as ours, any body with named “Roman” must be political by nature. We may not like that fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. It is better that we embrace the truth than continue to deny it.

I write today to my fellow Catholics in Kansas City with a simple request. We must work together again, as we have in the past. We must heal the wounds that have been wrought over the past ten years. We must reconcile, and as one body in Christ reunite our increasingly divided diocese. Liberals, conservatives, moderates, Tridentine Mass attendees, as well as those who prefer a more progressive type of Mass should come together, work together, to build a better diocese, a better community.

This coming Sunday, I will be at my home parish, Saint Francis Xavier, for Mass with the parish community that my maternal family has been a part of for five generations. I ask my fellow Catholics here in the Kansas City-St Joseph Diocese to do the same. Let us all pray for our diocese that we might reconcile and reunite. Let us also pray for our most recent Bishop Emeritus, as he moves into the next phase of his life, that he may think of his time here in Kansas City, and consider both what he did, and that which he chose to forgo doing. Let us also pray for our Pope, Papa Frank as I call him, that he might find the best candidate, with God’s guidance, to become our next bishop.

I thank you all for your attention, and ask God for his blessings upon each and everyone of you, no matter whom you are.

September – Thank God it’s over

Kansas City – After all the fun and adventure of this past summer, you’d think I’d take this semester a bit slower, a bit quieter, to recuperate and ready myself for the coming year. But then again, I’m not that sort of person. I started the semester with a bit of a bang – one month with event after event.

First there was Irish Fest on Labour Day weekend. Then there was a day of volunteering at the Irish Centre (Cúltúrlann Éireannach). This was followed by a 60+ hour week of academics, work, business, and other fun events. Then there was the wedding of two good friends in Lenoir, North Carolina. I returned to Rockhurst from the wedding exhausted, and ready for the quiet weekend to come. That came after another 60+ hour week, and at first it looked promising. But then something rather unfortunate happened. Saturday 21 September 2013 will always be one of those days that just didn’t have to happen – and yet in a big way it did. I woke that morning to an early alarm as I was going to be filming the Classroom scene for my film Sisyphus that day. However, none of the extras showed up to film – so I ended up having to postpone the shoot until this past Sunday 6 October. I left Rockhurst for my parents’ house, where my Mom was home alone getting ready for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s opening night premiere of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. The day before I drove my Dad up to the airport to fly to Chicago to see my Granddad, with plans of sorting out the plans to move him into hospice care by Sunday.

That, unfortunately didn’t happen. I was at 59th and Rockhill, heading back to my parents’ house after getting a shirt for the opera when my phone rang. My Dad was on the other end, at my Uncle Bill’s house in Suburban Chicagoland – my Granddad had died at about 16.30 CDT. From then on out, the entire world seemed to flip on its head. My Mom and I did go the opera that night, but the next morning I found myself driving her up to the Airport so she could fly up to Chicago to meet my Dad and work with the rest of their generation in the Kane family on the funeral arrangements. I stayed behind in Kansas City for a while longer, so that I wouldn’t miss too much class. That, as it turned out, didn’t really work so well. I missed my first class on Monday morning, Western Civilisation II, because I was taking the dogs to the vet for boarding for the time that I’d also be in Chicago. Then I skipped out on my Modern Political Philosophy class because I just didn’t feel like I could take it just then. Finally, I threw in the towel on school for the week when the power of what had happened to my family hit me like a bag of rocks in choir, when we were rehearsing the Jesuit hymn These Alone are Enough for the Family Weekend Mass.

I flew up to Chicago on the evening of the 23rd – weary, and ready to be with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. It was a short flight, and considering that I had no bags to bring with, as my Mom had already packed everything I’d need – I flew up in the first row on Southwest! The time in Chicagoland was very emotional for me. Between facing the fact that now both of my Kane grandparents are dead, and experiencing all of these places again that I remembered from my early childhood, a time which I cherish quite dearly, I found it hard sometimes to face the facts. Thus, when we were driving from place to place, especially in the traffic on the Tristate Tollway and with that awful construction traffic on Dempster at the Tollway, I slept. The wake and funeral were nice. It was especially great to get to see all of the more distant cousins on my Dad’s side, many of my grandparents’ friends, and some college friends of my parents (including my Godparents). But in the end, I was just ready to go back to Kansas City and sleep for a long time.

After that second exhausting trip, I was in no mood for work. I ended up being a fair bit behind in my work, especially when it came to French. I’ve only just caught up. My classes on Thursday and Friday were a blur, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have even had any will to go to them if it weren’t for the fact that I had nothing else to do at that point. By Friday 27 September, I had gone for at least 20 days with sleep worth only about 15 normal nights, and was in no mood for any more misadventures.

Thankfully, that weekend was anything but a misadventure. My cousin Ashley, who I’ve known for my entire life, got married! It was a very nice wedding, and a fantastic reception. That wedding was a good way to balance out the stress and grief of the month in which it occurred, as it showed me that even though all sorts of dour things happen in our lives, there’s still room for happiness and jolliness. Which on that note: Middlesex County Cricket finished 3rd in the County Championship! O, and the USA Men’s Team (the Waldoes as I call them) qualified for the ’14 World Cup in Brazil!

So, as I write this, safe and sound, now 7 days removed from that dreadful month, I have to say “Buíchos le Dia!” that it’s over. Less than 24 hours ago, I was able to shoot that scene that originally was intended to be shot on the 21st – and this time no one that I know died on the same day! September was about as poor at its’ game as Chivas USA is at soccer, which is saying something really sad about that month. But, on the plus side – I got paid at the end of it all, thanks to that week and a half of French tutoring that I did in August!

Hopefully I’ll be able to update a bit more in the future, as things may be settling down. We’ll have to see.