Kansas City’s urban parks: Where leadership fails 

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I looked at other cities that Kansas City might consider peers.

San Antonio's two dog parks are each 1.5 acres.

Four of Charlotte's five off-leash areas cover 4 acres or less.

Columbus, Ohio? One dog park of 3 acres and another that's 1.5 acres.

See, officials in Minneapolis and other cities that are considered desirable places to live actually try to make themselves appealing and useful. They don't draw arbitrary lines. They put amenities where people want them.

Kansas City, by contrast, plans to put its dog parks in places where they create the least amount of work for the parks department.

So, instead of locating an off-leash area in a park with lots of parking places and a constituency that has raised $5,000 to support the effort (Sunnyside), the parks department has determined that a place like Blue Valley Park, for example, is a more suitable location.

At the meeting August 25, parks department staffer Jimmi Lossing noted Blue Valley Park's proximity to Interstate 435. I sat in the back of the room and thought, Seriously? This is an attribute worth considering? There were moments when Lossing sounded as if she were pitching a potential site for a new Hardee's in Lenexa.

Freeway access is not what's holding back so many of our city's 219 parks. Blue Valley and other parks in the system are too often empty for precisely the opposite reason: They're set apart from neighborhoods and lack decent pedestrian access. From several vantage points, Blue Valley Park looks more conducive to dumping a body than exploring nature.

Yet which potential dog-park site received the highest score from parks department staffers? A somewhat remote section of Swope Park, one that's cut off from people by the Blue River and I-435.

Of course, it may be that the bureaucrats at the parks department are familiar with importance of density and walkability in urban design. (Why do people like to visit the Plaza? It's not for the bargains.) Thus, the 5-acre rule might simply be a way to ensure Commissioner Stackhaus of the outcome she desires.

Stackhaus opposes dog parks on principle — apparently they're not kid-centric enough for her. She's also friends with a Waldo neighborhood leader who fought the Sunnyside proposal.

And parks department officials aren't completely clueless. They've judged that dog parks can be smaller than 5 acres in what's known as "greater downtown," an area bordered by the state line, the Missouri River, the Paseo and 31st Street.

But this exception only confuses matters.

A young woman addressed the parks commissioners at the August 25 meeting. She said she had bought a home six months earlier. She was disappointed that there wasn't a dog park closer to where she had chosen to live. She could not understand why a 1-acre dog park was acceptable for downtown but not for midtown.

The parks commissioners had no answers. Tyrone Aiken referred weakly to a "matrix" that had culled Sunnyside Park from the finalists.

The parks commissioners had no answers because there was no answer.

That was when I muttered duh!

It was in frustration over the fact that the parks department had failed to see the city through the trees. Instead, it had taken a one-size-fits-nearly-all approach: What's best for the Northland is best for the East Side is best for Waldo.

I remembered what Kevin Klinkenberg, the urban planner I mentioned at the top of this column, had told me: "The leadership situation is just so god-awful in the city. We have just no leadership at all — almost no understanding about what it takes to make a good urban place that people want to live in, that lots of people would want to live in."

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