Kevin Klinkenberg, an urban planner who is passionate about making Kansas City a more inviting and livable place, says Volker offers a better model for aspiring neighborhoods. "It's a place where people walk a lot more. There's a much bigger mixture of apartments and other things mixed in with homes. It's not as pretty and it's not as well-kept. It's a little messier.... I just love walking around the neighborhood."
Klinkenberg loves urban life in general. As a child growing up in southern Minnesota, he would spend hours poring over maps of the places his family planned to visit on vacation. He attended high school in Marshall, Missouri, before studying architecture at the University of Kansas. "I went into architecture school because I like cities," Klinkenberg says. "I didn't know anything about what an architect did."
Klinkenberg moved to Kansas City after earning his degree. He hooked up with a small firm and began pushing city officials to see the urban core as something more than a traffic pattern or a zoning designation. He rejected the relentlessly suburban character of the "Glover Plan" for midtown in a 1999 letter to The Kansas City Star, writing: "We live here because of the physical qualities of the place itself — because we value beauty in our built environment, choice in transportation, being around people of all stripes, and streets that are pleasant to walk along." (That didn't stop the plan, which put a Home Depot and a Costco amid an asphalt ocean of parking lot at Linwood and Main.)
A year later, Klinkenberg and a partner, Brian Hendrickson, started 180º Design Studio. As "new urbanists," they help cities and developers find ways to make communities less slavish to the automobile. They have worked with the city of Blue Springs on a new development code intended to make the downtown more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly. Klinkenberg is also a member of the Urban Society of Kansas City, a group of architects, planners and various urban dwellers who speak up on occasion for mass transit and grassroots development. Next year, he becomes president of the Kansas City chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
New Urbanism, or "smart growth," is a foreign concept to many. But a lot of folks, Klinkenberg says, have a sense that suburban sprawl takes a toll on the psyche as well as the environment.
"They may live in the suburbs and like aspects of it," he says. "But there are other things that they just don't really like, and they don't know why or they don't know there are other choices available to them. For the most part, most people just don't even realize or fathom you can live your life in a different way and actually really enjoy it. You can live in a neighborhood where you can walk to stuff or ride a bike or take transit, and that's actually a good thing."
Klinkenberg says elected officials and bureaucrats need to do more to make Kansas City a place where people want to live and work. In some instances, doing more means getting out of the way.
"So if a bar and restaurant wants to set tables out by the street, you shouldn't gouge them $300 or whatever the damn permit is to do it," Klinkenberg says.
"Just let them do it."
— David Martin
(Photo by Angela C. Bond)