Lessons from Asheville

As Wichita continues to emphasize the arts and understand their importance in developing a unique, authentic culture and improving quality of life, it can learn lessons from Asheville.

Downtown Wichita's Parking Problem: Part II

It's a common belief that parking in downtown Wichita is scarce -- but it's not true. What is little-seen and rarely understood is the web of policies that enforce and incentivize an auto-oriented development pattern.

Downtown Wichita's Parking Problem: Part I

Downtown Wichita has more parking spaces than people. The NCAA Tournament reminds us of our challenges breaking away from car-dependence.

Of course, if your options are either spend ten minutes braving the unpredictable Kansas weather whilst trudging across windswept swaths of nothingness or spend two minutes in the comfort of your climate-controlled glass-and-steel cage in carefree search of (usually free) parking... you will choose the latter. 

Why I Strongly Support Bike Paths (Which I Almost Never Use)

The urban commuter cyclist and the MAMIL (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra) cyclist are different animals. Here's why we need both to help shape the democratic culture around active transportation.

Put Douglas Design District Improvements on Faster Track

This commentary originally appeared as an editorial in The Wichita Eagle and has been reposted here with permission of the author.

Yellowbrick Street Team stands in strong support of the Douglas Streetscape project and the Douglas Design District's 2020 Vision campaign. We encourage our followers to contact city representatives to advocate for this worthy initiative. Learn more here.

By Janelle King

Wichita is having a civic pride moment. This is seen in the emergence and love of our city’s flag and in the exciting Project Wichita “visioning” exercise ahead.

We welcome this love of our city, but also want to harness the passion to achieve tangible results. An improvement we can make happen in the near term is a transformational streetscape project east of downtown in the Douglas Design District.

A streetscape improvement plan for Douglas between Washington and Hydraulic streets was completed in 2009. The project would reshape the area into a walkable destination by bringing medians, curb bump-outs, vertical parking, public gathering spaces, art and new lighting to this important stretch of Douglas. The project would provide an eastern gateway to downtown and create a neighborhood that people would drive to, rather than drive through.

The problem is the Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan has been consistently unfunded and delayed since its inception. We understand the challenges the City Council faces in prioritizing capital projects. However, we also think the streetscape plan is unique due to the project’s transformational benefits.

Consider Delano. That neighborhood has been significantly improved since a pedestrian-oriented streetscape project was completed in 2003. The city funded the streetscape project that transformed Delano into one of the more interesting neighborhoods in the city that offers a strong mix of retailers – most of which are local businesses rather than national chains. The 2003 streetscape project made Delano a place to drive to – not through.

One would be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks what’s happened in Delano in recent years has not been a success for Wichita. Studies show that walkable neighborhoods increase residents’ attachment to a city. As we learned from the Chung Report, Wichita needs to offer a better quality of life to retain and attract talent to the city and grow our workforce. The Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan helps achieve this and provides an important investment in the core of the city that will appeal to residents and visitors alike.

Let’s continue to celebrate the Wichita flag and participate in visioning about what the city can become. In the meantime, we have a great project to advocate for now. The Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan is slated for a construction start date of 2023. We’re working to have the project prioritized to allow for a 2020 start date.

Decisions related to the funding of the Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan will be made in the next couple months. We ask Wichitans to advocate for this project by contacting mayor Jeff Longwell, city manager Robert Layton and City Council representatives.

Wichita’s time has come. Let’s celebrate the moment we’re in by embracing a project that is sure to enhance our city.

Janelle King is president of the Douglas Design District in Wichita.

The Story of the Mysterious Plungers

We did it.

On the morning of Saturday, February 18, members of the Yellowbrick Street Team set out to draw attention to the poorly-designed intersection of 1st & Washington – notorious in the cycling community for cars improperly using the bike lane as a right turn lane, endangering and discomforting both cyclists and car drivers. We took a dozen toilet plungers wrapped with reflective tape and secured them to each side of the bike lane with masonry adhesive...

This Week's Reading List

Here's our roundup of excellent articles on urban issues from around the web, each with relevance to Wichita:

What We Lost

What We Lost is a public art installation highlighting the detrimental effect of decades of auto-oriented planning and regulation on the urban fabric by contrasting historical images of beautiful buildings downtown with their current conditions - often as surface or structured parking.

From its boom years in the 1880s through the 1920s, Wichita constructed some of the most grand and architecturally-significant buildings in the Plains. Most importantly, these buildings fit the unique context of Wichita and complemented the greater urban fabric. Wichita's downtown was dense, vibrant, and full of life through the first half of the 20th Century. 

After World War II, like in many American cities, Wichita adopted a system of laws, regulations, investments, and incentives that promoted suburban development in a car-centric model. As Wichitans became increasingly dependent on automobiles, demand for parking exploded; to accommodate this demand, the city and private property owners began demolishing smaller, "fabric" buildings to provide for car parking. 

The increased availability of parking and miles of new roadways further increased dependence on the private automobile, while dispersing growth and development further out along the urban fringe. In fact, Wichita grew much faster spatially than demographically, leaving vacant buildings and hollowing out the core city in favor of new buildings for homes and businesses in the outskirt areas; approximately 84% of Wichita's current land area was developed post-World War II - a 525% increase in developed land area, despite only a 225% increase in population.

Demolishing downtown buildings, while simultaneously tilting the playing field toward sprawl development through regulations and public investments, accelerated the flight to the suburbs in the 1960s and '70s. By the 1980s, downtown Wichita was moribund and largely disinvested, a growing haven for drugs and crime. The value of downtown buildings continued to decline, with rents no longer lucrative enough to invest in maintenance and occupancy rates too low to spur development. Many buildings, though still architecturally and historically significant, deteriorated past the point of redevelopment and many more were rendered economically obsolete, with property taxes and carrying costs of a vacant building outweighing the value of the building. Neglected buildings were demolished during Urban Renewal, which served only to accelerate decline by sapping the vibrancy and aesthetic appeal of downtown.

By the time we, like cities across the country, realized the failings of the Suburban Experiment, we had thoroughly hollowed out our downtown and surrounding commercial areas. Today, 39.6% of developable land in downtown Wichita is surface parking. 

Next time you walk past empty parking lot after empty parking lot downtown, it's worth remembering what we lost.