Cities, specifically their downtowns, have been a passion of mine since I was a kid. I’ve always enjoyed their dynamic nature and diversity, the organic nature of their growth, decline and regeneration.
I’m old enough to have witnessed the lingering heyday of downtowns in the 1960s with their big department stores, bustling sidewalks and new office towers, and their steep decline as retailers fled to the suburbs followed by many businesses.
My first taste of downtowns’ energy and appeal was in Omaha and later Minneapolis and Denver. As a college student in the 1970s, I hitchhiked to New York with a buddy from Brooklyn over spring break-it was love at first sight.
I realized there was so much more to urban vitality than simply a grand skyline. It was the energy on the streets, the shops, the people, and the architecture that made them truly alive.
It charged me up enough to apply to the Columbia University School of Journalism. New York was our laboratory and classroom during the one-year master’s degree program, and it only reinforced my connection to and passion for urban living.
Returning to Omaha, I worked at the World-Herald and I had the privilege of covering the early redevelopment of that city’s downtown, both the good–the renovation of historic buildings into apartments, and the bad–the destruction of an entire historic district, Jobbers Canyon, to make way for the corporate headquarters of ConAgra.
My next newspaper gig was in Buffalo, NY, a once major American city that had collapsed with the Rust Belt. It had some of the best architects–Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, H.H. Richardson–and its parks were designed by Frederick Olmsted of Central Park fame. I reported on its push to recapture the historic Erie Canal waterfront and many other redevelopment efforts.
While in Buffalo, I also had many opportunities to visit Toronto, just a 90 minute drive up Queen Elizabeth Way. That cosmopolitan metropolis, one of the largest and most diverse in North America, only added to my understanding and appreciation of what makes a city great.
Finally, I had the great fortune to come to The Kansas City Star in 2001 as the development reporter. It was a fortuitous time, a pivotal moment when former Mayor Kay Barnes harnessed the collective energy of a city longing to revive its downtown after decades of neglect.
I still remember taking our then 10-year-old daughter to see The Nutcracker at the Midland Theater shortly after we arrived. The walk from The Star parking lot was a destitute trek past crumbling parking lots, haunted houses, and adult book stores with broken gin bottles littering the sidewalk.
The most vivid symbol of downtown’s decline was the old Empire Theater, now the Mainstreet, with mature trees growing through its crumbling roof and corrugated metal panels bandaging its side.
Fast forward to Downtown 2017.
Thousands of new residents live in once-empty office buildings, thanks to Missouri’s progressive historic tax credit program. The Sprint Center and Power & Light District are its entertainment zone, the River Market its village square, the Kauffman Center its cultural castle on the hill above the creative Crossroads Arts District, all knitted together by the new streetcar line.
And my now 26-year-old daughter is enjoying First Fridays with her friends and joining them for a drink at Thou Mayest, one of many hip places that have opened in the East Crossroads.
My intention with CityScene KC is to be part of the next wave of downtown’s revival. I have created a hyper-local online news source to inform people who live and work downtown, or people everywhere who support its vitality.
I’m using the Downtown Council definition of “Greater Downtown” for the focus of my reporting–from the riverfront to 31st Street, between State Line and 71 Highway. That area includes the River Market, Downtown Loop, Crossroads, Crown Center and West Bottoms.
I welcome your suggestions and news tips. Thanks for stopping by!