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Walkable neighborhoods in Kansas City

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New urbanism is not a new idea. With its roots in the 1980’s, this style of development incorporates walkable neighborhoods with both mass transit and car travel options. They may also offer opportunities for the rehabilitation and redevelopment of brownfields, sites once occupied by commercial or industrial properties that may have resulted in contamination or pollution.

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New urbanism features environmental concepts within its broader scope. Its vision offers residents a livable community where they can rely less upon personal automobiles and stay within the immediate area for locally grown produce, shopping, dining, socializing, cultural arts, outdoor recreation, education, historical celebration, professional services, and hopefully, their own jobs. Sound like utopia?

In reality, there are many communities around the world that embrace this style of development and way of life. Unfortunately, many communities are stuck in the frustration of sprawl. You can see from the window of an airplane the never-ending outreach of the built environment that is reliant on cars and highways. Often malls, strip malls, and sporting facilities are built out in the middle of nowhere thus requiring highway travel to get there. Many areas lack any options for fresh, locally grown food.

Development that continually moves massively and expansively outward instead of in a smartly-designed, more densely-built fashion contributes to the environmental headache that we are now experiencing due to the pollution from transportation and modern industry. The more we rely on automobiles and gasoline, the more pollution we create and the more time we lose commuting by car.

If an area is heavily reliant upon car travel, there is a price to pay for that modern convenience. The price may be in the degradation of our air quality. It may be the loss of time you have to spend with your family, friends, and loved ones due to your commutes. It may hurt your pocketbook if gasoline prices continue to rise. In regards to air quality, this may ultimately impact our health. Idealistically, streetcars and mass transit from a densely built core that extends outward into neighboring communities give many people healthy options for job and entertainment commuting. Mass transit improves new urbanism neighborhoods as well as the surrounding communities: It benefits the air quality. It allows commuters time to talk with friends, form new relationships, read, or relax. Its low cost can save you money each month.

New urbanism is not limited to cities, although that is where you’ll find many examples of this concept. Some of these communities were built long before ‘new urbanism’ was a concept. These examples are scattered around the globe where towns in the countryside give a more densely-built, walkable experience. You still have to travel to get there, but they do exist.

Now, this is not to say that urban neighborhoods are better than suburban. The new urbanism concept is just one example of creating a healthier, sustainable, walkable community. There are enjoyable qualities to many different areas and neighborhoods as well as creative solutions for making a neighborhood more sustainable. There are many reasons why residents choose to live in a particular community. The discussion is complex, and we know that perfection is truly hard to achieve.

However, anytime we have an opportunity to create housing, new urbanism is a good concept for consideration. Kansas City already offers several walkable neighborhoods in urban, suburban, and even more rural areas. If this sounds like a utopia from your current situation, perhaps it’s time for you to explore.

© 2014, Laura Sterchi

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