At Wichita planning commission, downtown plan approved

At last week’s meeting of the Wichita Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, members were asked to approve the Goody Clancy plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. I appeared to make sure that commissioners were aware of some of the highly dubious data on which the plan is based.

Listen to my remarks to the planning commission.
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In particular, I presented to the commission the Walk Score data for downtown Wichita, and how Goody Clancy relied on this obviously meaningless data in developing plans for downtown Wichita.

Walk Score is purported to represent a measure of walkability of a location in a city. Walkability is a key design element of the mster plan Goody Clancy has developed for downtown Wichita. In January, David Dixon, who leads Goody Clancy’s Planning and Urban Design division, used Walk Score in a presentation delivered in Wichita.

Walk Score is not a project of Goody Clancy, as far as I know, and David Dixon is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of the Walk Score website. But he presented it and relied on it as an example of the data-driven approach that Goody Clancy takes.

Walk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody ClancyWalk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody Clancy. Click for a larger view.

The score for 525 E. Douglas, the block the Eaton Hotel is in and mentioned by Dixon as a walkable area, scored 91, which means it is a “walker’s paradise,” according to the Walk Score website.

But here’s where we can start to see just how bad the data used to develop these scores is. For a grocery store — an important component of walkability — the website indicates indicates a grocery store just 0.19 miles away. It’s “Pepsi Bottling Group,” located on Broadway between Douglas and First Streets. Those familiar with the area know there is no grocery store there, only office buildings. The claim of a grocery store here is false.

There were other claimed amenities where the data is just as bad. But as Larry Weber, chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation told me a while back, Walk Score has been updated. I should no longer be concerned with the credibility of this data, he told me through a comment left on this website.

He’s correct. Walk Score has been updated, but we should still be concerned about the quality of the data. Now for the same location the walk score is 85, which is considered “very walkable.” The “grocery store” is no longer the Pepsi Bottling Group. It’s now “Market Place,” whose address is given as 155 N. Market St # 220.

If Mr. Weber would ever happen to stroll by that location, he’d find that address, 155 N. Market number 220, is the management office for an office building whose name is Market Place.

It’s not a grocery store. It’s nothing resembling a grocery store. Now I’m even more concerned about the credibility of this data and the fact that Goody Clancy relied on it. I’m further concerned that Weber thinks this is an improvement, and that he feels I should not be concerned.

As I reminded the commission members, David Dixon and other Goody Clancy staff did not create the Walk Score data. But they presented it to Wichitans as an example of the data-driven, market-oriented approach to planning that they use. Dixon cited Walk Score data as the basis for higher real estate values based on the walkability of the area and its surrounding amenities.

But anyone who relies on the evidence Dixon and Goody Clancy presented would surely get burnt unless they investigated the area on their own.

And since this January reliance on Walk Score was made after Goody Clancy had spent considerable time in Wichita, the fact that someone there could not immediately recognize how utterly bogus the data is — that should give us cause for concern that the entire planning process is based on similar shoddy data and analysis.

A member of the planning commission asked that Scott Knebel, a member of the city’s planning staff who is the city’s point man on downtown planning, address the concerns raised by me.

Knebel said “In terms of the Walk Score, I suspect Mr. Weeks is absolutely right, it probably is a relatively flawed measurement of Walk Score.” He added that the measurement is probably flawed everywhere, downtown and elsewhere. He said that Goody Clancy used it “as an illustration of the importance of walkability in an urban area.” He added, correctly, that Goody Clancy tied it to premiums in real estate values in areas that are mixed use and walkable.

In the end, all commission members voted in favor of accepting the plan. The Wichita City Council is scheduled to hear this matter on December 14th.

6 Comments

  • Getting the facts correct is a very important when doing any research and as I told you previously the walk score data was flawed. The walk scores failed to point out that the following places to buy groceries, Ray’s Sales 206 South Emporia 0.1 mi from Eaton, or the Quick Trip at Washington 0.3 mi from the Eaton. While neither would suffice for a full service grocery store between the two you can get most of the basic grocery needs. In addition you pointed out that the walk scores noted that for a library they used some digital library. Here again the scores did not note the main branch of the Wichita library which is 0.3 mi from the Eaton. With these corrections the walk score may have gone back up I don’t know. But it is correct that all of us should work to keep the facts correct and free from bias.

  • Mr Weber,
    A website or company that continually gets it data wrong cannot be trusted.
    A plan based on flawed information is a bad plan. Period.
    If you’re going to present ideas on which OUR money should be spent – at a time when there is none to spare – the plan must be as solid as possible.
    By starting your plan with a flawed, errored, inaccurate, foundation you endanger an entire city & the welfare of it’s people. START OVER. Better yet, quit wasting our money trying to make Wichita into something it’s not (Kansas City, Dallas, Oklahoma City, the list is endless).

  • Bob,
    When you say “if you’re going to present ideas on which OUR money should be spent..” your assuming that all the ideas that come forth as a result of the plan will call for public private partnerships. Should we not wait to see what the ideas are and if they all request such a partnership? Then we can debate the worthiness of the idea?
    Larry

  • Hi Larry,

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t leave the comment that you address. But I agree with the comment writer in that public-private partnerships are likely to be a big part of whatever happens downtown. After all, when the city council is committed to them, why would anyone go into a venture downtown without some form of public money assistance?

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