Last week Boston planning firm Goody Clancy presented its master plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. As this plan is now part of the political landscape in Wichita, we ought to take a critical look at some of its components.
A theme repeated over and over is that downtown development in Wichita will succeed as downtown becomes more walkable. Walkability is a component of the “new urbanist” school of city planning, which calls for compact, walkable cities and neighborhoods. Underlying new urbanism is a hostility towards suburban lifestyles and the automobile. We see the bias against automobiles in the plans for increased use of transit downtown. And at one time Goody Clancy said we have too much parking in downtown Wichita, although they seem to have deemphasized that finding.
But people love their cars. They provide unparalleled mobility and freedom. Business owners, if they have experience in new urbanist neighborhoods, know this too.
Recently I toured Baldwin Park, a development in Orlando, Florida that uses new urbanist design. Regarding the automobile, new urbanism means that cars are kept out of sight and mind as much as possible. Homes do not have their garages in the front. Instead, garages are at the rear of homes, and access is through alleyways. Similarly, businesses will have parking located behind the store, with the main entrance on the street, where it is thought there will be much pedestrian traffic.
In Baldwin Park, there’s a Publix grocery store, which is a very nice chain of supermarkets in the South. But our tour guide — the developer of Baldwin Park — told us that Publix insisted on having the main entrance to the store at the rear, where the parking lot is. No dummies, the Publix store owners. They know that people want to drive to the grocery store.
I also toured Celebration, Florida, another new urbanist community with emphasis on walkability. But on a pleasant Florida afternoon, there was a long line of parents in cars waiting to pick up children as school let out.
Returning to Wichita: in January Goody Clancy presented preliminary findings in Wichita. As part of the presentation, principal David Dixon said that this planning effort is grounded in data and hard analysis. As an example, Dixon promoted Walk Score as a measure of the value we place in downtown. Walk score, according to its website, “calculates the walkability of an address based on the distance from your house to nearby amenities. Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle — not how pretty the area is for walking.”
I’ve found that the walk scores are not credible measures. 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.” Examination of the results, however, leads us to have little confidence in this measure.
For example, an important “amenity” — that’s a favorite word of planners — that should be nearby is a grocery store. The details for the walk score 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. Those familiar with the area will also know that the nearest grocery is several miles away.
For a nearby library, it lists Robert F. Walters Digital Library, which is a specialized geological library costing $1,500 per year to use — over the internet.
For a drug store, it lists Rx Doctor’s Choice, which is a specialty retailer selling oral chelation treatments — by mail order. It’s nothing at all like a general-purpose drug store. One of those is nowhere nearby.
These results are pure junk. Wichitans should draw one of several conclusions. First, if Dixon believes the Walk Score website results are credible, it casts a huge and dark shadow of doubt over the entirety of the information Goody Clancy is giving Wichita. What else in the plan is based on such obviously trashy data and analysis?
Second, if Dixon sells this junk to Wichitans without investigating its credibility, it means that he has no credibility. And if he believes it’s credible, that’s a problem, too.
Finally, if Wichitans — and I’m speaking particularly of Wichita’s political and bureaucratic leadership — believe this nonsense, it means we’ll believe anything. Heaven help us in this case.
Build it and the cops will come. Hanging around to give people more DUIs.
In checking the website http://www.walkscores.com which is the site Goody Clancy used I found different numbers and listing then what you show here. The walkable score was 85 and both the Pepsi Bottling and Walters Digital Library were not listed. Upon checking it seems the site has updated it’s information since the GC team first quoted it and now. Hopefully that will help you with your personal credibility issue. I also did want to remind you that there is a pharmacy at 1035 N. Emporia (Via Christi) which is only just over a mile from your point of reference, since you mentioned one was “nowhere near”.
Larry, it’s good to know that Walk Score has fixed what was so obviously a farce. If you like, I’d send you the presentation that Goody Clancy used in January where those items appeared.
The fact that Walk Score has adjusted its data doesn’t affect credibility issues that we should have with Goody Clancy and the entire planning process. They still relied on that data to make their case.
Also, would you want young women walking in the evening from downtown to Via Christi hospital? I would not recommend that.
I have one of those homes with a garage in the back off the alley behind my house. The homes in my neighborhood also have large front porches, which, according to the new planners’ models should encourage neighbors to gather on their porches and get to know each other better.
I lived in my neighborhood many years. Until governments force people to live without TV and air conditioning I don’t think people will start spending time on their front porches.
And even if a government did do the above, there will still be ipods & people won’t talk to each other anyway. Of course with a government as oppressive as that, no one would trust anyone else enough to talk to them.
Hi, I grew up in a small town in Southern (not-Daleyville) Illinois. Most of the town is built in square blocks where each house has a front yard and a back yard. The Garage may exit onto the street in front, or to the alley in back. The garbage trucks use the alley. My parents still set on their porch and know their neighbors. I like the concept of city blocks with an alley to park your car on.
In Alabama, at least all of the guys knew each other. We took the dumpster out to the curb twice a week, which took HOURS since we all had refrigerators in the garage with beer. I’ve lived in the same house in NE Wichita for 14 years, and don’t bother getting to know the neighbors. Half don’t speak English, and they aren’t usually there too long anyway. Third owners both sides and a house across the street too. The house directly across the street is a rental.
Thanks Bob, my daughter lived at the 324 flats and walked / jogged all over the downtown area, so yes I do think downtown is safe. The pharmacy at Via Christi is only open to 7pm. 24 hour pharmacies are few in Wichita as a whole. Just another one of those things that we will overcome with time and growth. Have a great weekend…
MR. Weber, Who pays you to say these things?
[…] group called Voice for Liberty in Wichita, Kansas came to a similar conclusion over the recommendations of a Downtown master plan, calling the recommendations related to Walk […]
There are some good comments re: Walk Score. You are dead on target. I have found it to have the same shortcomings in several environments. I have posted a link to this article from an article about Walk Score on our site http://www.conservativeplanner.com.