Mr. Mayor, members of this council, there are many reasons why we should reject Project Downtown: The Master Plan for Wichita. I’d like to present just a few.
First, consider the attitudes of Goody Clancy, the Boston planning firm the city hired to lead us through the process. At a presentation in January, some speakers from Goody Clancy revealed condescending attitudes towards those who hold values different from this group of planners. One presenter said “Outside of Manhattan and Chicago, the traditional family household generally looks for a single family detached house with yard, where they think their kids might play, and they never do.”
David Dixon, who leads Goody Clancy’s Planning and Urban Design division and was the principal for this project, revealed his elitist world view when he told how that in the future, Wichitans will be able to “enjoy the kind of social and cultural richness” that is only found at the core.
This idea that only downtown people are socially and culturally rich is an elitist attitude that we ought to reject.
By the way, as I look at the members of this council and the city bureaucratic staff behind me, I see many people who do not live in the core area.
In fact, looking at the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, its president, chair, and past chair live in the type of fringe, suburban developments that Dixon claims are not socially and culturally rich. Do all of you accept Dixon’s criticism?
These attitudes reflect those of most of the planning profession — that people can’t be relied on to choose what’s best for them. Instead they believe that only they — like the planners at Goody Clancy — are equipped to make choices for people. It’s an elitism that Wichita ought to reject.
The irony is that when we start to look at what exactly Goody Clancy is selling us, we find that we ought to reject it.
In January, Dixon used Walk Score in a presentation delivered in 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 master plan Goody Clancy has developed for downtown Wichita.
Walk Score is not a project of Goody Clancy, as far as I know, and 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.
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 the chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation told me that 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. 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 someone 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.
Still no grocery store. Not even close.
Again, David Dixon and Goody Clancy 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.
I also question whether we have the bureaucratic and political will to actually do what this plan says. For example, the public financing portion is to be limited to things that have a genuine public purpose, such as parking. Financing, if I understand correctly, will be limited largely to tax increment financing districts and historic preservation tax credits.
But look at what this city has done.
In January, Goody Clancy, in its market findings report, told us there is a thriving market for downtown hotel rooms. But right after that the city awarded several millions in subsidy to the Fairfield Inn Hotel, in addition to the benefit it already received from being in a TIF district.
Goody Clancy’s report also states: “Strong occupancy and revenue rates at hotels and a relative undersupply of rooms compared to office space suggest a market opportunity for more hotel rooms.”
But just recently, this city awarded yet another form of subsidy to the many millions already awarded to the Broadview Hotel.
So I wonder if we have the bureaucratic and political will to limit ourselves to the types of public subsidy that the plan calls for.
Finally, Mayor and members of the council, we already have market-driven development in Wichita. Just because some people don’t agree with the results the markets have produced, that does not constitute a market failure that requires government correction.
We already have community engagement in Wichita by people who are actually accountable for the decisions they make and the actions they take.
Now we are considering replacing the dynamic and truly market-driven approach to building our city with what is — despite the claims of its backers — a political and bureaucratic system.
This is a mistake we should not make.