In this sense, Kansas City, Missouri is no different than most communities in the United States and Canada. In the last 70 years, the physical size of Kansas City has quadrupled while the population has remained relatively stable. (Put another way, every resident of Kansas City is on the hook for maintaining four times as much of the city as his or her predecessors.) In Kansas City, there are 6,500 linear miles of lanes just in the city street system—so not including county, state and federal roadways. This is the equivalent of driving from New York to San Francisco and back, with a bonus trip to Portland, Maine. According to the Kansas City public works department, to maintain and replace existing roads it needs ten times more money each year than it can ask for.
While these stats are specific to Kansas City, Missouri, the story is familiar to anyone who has come to recognize the effects of the suburban development pattern: we’ve built cities we can’t afford.
Yet there are two assets that set Kansas City apart from many other communities. One is that the city has “great bones.” As Dennis Strait, managing principle of Gould Evans Kansas City, describes in the video above, Kansas City grew quickly from a village to a city following many of the best lessons humans have gleaned from 5,000 years of city-building. The positive effects of this ancient wisdom can still be felt today, and Kansas City’s most productive neighborhoods are often its oldest. The negative effects of bad policies—such as racist redlining—can still be felt too, Strait says.