Sly James is a Rock and Rail Star

It won’t be long before Sly James is known as the first "Rock and Rail" star to lead a major city.

Mayor James is featured in the July-August Metropolis magazine. Metropolis, the Rolling Stone or Sports Illustrated of design, is one of the most important design publication in the U.S. today.

Mayor James is featured along five other mayors who are each making huge strides in their respective cities. His inclusion is a testament to the redesign and reinvention underway in Kansas City.

I hope that my fellow citizens recognize the importance of this honor bestowed on Sly. People across the nation are paying attention.

I wrote in an earlier blog about being asked a question by people on the East coast—why is Kansas City so hot? Metropolis has noticed and is paying attention to the changes that are underway in regenerating the rich vital urban metropolis of yesterday into an even more creative, growing and energetic urban core and region. One that embodies the triple bottom line qualities of healthy people, growing economy and sustaining ecological and natural systems.

Good press is worth a lot, but greenbacks will make things happen. I am even more delighted that we received $20 million in Federal funding for our Streetcar. His leadership is proving powerful and enlightened like no other in recent times in Kansas City. Mayor James listens to people in our city and develops plans that are responsive to community needs. What else should we expect?

The KC Streetcar is a wonderful example of public consensus and investment. The citizens spoke and Sly and the Council listened. Rail is underway. Both out of town and local real estate investors are chasing the ambulance, so to speak, and hoping to find a place alongside the first leg of our Streetcar line.

Time and time again real estate experts have demonstrated how fixed rail infrastructure has proven beneficial for city planning and long-term real estate investment. In historical and contemporary examples we see beautiful and functional rail systems that contribute to sustaining economic stability for neighborhood and city finances.

We are at an important crossroads. Given that the first leg of the streetcar will serve downtown, we need to insure that our investments continue to create a beautiful and high functioning public realm. The Greater Downtown Area Plan includes five primary goals— walkability, double the downtown resident population, double employment, support and grow healthy neighborhoods and sustainability. Each goal will be achieved and sustained more efficiently with beautiful streets, sidewalks, parks and other spaces in the public realm.

A few years ago a group of volunteers collaborated on developing The Guiding Principles for Civic Design for the purpose of achieving the environment that will help Kansas City achieve its goals.

A great recent example of the City making the public realm beautiful and functional is the renovation of Penn Valley Park. An original part of Kessler’s original vision for a beautiful Kansas City, the park had long suffered from neglect. When presented with the opportunity The Board of Parks and Recreation and its talented design team created a contemporary park and boulevard solution. Even without specific use of the Guiding Principles document, the new landscape results embody the document's spirit and aspiration.

The City has an important role to insure successful implementation, however there are other public entities that must cooperate. Jackson County, the Federal Government and Missouri (including the Missouri Department of Transportation) together own more than 30% of downtown real estate and have enormous impact on the quality, beauty and functionality of the public realm.

Last week the 12th Street Bridge reopened, making life better for drivers but doing little to make Kansas City more walkable or beautiful. In the past MODOT has collaborated on bridge projects with the City and Downtown Council to make our City more walkable and beautiful at little or no additional cost.

Our "Rock and Rail" Mayor still has much to do. The first stop on the street car plan is being implemented. His staff at the City is leading the planning of the next lines that will weave Kansas City together. Under Sly’s leadership the City is continuing to listen to residents and implement their good ideas embodied in the Greater Downtown Area Plan, Make Grand Grand, The Streetcar initiative, the Downtown Streetscape Proposal, 20th Street, West Penn Way Plan and other improvement proposals. His approach is breathing life into the essential elements of a modern American City — smart infrastructure such as the street-car and beauty through thoughtful urban design such as Penn Valley Park. His initiatives will improve the lives of Kansas City resident and visitors, increase the vitality of natural systems and grow economic sustainability for decades in the future. Let the good times rail.