Urban Renewal: Not so new in Johnson County

An opinion piece by Fred Logan in last week’s Kansas City Business Journal begins with the sentence “Urban renewal is Johnson County’s next big deal.” And he is right: The Vision Metcalf plan is coming closer to fruition with its emphasis on walkable spaces, economic revitalization and attractive redevelopment. As the northern part of the county ages, municipalities are having to deal with aging infrastructure and building stock, not to mention the appeal of newer, larger developments in south Johnson County.

But Johnson County is no stranger to urban renewal. In the 1960s and 70s Olathe underwent a series of demolition and construction measures aimed at sprucing up downtown and nearby neighborhoods. As the oldest city in the county, it had to contend with these issues earlier than others have had to.

Olathe Urban renewal Office, 1967

Olathe Urban renewal Office, 1967

A recent article from the Johnson County Museum newsletter described their plans thusly:

In 1965, Olathe’s Urban Renewal Agency was established. By the fall of 1966, the agency made public its tentative plan for redeveloping Olathe’s downtown—a plan which included relocating Santa Fe, Kansas, and Water Streets, providing space for a courthouse expansion and a civic center (which would house some departments of city government, the public library, and provide meeting rooms for civic groups and an auditorium for theatrical productions), creating additional parking lots, closing off downtown streets to create a landscaped outdoor mall, and acquiring land for the construction of major retail facilities.

The resulting plan was scaled back somewhat due to community frustration at the pace and extremity of the proposed changes. Over 100 homes and businesses were purchased and demolished in the effort to create a modern, livable city.

The fascinating article is available in its entirety on the JoCoHistory site, you can read it here.

These are some of the challenges that cities like Overland Park are contending with and the reason why endeavors like Vision Metcalf exist. In his piece, Fred Logan praises Overland Park for its work. Do you agree? What are some concerns you have about Vision Metcalf or other urban renewal plans?

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