By E. Gibson Kerr, CCIM, Director of Capital Markets, Kansas City
When the downtown renaissance in Kansas City really got going ten years ago, it still felt as though it would be a long time before anyone declared Kansas City a “walkable” city. But a recent report listed Kansas City as the 18th most walkable city in the country. Led by the increasing development in the CBD and the continued strength of suburban neighborhoods throughout the metro, Kansas City is now recognized as an area where walkability is a real strength.
The 2019 Foot Traffic Ahead report from the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis (CRUEA) at the George Washington University School of Business, in partnership with Cushman & Wakefield, Smart Growth America/LOCUS and Yardi Matrix, has named Kansas City the No. 18 city for walkable urbanism. The report ranks the 30 largest metros in the United States, based on the percentage of office, retail and rental multifamily space in walkable urban places. The report found that in the 30 largest metros there are 761 “regionally significant” walkable urban places, or WalkUPs. Nine of those WalkUPs are located in the Kansas City metro area.
Kansas City has long been known as a city of broad parkways, long drives, and plenty of highways. With a population approaching 2.2 million, the city has always enjoyed a number of heavily populated neighborhoods. But with substantial suburban outposts in Liberty (northeast), Lee’s Summit (southeast), and Olathe (southwest), the city certainly spread out in the Post-World War II era. Over the past decade, however, there has been a noticeable change in the WalkUPs in the metro area, and today 28% of the rentable office inventory in Kansas City is now located in a WalkUP district. The significant change that has made Kansas City more walkable is that over the past decade there has been a remarkable surge in residential population into areas such as Downtown, the Crossroads, Crown Center and the River Market.
One important trend that will need to continue for Kansas City to keep improving its walkability is further development of public transportation. The KC Streetcar has already completely transformed the way the community thinks about public transport, and the proposed extension of the streetcar will only make the city more and more walkable. As residents become less dependent on their cars, neighborhoods such as Midtown, Westport, the Country Club Plaza, 39th Street, and the areas further south will continue to evolve into more walkable areas, with the amenities and infrastructure necessary to support a less car-dependent population.
Another important aspect that will contribute to Kansas City’s walkability will be the continued redevelopment of suburban centers that support walkability, even if they lack office towers. Neighborhoods such as Brookside, Prairie Village, Merriam, Downtown Overland Park, Lee’s Summit, and other pockets around the city are increasingly becoming more welcoming to residents willing to take a short walk to shop for groceries, visit a coffee shop, grab lunch, or go out for a drink or dinner.
Continuing to embrace these small, centralized, local communities will simply accelerate the evolution of Kansas City from a “drive-everywhere” city to one where walking becomes more and more common.
For a more detailed understanding of walkability in Kansas City and the other top 30 U.S. cities, download the report here.
E. Gibson Kerr, CCIM serves as director, capital markets in Kansas and Missouri, specializing in investment property sales. With over 30 years of commercial real estate experience, he has closed more than 250 transactions, including numerous landmark properties in Metropolitan Kansas City.