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Could density be the answer to greener, more accessible KC? City leaders say yes.

Posted at 8:05 PM, Dec 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-26 21:05:20-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Affordable housing, public transportation, job location and creation all play a part in making a city greener, and vice versa. City leaders say if we want to address one, we need to address them all.

Making KC more dense could be a solution to making it greener and more accessible.

"Density sometimes is dirty word in KC, but it shouldn't be because not only does it make it more walk-able, it also makes it more livable, affordable, services run more efficiently," said Eric Bunch, who is the policy director for BikeWalkKC.

It's a topic being discussed as part of the city's upcoming comprehensive housing policy.

"We're saying, yeah we're going to up-zone. We're going to make places more dense. I've gotten pushback from the community because some people say, 'Well is this you trying to build housing projects like they did in Chicago years ago?' Well, not really," said Councilmember Quinton Lucas.

The city is looking at Minneapolis, which is close to passing a major upzoning plan, as an example. This means taller buildings that fit more people and drastically adjusting zoning requirements to make way for multi-family housing where only single-family housing is allowed.

Lucas said the downtown area is rife with unused parking spaces, and getting rid of those to make way for more housing is ideal. "God forbid," he said, that Kansas City residents come around to the idea that they do not need a car.

"It doesn't necessarily mean everybody needs to be stacked in a high-rise, and that's I think where maybe some of the confusion happens. But it's a lot about preserving what we currently have in our historic building stock," said Bunch.

BikeWalkKC supports the effort. Bunch said cities need to take the lead on climate change, and getting rid of the sprawl would help.

Lucas said KC is behind many other cities our size, but is certain the city council will pass policies that will allow us to catch up.

Many reports say 70 percent of carbon emissions come from cities.

"When we live closer to the things we need, we're more able to walk or ride a bike or use public transportation and the less reliant we are on car trips. Or, the shorter those car trips are," said Bunch.

KCATA said their bus service runs much more efficiently in denser areas. Main, Troost, and Prospect are the top transit corridors.

"We have more that are targeted for investments, so State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, Metcalf Avenue in Johnson County, North Oak north of the river. Those are corridors that have some planting in place for more density or we think are primed for growth when it comes to transit ridership," said KCATA project manager David Johnson.

KCATA just launched its new strategic plan, Mobility Momentum 2021, that they say will improve its service and give riders more options. By the end of next year, KCATA says 60 percent of its fleet of buses will run on compressed natural gas, which has a drastically smaller emission footprint than diesel. It will also put more electric buses out on the streets by the end of 2019.

Councilman Quinton Lucas said if there's more housing, affordability needs to be a part of the conversation. Lucas said the east side is perfect to create more housing because it's dense already.

"If we were able to invest in more development, more multi family development in that area, more small lots, then you actually could see see us taking advantage of and redeveloping in areas where we already have a lot of people riding public transit," said Lucas.

Johnson said there are pockets in the urban core where 40 percent of households do not have a vehicle. In the suburbs, the number is closer to 10 percent.

Lucas said council members hope to have many of the housing policies enacted by early 2019.