Archive for Thursday, April 24, 2008

Towns have personality too

April 24, 2008

Like people, all cities seem to have their own personalities.

Climate is part of it. A city in a warm and dry place such as Phoenix, Ariz., has a much different rhythm than one located in the northern portion of the United States such as Chicago.

In Phoenix, during the summer, lives during the daytime are spent largely indoors out of the heat of the summer sun. When the sun goes down, the city's social life awakens. Traffic picks up and outside patios of restaurants become crowded.

In Chicago, restaurants, museums, tourists and shoppers bustle in and out of buildings near the lakefront as boats of different uses sail by all day long.

Kansas City is more like Chicago. It has extremes of temperature, year-round. The winters can be extremely cold; the summers extremely hot. Moderate temperatures can mostly be found during the spring and fall. And, there's something going on about every hour of the day.

Bonner Springs shares in the temperature extremes, but because it is small and family-oriented, there's not a lot going on after 10 p.m.

One constant in Bonner Springs and Kansas City is the flight of the middle class to the suburbs. The center of the metropolitan area, despite efforts to stop the tide, is an essentially deteriorating core of apartment houses, homes and businesses.

The Power and Light District and Sprint Center aside, the population of inner Kansas City is declining, and with it, the number of people who regularly go there unless they are drawn by a musical or sports event. Huge suburbs of many houses in contemporary designs surround the center of our metropolitan area.Huge malls continually spring up filled with achingly similar chains of stores and restaurants. Then when each enclave has become dated, buildings filled with empty storefronts are deserted like ghost towns.

This is not a characteristic of all urban areas. Bonner Springs has benefited from the flight to the suburbs as the overflow of people comes into the city.

Portland, Ore., which I visit from time to time, is markedly different from the Kansas City metropolitan area and has largely escaped the boom-or-bust cycle. People there have never been able to afford or had the motivation to leave the original downtown. It was largely left alone by an urban renewal that would have destroyed many of its old buildings. The downtown area now is thriving with old brick buildings next to multistory towers of glass and steel.

Chain stores and restaurants, are eclipsed by brightly colored, imaginative neighborhood restaurants and stores in old buildings decorated with hand painted-signs and artwork.

Adding to the character of the city is its proudly flaunted greenness and the neighborhoods filled with individually designed and built homes. No cookie-cutter homes welcome there. And then there are the many beautiful parks and walks welcoming walkers and dogs. The Columbia and Willamette Rivers meet, making it a city of bridges and waterfronts.

The city also boasts a public transit system that allows one to live a lifetime without being dependent on cars. I read the obituary of a 111-year old Portland woman who came there as a girl with her parents, never learned to drive, but lived independently by herself within walking distance of stores and the bus and transit system until she moved to a retirement center for the last few months of her life.

Bonner Springs shares many of Portland's best points with a transport system for seniors, boutiques, and restaurants. It is too bad that this is not true of the entire metropolitan area.

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