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This special series explored the history and impact of the most distinct lines in Kansas City: Troost Avenue, the State Line, the Wyandotte-Johnson county line, and the Missouri River.

A Bleak Stretch Of Kansas City's 18th Street 'Reimagined' With Art, Music ... And People

The roughly 1.5 miles between the Crossroads Arts District and 18th and Vine in Kansas City, Missouri, is not a lot of things.

It’s not a destination. It’s not a gathering place. It’s not particularly pedestrian or bike friendly. It’s not visually appealing. But what the 18th Street corridor does have going for it is a little momentum, in part due to conversations sparked by two college students.

For the past two semesters, Iowa State University landscape architecture majors Michael Schmidt and Andrew Smith have focused their efforts on “reimagining” 18th Street. They met with city planners, business owners, artists, and neighborhood residents. 

“Every other person you would talk to, it would either be very optimistic or kind of pessimistic,” Schmidt says. “Everyone seemed like they wanted change, wanted something to happen. So that was the exciting part.”

Schmidt grew up in Olathe, Kansas. He says the idea for the project cropped up when he and his parents were driving from one arts district to the other. In between, he noticed a “disconnect” with long stretches of parking lots and vacant, boarded-up buildings.

This semester, Schmidt and Smith honed in on three strategies for 18th Street: creating an art walk, including art and music around the U.S. Highway 71 underpass; cutting lanes of traffic to add vegetation, bike lanes, and alternative parking; and updating streetscape and signage to link it to the Crossroads. 

Schmidt says the idea of creating a central gathering spot, as part of the art walk, near 18th and Troost Avenue would probably be the most difficult because of the need to acquire both the land and the funding.

But it got the most attention at a recent open house at Thou Mayest, a coffee shop in the Crossroads. Drawings envisioned dozens of people walking on pathways flanked by art and native prairie grass, with a lawn amphitheater for music and performances. 

“I think that would kind of be the most powerful to really help link the two," Schmidt says. Despite the challenges, he says, it could be "a space that both sides can use and come together.”

Schmidt and Smith both graduated in May. Smith plans to move to Omaha, Nebraska, and Schmidt just re-located to Kansas City for a job at Confluence, a landscape architecture and urban design firm.

“There’s a lot of people interested in this topic,” he says. “And if our project can kind of get the ball rolling for actual things to start to get done, that’s the best thing for us. We were thinking big for our project, but I think there’s a lot of things the city can do and private developers can do at a smaller scale that start to reach some of these goals.”

And Schmidt says he hopes to be a part of it.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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