What's missing from Metcalf?
by Wayne Flaherty
On a business trip a number of years ago, I spent 8 hours driving alone. I had time to ponder the Metcalf redevelopment question at length. Aside from the abandoned and derelict businesses there seemed to be something missing. I wondered if some of the 17 countries I have visited and the 8 cities that I have lived in might provide a clue. I thought back to my visits to Galway in Ireland, Idstein in Germany, the Champs Élysées in Paris, the small cities near San Francisco, and other places that all would agree are best described as alive.
Then, it hit me. They all have one thing that Metcalf does not – people. There are people everywhere along the streets. No one drives up, parks their car, and disappears inside a building. Instead, they become part of the landscape as they wander in and out of the shops, sit on sidewalks and talk to one another, or do business through a window opening to the sidewalk. Therein lays the charm of these streets. Face it; people are a lot more interesting to watch than buildings.
This idea should be considered when seeking Metcalf’s future image. Maybe it’s not possible – but maybe it is. Maybe there can be pockets of activity in areas along Metcalf designed specifically to encourage this sort of activity. When we consider what we want to do with Metcalf, making it come alive should be a major consideration. Allow me to engage in a flight of fancy for a moment.
Suppose there were a streetcar on Metcalf. It is traveling north from 103rd Street. As it reaches Metcalf South, it turns in and runs down a narrow street where cars are not allowed. On each side of this imaginary street are shops of every kind imaginable – not superstores but stores run by people, not Wall Street corporations. The interest in this area would be a thousand times what it is for anything that exists along Metcalf now. It would be an “in” place.
Shoppers could climb on board our imaginary streetcar and ride to the next “in” place or just ride on home. For shoppers it could become an event, a happening, not just a trip to get something they need. It becomes a place you go when you don’t know where you want to go. It becomes a destination that leaves a lasting memory. It could help make Metcalf come alive.
A man once asked his friend, “Do you think it’ll help?” His friend replied, “Couldn’t hurt!” Considering this idea is like that – couldn’t hurt.
Note: Reprinted from the old Eponym website as historical background on the madcap redevelopment along Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park, Kansas.