The Kansas City area’s regional planning agency has spent months in meetings and data crunching to get a picture of what the metro area’s future looks like as far as development, population shifts and infrastructure such as transportation corridors.

The Kansas City area’s regional planning agency has spent months in meetings and data crunching to get a picture of what the metro area’s future looks like as far as development, population shifts and infrastructure such as transportation corridors.

They see two possible futures. One is a future of more sprawl, more “paving of paradise” if you will, more people living and commuting far from their jobs, and more previously developed areas being left to fall into decline. The other is a future of high-growth areas combined with determined redevelopment of those areas that are already in, or are in danger of, decline.

It’s hard to imagine rational citizens seeing the first future as the more attractive. But it’s been our history and stands every chance of being our future.

Developers love wide-open space, especially if they can get local governments to give them tax breaks to pave over and develop that wide-open space.

To a casual observer, it may look like this. A developer comes in with plans to build the Green Vista Center (cleverly named in honor of what it’s replacing). The developer gets some sort of incentive to bulldoze a pasture and put in a shopping mall. Then within 20 years or so (after their tax incentives have expired, coincidentally), they move on to, literally, greener pastures and leave behind potholed parking lots and big empty storefronts.

Those empty business developments and the fading neighborhoods around many of them, are what Mid-America Regional Council says could be relieved with an “adaptive scenario” of development. It would shift nearly half of the metro area’s growth by the year 2040 from the outer fringes to areas already developed but in need of “infill.”

When you consider that Grain Valley foresees growing from 13,000 in 2010 to 29,000 by 2030, and Independence expects its Little Blue River Valley to be filled with 20,000 new residents within 15 or 20 years, its obvious that MARC would prefer an alternate vision for their future: more emphasis on areas of the metro that look like western Independence and less on areas that look like the river valleys.

Independence actually can argue both sides of the argument, since its west side and east side are so developmentally different.

The MARC board is discussing this again, and the members are not of one mind on the topic. We think MARC is on the right track, but it’s hard to get communities and elected leaders to put the needs of the wider metro community ahead of their own goals. That’s MARC’s big challenge.

But any guidelines that are totally voluntary are ultimately toothless.