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Thread: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

  1. #1

    Default My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Just got back from the longest road trip of my life, seriously - and that's coming from someone who took my car to Calgary. That said, the little loop I took through America's midwest took me through a bunch of really great cities. These are all phone pics just to warn you, but I like the way a lot of these cities are represented. Unfortunately I was in a hurry going through a lot of places - when I was finally coming through STL on my way back home, I was so drained of energy and interest from constant driving that I couldn't even be bothered to stop in STL for a few pics (granted already been there, done that). But the following are of KC, Omaha, Sioux City IA, Iowa City IA, and Chicago. I'll put the Cleveland pics in a separate thread.

    KANSAS CITY - it always amazes me just how far ahead of us they are

    18th and Vine area in KC, with blues and jazz clubs, and Negro Leagues HOF




    The Crossroads district between Downtown and the Crown Center, Plaza is further south a few miles..


    The new Kaufman PAC in Kansas City


    Crown Center viewed from the new park-community garden space


    OMAHA - finally a big city that doesn't completely show OKC up like KC does












    SIOUX CITY - pop. 82,684. But formerly bigger and grander than Omaha.

    ISU's Design Center just a block off the Historic Fourth district
























    One of the grandest Orpheums left in the Midwest

    Just renovated, like a lot of the buildings you see here


    Chris Robinson, Counting Crows

    Saturday in the Park music festival

    Wilco

    This bandshell at Grandview Park reminds me a lot of the one at the State Fairgrounds

    IOWA CITY - Home of the University of Iowa, and also only 67,862 folks.



    Bicyclists everywhere in this town

    Yes, this is a small city in Iowa

    This feels and looks so similar to some small Dutch cities




    Part of a patchwork of pedestrian malls in the historic Town Center






    A surprising amount of people in the square for a 9am Sunday morning with school not in session



    They got grits.




    University of Iowa






    I love the simplistic beauty of these streetscapes


    Tons of vibrant public art everywhere





    CHICAGO - Ok I confess this part is a bit of a sham, as I hooked up with old friends and spent all my time with them.

    Cool deco bridge on Ashland, north of Wicker Park

  2. #2

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Agree with you about KC. Lived in Kansas for 9 years and spent a lot of time in KC. I love KC. I am also blown away at cities in Iowa and that area. Des Moines is very impressive. Now, with that said, remember how much longer these places have been in existance than OKC. Also, I'm not sure about this, but, I don't believe most of these other places were "raped" by urban renewal like OKC. Maybe I'm wrong. OKC is coming along nicely, but has a long way to go.

  3. #3

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    No, it's very accurate that OKC pursued urban renewal to a larger degree (and at a later period) than almost any peer cities. The Pei Plan was urban renewal on steroids, and it was almost 2 decades after the first urban renewal programs in cities like Pittsburgh that were more modest travesties.

    It was really just KC that blew me away, as it always does. I'll admit I didn't see anything in Omaha that made me feel jealous (but I did not get to see the new Midtown development), which is a testament to how far OKC has come because I'd imagine their downtown was probably far superior to ours 20 years ago. Even Wichita was probably better off than us after the bombing.

    As for Iowa, yeah that is an incredible state. Aside from Des Moines, Sioux City, and Iowa City - they also have great cities in Dubuque, Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Ames, and a list that goes on and on. They recently replaced their Main Streets initiative with an innovative "Green Streets" program as well. IMO Iowa is one of the finest states in the nation, and few states have been as good to me each time as Iowa. So underrated.

  4. Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Quote Originally Posted by Spartan View Post
    No, it's very accurate that OKC pursued urban renewal to a larger degree (and at a later period) than almost any peer cities. The Pei Plan was urban renewal on steroids, and it was almost 2 decades after the first urban renewal programs in cities like Pittsburgh that were more modest travesties.

    It was really just KC that blew me away, as it always does. I'll admit I didn't see anything in Omaha that made me feel jealous (but I did not get to see the new Midtown development), which is a testament to how far OKC has come because I'd imagine their downtown was probably far superior to ours 20 years ago. Even Wichita was probably better off than us after the bombing.

    As for Iowa, yeah that is an incredible state. Aside from Des Moines, Sioux City, and Iowa City - they also have great cities in Dubuque, Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Ames, and a list that goes on and on. They recently replaced their Main Streets initiative with an innovative "Green Streets" program as well. IMO Iowa is one of the finest states in the nation, and few states have been as good to me each time as Iowa. So underrated.
    1. Kansas City is a jewel. Even the suburbs of Kansas City have some impressive features. Up until a year or so ago, I lived there part-time and it's a great city.

    2. Iowa. I agree, impressive in so many areas.

    Oh! Great pix.

  5. Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Spartan, just wait until you get to see Des Moines... now there's a city I think would shock a lot of people.

  6. #6

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    It is amazing the amount and quality of architects that a state like Iowa produces. Iowa Architect magazine is one of the best architecture publications there is, probably the best of the state AIA publications. There is always some great work from that state.

  7. #7

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve View Post
    Spartan, just wait until you get to see Des Moines... now there's a city I think would shock a lot of people.
    Oh yeah. I whizzed through it on I-80 and forgot that I needed to get off on the spur if I wanted to see downtown, but I've been impressed with DM before. I hadn't seen it since they finished all of the Jordan Creek mixed-use development in West Des Moines, which you do see slightly from I-80, and it definitely looks nicer than Memorial Road. "Gee, this is what OKC could have if every one of our lifestyle center projects hadn't fizzled away," is what it evoked.

    Iowa is a first-class state not just in terms of urbanism, but also fantastic education systems, surprisingly tolerant social vibe, beautiful summer weather, scenic farm country, political participation, organic and healthy food innovation, blond women with nice tans (odd for northern), scenic lake tourism spots (Okoboji = Grand Lake on steroids), and on and on. Even roundabout implementation (ie., in Ames)! I was amazed at how much better their farmer's markets are, and they proactively encourage food stamp recipients to go there instead of Walmart, which may be the single coolest Iowa idea.

    It's a place I'm always very impressed with.

  8. #8

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    In most of your Sioux City pics it almost looks deserted. Was that early on a Sunday morning?

  9. #9

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    KC shines as always. Incredible city.

    Never been to Iowa City, thanks for the great pictures. Honestly didn't expect it to look that nice, not ever included in the "best college town" lists you see all over the place. Looks like it could hold it's own with Lawrence.

  10. #10

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Been to Lawrence many times, and Mass Street is great, but Iowa City is so much more holistic.

    Lj - it was an abnormally hot afternoon actually. But you're right, Sioux is still working on their downtown. I've enjoyed watching it progress.

  11. #11

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    OKC has ALOT of work to do. Pretty lame in comparison to these "major league cities". Really shows how far OKC amd OK for that matter are outdated and stale

  12. #12

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    I disagree, I think some cities are very impressive and KC will always be that way, but there are a lot of larger cities that OKC is much more impressive than.

    I just don't think you can use KC as a yard stick for a decent city, because that happens to be one of the finest urban jewels in the country, regardless of whether that is acknowledged by many or not.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    The Iowa cities are surely better than Norman, Edmond and Stillwater combined.

  14. #14

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Thanks for sharing!

    Remember that cities and towns located on navigatable water developed much earlier and denser than cities in the southwest like OKC, Dallas, Phoenix, etc.

    So, they not only have an awesome building stock from the early 1900's, they also have a focal point and lots of things worth saving.


    Also keep in mind that from 1900-1950 Kansas City was one of the 20th largest cities in the U.S. and thus almost the entire city was developed during that timeframe. So again, they have an incredible amount of historic urban fabric -- many multiples of what OKC ever had, even before urban renewal.

    Kansas City reminds me a lot of Milwaukee which was even a bigger city during the first half of the 20th century. And now with the New Urbanism, Milwaukee has emerged as one of the real gems; I often call it the most underrated city in the U.S.


    There is much to envy in St. Louis, KC and Milwaukee but I think as we grow and start approaching them in size, people forget they are incredibly different in ways we can't directly emulate. There are some things to learn from these cities, but it's pretty unfair to compare OKC directly to them, especially the urban core and historical districts.

  15. #15

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Well, KC's River Market is very cool, but probably the one knock on that city is that you could hardly call it a riverside city despite the Mighty Mo dividing it. The KC riverfront is very industrial, except for a few casinos.

    But it's also very true that so many of those great urban neighborhoods are OLD urbanism. The Plaza was one of the first outdoor shopping centers in the country, but a lot of the gems have been added to throughout time without affecting the character. Very little of their urban fabric is new, but the new has always been added in ways that contribute to the existing fabric, rather than replacing it. Take the Power + Light District for example - the historic gems were preserved, new was built on empty lots, and it fits seamlessly with the historic nature of KC.

    The difference is that not only does OKC have a ton more new development going on right now than KC even, our newer development too often seeks to replace the old rather than co-exist in any supporting context with the old. It's almost crazy how the KC metro and city populations are in a similar league with OKC's, yet the sheer urban mass of KC is great - you literally see blocks and blocks and blocks for miles that we would call "complete," and in this sense I would absolutely label KC as monumental urbanism. OKC just doesn't have that. We don't seem to plan for critical mass density like this:



    Another thing that struck me is how proud people in KC are of their city. A lot of times I'd be spotted taking a pic on the street and a bystander would say, "That will be a great picture," or - "You should go a block over and get the rocketship building," etc. You just don't get that in almost any other city in my experience, granted, I always do that when I see people taking pics in downtown OKC.

  16. #16

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    I'm not saying that the riverfronts in these cities are great urban areas now (although some are), I'm saying because they had riverfronts they developed their central core very differently than we did.

    Compare aerials of central OKC to central KC or any waterfront city built up during the late 1800's and early 1900's The latter are much bigger and way, way more dense, even allowing for bad urban renewal decisions in OKC.


    Again, yes, we can learn some things from them but any discussion lamenting why OKC isn't as urban as KC or any town north or east of us is not a fair criticism. It implies we should be similar but somehow screwed up. I assure you, all these cities have their fair share of urban renewal boondoggles and non-starters. They just had much, much more urban fabric to start with.

  17. #17

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    I think the field could use a good amount of research into which cities did not do as much urban renewal and how that went for them. The limited knowledge on that dichotomy typically stems from a conclusion that these cities only did not embark on urban renewal for lack of their own matching resources at the time, ie., only places that were already lost and abandoned to the point of falling off the radar. I think that's often an explanation for why Sioux City is still so impressive today, but perhaps to corroborate Pete's point, there you have another major river city that used to be the stockyards of the midwest, second only to Chicago, and a bigger port hub at the time than Omaha.

  18. #18

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Great pics of Iowa! As a native Iowan I also appreciated your (and others') kind comments about the state.

    I really enjoyed the pics of Sioux City. I have only been to Sioux City once or twice and am not very familiar with it. You showed us some beautiful buildings. (But I don't think Sioux City has ever been bigger than Omaha.)

    I wish you'd stopped in Des Moines and Davenport. Des Moines has done some amazing things in the past 20-30 years.

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    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Quote Originally Posted by Oil Capital View Post
    Great pics of Iowa! As a native Iowan I also appreciated your (and others') kind comments about the state.
    That's very true. Population records that go back to 1900 show that Sioux City never got close to being as big as Omaha. No other Iowa town was bigger than Omaha. So you would have to go back prior to 1900 to make the case that Sioux City was bigger.

  20. #20

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunty View Post
    That's very true. Population records that go back to 1900 show that Sioux City never got close to being as big as Omaha. No other Iowa town was bigger than Omaha. So you would have to go back prior to 1900 to make the case that Sioux City was bigger.
    Records pre-1900 confirm the same. Sioux City has never been bigger than Omaha.

  21. #21

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunty View Post
    That's very true. Population records that go back to 1900 show that Sioux City never got close to being as big as Omaha. No other Iowa town was bigger than Omaha. So you would have to go back prior to 1900 to make the case that Sioux City was bigger.
    Quite right. My apologies for the assertion. If you go to the new Sioux City Public Museum, a very consistent theme is that of formerly being a much larger, much more important city. It makes several comparisons to Omaha, interestingly. But upon taking another look, they were never really close, as Omaha had a huge initial population explosion.

    If I recall, the Sioux City version of history is that there was a disastrous turn of the century flood that did a lot of damage to its neighborhoods and civic stature. The story reminded me in an uncanny way of Galveston, which was in fact larger than Houston before the Great Hurricane... perhaps that cross-reference is what had me mistaken.

    Btw, this is their historical society Public Museum (one of several great museums in Sioux City) which was in an old mansion before last year:

  22. #22

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    Quote Originally Posted by Spartan View Post
    Quite right. My apologies for the assertion. If you go to the new Sioux City Public Museum, a very consistent theme is that of formerly being a much larger, much more important city. It makes several comparisons to Omaha, interestingly. But upon taking another look, they were never really close, as Omaha had a huge initial population explosion.

    If I recall, the Sioux City version of history is that there was a disastrous turn of the century flood that did a lot of damage to its neighborhoods and civic stature. The story reminded me in an uncanny way of Galveston, which was in fact larger than Houston before the Great Hurricane... perhaps that cross-reference is what had me mistaken.
    No, Galveston was not larger than Houston before the Great Hurricane. In fact, Houston had overtaken Galveston in population in the decade prior to the 1900 hurricane.

    1900 Populations:
    Galveston: 37,789
    Houston: 44,633

  23. #23

    Default Re: My Great American Roadtrip - KC, Omaha, Iowa, Cleveland, Chicago

    I was in Kansas City last Friday. The last time I had been in downtown KC was almost 15 years ago and I was stunned by the transformation that has occurred since then. When I was there previously, the downtown had that incredibly dead, kinda-unsafe feeling that so many American downtowns have. But this time the sidewalks were filled with people. A very large number of their older brick buildings have been converted for residential use, and so many of the downtown buildings have street-level restaurants, retail, etc. There has been a lot of streetscaping in the urban core. Driving from the Plaza to downtown on Main Street was really fascinating. A good picture I saw at skyscrapercity recently:



    They obviously don't have any really amazing skyscrapers (though they have some great old gems), but they do have a really impressive urban corridor.

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