I’m an historian who focuses on Kansas City’s unique and fascinating past who was one of the Save The Paseo committee members who successfully put the issue of renaming 9.98 miles of The Paseo for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the ballot.
Our mission statement read that we wanted to “preserve the name of Kansas City’s most historic boulevard and find a way to honor Dr. King that brings the city together.”
On Nov. 5, just shy of 70 percent of Kansas Citians agreed with Save The Paseo.
The work certainly didn’t end after the vote- we wanted to ensure there would be a conversation involving everyone to find the proper honor for the Civil Rights hero. Mayor Lucas wrote on Twitter, “This ballot measure should remind all of us in City Hall that the way we do things matters. We must continue to legislate by bringing people together, seeking input from those with different perspectives and working to consensus-build on the issues that matter most to our community.”
Mayor Lucas gave the Parks Board the job of finding that honor. A 90-day commenting period allowed citizens to give the Parks Board their ideas. The first meeting with the community was scheduled for March 25. I signed up to attend.
Then Covid happened.
Before the Parks Board told anyone what suggestions were made by the community, a “new” proposal was announced at the end of August to rename part of Swope Pkwy., Blue Pkwy., and all of Volker.
This was announced before any suggestion the community had given during the public commenting period was revealed. In fact, the Parks Board still hasn’t released what Kansas Citians wanted to see as an honor for King.
This, frankly, is not community engagement. This is not showing those who fought so hard to give the power to the people that any lesson has been learned from The Paseo vote.
In the wee hours of the morning on Sept. 15, I was sent a link to a press release on the Parks Department website announcing that there were two community meetings scheduled. The first was at 2pm on Sept.15 and the final meeting would be two days later.
They sent out the release on Sept. 14 – one day before the first meeting scheduled in the middle of the day. I certainly wasn’t made aware of the meeting by email as promised.
This is not community engagement. This feels rushed.
A meeting in the middle of the day with 24-hour notice isn’t civic engagement. You aren’t looking for authentic feedback on an idea that wouldn’t have been the top suggestions from the community when it’s the only option on the table that the Parks Board plans to vote on at the end of this month.
I have asked over and over what the community suggested during that 90-day commenting period. What did the citizens say?
This is far from learning from the past. This is far from honoring the processes put in place. This sends the message that our city leaders haven’t listened or learned.
This resembles the “civic engagement” when three options for a proper honor for MLK were suggested: 1. The airport. 2. 63rd St. 3. Paseo. The community suggested the airport and the second option was 63rd St. In lieu of listening to the constituents, Paseo was chosen. They didn’t listen then, and it appears they won’t listen now.
How is this any different than the problem we had before? This city is desperate for a proper honor for MLK, and this honor should be well- thought out and a part of a community conversation.
We need to heal in this community more than ever; we need to find this honor soon, certainly. Yet nothing was learned from Paseo if it is rushed and doesn’t include at least the top suggestions from that public commenting period.
The proposal to rename Swope, Volker, and Blue is a viable option; however, it should be one of the options seriously considered. What are the recommendations from the entire community?
We are in danger of repeating past mistakes when we need to heal. What is happening nationwide is on the forefront of my mind, and I want to ensure that what we do as an honor for MLK in our city is for the long haul and is done with transparency.
I implore the Parks Board to reconsider this process. We must know what the community suggested. Those top options should be on the table. In my opinion, the only way to do this with 100 percent authenticity is to consider putting these top suggestions (along with the current proposal) on the ballot and let the voters decide.
We need to do this the right way, otherwise Paseo was not a lesson learned.
Diane Euston is a local high school teacher who writes a blog on the history of Kansas City called The New Santa Fe Trailer, writes a history column in the Martin City Telegraph, and is a board member of Westport Historical Society. She was part of the Save The Paseo committee that worked to put this issue to a citywide vote. She received an “Excellence in Historic Preservation” award in 2017 from the NSDAR.