Thursday, July 26, 2007

Panhandler Poetry

One of the things I’ve been doing since traveling the path is collecting signs from the panhandlers I see on Main Street, just south of the Plaza. I like to think of the signs as short poems. Here are three of my favorites.

Remember that tonight is KC Snapshot's second event, Time to Work, 5:30 at the Art Institute. And speaking of poems, here’s one on tonight’s topic--work. Poet Laureate Donald Hall was in Kansas City a few months ago and read this poem at the KC library. They’ve been putting on some outstanding programs, it’s well worth taking a look at the schedule.

Hope to see you tonight.

Ox Cart Man

In October of the year,
he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,
counting the seed, counting
the cellar’s portion out,
and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.

He packs wool sheared in April, honey
in combs, linen, leather
tanned from deerhide,
and vinegar in a barrel
hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.

He walks by his ox’s head, ten days
to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,
and the bag that carried potatoes,
flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose
feathers, yarn.

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.
When the cart is sold he sells the ox,
harness and yoke, and walks
home, his pockets heavy
with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,

and at home by fire’s light in November cold
stitches new harness
for next year’s ox in the barn,
and carves the yoke, and saws planks
building the cart again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Creativity, Culture and Community

Not all decisions are rational. While this statement goes against conventional wisdom and MBA-think, it's true. In fact, most decisions are first made at an emotional level, then rationalized. Such was the case when we began thinking about purchasing a building in the Crossroads.

I own an advertising agency — Meers Advertising. For the past 13 years, we leased office space in the River Market area. We loved the River Market. It had restaurants, apartments and vibrancy. We loved our building — the original Water Building in Kansas City. It had wonderful history and a story to tell. It became part of our company culture.

But there was something missing in the River Market. It had history, but it lacked glue. There were a few creative firms, but very few opportunities to see one another. There was a fledgling River Market Merchants Association, but it seemed to lack the focus to turn the area into a community.

As we neared the end of our lease, we began looking to purchase a building. It was time. After spending close to $500,000 in rent over the past five years with no equity to show for it, purchasing a building seemed like the rational thing to do. And, as I said above, there was some emotion driving the decision. I mean, I can think of a lot of things I would rather do with $500,000 than pay rent.

But there was a deeper issue than the money. There was the desire to be part of a community. A desire to be in a neighborhood that was moving forward. We wanted an opportunity to be part of the conversation, to understand the challenges and take an active role in helping the community grow and prosper.

We looked at buildings in the River Market, in downtown and even thought about building on the Central West Side. But the Crossroads kept drawing us back. We saw the Crossroads as the creative heart of the city. And as an ad agency, we couldn't see why we would look anyplace else.

Could we have purchased and renovated a building in Midtown? Yes. 39th Street or Westport? Certainly. But the Crossroads had the right mix of creativity, culture and community. We could grow here. We could be part of an evolving neighborhood.

We purchased the Corona Litho building at 1811 Walnut and renovated it this spring. It is an anchor for our business and a stage for our community involvement. That's what makes this building and opportunity so special.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What does it mean to take a Snapshot?

As the KC Snapshot project has evolved over the course of the last 18 months our definition of “grassroots project” has evolved as well.

We started off embarking on a journey that we hoped could and would reach as broad a swath of Kansas City as possible. The idea was fairly simple… spend a year engaging in wide-ranging public conversations about how we live in Kansas City in 2007. Those conversations would then (hopefully) turn into catalysts for future discourse, and ultimately action. Inform, enlighten, inspire, empower.

People often ask about the point of the project… “so, why are you doing this project?”… “what is the deliverable”…”are you building anything?”. Fair questions to be sure - and we knew the answer was in there (somewhere).

That answer is slowly coming into focus.

The KC Snapshot project is a component project of the AIA150 initiative being undertaken by the American Institute of Architects on a national level to recognize and, in part, celebrate the 150th anniversary of the professional organization. The AIA has empowered the local chapters to undertake grassroots community outreach projects that would be meaningful for their local communities.

With that goal in mind, our vision for KC Snapshot emerged. If you think about acknowledging the history and legacy of the AIA, and what the profession has become in that 150 years, it seems the common thread would have to be advocacy for the quality of the built environment.

However, in 2007, advocating for a quality built environment can be an incredibly complicated, and sometimes nebulous, endeavor. What does that really mean as far individual, corporate or municipal action?

That’s what we want to talk about. You can’t have a rational discussion about the current condition of the built environment without first paying attention to the built environment… without taking a SNAPHOT.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Event 2: TIME TO WORK - JULY 26

Thursday, July 26

Epperson Auditorium, Kansas City Art Institute
5:30-6:00 – Reception
6:00-7:30 – Discussion

A map of the campus, and available parking, can be downloaded from the Events section on the Snapshot website.

The second public forum, entitled Time to Work, examines how we define “work” in Kansas City, and how our workplaces in turn define us. Our individual efforts to make a living have shaped the built environment of Kansas City perhaps more than any other societal trend. Are we fully aware of the consequences of our choices? How are the decisions we make as individuals, businesses and organizations regarding how and where we work affecting how we interact with the built environment and each other? Bottom line: when it comes to working in Kansas City: what’s working and what’s not? A diverse panel of local and regional leaders will bring a wealth of experience to the table, and our audience will be encouraged to share their stories and concerns.


Wayne Cauthen: City Manager, City of Kansas City Missouri
Barrett Hatches: President/CEO, Swope Health Services
Reed Kroloff: Director, Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum
Cydney Millstein: Architectural Historian based in Kansas City
Richard Wetzel, AIAJE Dunn Construction, President-elect AIA Kansas City

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sunday In The Park - Path Present

Frank A. Theis Park, July 17, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

Amos Family

Mike and I had an incredible visit with Gene and Margaret Amos, of the Amos Family Funeral home on Johnson Drive, one of the very few remaining independent funeral homes along the path. Gene has been very invested in local history and has written records of his family history, anecdotes from his life in the mortuary business, and has contributed to StoryCorps efforts to document the oral histories throughout the United States.

Gene has an incredible wealth of knowledge of the history of Shawnee, particularly regarding its growth into into the diversified suburb that it is today. One thing that caught my attention was his reference to the ongoing international corporatization of the funeral business.

This is from USA Funeral Homes online:
In recent years, there has been a growing and alarming trend toward consolidation in the funeral home industry. Many neighborhood funeral homes thought to be locally owned, are often owned by a national, publicly-traded corporation, which can lead to more standardized but perhaps less personal service from a business that may be more dependent upon and responsible to the investment community than the local community.

I'd assumed this would be the last industry that would shift from local to international control. There are signs however that the few remaining locally-owned funeral homes are prevailing.

For now, Amos continues to be managed by the family in its original stately location in downtown Shawnee.

Further reading.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Photograph - Race Politics Art

Last week in The Star our new mayor challenged Kansas Citians to compare two intersections of our city: 27th & Prospect and 63rd & Brookside. I could picture 63rd & Brookside but to be honest 27th & Prospect was not a place I could see in my mind. So even thought it’s off the path I thought the mayor had a good idea. Here are pictures of those two intersections (click on the picture to see it larger).

27th & Prospect

63rd & Brookside

As Mayor Funkhouser said-
“I don’t know a lot about race relations, but I do know it ought to be better. I know racism is a huge problem. What I do know about is how to run a city. It ought to be as attractive, as safe and as nice at 27th and Prospect as anywhere else in the city. And the majority community as well as the minority community will move better when that’s fixed.”

I have to give credit to the artist, Matt Wycoff, former Kansas Citian now living in Brooklyn, for helping to keep the question of race and our city so present in my mind. His bold project of training as a white male for a marathon in some of our poorest neighborhoods tells much about race relations in our city. Starting in the spring of 2002 Matt began his training-

“I executed this action over a period of four months from the beginning of May to the end of August 2002. As is to be expected with almost anything of this nature reactions varied from disturbing and obvious to reassuring and depressing. In the beginnings verbal and physical abuse was prevalent and it was apparent that aspects of these communities harbored obvious frustration towards whites. During the course of these four months I was the object of close to two hundred verbal attacks and three physical attacks. I was jeered at, laughed at, spit on, kicked, chased, pushed, swerved at by cars and told to; “Get the ---- out of my neighborhood”. I was the target of thrown bottles and rocks, and I was warned several times about being seriously hurt or killed if I continued this action. I met several children that asked for my assistance in various things from pulling a bike from a ditch to coming up with rap lyrics. I was accused of being a narcotics officer. I received over thirty smiles from strangers. I was intimidated into smoking a cigarette on a street corner and chased by a group of young men waiting for the bus. I was a participant in nearly twenty five friendly waves and was the recipient of a hand shake from a skeptical, but good natured, man at a garage... My integration into these areas was minimal but sustained. I came to be familiar with several people and groups as I passed almost every day through their neighborhoods. The verbal and physical attacks directed towards me went down substantially and the amount of friendly gestures went up as the project continued....”

My suggestion for the mayor would be to try and talk Matt into being his driver for a while, whatever car Funk chooses to drive.

Check out Matt’s web site for the complete story.