Transit-Driven Thinking: Nichols Student Prize contestants inspired by streetcar expansion

Photo by Brandon Parigo, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Kansas City’s new streetcar is already driving development activity along its route. So with an election to decide on an extension plan in the offing, it’s only natural to imagine what changes in the city’s urban environment could follow.

Students in the Urban Planning and Design Studio II course at the University of Missouri-Kansas City took on that challenge, and did more than merely imagine the possibilities. The class, taught by faculty members Michael Frisch, AICP and Ted Seligson, FAIA researched existing land uses along the extension route, selected specific intersections, designed transit-driven developments at those locations that would meet community needs, and drafted implementation plans for their concepts.

The student proposals were entered in the annual J.C. Nichols Student Prize competition sponsored by the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design, part of UMKC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Funding for the Nichols Student Prize has been generously provided by the Miller Nichols Charitable Foundation.

Each student selected a strategic node on Main Street from 30th Street to the UMKC campus.

At 31st and Main, Alex Gilbertson envisioned Warwick Ridge, an iconic building composed of stacked, cantilevered and offset layers, with luxury apartments atop first-floor retail shops.

At Linwood and Main, Rawya Alrammah called for a return to historical levels of housing density, with multiple apartment buildings over underground parking, surrounding an open central courtyard.

Billie Hufford recommended an emphasis on enhanced retail services at Armour and Main, anchored by a new Main Market food hall with dozens of micro-businesses in stalls on a first floor that could be opened to the elements in good weather; apartments would occupy the upper floors.

At that same intersection, Thomas Kimmel’s concept focused on adding a variety of housing types to an under-utilized 13-acre tract behind a school and Home Depot, tied together with a pedestrian concourse dubbed “The Circuit.”

A few blocks to the south, Sean Thomas sought to tie together the intersections of 39th and Main with Main and Westport to create a pedestrian-friendly “harmonious urbanism” that would reclaim areas sacrificed to automotive traffic and parking.

Taylor Vande Velde looked at 43rd and Main and saw an intersection physically dominated by huge nearby buildings – the American Century towers and the Marriott hotel. To counter that impression, she called for a human-scaled piece of landmark architecture built along the waterway. Mill Creek Point would include ground-level retail and community space with residences above.

The Nichols Prize jury, however, was most taken with David McCumber’s concept for the intersection of Main and Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard, and awarded him first place in the competition. His pedestrian-oriented concept, Plaza Connections, would reclaim large swaths of asphalt for human use, extend the Trolley Track Trail north of the Country Club Plaza, and add two pedestrian bridges across Brush Creek and three new apartment buildings. But the centerpiece of his concept borrows, as does the Plaza, from Seville, Spain: a half-circle hotel structure outlining a circular public plaza space. The hotel would be built on land owned by the city’s Parks Department, with ample first-floor space open to all, in a new take on public-private partnerships.

The jurors were Prof. Joy Swallow, the AUP+D Department Chair; Bill Bruning, a member of the department’s Advisory Board; Diane Burnette, director of MainCOR; and Gib Kerr of Cushman & Wakefield and the Regional Transit Alliance. They awarded third place to Vande Velde for Mill Creek Point, and second prize to Kimmel for The Circuit.