Progress?

 

Over the past 2 years I have been watching a huge compound of office space, apartments and retail stores being built less than a mile from my house. It’s called Lenexa City Center, although it lies nowhere near the center of my town. I guess they mean “center” in some metaphorical sense that I don’t quite understand. Here is what the official web site has to say about the City Center development:

“Lenexa City Center is an exciting mixed-use urban development that is being built on all four corners of 87th Street Parkway and Renner Boulevard, in the center of Lenexa.

Born out of the community-driven Vision 2020 planning process, Lenexa City Center will be a key destination area that will combine a mix of shopping, restaurants, entertainment, office, residential, hotels, and public gathering areas such as parks, plazas, and a civic center all in a pedestrian-friendly, high density, new urbanism development.

At build-out, Lenexa City Center is expected to offer about 4.5 million square feet of mixed-use development on 200 acres in the I-435 corridor.”

A slow economy and the overwhelming volume of commercial real estate that currently sits empty all over Kansas City with no tenants in sight has not deterred Lenexa from building a new City Center. And each edition of my city newsletter relays the latest news of this important development. Apparently this is “PROGRESS” for our city and we should all be thrilled.

But I for one have sadly watched their “progress” over many months; first the area was bulldozed and stripped of all trees, bushes, grass – anything remotely resembling life. Then the land was reshaped and reformed until it no longer even looked like its former contours. That phase was rough for me because the old land had been a mix of pasture and trees that I enjoyed checking out every time I passed. And am I the only bleeding heart who wonders what happens to all the squirrels, bluebirds, deer, turkeys, hawks, fireflies, worms, spiders, raccoons, coyotes and other creatures that lived where a new strip mall now rises? Do we humans REALLY want to shove all other life out of the way for ourselves?

My family took a vacation road trip to Wyoming earlier this month. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks on the western edge of Wyoming hold some amazing scenery and wildlife. It is one of the most beautiful areas in the world. This gorgeous spot was partitioned off into two National Parks over a hundred years ago so we wouldn’t be tempted to try and improve it and civilize it right out of existence (Thank you Teddy Roosevelt!). “Progress” tends to be deadly for wildlife and gorgeous scenery in every part of the country.

To get to Wyoming from KC is quite a haul by car, but I kept imagining what it would have been like to travel the 1,100+ mile distance by wagon a hundred and fifty years ago. Two days in the car is nothing compared to 6 months bumping across roadless prairie. We’ve made “progress” when it comes to fast, safe travel, haven’t we?

We drove through the Black Hills of South Dakota on our way to Wyoming. Back in 1868, the U.S. government “gave” the people that lived in the Black Hills long before white guys showed up (mainly the Lakota tribe) a small piece of the hills and grassland that the tribe held as sacred ground. Our government signed a treaty with the tribes and promised that the land would belong to them in perpetuity. But then gold was discovered in the Black Hills about 5 years later and in perpetuity didn’t mean much. Jeez – talk about indian givers! I felt like personally apologizing to every single Native American on earth after I read what my ancestors did to the Black Hills.

White guys (and I include myself in that label) have a long history of shoving others out of our way in the name of “progress”. If our kids shove others out of their way on the playground or take some other kid’s stuff, we “civilized” adults cry foul and lecture them on the error of their ways. But if our culture does it to another culture (or to another species), or if one corporation does it to a competing corporation, we label it survival of the fittest and claim that it’s “progress” towards a better, brighter future.

I think “progress” may actually just be a polite way of saying we get to do what we want and take what we want because we’re bigger and more powerful and we’re in charge.

Back home at Lenexa City Center, a complex of buildings that looks like offices and retail store space appears to be complete. But the huge parking lot outside the complex sits empty month after month. I ask that you insert Joni Mitchell singing ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ at this point in your reading for the desired effect. Meanwhile the latest city newsletter holds yet another update on the exciting developments at our new City Center.

And what does City Center “progress” look like from here? Well, “progress” is a group of empty buildings, a hideous manmade pond with prefab concrete sides and some spindly trees planted in little islands of dirt in the empty parking lot. But hey, I read yesterday that the developers plan to add a “large green space and walking trails” in the future. This must be to simulate the natural green space they bulldozed to build City Center in the first place…Hmmm. I guess it all doesn’t have to make sense to me. Just as long as I keep paying my taxes…

prog-ress n 1. Movement toward a goal. 2. Development; unfolding. 3. Steady improvement of a society or civilization.
Definition from the American Heritage Dictionary.

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