Put Douglas Design District Improvements on Faster Track

This commentary originally appeared as an editorial in The Wichita Eagle and has been reposted here with permission of the author.

Yellowbrick Street Team stands in strong support of the Douglas Streetscape project and the Douglas Design District's 2020 Vision campaign. We encourage our followers to contact city representatives to advocate for this worthy initiative. Learn more here.

By Janelle King

Wichita is having a civic pride moment. This is seen in the emergence and love of our city’s flag and in the exciting Project Wichita “visioning” exercise ahead.

We welcome this love of our city, but also want to harness the passion to achieve tangible results. An improvement we can make happen in the near term is a transformational streetscape project east of downtown in the Douglas Design District.

A streetscape improvement plan for Douglas between Washington and Hydraulic streets was completed in 2009. The project would reshape the area into a walkable destination by bringing medians, curb bump-outs, vertical parking, public gathering spaces, art and new lighting to this important stretch of Douglas. The project would provide an eastern gateway to downtown and create a neighborhood that people would drive to, rather than drive through.

The problem is the Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan has been consistently unfunded and delayed since its inception. We understand the challenges the City Council faces in prioritizing capital projects. However, we also think the streetscape plan is unique due to the project’s transformational benefits.

Consider Delano. That neighborhood has been significantly improved since a pedestrian-oriented streetscape project was completed in 2003. The city funded the streetscape project that transformed Delano into one of the more interesting neighborhoods in the city that offers a strong mix of retailers – most of which are local businesses rather than national chains. The 2003 streetscape project made Delano a place to drive to – not through.

One would be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks what’s happened in Delano in recent years has not been a success for Wichita. Studies show that walkable neighborhoods increase residents’ attachment to a city. As we learned from the Chung Report, Wichita needs to offer a better quality of life to retain and attract talent to the city and grow our workforce. The Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan helps achieve this and provides an important investment in the core of the city that will appeal to residents and visitors alike.

Let’s continue to celebrate the Wichita flag and participate in visioning about what the city can become. In the meantime, we have a great project to advocate for now. The Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan is slated for a construction start date of 2023. We’re working to have the project prioritized to allow for a 2020 start date.

Decisions related to the funding of the Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan will be made in the next couple months. We ask Wichitans to advocate for this project by contacting mayor Jeff Longwell, city manager Robert Layton and City Council representatives.

Wichita’s time has come. Let’s celebrate the moment we’re in by embracing a project that is sure to enhance our city.

Janelle King is president of the Douglas Design District in Wichita.