As Overland Park begins Forward OP visioning process, planning expert urges residents to fight for ‘beauty, art, great design’

Overland Park is at a pivotal point, where its original neighborhoods are undergoing redevelopment as new develop nears the city’s southern edge. The Forward OP process is intended to develop a vision for the city for the next 25 years.

By Roxie Hammill

City planning expert Peter Kageyama had some advice for people envisioning the future of Overland Park Tuesday night as the city’s Forward OP process began: Get your mind out of the gutter – or at least out of the potholes there.

City Manager Bill Ebel and Mayor Carl Gerlach sat at a table amid the nearly 800 people gathered for the Imagine Tomorrow workshop Tuesday. Photo by Roxie Hammill.

“Sadly, for most citizens, the nature of their relationship with their cities can be epitomized by one thing. It’s actually the pothole,” he said.

“There’s no love for fixing potholes. There’s no emotional return on investment for fixing potholes. This is not saying we’ve got to stop fixing the potholes but I think we can agree that we should aspire to something better, something more.”

He encouraged the around 800 at the Overland Park Convention Center to think about things that would make the future Overland Park fun – “love notes” of sorts, for the people who live there.

Kageyama was the keynote speaker in at the kickoff of the city’s “Forward OP” visioning effort. Consultant Planning Next of Columbus, Ohio, will collect opinions from Tuesday’s meeting as well as online comments before compiling them into a strategic plan this summer. The eventual vision will be a general guideline for future city officials on how Overland Park should be developed and what kinds of services and activities should be encouraged in the future.

Mayor Carl Gerlach recalled the troubles of Harley-Davidson as he explained the need for the visioning project. That company stopped changing when it got to the top, and eventually sales began shrinking, Gerlach explained. “We don’t want to be the shrinking city.”

“This is probably one of the most important things I’ll do as mayor,” he said.

Kageyama told stories of other projects that were successful in uplifting their cities – an adult playground in Boston, a lip-sync video in Grand Rapids and sidewalk art that only appears in the rain in Seattle, for example – that create a sense of love between people and their cities.

Those things were accomplished because city leadership was flexible enough to try new and unusual ideas, he said. “Sometimes you need somebody who’s willing to step outside the system to help unjam the system and get us someplace we actually want to be,” he said. “

While cities should always be functional and safe, he said, creating a place people love to live demands fun as well.

Kageyama also encouraged listeners to think beyond the dollars and cents of ideas as they shared their thoughts in the Forward OP process. “Things have a value beyond the purely financial,” he said. “If we want to live in the type of community that has room for things like beauty, art, great design, then we need to speak up and fight for it. “

“Let’s talk about the cost of ugly. Let’s talk about the cost of boring. Because you can bet those things have a cost,” he continued.

After the speech, attendees spent about an hour brainstorming about what the future Overland Park should be like. At one point, they were asked to write headlines for the city 20 years in the future, which were posted later on bulletin boards.

Many mentioned the things Overland Park is already known for – good schools, a family-friendly atmosphere and parks. But there were a few other ideas. Here are a few of the dreams:

  • “Space X comes to OP. Booming industry blooms in Kansas”
  • “Overland Park opens new Velodrome.”
  • “Overland Park first city in America to go vehicle free.”
  • “Overland Park architecture: Most exciting in the Midwest.”
  • “City Council of OP – Average age is 35 OP has been named ‘the coolest place to live’ for residents between the age of 0-100”
  • “Overland Park is the first city to be completely enclosed under a dome.”