Tag Archives: Wichita Metropolitan Area Planning Commission

As Wichita considers new ventures, a look back at some data

The City of Wichita will soon be flooded with data regarding downtown convention and performing arts facilities. Past experience should warn us to be skeptical.

Goody Clancy, a planning firm hired by Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, told a Wichita audience that the planning effort for downtown Wichita is grounded in data and hard analysis.1

But at least some of the data Goody Clancy used turned out to be total nonsense.

Specifically, Goody Clancy presented Walk Score data for downtown Wichita. Walk Score is purported to represent a measure of walkability of a location in a city. Walkability is a key design element of the master plan Goody Clancy has developed for downtown Wichita. David Dixon, who leads Goody Clancy’s Planning and Urban Design division, used Walk Score in a presentation delivered in Wichita.

Walk Score is not a project of Goody Clancy, as far as I know, and David Dixon is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of the Walk Score website. But he presented it and relied on it as an example of the data-driven approach that Goody Clancy takes.

For example, the score for 525 E. Douglas, the block the Eaton Hotel is in and mentioned by Dixon as a walkable area, scored 91, which means it is a “walker’s paradise,” according to the Walk Score website.

Walk score data for 525 E. Douglas, in 2010. Click for larger.
But here’s where we can start to see just how bad the data used to develop these scores is. For a grocery store — an important component of walkability — the website indicates indicated a grocery store just 0.19 miles away. It’s “Pepsi Bottling Group,” located on Broadway between Douglas and First Streets. Those familiar with the area know there is no grocery store there, only office buildings. The claim of a grocery store here is false. It’s an office, not a store.

For a nearby library, it listed Robert F. Walters Digital Library, which is a specialized geological library costing $1,500 per year to use — over the internet.

For a drug store, it listed Rx Doctor’s Choice, which is a company selling oral chelation treatments by mail order. It’s nothing at all like a general-purpose drug store. One of those is nowhere nearby.

There were other claimed amenities where the data is just as bad. But as Larry Weber, then chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation told me, Walk Score has been updated. I should no longer be concerned with the credibility of this data, he said.

He was correct — partially. Walk Score was updated, but we should still be concerned about the quality of the data. Now for the same location the walk score is 85, which is considered “very walkable.” The “grocery store” is no longer the Pepsi Bottling Group. It’s now “Market Place,” whose address is given as 155 N. Market St #220.

If anyone would ever happen to stroll by that location, they would find that address — 155 N. Market number 220 — is the management office for an office building whose name is Market Place. It’s not a grocery store. It’s an office. So I became even more concerned about the credibility of this data and the fact that Goody Clancy relied on it. I was also concerned that Weber thinks thought this was an improvement, and that he felt I should not be concerned.

David Dixon and Goody Clancy did not create the Walk Score data. But he and his planning company presented it to Wichitans as an example of the data-driven, market-oriented approach to planning that they use.

But anyone who relies on the evidence Dixon and Goody Clancy presented would surely be confused unless they investigated the area on their own.

And since this reliance on Walk Score was made after Goody Clancy had spent considerable time in Wichita, the fact that someone there could not immediately recognize how utterly bogus the data is: That should give us cause for concern that the entire planning process is based on similar shoddy data and analysis. We also ought to be concerned that no one at WDDC or city hall looked closely enough at this data to realize its total lack of correspondence to reality.

When I presented these concerns to the Wichita Metropolitan Area Planning Commission in 2010, Scott Knebel, a member of the city’s planning staff who is the city’s point man on downtown planning, address the concerns raised by me. He said, “In terms of the Walk Score, I suspect Mr. Weeks is absolutely right, it probably is a relatively flawed measurement of Walk Score.” He added that the measurement is probably flawed everywhere, downtown and elsewhere. He said that Goody Clancy used it “as an illustration of the importance of walkability in an urban area.”

An isolated incident, long ago?

Seven years later, should we be concerned about this incident?

If that was the only example of low-quality and deceptive data, we could say sure, that was long ago. Let’s forget this and go forward. Our city leaders are smarter now.

Except they’re not.

The oft-cited claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is another example of misuse of data, and in a very big way. It comes from the U.S. Census Bureau. This particular data set counts all Wichita school district employees as downtown workers, even though nearly all work at locations scattered throughout the city.2

If we accept this data as meaning what WDDC and the city says it means, we’d have to believe that 7,740 people work in a one square block area from First to Second Streets, and Wichita to Water Streets. That block is mostly surface parking, but it does hold the administrative offices of the Wichita school district. So all school district employees are counted as working in this block.

There is similar problem in another block. All City of Wichita employees are treated as though they work at city hall. But they don’t.

Does any of this matter? It ought to matter. The planners tell us they use data to make decisions. This week the city council decided to hire a consulting firm to investigate the feasibility of a refurbished or new convention center and performing arts center. I’m sure much data will be presented. Based on our past experience, we’ll have to carefully examine data for appropriate usage.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Goody Clancy market findings presented to Wichita audience. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/goody-clancy-market-findings-presented-to-wichita-audience/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Unknown stories of economic development, Uber, Fact-checking Yes Wichita

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita economic development, one more untold story. The arrival of Uber is a pivotal moment for Wichita. Fact-checking Yes Wichita on paved streets. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 58, broadcast September 14, 2014.

In Wichita, citizens want more transparency in city government

Wichita city hallIn a videographed meeting that is part of a comprehensive planning process, Wichitans openly question the process, repeatedly asking for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.

As part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan, the City of Wichita held a number of focus groups meetings. Their purpose, according to city documents, was to provide “information on the components of the Plan and provide input on a draft survey.”

(Some indication of the reverence given to the plan to city planners may be inferred by the city’s use of capitalization when referring to it.)

The community meetings were structured in a way reminiscent of the Delphi method, described in Wikipedia as “a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.” Others have a more skeptical view, believing that the Delphi technique leads citizens to believe they have participated in community democratic decision-making when in reality, that is not the goal of the process.

In October Americans for Prosperity-Kansas invited the city to hold a focus group meeting. Video from the meeting is below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Dave Barber, who is Advanced Plans Manager at Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, facilitated the meeting. Susan Estes of AFP was the meeting organizer and host. Mike Shatz is the videographer. His description of the meeting is “The City of Wichita is holding a series of meetings to gain input from the public on future spending plans. The meetings are based off a survey the city conducted, which, by all accounts, was full of loaded questions geared towards promoting the programs that city officials want to see. In this meeting, one of the first in the series, citizens openly question the process and repeatedly ask for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.”

At Wichita planning commission, downtown plan approved

At last week’s meeting of the Wichita Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, members were asked to approve the Goody Clancy plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. I appeared to make sure that commissioners were aware of some of the highly dubious data on which the plan is based.

Listen to my remarks to the planning commission.
[powerpress]

In particular, I presented to the commission the Walk Score data for downtown Wichita, and how Goody Clancy relied on this obviously meaningless data in developing plans for downtown Wichita.

Walk Score is purported to represent a measure of walkability of a location in a city. Walkability is a key design element of the mster plan Goody Clancy has developed for downtown Wichita. In January, David Dixon, who leads Goody Clancy’s Planning and Urban Design division, used Walk Score in a presentation delivered in Wichita.

Walk Score is not a project of Goody Clancy, as far as I know, and David Dixon is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of the Walk Score website. But he presented it and relied on it as an example of the data-driven approach that Goody Clancy takes.

Walk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody ClancyWalk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody Clancy. Click for a larger view.

The score for 525 E. Douglas, the block the Eaton Hotel is in and mentioned by Dixon as a walkable area, scored 91, which means it is a “walker’s paradise,” according to the Walk Score website.

But here’s where we can start to see just how bad the data used to develop these scores is. For a grocery store — an important component of walkability — the website indicates indicates a grocery store just 0.19 miles away. It’s “Pepsi Bottling Group,” located on Broadway between Douglas and First Streets. Those familiar with the area know there is no grocery store there, only office buildings. The claim of a grocery store here is false.

There were other claimed amenities where the data is just as bad. But as Larry Weber, chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation told me a while back, Walk Score has been updated. I should no longer be concerned with the credibility of this data, he told me through a comment left on this website.

He’s correct. Walk Score has been updated, but we should still be concerned about the quality of the data. Now for the same location the walk score is 85, which is considered “very walkable.” The “grocery store” is no longer the Pepsi Bottling Group. It’s now “Market Place,” whose address is given as 155 N. Market St # 220.

If Mr. Weber would ever happen to stroll by that location, he’d find that address, 155 N. Market number 220, is the management office for an office building whose name is Market Place.

It’s not a grocery store. It’s nothing resembling a grocery store. Now I’m even more concerned about the credibility of this data and the fact that Goody Clancy relied on it. I’m further concerned that Weber thinks this is an improvement, and that he feels I should not be concerned.

As I reminded the commission members, David Dixon and other Goody Clancy staff did not create the Walk Score data. But they presented it to Wichitans as an example of the data-driven, market-oriented approach to planning that they use. Dixon cited Walk Score data as the basis for higher real estate values based on the walkability of the area and its surrounding amenities.

But anyone who relies on the evidence Dixon and Goody Clancy presented would surely get burnt unless they investigated the area on their own.

And since this January reliance on Walk Score was made after Goody Clancy had spent considerable time in Wichita, the fact that someone there could not immediately recognize how utterly bogus the data is — that should give us cause for concern that the entire planning process is based on similar shoddy data and analysis.

A member of the planning commission asked that Scott Knebel, a member of the city’s planning staff who is the city’s point man on downtown planning, address the concerns raised by me.

Knebel said “In terms of the Walk Score, I suspect Mr. Weeks is absolutely right, it probably is a relatively flawed measurement of Walk Score.” He added that the measurement is probably flawed everywhere, downtown and elsewhere. He said that Goody Clancy used it “as an illustration of the importance of walkability in an urban area.” He added, correctly, that Goody Clancy tied it to premiums in real estate values in areas that are mixed use and walkable.

In the end, all commission members voted in favor of accepting the plan. The Wichita City Council is scheduled to hear this matter on December 14th.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday November 15, 2010

This week at Wichita city council. An Old Town bar faces the possibility of losing its drinking establishment license and two apartment complexes seek city support in the application for housing tax credits. … The old Coleman Company Plant at 250 N. St. Francis faces an obstacle on its path to demolition: The Wichita Historic Preservation Board found that “the demolition of the structure and construction of a surface parking lot does encroach upon, damage, or destroy the environs of the state and national register listed properties by removing distinctive buildings, and altering spatial relationships that characterize the environs.” There were other reasons the board found to oppose the demolition. The building was deemed to be a “character-defining structure.” Furthermore, it is located within 500 feet of historical districts and historical properties. This is the so-called “halo” law, where if your property is located with the environs of another historic property, there are restrictions on what you can do with your property. … In a matter added to the agenda at the last moment, the city will decide whether to pay a Wichita man $925,000 to settle charges that he was injured by actions of the Wichita police department.

Planning commission to look at downtown plan. This week the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission will have a public hearing on the Goody Clancy plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. The meeting is Thursday at 1:30 pm in the tenth floor meeting room at Wichita city hall. The agenda for the meeting is here: Metropolitan Area Planning Commission Agenda, November 18, 2010.

Kansas tax policy. Various proposals for modifying Kansas’ tax system are floating about. One aspect in particular that is gaining attention is the multitude of sales tax exemptions, where various classes of economic activity or specific named organizations do not have to pay sales tax on their purchases. In Sunday’s Wichita Eagle Rhonda Holman wrote “selected taxpayers are saving $4.2 billion a year, worsening the tax burden for everybody else.” This number is highly misleading. As I explained earlier this year in Kansas sales tax exemptions don’t hold all the advertised allure: “Analysis of the nature of the exemptions and the amounts of money involved, however, leads us to realize that the additional tax revenue that could be raised is much less than spending advocates claim, unless Kansas was to adopt a severely uncompetitive, and in some cases, unproductive tax policy.” … An example is the exemption whereby manufacturers don’t pay sales tax on component parts used in producing final products, with an estimated $2,248.1 million in lost sales tax revenue. If Kansas were to eliminate this exemption, we could very quickly say goodbye to all our manufacturers. … Another example is government not paying sales tax on its purchases, worth an estimated $449.9 million in lost revenue. Reporting from Kansas Reporter on a special committee formed to look at Kansas tax policy is at Kansas tax reform waits on Brownback plans, lawmakers say.

“Big Ditch” builder to address Pachyderms. At this Friday’s (November 19) meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, M. S. “Mitch” Mitchell will speak on the topic “The Big Ditch, 60 Years Later.” Otherwise known as the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project, the project is responsible for flood control in Wichita, and Mitchell was there at its building. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Why I will not teach to the test. A California public school teacher explains why he will not “teach to the test” despite that state’s emphasis on “value added” teacher assessments: “The state tests being used to evaluate student progress — and, in turn, the effectiveness of teachers — virtually ensure mediocrity. … As teachers, we want to know if we are doing a good job. We want to know our strengths and our weaknesses. We welcome accountability. Frankly, I am embarrassed by how hard teachers’ unions have fought to protect weak teachers. It is shameful. But scoring all teachers based on a system that pushes educators to produce memorizers instead of thinkers is not the answer. Worse, it actually rewards mediocre teaching.” No doubt about it, evaluating teachers in public schools is a problem. Being insulated from competition, school administrators may evaluate teachers on all sorts of things except what really matters: how well they do their job. See In public schools, incentives matter.

Tracking federal tax dollars. According to the Wall Street Journal: “A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 40% thought foreign aid was one of the two largest federal-budget expenses. In reality, Uncle Sam spends $14 on Medicare — itself the second-largest expense — for every dollar spent on foreign aid.” To help citizens understand how federal money is spent, the Journal highlighted an analysis by Third Way, which describes itself as “the leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement. Top categories for spending? Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt. Then some several categories of military spending, which if consolidated, would move higher. The Journal article is Tracking Your Federal Tax Dollars ; the ThirdWay study is at Tax Receipt: Knowing What You Paid For.

Rasmussen key polls. “Lame duck” session of Congress: “Most voters think Congress should wait until the new members take office in January before tackling any major new legislation, but even more expect Democrats to try to pass major legislation anyway in the upcoming lame-duck session.” More here. … Support for investigation of Obama Administration is not high; breaks down on party lines: Voters Have Mixed Feelings About GOP Plans to Investigate Obama. But voters support investigating the new health care law passed earlier this year: Most Voters Favor Investigation of Health Care Law’s Potential Impact.

One more vote. The Center for Individual Freedom has launched an initiative called “The 60% Solution,” a proposal for a Constitutional Amendment requiring: a federal balanced budget annually, a 60% vote in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to raise the debt ceiling, and a 60% vote in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to increase taxes or impose new taxes. More information may be found at One More Vote, the name referring to the fact that Congress in 1995 fell just one vote short of endorsing a balanced budget amendment and sending it to the states for ratification. But CFIF warns against a simple balanced budget amendment: “A balanced budget amendment, in the wrong hands or crafted in the wrong form, can unfortunately provide a vehicle for big-government advocates to rationalize higher taxes.”

Wichita Eagle opinion line.“We have term limits, via voting. We need better-informed voters. Voters need to educate themselves as to the issues and the people who are running for certain offices.” This sentiment is repeated after each election. The fact that voters, at least according to this opinion, don’t inform themselves year after year is a strong argument for term limits.

Wichita MAPC meeting mix of policy, politically correct

At yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, a mix of politics and policy resulted in protection of a Wichita non-profit’s market, but at the loss of convenience to Wichitans.

The issue is about 65 red clothing recycling bins operated by American Recyclers of Tulsa. These bins are in violation of Wichita city code, which states that bins like these — called curbside recycling — can’t be used for the recycling of clothing. They may be used for the recycling of other items.

The firm’s attorney, Bob Kaplan, had asked that the Wichita ordinance be revised to remove the prohibition on accepting clothing. Overland Park allows curbside collection of clothing under certain conditions, and after approval of a site plan.

In his testimony, Kaplan said that there are two reasons why there is opposition to the recycling bins. One is the proliferation of the bins. There are about 65 in Wichita. The second — and perhaps the primary reason — is that sometimes the bins become full and items are left outside the bins. Other people dump all sorts of trash and junk near the bins. But about one million pounds of clothing is picked up in the course of a year.

Kaplan said that every box is visited by the recycling company once a day, seven days a week. All items left at the bins are picked up, even if they are not items that should have been left there. Also, the company quickly responds to calls if a problem is reported.

The operator of a Wichita recycling center spoke to answer questions about his operation. The relevance of his testimony was not clear, but several members of the MAPC were interested in details of the operation of the recycling center, such as its hours of operation, and has it considered opening other locations in Wichita.

Representatives of Goodwill Industries spoke, and it was at this time that the crux of this issue became clear: Since the introduction of the red bins, Goodwill has seen a drop in the volume of clothing items coming to its stores. He said that the prohibition on curbside recycling of clothing protects the standard of living in our community by preventing blight. He welcomed American Recyclers to come to Wichita and open a business in a building, as does Goodwill.

MAPC member David Dennis asked questions regarding the number and locations of the Goodwill stores, the amount of investment, jobs, and wages. But the most important question Dennis asked was this: Where do the proceeds go — charity, or profit?

John Todd, citizen, said that the applicant’s proposal offer choice to the consumer. Competition is good for business, and the consumer wins where there is choice and competition.

Kaplan agreed, saying “competition is not a relevant factor” in the decision the MAPC has to make.

A question by MAPC board member Mitch Mitchell highlighted the point that it is not the boxes themselves that are illegal. It is that they are used for the recycling of clothing that makes them in violation of Wichita city code.

A motion was made and seconded that would have left the Wichita ordinance as it presently exists, meaning that the red bins would still be illegal. A substitute motion offered by Mitchell would have accepted Kaplan’s offer to work with city staff to include the provisions of the Overland Park ordinance so that there could be curbside recycling of clothing.

City legal staff interjected that what was being asked — directing staff to initiate an amendment to the zoning code — was beyond the authority of individual applicants, but the commission could, still, ask for this.

But no second to Mitchell’s was forthcoming, so the motion died. The original motion passed with only Mitchell voting against it.

After the meeting, Kaplan would not comment of the future plans of his client. The red bins are likely to be removed, he said, to comply with the decision.

Analysis

The prohibition of curbside recycling of clothing is a curious anomaly in the city code. The type of bins in question are allowed for the recycling of other goods. I spoke with MAPC member Mitchell, and he said that no one in the city’s planning department can tell him why the prohibition on clothing was placed in the ordinance.

The most troubling aspect of the MAPC’s consideration of this item is the nature of the questions asked by several board members. These questions were obviously designed to show that a non-profit organization like Goodwill Industries is superior to a profit-making business. This presumption that non-profits are more virtuous and desirable because of the absence of the profit motive is common, but unfounded. It’s an example of the bias — considered to be the politically correct stance in some quarters — against profit and business.

This is especially troubling in the case of David Dennis, who, according to his biography, has worked for non-profit government institutions (primarily the military and Wichita public schools) for most of his career.

The ability to earn a profit means that an organization is providing goods or services that are valued by people, and if the organization is able to stay in business, it means it is doing this efficiently. Profit is evidence that capital is being used effectively.

Additionally, profit is the source of the ability to pay taxes. That allows institutions like the military and public schools to operate and institutions like Goodwill to exist without paying many of the taxes that businesses must pay.

Would the members of the MAPC have been willing to ask for a change of city code if the red bins were operated by a charity? We don’t know, but making the type of policy decisions that were made today is not within the scope of the MAPC’s responsibility. Mitchell said it is difficult to work on these types of issues without considering and making policy.

As it stands, Wichitans are about to be deprived of a convenient way to recycle clothing. The Wichita city council should consider revising city code to allow curbside recycling of clothing.

An earlier report from KWCH is Red Bins Violate City Code. Its reporting on yesterday’s meeting is at Red Bins Illegal and Must Go.