Monday, January 10, 2005

Writing in Saturday's Kansas City Star, Rita Valenciano reminds us to:

Respect West Side resolve

"The West Side neighborhood of Kansas City has faced many challenges.

In addition to being home to the oldest Latino community in this city, it is a community that has withstood flooding, crime, unceasing waves of immigrants and dissection by public thoroughfares that allow easy access to the suburbs.

Through it all, it has persevered as a viable neighborhood, primarily because it is made up of stubborn individuals who don't respond well to insensitive change. It is my neighborhood and I am in my element.

My life in the neighborhood is punctuated by noises — phenomenal and unceasing in the morning, evening and night — traffic, airplanes, construction, trucks, police and ambulance sirens, loud neighbors' voices carrying over an endless procession of delivery vehicles, meter readers, mail carriers, joggers, walkers, barking dogs along the block — in addition to car alarms, loud phones and eclectic music — mariachi, country, hard rock, blues and symphonies — that penetrate windows and doors whether open or closed.

New residents and longtime dwellers are easily identified. Newcomers keep to themselves. They don't mix at first, while old-timers not only mix, they stir — they want to know your business and pedigree — workplace and profession, household composition and place of origin.

The West Side can be a strange yet comfortable place to live. Every house on the West Side is made of glass — intentional or not. We watch out for each other, having learned that it is the only way to keep our persons, homes and property safe and secure. As a result, we have kept crime at bay because we know each other's quirks and more.

Now we face an onslaught of developers with flimsy arguments to support profiteering at the expense of ensconced residents. Residents are portrayed as resistant to change that is said to be inevitable. Change is never easy, although it is the only constant in life.

The change proposed is not about a “million dollar” view; it is about much more than that — it is about the meshing of cultures.

Successful change adapts with the culture it usurps. It is difficult to move forward until we know more about each other — where we are and where we have been. Suburbs and urban areas can coexist, but differences must be compromised. In compromise, both sides agree — agreement is the basis of community. Agreement begins with listening and understanding.

Preserving our West Side community is necessary if this city is to return to the greatness envisioned by civic leaders. Developing a stubborn neighborhood into extinction should not be an option. There is too much at stake. The loss of neighborhood culture engendered by luxury condominium gentrification will be a loss that no developer can resurrect.

Those who move to and those who promote the West Side only for the view are overlooking the strength and concept of “neighborhood” — the root and basis of our city.

Cities are made up of neighborhoods. If West Side neighborhood change is to be successful and embraced, developers and politicians must respect the literal and figurative views of current residents in order to secure support for their designs.

Rita Valenciano is a member of the Westside Planning Committee. She lives in Kansas City."