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July 30, 1996

Oklahoma City seems to be having a lot of trouble getting the heralded MAPS project up and running, so they probably don't need to hear this. Kansas City is going through a period of anguish over a riverwalk project very much like the one planned in Oklahoma Qty.

Part of Oklahoma City's MAPS will be a riverwalk along the South Canadian as it flows through the downtown area, offering a place for relaxed strolling amidst boutique shops and informal types of entertainment. It would be patterned along the lines of San Antonio's eminently successful riverwalk.

Kansas City had the same idea and laid out major bucks for an improvement project to make it happen. Unfortunately, all is not going well in that great city. The situation was colorfully described in a Kansas City Star article by staff writer Tracey Kaplan, who investigated readers' complaints about foul odors and raw sewage in the water. Kaplan found these charges valid. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Kaplan flushed out the truth and raised a heckuva stink about a sensitive local issue.

The magazine wrote: "After getting wind of residents' complaints of less than fragrant odors emanating from the city's recently opened 'riverwalk' an $86 million flood-control and beautification project designed to transform a concrete, flood-prone ditch near the downtown shopping area into a Seine-like urban paradise of lakes, pools, waterfalls, fountains and pathways along the water's edge - Kaplan plunged into the problem and, beginning with a page-one story, spread it all out."

Briefly, the reporter's personal observation revealed toilet paper, feces and urine spilling routinely into what the mayor was calling "the jewel of the Midwest." Contradicting lab findings announced by the city, an independent analysis revealed levels of bacteria above federal and state standards, frequent sewage spills and the city's failure to report them. There was more. Does this project remind you of any part of Oklahoma City's plans for use of the MAPS sales tax revenue?

Haven't our friends in the capital city had enough grief already? Let's hope their proposed canal doesn't turn out like Kansas City's riverwalk. We should also hope KC's riverwalk itself can be salvaged and become something like the famed downtown attraction in San Antonio. Kansas City is a beautiful city, one of our favorite places, and it deserves a winner. So does Okie City, for that matter. After their county jail fiasco, the trimming-down of their proposed new ball park and other municipal headaches, the city needs to raise its batting average.

But let's give thanks for the vigilance of private citizens, a fearless reporter and an investigative daily newspaper for their roles in bringing such matters out into the open. Kaplan and the Star won a "laurel" from the Columbia Journalism Review for exposing the situation there. They are protecting the public's right to know everything about what's going on with their tax dollars.