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Uncovering the Development of Westport's Private Sidewalks

Authors: Erin Royals*, Rutgers University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Historical Geography
Keywords: urban geography, urban planning, historical geography, business improvement districts, privatization of public space
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In August 2018, an off-duty police officer was shot and killed during a party in Kansas City, Missouri’s Westport district. This event, held every Sunday at Californos, was geared toward African-American young professionals and was one of the only events in Kansas City targeted toward this specific demographic. Once word spread of the Orr’s homicide, public opinion, through the aid of the media, galvanized around making sure a homicide in Westport never happened again. The solution to Westport’s perceived gun violence was to privatize the sidewalks during peak weekend nightlife hours. This entails installing metal detectors around the perimeter of the heart of Westport and screening patrons as they enter for weapons.
To a casual observer, the privatization of the sidewalks happened rather quickly. However, what I demonstrate in my paper is that this did not happen quickly at all. Rather, this was the culmination of decades of efforts by Westport business owners to take over public space in order to control who is allowed to patronize their businesses. The story of Westport’s sidewalk privatization is buried in the archives and thus far, I have been working to weave together just how something like sidewalk privatization could happen. Archival work is critically important for this paper, as I am working to not only connect the various pieces to the puzzle but also to bear witness to events and conversations that at the moment seemed minor but in actuality had a huge impact on future events.

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