A city incorporated in the auto-centric 1950s is committing itself to walkable neighborhoods. Mid-century politicians and urban planners designed Merriam, Kansas like many other suburban cities of that time– single family homes centered in large lawns on roomy streets, many without sidewalks. At the time, popular opinion held that especially in a city anchored by an interstate, everyone would be traveling everywhere by car. Public sentiment has shifted in the last 60 years, however, and current City of Merriam leaders are paving the way for healthier neighborhoods with their Sidewalk Infill Program.
The program was established in 2015 with support from Merriam City Council. Staff canvassed the city for missing sidewalks and ADA ramps in residential areas and completed Phase 1 in 2017 and Phase 2 in 2018. The new 4 foot sidewalks are installed on the public right-of-way with a 2 foot easement off the curb. As part of the project, driveway approaches and curbs are replaced as needed and sidewalks will be maintained by the city. This year, Merriam plans to tackle Burnham St. and portions of W. 66th Terrace, W. 56th Terrace, W. 56th St., and Switzer Road. Phase 4, which will include city-wide sidewalk maintenance and repair, begins in 2020.
Jenna Gant, Communications and Public Engagement Manager for the City of Merriam, says that while the original goal was to improve community health, residents are also reporting increased home values and more connected neighborhoods. “People like to get out and walk their dogs and meet their neighbors. We’re hearing lots of positive feedback.” This correlates with findings from the AARP and other community health researchers. According to Kaiser Permanente Vice-President Tyler Norris, “in addition to the health benefits of getting regular physical activity, people’s health can be correlated to having strong relationships and living in connected communities with high levels of social cohesion. Among the important determinants of this sense of belonging is ‘Do I know my neighbors?’ A walkable community fosters these connections every day by helping us meet people we otherwise wouldn’t.”
You can learn more about Merriam’s Sidewalk Infill Program on their website, and at an upcoming public meeting:
Merriam Sidewalk Infill Program Phase 3 Public Meeting
Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019
6 – 7 p.m.
Merriam City Hall
Community Training Room
9001 W. 62ndSt.