Mayor Laura McConwell and Mission, Kansas: A small city with big smart growth ambitions

The Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center in Mission, Kansas.

Earlier this week we announced the winners of our 2013 Leadership Awards. Mayor Laura McConwell and Mission, Kansas were one of the winners.

Mission is a first-generation suburb of just under 10,000 people, located 8 miles south of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. At just 2.7 square miles, Mission feels like a small town despite being minutes away from the center city.

Some might see Mission’s small size as an obstacle to economic vitality. But the community in Mission saw smart growth strategies as a way to raise the profile of the city far beyond it’s small size.

Mayor Laura McConwell has helped make those plans a reality. McConwell has served as the City of Mission’s Mayor since 2002, replacing Sylvester Powell who served as mayor for the previous 25 years. Originally inspired to serve on the town council to speak for young families who at that time were not well-represented, McConwell has become a driving force behind several impressive smart growth and sustainability initiatives in the city.

The centerpiece of this work is the Mission Comprehensive Plan, an extensive update to the city’s strategic, long-range plan. The Comprehensive Plan is a true vision for the future of the city and reflects several big ideas from both Mayor McConwell and the greater Mission community for neighborhood revitalization, infrastructure reinvestment, stormwater management, infill development and multi-modal transportation options, particularly for seniors.

One landmark smart growth project is Mission Square, a three-story, 87,000 sq ft senior independent facility built adjacent to an existing community center. The project was a 2009 finalist in the Mid-America Regional Council’s Sustainability Success Stories contest for being a prime example of successful infill redevelopment, as well adding a housing choice previously unavailable in Mission.

Another project called Mission Crossing is also moving forward, and will incorporate mixed-use residential and retail space along with a new public park. The development will also include two transit shelters to access planned enhanced bus service for an adjacent regional corridor, the Shawnee Mission Parkway.

The city has also embarked on an ambitious infrastructure rehabilitation program, especially on the city’s main thoroughfares. These improvements include new sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure, traffic calming measures energy-saving LED traffic signals and modernized stormwater infrastructure.

Mayor McConwell is a passionate ambassador for what she calls the 3P model – “People, Planet and Prosperity.” Mayor McConwell is a strong advocate for enhancing the walkability of Mission though streetscape enhancements and ensuring safe walking routes to schools and other community centers.

In part to the leadership of Mayor McConwell, Mission is on a path towards sustainable growth and economic resilience that serves as a model for how small cities can implement smart growth initiatives both in the Midwest and throughout entire United States.