The woke chickens attempt to roost in suburban Kansas City. But feathers are flying in the henhouse.
Outsiders have a hard time taking seriously a town whose name seems to have tumbled out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, but, lo and behold, in November, Prairie Village witnessed one of the most eye-popping elections in recent memory.
Indeed, future generations of (home-schooled) students may one day think of Prairie Village as the “Lexington” in the citizen revolt against soft-core, soft-pedaled, small-town, DEI-driven progressivism.
The outlines of the rebellion are simple enough. Fed up with a City Council hell-bent on making current PV residents pay for the sins of other people’s grandfathers, a common-sense group called “PV United” put up a slate of candidates in the recent City Council elections. Their candidates won four of the six seats they contested, losing a fifth by a hair and a sixth with a last-minute, write-in candidate.
For no good reason, this town of some 23,000 souls feels the need to have as many council people as Kansas City, Mo. So, the four new members can do little but put the other eight on notice. It’s a start. With the absence of a critical media, citizens have to make their own noise.
What motivated local citizens to back PV United were the increasingly aggressive moves by the City Council and its allies in a civic group called “Prairie Village for All” PVFA to fundamentally transform this once-humble suburb.
In the way of background, in the 1940s, legendary builder J.C. Nichols assembled the property for what he envisioned as a relatively low-cost suburban paradise for returning veterans, many of whom had never lived in a home of their own. In 1949, the National Association of Home Builders named Prairie Village as the best-planned city in America.
As a developer, Nichols had no peers. He was, however, a man of his time. PVFA writes of the founding of Prairie Village as harshly as the 1619 Project people write about the founding of America. “Black people were excluded from buying homes by racist deed covenants and redlining,” they tell us.
Yes, that much is true and relevant, but the PVFA people go on to blame developers like Nichols for the widening of “the economic gap between people of color and white people.” As a result of which, we are told, “people of color, working-class people, and other marginalized people are priced out of Prairie Village.”
In their confounding logic, PVFA and its allies are trying to fuse two separate issues—race and affordability—into one. For a variety of reasons, this integrated, well-planned little city has become a popular place to live. Many of the new residents are buying older homes, tearing them down, and building anew. The demand has pushed up property values.
Mayor Eric Mikkleson, who seems perpetually to be the subject of recall initiatives, has a solution, one amenable to PVFA: “The more diverse housing options you have,” he says, “the more you can attract and retain diverse residents.”
The option menu is forever shifting, but the goal is always more or less the same. The city’s do-gooders would seem to have less interest in new housing than in new people. The underlying assumption is that subsidized housing will attract the “marginalized people” that will allow civic leaders to boast about the city’s diversity.
To get an insider’s take on the battle for Prairie Village, I turned to my friend Scott—a phony name, a real person—a long-standing PV resident. Scott’s been around. When he was a boy, his parents hoped to buy a home in Armour Hills, a Nichols development on the Missouri side. Being Jewish, they were denied the opportunity. Prairie Village was off-limits for the same reason.
Readers might recall that it was not until 1954 that the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. the Board of Education that school segregation on the basis of race was unconstitutional. That Board of Education was in Topeka, which, if I recall, is also in Kansas. Times change. The voters who shot down the “Value Them Both” amendment in 2022 might keep that in mind.
Given Scott’s family history, one might think he’d have a “Prairie Village for All” sign posted in his front yard. Instead, he has the “Stop” sign favored by PV United. His attendance at a DEI subcommittee meeting persuaded him that a morbid fascination with the past had blocked city leaders from thinking clearly about the future.
“That’s over,” Scott says of the restricted-covenant era. “There’s no continuation of that thought process. Prairie Village is among the most welcoming cities there is.” For the record, the town is a little less than 90 percent White, and Asians outnumber Blacks.
To this point, integration has been organic. The Black, Asian, and Jewish residents of Prairie Village moved there for the same reason non-Jewish Whites moved there—decent schools, safe streets, efficient city services, and friendly neighbors. “A meritocracy,” says Scott, “but civic leaders are trying to dismantle it.”
Scott recalls one city meeting in which a young woman lamented that she could not afford to buy a home in the city in which she grew up. Says Scott, “I’d love to live on Sanibel Island next to a golf course, but wanting something doesn’t mean you can get it.”
If City Council members wanted to make the city more affordable, says Scott, they would prevent the mill levy from floating along with property values. “They should look first at how much services should cost, not how much revenue they have to spend.”
J.C. Nichols got his start building affordable housing in KCK. He called his first development “California Heights” to lure—with its presumed highness and dryness—those poor souls whose homes were washed away in the great 1903 Missouri River flood.
Nichols built homes for popular tastes with minimal government interference. That’s why his homes were affordable. That formula still works today.