An ode to the Entercom tower, and a new era in Westwood

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Tonight I am up late in observation of this being the last night of the Entercom radio tower dotting the neighborhood skyline. Sectional dismantling of the main tower is scheduled to begin tomorrow. The Mayor of Westwood sent out a message the other day detailing the deconstruction process, pointing out that a radio tower has been on site since 1933. For a city of just a couple thousand, this is truly a historic event.

The tower’s peak has been a familiar presence in my backyard reveries, blinking red through the tree branches, a pattern whose meaning — if there ever was one — I never discerned. Once in a while you could see it get struck by lightning. The tower has kept good company over the years and I’m going to miss it. Still, if the school district does wind up building a new elementary school on the site, it would be hard not to call that an improvement. Only a few years ago they weren’t sure if Westwood View would stay open at all. Fortunately it looks like it will, and our daughter starts Kindergarten there next fall.

In the meantime, I’d like to propose that the smaller tower be preserved on site. Even if no longer functional, it’s like our own mini Eiffel tower, certainly much nicer to look at than the power lines and water towers that dominate residential skylines everywhere else. Once the main tower is gone, its cables cut and mounts uprooted, I would also like to see a good portion of the land restored to its pre-tower purpose: sheep farming. So far I have brought up the sheep farming idea to a few colleagues and even the mayor, though I’m not sure they took me seriously. But I actually think reintroducing sheep farming, or other agrarian activities, would be a progressive move. Look how popular Overland Park’s Deanna Rose Children’s Farm is. Families flock to that place like it’s the last working farm on earth. In addition to wool, the Westwood sheep would also provide a humble terrestrial counterpoint to the now-outmoded tower’s sonic, sky-spanning grandeur.

Even with the small tower, new school and working sheep farm, there might even be room for a few new houses. Possibly even — gasp! — a tasteful townhome or two. Whether to allow multiple family dwellings is currently a big issue of contention in my neighborhood, where people display “No Medium Density!” signs as if promoting some humorless new fad diet. I even thought about dressing up as “medium density” for Halloween last year just to spook the neighbors, and a couple times I’ve even sketched the words MAXIMUM DENSITY in the driveway using my kids’ neon sidewalk chalk. When I see the “no medium density” signs, I can’t help but wonder who exactly we are trying to keep out. Will it really destroy the fabric of the city if a few families who can’t afford several hundred thousand dollar homes are able to live in Westwood? I know there are good reasons to be wary of residential zoning changes, but I also think we should be open to discussion on the issue. (As always, feel free to do so in the comments, provided you use your real name).

My main argument, whether it be for sheep, diversified housing, or some other issue, is that a city’s character necessarily changes over time. We might not always like it, but we can make an effort to shape that change for the greater good. I’ve talked with developers, city planners and consultants who were impressed by progressive attitudes and approaches in Westwood, yet also taken aback at how much public opposition there is to things like townhomes or bike lanes. I’ve talked with residents who appear baffled by the notion that anyone would even consider challenging the single-family status quo. I’ve fallen on both sides of these issues myself at times, often rolling my eyes, if occasionally in opposite directions.

Cities and neighborhoods also go through cycles. Urban areas are becoming denser again, which has a ripple effect on inner ring suburbs like Westwood. The KC streetcar doesn’t extend to 45th and State Line like it did in my grandparents’ time, but at least there is a KC streetcar again. New business are opening, bolstered by people’s desire to walk somewhere close or locally owned. People ride bikes to work and want (deserve, I would argue) protected lanes. Even Woodside Village, the upscale apartment building I wrote skeptically about years ago on this very blog, has proven viable in attracting residents and tenants, while also encouraging new investment along the 47th Street corridor.

Earlier this evening I walked past the tower with my family and saw the sun set behind it for probably the final time. I’ll miss the tower’s gravity and lightness, the way it seemed to be a divining rod for whatever mood or atmosphere was hidden in the clouds. I realized I will *definitely* never climb it now, and not just *most likely never* climb it (a bit of a somber thought, as a former schoolmate died years ago after falling from its summit). On a positive note, I will finally be able to play my Fender wah-wah guitar pedal without signal interference from talk radio, sports scores and weather updates, which my 13-year-old self would be delighted by.

Yes, change comes to us all, even here in Westwood. Tomorrow the communications tower comes down, but the communication itself continues. More than any outward landmark, it’s what defines us as a city.

UPDATE: At 10:37 p.m. Tuesday evening, the tower was still standing. Now it is raining. I suspect it will still be there tomorrow, if maybe not the next day.

(All links courtesy of Shawnee Mission Post. In lieu of defunct radio stations and print newspapers that no longer cover neighborhood issues, I highly recommend subscribing to SMP for Westwood-related news and updates).

 

 

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Little Red Flags

Right now Google Fiber contractors are digging a hole in the front yard. Little red, yellow and blue flags dot the neighborhood, marking gas lines and dig sites. Tree limbs are truncated to make way for new telephone polls installed by convoys of trucks with generic sounding company names on the side. My midnight bike rides are interrupted by men standing around drilling holes in the sidewalk, surrounded by flood lights and orange traffic barriers. The irony of Google Fiber’s rainbow bunny mascot is the installation work has scared all the neighborhood’s actual rabbits into flight. During my evening stroll I see entire warrens on the move. It is what it is, even if we mostly use that expression to mean I’d rather it were something else. I hope it’s not being too dramatic to say the whole Snowden thing threw a little cold water on the Fiber project for me. By tracking your digital breadcrumbs and analyzing your text messages and email drafts as you write them, Snowden alleges, the NSA can see into your thought process and analyze your “pattern of life.” This all sounds paranoid, the kind of thinking most often associated with drugs, secrecy or treason. But as these guys point out, “These days you don’t need drugs to be paranoid. You can just be paranoid and be totally correct.” So the Web and telecom networks secretly turn over data to the government — not a big surprise. But do we really want them burrowing directly into our homes? I guess it depends on what you’re willing to give up to be able to digitally record eight TV shows at once.