As early as the 1950s, “bedroom communities” were transforming into more established, nearly independent “edge cities,” often spurred by the movement of corporate headquarters building to locations outside the anchor city’s core. Edge cities–such as Overland Park– are distinguished by having a complete set of housing, schools, recreational areas, office and industrial parks, shopping malls and cultural and medical centers, while still being tied closely to the city.
Johnson County’s edge city explosion was driven in large part by the 1975 opening of Corporate Woods in southern Overland Park. The initial development created a park-like environment, with trails and wooded areas integrated among the initial five office buildings. Retail development quickly followed, along with banks, groceries, medical services and specialty shops. Johnson County Community College, established in 1967, made a major statement by locating at 111th Street (now College Boulevard) and Quivira Road in 1972.
National leaders locate here
In 2005, half of the nation’s Fortune 100 companies and a third of the Fortune 500 had locations in Johnson County. Among them were Applebee’s International; Ash Grove Cement; Bayer Animal Health; Garmin International; Lee Jeans and YRC Worldwide. With its headquarters at 119th Street and Nall Ave., Sprint has 20 buildings and 18 parking garages. The campus is so large that it has its own zip code.
The growth in workers followed. By the early 2000s, the number of workers in the county nearly matched the number of residents. By that time, those commuting into Johnson County for work far exceeded the number who left to work at jobs elsewhere.
Legislation supports growth
The state’s authorization of a retail sales tax in 1978 gave suburban growth a big boost. Allowing a source of revenue beyond property taxes led to significant growth in public improvements and services. Voters in Johnson County overwhelmingly supported liquor-by-the-drink legislation in 1986, repealing the 106-year-old prohibition and dramatically improving the growth of restaurants in Johnson County.
Diversity improves slowly
Integration in Johnson County has lagged behind the nation. The 2004 U.S. Census reports just 11 percent of the county’s population as non- Caucasian, well below the national average of 25 percent. The Johnson County Latino community grew 250 percent between 1999 and 2004, prompting new bilingual services throughout the county. The next largest non-Caucasian groups in the county at that time were Asian and African- American. A number of smaller ethnic communities also have built religious centers in the area, including the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Kansas City in Shawnee and the Filipino Cultural Center in Overland Park. Another diversity factor–age–also is at play: The county has recognized the trend toward an aging citizenry, which has resulted in the buildup of many
organizations and care facilities to support this population.
The county historically did not include many Jewish people. Most synagogues and other Jewish organizations were located in Kansas City, Mo. But more Jewish families relocated to the county after World War II, just as non-Jewish families did. A 1986 demographic study identified 80th Street and Roe Blvd. as the epicenter of Kansas City’s Jewish population. That study spurred the relocation of most of the metro area’s Jewish organizations and synagogues to Johnson County.
Cities attempt to lessen division of state line
Johnson County’s population exceeded Kansas City’s by the year 2000, rendering the “bedroom community” designation moot. Decades of tension continued to cross the state line, however. The themes of the 1990s and 2000s are not much different from those in today’s headlines.
Future vision playing out
In 2001, Johnson County commissioners envisioned 2020, identifying several quality of life issues that would require ongoing leadership:
Improved transportation options • Favorable economic development conditions • Excellent school districts • Safe communities • Raised cultural profile • Maintenance of open, green space for parks and farmland • Effective management of future growth • Environmentally conscious construction techniques • Neighborhood-centered developments
A fitting conclusion to this eight-part series on the history of Johnson County comes directly from the book on which it’s based: “… To its credit, Johnson County has long been known for its dedicated and passionate citizenry. Thus, these challenges, and many more, are certain to be met by the same caliber of caring and committed men and women who transformed this part of the “Great American Desert” into an economic powerhouse for the state of Kansas and the metropolitan Kansas City area; and, in doing so, made Johnson County a great place to live, work and play.” JcL
This material was summarized from Johnson County, Kansas: A Pictorial History, 1825-2005, by Mindi C. Love, with permission from its author and the Johnson County Museum, Shawnee, Kan. Copies of the book are available at the Johnson County Museum and online, at JoCoMuseum.org.