Cities on the Plains
The Evolution of Urban Kansas
James R. Shortridge
Winner: AAG Globe Book Award
From Abilene to Wichita and beyond, a constellation of cities glitters across the fertile plains of Kansas. Their history is entwined with that of the state as a whole, and their size and status are rarely questioned. Yet as James Shortridge reveals, the evolution of urban Kansas remains a largely untold story of competition, rivalry, and metropolitan dreams.
“The story of urbanization in Kansas offers an important case study of how cities develop, prosper, and decline beyond the traditional framework of Rust and Sun Belt cities and biographies of the ‘great cities.’ . . . The book is extremely thorough in examining the interconnections of geography, transportation, and human agency. It goes beyond an examination of major individual cities and offers a new view of how urban areas interact, expand, and decline.”
“A significant contribution to the fields of historical and urban geography. It is a tour de force in its successful attempt to discuss the complete evolution of one state’s urban development over more than 150 years. . . . Not just a valuable book for those interested in the Middle West and in urban development, but also a good story that is theoretically insightful.”
—The Professional GeographerSee all reviews...
“This excellent scholarly study is suitable for anyone interested in the history of urban development or Great Plains history.”
—Great Plains Quarterly
“A delight. This book is as much about the history of urban Kansas as it is the character and expression of Kansas culture. It is of great value to the geographer and the historian, and of equal importance to Kansans, urban and rural alike.”
—Journal of Cultural Geography
“A gem of a study on the cities, towns, economy, and history of Kansas. This badly needed work fills a huge gap long neglected by historians. Geographers, history buffs, academics, and economists will find this book a gold mine of information.”
—Journal of the West
“Shortridge, by weaving geographic theory into an analytic narrative to tell the fascinating story of the urban development of Kansas, sets a new standard for regional urban history.”
—Journal of American History
“A major accomplishment in constructing an urban historiography for Kansas. . . . Magisterial in breadth and thoroughness. . . . A massive work of synthesis and analysis. . . . A touchstone book for scholars not only of urban and Kansas history, but also western, midwestern, and Iowa history.”
—Annals of Iowa
“This book is of definite interest to urbanists and historians of Kansas and the Great Plains. It offers a geographical study with true historical depth. Shortridge’s painstaking research has produced as complete an interpretation of the urban development of Kansas as is likely possible in a single volume.”
—American Historical Review
“Kansans will find this book a rich source of information about individual places and an interesting overview of what made some cities grow while others languished. . . . This is a fascinating book that should engage the attention of Kansas scholars as well as the general public.”
“A very important book about the development of urban Kansas. Despite the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer myth, urban specialists have long known that frontier development in the U.S. frequently stemmed as much from urban developers as it did from farmers. . . . A very good demonstration of both comparative urban development and the application of social science theory to historical analysis. Highly recommended.”
“Shortridge has successfully undertaken a project of monumental proportions—a comprehensive history of Kansas’ urban development. . . . [He] takes takes us on a pleasant, easy to read journey of all the 118 settlements that ever achieved a population of 2,500, identified by the term urban threshold. . . .You don’t need to qualify as a historian to enjoy this fine book—just read it!”
“A tour de force that shows how changing systems of production, transportation, and services have continually remade the fortunes of Kansas communities.”
—Carl Abbott, author of The Metropolitan Frontier: Cities in the Modern American West
“A valuable book for anyone concerned with the historical evolution of urban systems generally and an absolutely essential book for anyone interested in the urban history of Kansas and the Great Plains.”
—John A. Jakle, author of City Lights
“Theoretically insightful, rich in detail, and best of all, a pleasure to read.”
—David J. Wishart, editor of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the Great Plains
“A tremendously ambitious and significant contribution to the field.”
—Craig Miner, author of Kansas: The History of the Sunflower StateSee fewer reviews...
Cities on the Plains relates the history of Kansas's larger communities from the 1850s to the present. The first book to provide a comprehensive, comparative account of an entire state's urban development, it shows how Kansas's current hierarchy of cities and urban development emerged from a complex and ongoing series of promotional strategies. Railroads, the mining industry, the cattle trade-all exercised their influence over where and when these settlements were originally established.
Drawing on rich historical research filtered through cultural geography, Shortridge looks at the 118 communities that ever achieved a population of 2,500, and unravels the many factors that influenced the growth of urban Kansas. He tells how mercantilism dominated urban thinking in territorial days until after statehood, when cities competed for the capital, prisons, universities, and other institutions. He also shows how geography and size were employed by entrepreneurs and government officials to prepare strategies for economic development. And he describes how the railroads especially promoted the founding of cities in the nineteenth century—and how this system has fared since 1950 in the face of globalization and the growth of interstate highways.
Throughout the book, Shortridge demonstrates how cities competed for dominance within their regions, and he solves mysteries of growth and stagnation by evaluating them according to their abilities to respond to change. Sharing anecdotes along with insights, he tells why Wichita is "the unexpected metropolis," why the citizens of Leavenworth thought a prison was a better urban asset than a college, and how Garden City grew despite the plans of the Santa Fe Railroad.
Cities on the Plains provides an incisive new look not only at Kansas history but also at how American cities in general have evolved over the last century and a half.