A Five-Minute Memoir of a Planner
Kimberly Portillo/ AICP, Long-range Planner
Gunnar leans his head in my doorway, “you good in here?” a quick look and a thumbs up.
“All good” I reply, “just finishing packing up some things.”
“Which plant are you giving me?”
It’s a funny little tradition we have in the Planning Department, generational plants. I received the plants from my predecessor when he left, and he from his. Now, I will pass them on. Truly, I don’t know how many generations of planners have fostered these plants, watering them, nurturing them, and caring for them in the same way we have cared about the people of this community. It must have been quite a few, based on the length of vines that wrap around the walls, bookshelves and filing cabinets in my office.
“How about this one?” he asks.
The snake plant. A resilient guy, taking up residence in the corner of the office where sunlight rarely reaches, rooted deep. Yet, it continues to grow, continues to thrive even, where others simply could not. I can’t help but to think again about the members of this community. The “Dotte boys” and “Dotte girls” that continue to brighten up the dark corners of the world despite circumstances that others might flee. The neighborhood group leaders who work daily on grassroots initiatives. Who, despite the impacts of generational and historical discrimination; redlining, urban renewal, and systemic racism, continue to see the potential in the Dotte. They are the embodiment of the snake plant.
“Sure, that’s a good one for you” I reply, pulling myself out of my thoughts.
He turns and walks out the door, my boss for only a few more days. I scan the pile of boxes in front of me. I have accumulated a lot in the five years I’ve been here. As I pack it all up, I feel a loss. I will miss this place. I will miss the people. I will miss the friendly banter and the after-hours “field trips” where we explore different areas of the city or sometimes just have a drink and share inside jokes.
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t wait to escape where I came from, and I did. I left Kansas City, Kansas as a teenager and spent many years adventuring, exploring, and growing. When I came back, it wasn’t because I was forced to, but rather because I wanted to.
After having been to the other side of the world, literally, I found an appreciation for the people and places that shaped me. Noble Prentis Elementary, where I met my best friend of 20+ years. Argentine Middle School, where I watched 9/11 happen on the television of my 7th grade science class. Sumner Academy, where I started to become involved with the community as part of the volunteer requirements for IB students, not knowing it would lead to my career in public service. Whitmore Park, where I hunted for Easter eggs every year at the annual egg hunt (and where I now take my kids, to that same egg hunt). Bethany Community Center, where I took summer cheerleading classes and got to march in the Central Avenue Parade.
I could continue with the many, many, memories I have here, and it comforts me to think that although I will no longer be working here, I will continue to live in the area and experience the uniqueness of KCK. The snake plant of the Midwest.
“I hear you’re going to come back as an honorary judge for the door decorating contest?” It’s Byron, pulling me again from my thoughts. A Legend of the Planning Department, falling short in tenure only to Janet Parker, who is the lifeblood of the 4th floor. The Planning Wizards.
“I’ll be back” I reply. And I mean it.
It is with humble gratitude that I leave the Planning and Urban Design Department of the Unified Government. I have truly enjoyed my time here and have learned so much from the projects that I was lucky to be a part of. I know that my peers will continue to do great things for KCK and Wyandotte County and I leave with pride in having been a part of this team.