Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Caring About Kansas City

I am trying to write this from my heart, and I am struggling to get started.  I want to talk about caring about a city, caring enough to fight for its future, caring enough to wonder why others don't care, watching divisions ruin neighborhoods with fear and distrust, watching leadership that is too busy sticking its nose in the trough to call people to account for their behavior, watching money wasted...
When we left New York City in 1974, the place was falling apart--at least that was the perception.  The grimy graffiti stained streets gave the impression of a city out of control, riddled with crime.  The news media and popular culture helped it along with their reporting and portrayals of the city.  If you are old enough, you remember them:  "Death Wish"  "The Warriors"  "Fort Apache: The Bronx" among others.  In 1975, President Gerald Ford vetoed the bill that would have bailed out the city as it teetered on insolvency.  (According to this article, Mr. Ford never did tell the city to "drop dead" as the New York Daily News reported.)
New York survived.  The feds did help out with loan guarantees, not unlike the bailing out of Chrysler, the city eventually paid it all back.  Gradually New York cleaned up its act and was once again a great city.  Not perfect by any means, but taking care of its needs and making priorities.  When 9/11/2001 happened, it did not happen to a city that would crumple under the pressure of the tragedy .
I have lived in the Kansas City metro since 1989:  The first years in Grandview, and then a home owner in South Kansas City.  It's not New York--only downtown reminds me of the city of my birth.  New Yorkers would be amazed at the openness of the city, the fact of yards and houses.  Kansas City would do well to remember that it is not a big city like New York or Chicago.  The Kansas City experience is not the big city experience.  Kansas City has its own unique vibe.  And it is still a place where people can succeed, can meet goals, can find a satisfying life.
However, each day that headlines blare out about violent crime, each time someone is affected by property crime, each time that the infrastructure fails, each time public safety is cut instead of projects, each time City Hall shows selfishness and a lack of common sense in its planning is one more time where people start asking questions about how viable the city is, and how it will thrive, how it will turn things around and whether it can.
There is much that is good about our great city.  However, we are suffering for a lack of people willing to take responsibility for their actions and hold communities to account.  We are suffering for all the divisions--Black/White, leadership/people, rich/poor, etc. etc.  It will not be easy to turn around, it will hurt and it will probably cost someone their political career.
I found it interesting that one of the conclusions of the article I linked above is that the way things worked out, it was for the best.  Many thought that if the president had given in then, New York might never have recovered.  But that big headline cost President Ford his reelection bid.  We need that kind of strength now in our town.
Just a few thoughts from someone who still gives a damn, who likes living here, and wants to live in a great city.


Bob G. said...

Oh, I remember those days of the early-mid 70s along the east coast (and visited NYC back in those days as well...)
I remember the movies that came from the era...and after all this time, little has been done to actually make that dent in the crime stats in the Big Apple.
Small victories here and there, but nothing lasting.

Sadly, this has spilled over into middle America and smaller cities and towns...
We, as a society have allowed too much for too long, and I applaud YOUR stance in wanting a GOOD city...a VIABLE city, and one that extols the values that America was established upon.

Kudos to you.
I'm been trying to do likewise in Ft. Wayne (for the last 10 years), and it's certainly NOT easy (or for the weak-of-spirit).

But if we do something...for long enough, it might inspire others to follow suit.
To do nothing just adds to the problem.
Excellent post and good coomentary.

Stay safe out there.
Never give in.
never give up.

Anonymous said...

Well TO I feel your pain and since I have been around here all my life have watched the decline of Kansas City.

Greed and no public support is whats killing KC and will continue to do so.

Till the voters get together and clean things up nothing will happen. I have no idea what it will take to get the voters together since most seem to be nothing buy whiners and the rest could care less.

Andrea said...

We moved to KC just over a year ago. We moved from a real hellhole (which I won't name because everyone who doesn't know better has good thoughts about the place right now). We really like it here so far; we bought a house in Brookside and we love it. Friends told us not to read or watch the news...but we do. We shouldn't; it scares me, and I find myself feeling afraid in my own neighborhood. I wonder if we did the right thing by moving here.

The Observer said...

I think the role of the ratings- and-sensationalism driven local news is not fully appreciated. While KCMO's homicide rate is not acceptable, it is true that violent crime of all kinds is concentrated in certain parts of the city. You and I living outside those areas are much less likely to encounter this type of crime, and in fact are pretty safe if we live city-savvy and are aware of our surroundings.
Probably the most important thing that we can do is to engage the people--talk up issues, candidates, etc. and encourage people to get involved, including voting regularly. It doesn't seem like much but when the pols realize that they are being held accountable, they should do use better.
So welcome, and if you are from where I think you're from, you are the third person I've met who came from there. (Kansas City: Our EMS workers do have a contract...)

Andrea said...

Thanks. I know that most violent crime is more concentrated--not that it's okay this is the case, but it does make me feel better that it isn't close to home. I also worry a lot about property crime/theft, but I worried about that before we moved here...guess I'm just a worrier. Your point about ratings is a sound one, and that's something I try to remind myself of. I also worry about the future of this city and about it's infrastructure problems, and these things make me wonder if this is really where we want to live. Maybe smart people are getting out. But we are both pretty determined to stay right now. After living in a shitty little town for so long, I am also determined to stay right here in the city--at least for now--I'm certainly not interested in moving to a suburb. I bet we'll feel better after we've been here longer. And if I can stop watching the news.

bill kostar said...

There are some very basic characteristics of good local government that KCMO would do well to pursue, the most basic of which is sustained behavior over a period of time which demonstrates a serious commitment to appropriate strategies, activities, decisions, and priorities to the people who live here and pay the taxes.
Having earned credibility, an elected body can actually govern, which is to say shape change, take advantage of opportunities, and lead the public toward a better future instead of just having to react to whatever comes along.
Without credibility and trust from the voters, only insider deals and administering decline are possible, sccompanied by slick campaigns to trick the voters and followed by excuses to try to explain away the utter absence of accountability.
Behavior has consequences and when residents see elections with incredibly low turnouts year and year, money raised for one purpose being used for something completely different, insider deals with the same old crowd, and a lack of even the most basic services like public safety, after a while they correctly conclude that their city government isn't really interested in them.
Other governments throughout the region already have concluded exactly that, which is why there is no interest in any sort of bi-state cooperation that involves any exchange of taxpayer money.
If KCMO keeps doing the same things, the same way, with mostly the same old names, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the results will continue to be disappointing.
And all the All Star Games, TIFs for development, streetcars, and new hotels aren't going to make a bit of difference.
In a democracy, you get precisely the government you deserve.

chuck said...

Mr. Kostar's Machiavelli reference is apt, but I would take it one step further and quote H. L. Mencken, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

An excellent article in my opinion Mr. Observer. You hit the City Hall nail on the head, but this project will need some serious power tools for completion.

Andrea, your house in Brookside is safe for the moment and please do not forget your location is on the barbican of an ever diminishing Green Zone in a city under siege.

This city, like many others across the nation is now, and will be for the foreseeable future beset with a cultural conflict which polite PC society refuses to honestly assess.

I would respectfully take exception to Mr. Observer's New York analogy. the price of real estate in New York City would be an onerous and impossible financial burden for most of the citizens in Kansas City, which mean the comparable demographics are a stretch. JMO.

Kansas City should be compared to the cities on this list in my opinion.


It is interesting to note, that just down I 70, is the number one most dangerous city, East St. Louis and the number ten most dangerous city, St. Louis. Kansas City ranks 54, so I hope Mr. Kostar will return here, comment and destroy me. I want to be wrong.

I don't think I am, I believe Kansas City is sliding towards an East St. Kansas City future.

The only thing that I believe will stem the tide of urban destruction that is a result of a violent and sub standard culture, is a sea change in attitude, force of arms and the end of the "It Takes A Village" misdirection that distracts us from the real time statistics which in turn provide de facto permission for the continuation of the necrotic status quo.

Andrea, up to this point, this type of danger is rare--


But, like the man says, it is coming like God's Vengence.

Be safe.

bembycs said...

Really?? We are headed towards an East St Louis future? I am just continually astonished when I read some of the comments on here and on other blogs like Tony's Kansas City (actually some of his own posts can be just as crazy, his posts sometimes make me wonder if he has a mental problem. Is there anything or anyone in this city that you do like Tony?), I have never heard such silliness and I think it is simply remarkable when I see that people in struggling cities like Detroit have more optimism about their city than what I see on here.
I am still amazed that all of these people who say that everything is falling apart still stick around, you would think they would want to get away as fast as possible.
There are a lot of bright people in this metro who do not see things the way that many do on here or on Tony's (just read some of the posts on Silicon Prairie News or read Think Big KC, these are not idiots they are smart businessmen and they do not invest in a failure), but yet I get the sense that some are so committed to this belief that there is no room for disagreement.
To be honest, 10 years ago, I would have been one of those people trumpeting everything that was wrong with the city, but I changed, you know why? Because I stopped listening to our local media (mainly The Star, and the TV news) and started looking at more outside observations and I began to know people that were actually involved in metro politics and business. What I discovered was that this city had a tremendous amount of potential, but it had been bogged down by naysayers who seem to be able to do nothing more than complain. If it is sunny they will complain about skin cancer, if it is cloudy they will complain about the bad weather. Simultaneously, since I realized that our local media often portrayed events in this city as though we were the only city where it was happening, I began to read news in other cities, and I began to see just how fucked up other places were and that, in comparison, things could be a lot worse. No question we have problems with crime and the KCMO schools that need to be dealt with, but other cities are dealing with their own issues too.

bembycs said...

I also do wonder, even now, whether, in places like New York, everything that has occurred there really helps the city's poorest residents and enhances the most basic services. I wonder whether the people in Brownsville or East New York feel that their city listens to them. It is not just New York, but cities all across the are country building and gentrifying at the expense of poorer neighborhoods and at the expense of basic services (I know this is true in Chicago because it is the other city I am most familiar with) so I think it is hypocritical to suggest that Kansas City is somehow unique in this regard. In many of the urban sites that I read there is always this tension between spending money on "fancy" things and providing basic services, so this is not just a Kansas City issue, it is an issue that many cities face. As I said earlier, I think that no one does more to sabotage this city's success (or at least the perception of that success) than our own local media. By only focusing on bad things and actively downplaying, discrediting, and belittling anything good about this city they have, in essence, made this fatalistic nonsense the reality around here when so many cities struggle with issues that might be similar or different from our own. The sidewalks in New Orleans are worse, the streets in San Francisco are neglected (but yet the city pays for sex change operations for city employees as one local comedian there pointed out), sewers are an issue in cities all across the country, and crappy inner city schools are a national epidemic, and crime is bad in DC, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, hell even Minneapolis makes the top 40, but yet we continually act like these are issues that only effect us, and we let these issues define us and bog us down so we cannot recognize all of the success in this city.