Sunday, May 27, 2012

Really, I Like This Place!

After reading the comments to the last post, I want to say something and that something is that this blogger does not hate all things Kansas City!  I love the fact that there are some world class amenities here, and some things that our city does very well.  I like our sports teams, our Plaza, our boulevards.  I like what comes here because of what we have here.
As one of the comments alluded to, it is a balancing act between insuring that essentials are taken care of and investing in things that look forward.  Anything that looks forward is by its nature risky, since we can't tell the future.  As anyone who has run a small business, or been close to a small business, knows you must look forward, as well as maintaining the quality of the work you do now.  If you don't, you run the risk of falling behind.
I do think that if we underestimate the risk we are at right now, we could end up in a bad spot.  Maybe not East St. Louis bad, or Detroit bad, but still in a place we don't wish to be as a city.
I have long felt that a prolonged diet of bad news, as provided by the "if it bleeds, it leads" media, is bad for one's personal outlook.  The news programming feeds fear.  I have long maintained that the decay of the Bannister Mall area was accelerated by the news coverage given to each and every incident.  This was compounded by the mall's poor PR efforts.  The enclosed mall might have eventually died anyway, as many have in the metro, but from the more natural causes of changes in consumers' habits.  The death would have been slower; thus easier to prepare for and less damaging to the self esteem and unity of the community.  When the movie theater opened at Red Bridge not long ago, I remarked to a friend that I hoped that folks from Johnson County would come over to enjoy the art films and smaller venue offered by the cinema.  My friend didn't think JoCo people would come over.  This startled me, and when  I said something, my friend said they were scared to come over.
Part of our quandary is trying to figure out our identity.  There was a period in the 1970s and early 1980s--paradoxically when eastern cities were really struggling--where it looked like Kansas City would become more then just a pleasant medium large city.  Along the way, sometime in the late 1980s or 1990s, something changed.  I am not sure what is was, but something changed in this city, and in the economic conditions surrounding it.  Kansas City stopped looking so go-go.  I think those go-go times are past--and that is not a slam on the city.  We are what we are.  We are not New York, Chicago, or LA.  Some of the things we've done may have been too big for our britches.  We need to learn from that, and settle on our identity, and glory in that.
What is happening on the East Side of town does impact all the city.  People don't take in the fact that that is just a small part of the city, and lump the whole town in to the East Side.  It requires our attention.  Furthermore, the trust issue with City Hall needs to be resolved.  City Hall needs to prove that it really is good with the money.  The grifters need to be stuffed, sent away empty handed.
So no, I don't have a grim view of the city's future. I have a cautious view of the city's future.  I have an investment of time and treasure here.  I have investments in the people here.  I want to see success, not failure.  I just think we need to be careful, and not reckless in the risks we take.
(A little choppy, but written in reaction to other stuff. )


Anonymous said...

Well TO in a lot of ways we agree I as well have no desire to move but don't mean I have to accept all that is thrown my way.

As for the future unless better canidates and public support for those and well the public as a whole gets up off their rear ends and makes change a lot of bad will happen before it turns around.

Many residents are up in arms about things but not enough to jump up and do something about it other than bitch.

So many of us in the mean time can only hope for change. We need common sense leadership at City Hall and need it there fast.

bembycs said...

I want to apologize immensely for the extremely long post I am about to put up. However, we are discussing some very complex issues that cannot be dealt with in just a few sentences.

bembycs said...

I am sorry about the extra long writing, but I thought it was important to get some of this out there. I am sure that I was the one who implied that people hated the city. I was mostly referring to Tony’s Kansas City and not to this blog directly. I do not think you hate the city, but I do wonder if perhaps I am measuring this city with different metrics than others are because I see a city that is on the rise. I do not think that everyone who disagrees with the direction of the city hates it but there are, for example, columnists at The Star and blogs like Tony’s that make me think that if these people love the city they sure have a funny way of showing it. I do not mean to suggest that issues such as what occurs on the east side is not important but it seems like there are some who can only measure the city’s accomplishments by how they affect the east side, which again provides a misleading picture.
I agree that the late 80s and 90s was very little to be excited about for this city. It is as if people stopped caring and people were perfectly content with the city being a cowtown, but around the mid 2000s I began to, once again, see people bring excitement back to this city. You see it in articles about the artists and performers in this city: they are bullish about the potential here. More recently you also see it in the entrepreneurial community with efforts such as Think Big KC, and with tech startups being profiled in Silicon Prairie News and, of all places, the Pitch. These are smart people who could start their company anywhere they want. This is not to mention all of the money being invested in our cultural amenities and our research capabilities. Do you realize that in the next few years all of the major regional universities (K State, KU, and MU) will have a strong research presence in the metro? That was not something that could be said a decade ago. Much of what is going on is merely recognizing the assets we already have (unlike some cities that try to create industries from scratch, which often does not work). Throughout the 2000s countless cities lost jobs-some at very alarming rates, but not Kansas City, Kansas City actually grew jobs. Not only that, but it grew jobs at a faster rate than Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, New York, and countless other non-sunbelt cities, in fact the only Midwest city that grew faster was Indianapolis. Throughout the 2000s as well, Kansas City was consistently noted for being in the top 10 cities for the migration of college graduates from other metro areas, so we are clearly more attractive to that demographic than we realize. I could go on, but you get the point, basically we are a lot better off than we think we are. People who move here are consistently shocked about how negative we are about our city, and rightly so.
Now, to address some of the concerns about trust in the government, infrastructure, and inequality-the three main concerns that I see presented here. Now, some of what I am going to say sounds a little ambiguous, but that is only because quality of infrastructure and trust in government are a little hard to measure, but I will do my best. Inequality is much easier to measure and there are a number of objective rankings that are frequently used by urban theorists to analyze racial and income inequality in cities.

bembycs said...

Trust in the government: from what I read (On The Atlantic Cities, Urbanophile and other urban publications), this is an issue that effects cities all across the country and is not unique to Kansas City, and I see no evidence to suggest that this is worse here than anywhere else. Even in New York, I get the sense that people are very upset when the city is willing to spend endless amounts of money on, for example, a convention center at the expense of everything else. In Chicago (a city I am very familiar with) the local government is notorious for not working for the people. They spend countless dollars to build projects like Millennium Park and expand O’Hare airport (if you want to talk about government working at its finest, just read about the eminent domain tactics used to gather the land to build the O’Hare expansion). Knowing what I know about what goes on in Chicago (if you think anything in Kansas City is bad, they are 100 times worse in almost every regard) I cannot help but laugh when people in this city complain about the local government, they have no idea how bad it could be. The problems in Chicago are not merely big city problems but fundamental issues with the political, social, and economic structure of the city. However, the key difference between KC and Chicago is that Chicago downplays all of its problems as much as they can, and because they actively promote themselves they get tons of positive national attention-attention I would argue they do not deserve. Like many things, I believe if you say it enough it becomes the truth, in Chicago’s case the media there portrays the city as great no matter what happens, but here it is the opposite. In major cities up and down the West Coast, stringent land use regulations valiantly promoted by the local and state governments make the cost of living so expensive that only those with the most money can even hope to live anyplace desirable. Do not even get started on corruption. In places like Chicago and Miami, it seems like every week some local official is under indictment for something. Of course the most extraordinary example comes from one of those supposedly “perfect” cities that is constantly portrayed as a “shining city on a hill:” Toronto. Over the past decade they have spent a lot of money and gotten a tremendous amount of press for their effort to become a global city-and their local media has been totally behind this effort. However, under this shell of perfection laid a very strong populist dissatisfaction with the direction of the city and a perceived lack of concern for the poorer “outer” areas of the city at the expense of the wealthier “Old Toronto” areas. A few years ago Torontonians elected a mayor named Rob Ford who can best be described as a tone deaf buffoon (see Mark Funkhouser). He has almost completely reversed all of the progress over the past decade and he has actively opposed expansions to public transportation there as well as any spending on cultural amenities. He also refuses to participate in the gay pride parade, something that other mayors had previously done. How did this guy get elected? Almost exclusively by the “outer” areas of the city that felt a complete mistrust in the local government and its efforts to become a “global city.” I wonder how many other supposedly perfect cities have this undercurrent too. My point is that this is an issue that effects many cities and is certainly not a Kansas City issue, but somehow we have made it a Kansas City issue. When I hear about stuff like this it is hard for me to imagine how we have convinced ourselves that our local government is so much worse than anywhere else.

bembycs said...

So then, where do these negative perceptions come from? The answer is probably more complicated than I am going to make it, but I believe that our local media is absolutely one of the biggest culprits. No one spends more time delving into every perceived problem this city has, and no one spends more time playing up the divisions (Northland vs. South, east of Troost vs. West of Troost, JOCO vs KCMO, Kansas vs. Missouri) of this city. They do not merely discuss what divides us, nor do they have an honest conversation about the situation but they sensationalize it to their own advantage. They play up our inferiority complex by framing issues so that every other city must be better than us and they simultaneously fail to acknowledge our own successes (and in some cases, even downplaying them or denying their existence). While some newspapers in this country will bring up every silly positive ranking in which their city shows up, our newspaper barely acknowledges when someone important recognizes our city’s successes. What comes out, in turn, is a heavily manipulated and misleading view of our city. A recent WSJ article hyped the area’s IT sector, and hyped clusters in other cities as well. Rather than take the compliment, our newspaper actively disputed the mention. I have never heard of such a thing being done by a local newspaper and no other city mentioned in the article handled it in such a way. This city has done a piss poor job of promoting itself for years and even as the business and civic communities try to promote the city, the media continually undermines this effort, seemingly on purpose. Like I said in my previous post, I used to be a naysayer. However, what changed that for me was when I began to read newspapers in other cities and outside publications, and I began to realize that other cities have at least as many issues as we do, our city is viewed much more positively than we give it credit for, and that we have extraordinary assets in this city that others would envy…but we don’t talk about them. I cannot tell you how many times other cities have gotten national attention for something and I sit back and say “well, we have been doing that already.” The only difference is that their newspaper made it a top priority to discuss that particular initiative, but ours is too busy complaining about the Power and Light District. I am sure there is a large group of people in almost every city that is frustrated with the community, but the media in those cities still portrays their home city as virtually flawless. It makes me wonder why our media cannot even give our city the slightest bit of complimentary news (I am talking about the “local,” “opinion,” and “business” sections, the entertainment section is actually quite positive). It makes even less sense when you hear about places like California, which is on the verge of bankruptcy and the papers there almost never question that state’s fabulousness. I also notice that it is almost universally true that any negative national attention given to this city is a direct result of coverage from our own local media, as opposed to some independent discovery. I do not know why some people in this city seem hell-bent on sabotaging this city’s success by creating a highly misleading view of this city. For some reason these people have become very vocal in this city, but it is time that we started to ask ourselves what we are really getting from it, and it is time we became more critical of these.

bembycs said...

I am actually amazed at how well we do, considering that through much of the 90s and 2000s we were not even trying to promote our city-and our media has was (and still is) actively downplaying our potential. Meanwhile other cities have spent countless time and energy promoting their cities to the best and brightest. Finally, during the past 5 years or so, these initiatives have been coming online, not through the government, but private business (KC Chamber, Think Big Partners, among others), and I say it is about time. I understand that some might be burned by the lack of progress this city faced in the 90s so it makes sense that some might take a more cautious approach to current initiatives that have taken place since the mid-2000s. However, the media in this town has had an opportunity to do what the media has done in other communities and rally-not divide people-around a common goal for the city. Their negative coverage, or lack of coverage of these initiatives prevents what has happened so far from becoming real in the eyes of the community. How many times does one hear “I never knew that was going on” or “I never knew that was there” about Kansas City? The only reason I can find for such cluelessness is the fact that our media almost never talks about anything positive in this city and thus many people have a heavily skewed image of the city.
Finally, just some last numbers that I think are important in measuring this city:
-every year Gallup does a scientific survey of people in the largest metro areas about, among other things, how they feel about their city and whether it is getting better as a place to live. On this measure in 2011 Kansas City had the 12th highest number (out of 52) of people agree that the city was getting better as a place to live. Clearly, then, these negative feelings about the city are not nearly as widespread as our media portrays them.
-Richard Florida, who is probably the most widely known urban guru of the past decade uses three measurements for a city 1. Creative class index 2. Percentage of workforce in the creative class 3. The Bohemian Index, which measures the number of artists and entertainers in an area. In the Creative Class Index, without trying like many cities have, we rank 21 out of 51 cities, ahead of Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and Nashville, and just behind New York, Dallas, and Raleigh. In terms of our percentage of people in the creative class we rank 18 out of 51, ahead of Philadelphia, Portland, Austin, LA, and Houston. Finally our Boho index is measured with a location quotient (a number above 1.00 means the concentration is higher than the national average and below means below the national average) In this measure we are 1.2, ahead of cities like Austin, Denver, and San Diego, and tied with Seattle and Portland.
-A recent Kauffman Foundation measure of small business friendliness based on both objective measures and input from small businesses ranked both states and cities. While KC and STL were not ranked for some reason, the KC area was ranked as the highest region in both states, meaning that, since each state received an A- and B- respectively our rating was probably at least a B or B+ if not higher. By this measurement we would be among the top 14 cities out of, I believe 40.
I cannot emphasize enough that the above rankings, especially the Richard Florida rankings are highly envied by cities across the country and cities exert so much energy to become the “creative class mecca” of the United States, but again we rank that high without even trying. These are not just silly rankings, they have informed urban theory for the past decade, and we do need to play this up more. I believe we have everything it takes to fully promote ourselves-even more than some larger cities, but we are now just recognizing it. To me it is truly sickening how much we sell ourselves short.

bill kostar said...

And I'll post a short comment:
Whenever we discuss government, business, or other human institutions, there's always possibilities for achievement, change, and success. We're not talking about hurricanes, tsunamis, or tornadoes, and what humans screw up they are also capable of fixing. Hope springs eternal.
And many of the comments about KCMO or the metro for that matter, are not just criticisms, but suggestions and recommendations of how we can all do better.
But changing human endeavors like a city, require people of vision, competence, a broad embrace of diversity, curiosity, and appreciation for the views of others. And it requires the courage to take actions which will change the status quo and move the community in new directions, actions which are never easy, will be fought to the death by those who are benefitting from the way things currently are, and intitiaives which are continued over enough time for them to take hold.
Most of all, real public leadership requires credibility based on candor and actions taken over a period of time so that the public feels confident that following that leader into uncharted waters is both prudent and will be successful.
Without that credibility only administering the present is possible and, as a community stagnates, the future simply passes it by.
The choice is always right in front of us.

Bob G. said...

I know how you feel about the same feelings with Ft. Wayne, but as long as the "people" turn deaf ears and blind eyes to problms, I'm just not going to like it AS MUCH...right?

Good post.

Stay safe out there.

bembycs said...

I generally agree with the understanding of what leadership takes and that there is a key difference between criticism and suggestion. I for one think that the biggest problems that this city faces are that it needs more public transportation across the metro-that seems to be the key ingredient missing here that is present in other metros. I also definitely think that crime in the inner city and the KCMO school district need to be dealt with. However, I also recognize that these problems took a long time to take hold and they will take a long time to end. At the same time, though, we cannot turn the other cheek to the many other successes that this city has had over the past decade. What concerns me is that it does not feel like some in this city are merely offering suggestions, but instead they are naysayers with no constructive value whatsoever who are just bringing the city down. I am 100% supportive of people who are willing to offer suggestions about how to better this city, but let us make sure that we keep this city's shortcomings in perspective.

chuck said...

Well, bembycs, nice post.

I like your outlook and Mr. Kostar's better than mine.

I hope perception becomes reality and you are right about everything you said.

God Bless.