How does Kansas City stack up?

Kansas City isn’t Cleveland. or Detroit, or Buffalo or any other large urban American city that’s losing lots of people.

As I often have to remind local skeptics, Kansas City’s population is actually growing, thanks to a bustling Northland and a stabilized number of people living south of the river.

Still, Kansas City also has many problems typical of an aging large urban area, such as poverty, crime and deteriorating neighborhoods. and in the competition for jobs and residents, the city’s challenges are exacerbated by sitting next door to Johnson County, one of America’s most affluent suburban areas.

In looking for ways that other large cities deal with their troubles, I found a recent issue of the libertarian magazine Reason to be compelling reading. the Reason Foundation has produced a series of articles, policy papers and videos on “How to save Cleveland.” the material, at http://reason.tv/, includes clips that feature comedian/Cleveland booster Drew Carey.

The city in the last few decades has built downtown stadiums, added the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, handed out tax breaks to businesses, and yet is still plagued by emptying neighborhoods.

The Reason series outlines a handful of reasonable tactics to help revive Cleveland. All could be applied to other struggling big cities.

With that in mind, here’s how Kansas City measures up in following some of these steps toward a brighter future.

Fixing the schools

Reason promotes charter schools to compete with a failing big-city district.

Kansas City has been one of the most aggressive cities in the nation when it comes to charter schools. A recent new York Times story highlighted that almost 30 percent of students eligible to attend the Kansas City School District are in charters.
And Reason recommended closing schools in a district that’s rapidly losing student population. Sound familiar?

The Kansas City district recently and correctly slashed its number of schools to focus more attention on better academic programs.

Using private services

Reason suggests bidding between government workers and private employers to provide some city services.

Kansas City correctly made a push in this direction in the 1990s, but it didn’t go far enough after running into stiff union resistance at City Hall.

Still, private companies provide much of Kansas City’s trash and recycling services. the city has worked with private contractors at its arenas and on its capital improvements projects. Some ideas saved money; others haven’t delivered as promised.

Reason recommends limiting City Hall’s red tape and keeping taxes low as good ways to lure entrepreneurs to town.

Kansas City’s earnings tax works against it with many businesses, although it’s become a substitute for higher property taxes on businesses.

But the city for far too many years has abysmally failed to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, making it far more attractive to go elsewhere. if any mayor or city manager really wanted to make a mark, this would be a great pro-business move.

Promoting real growth

Forget the “edifice complex” such as sports complexes, Reason says, and instead protect residents and rebuild infrastructure such as sewer and water systems.

Kansas City has one of the highest violent crime rates among the nation’s largest cities, for many reasons. Adding cops isn’t the key here, as even police officials know. Worse, the city has long failed to invest enough in rebuilding basic assets such as streets. A new program to repair the sewer system has promise — and a huge price tag.

Summed up, it’s encouraging that Kansas City has taken some positive actions that Cleveland still lags far behind on. but Kansas City also has much work ahead to add more people and to spend its limited public funds more wisely.

Editorial Board member Yael T. Abouhalkah can be reached at or 816-234-4887. he blogs at voices.kansascity.com. he will appear on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT, Channel 19.

How does Kansas City stack up?


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