So over the past couple of weeks, I've been talking about some of the problems that are plaguing KCMO. We've established that there are a lot of problems that have been caused from the flight of the 70s. The lack of population and tax revenue has caused us to decline in services and quality of life. We've also noted that due to some demographic trends, there is ahuge opportunity for Kansas City to position itself in the next 6 years or so. So today, I'm going to use theMoney Magazine list of what is important to people in quality of life to discuss how we should make KC more livable for a middle to upper class young professional group that is growing and will be the future tax base for our city. Later this week I will tackle how to work with the urban poor who are already here.
The financial part of people's lives is very important -- especially as we stare at the next few years when our economy is likely to struggle. People want to know if there are jobs available and if they're stable. This, of course, is very cyclical. Because companies want to relocate to places where there is a skilled work force of people who can work at a relatively affordable cost. In so many ways this is a BOOM opportunity for Kansas City. Kansas City is centrally located in the US, which makes doing business here easy when people need to travel to other parts of the country. Because Kansas City's cost of living is 20% below the US average, people can, and will, work for less money here than they need in places on the coasts where the cost of living is significantly higher.
Kansas City must continue to create an enviornment where skilled people with options WANT to live (read on) and more companies will want to relocate here to tap into that skilled, affordable work force. The more jobs that come here, the more people will want to move here because of the job opportunities. The city should market our affordable (and well educated/skilled workforce), along with some incentives for company (don't sell the farm though) to build a large number of jobs for people to move to.
Compared to the rest of the metro,KCMO contains about 36% of the jobs in the metro, with 5 of the top 10 zip codes for jobs in the city (and the top 2) are between the downtown airport and the Plaza. It continues to be the center hub of commerce in the metro.
With an average home cost of $140,000, housing in KC is very affordable compared to national averages. But additionally, KCMO is blessed with GREAT housing stock -- filled with older homes with historic features. Many of KC's older neighborhoods have beautiful homes from the 1890s-1910s -- but also great "newer" neighborhoods that sprung up during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Kansas City was blessed with having growth from 1900 - 1930 that created a LOT of great homes that still exist in great neighborhoods today. KCMO also has many new neighborhoods north of the river that allow for people who prefer newer homes to older homes. This diversity of housing, plus the affordability of the housing, is a huge plus for people seeking to move to Kansas City. We should not only market this, but also provide incentives for people moving into some of the neglected older neighborhoods in the city with the wish to restore the homes to their previous glory.
There are several such programs in this city, including the Westside Housing RAMP Program, that need to continue, and improve, to encourage the redevelopment of these once great neighborhoods. Private neighborhood groups, churches, businesses and individuals can ALL work to create and promote these programs. It is also likely that corporate sponsorships are available through companies like Home Depot and Lowes.
There are two elements to equation. One is higher education -- where KC has some major opportunities to excel. KCMO has great college education programs and must continue to support our local universities. Rockhurst and UMKC offer great graduate training and MBA programs. KU Med School offers training and teaching in health professions -- a field that will definitely need to grow over the next decade as our baby boomer generation ages and has greater health needs (and also to fill in for the large number of boomer doctors that will be retiring in the next decade or two). This, along with the strong Metropolitan Community Colleges, and strong opportunities with the KU Edwards Campus, Kansas City is certainly strong in this area.
Secondary education though is a HUGE problem for KCMO. These problems are well documented, and I addressed them at length last year - -you can read those recommendations here, here,here and here. I still think giving more control to the schools on a micro-local level (although keeping funding flat across the entire system) is a key to letting people feel like they have more control over improving the public school system. Until we can build out the solutions to the public schools, KCMO needs to promote the deep charter school systerm as an alternative for people to realize that not all of the schools in KCMO are a problem. But we are, sooner, rather than later, with the help of school board, the city, and individuals and private businesses, need to completely address and overhaul the public schools. This cannot continue.
Quality of Life
This is broad -- but the three biggest elements on the money list for this are low crime, short commute times and air quality.
To tackle the easiest one first, I think the commute times is a huge advantage for KCMO. Again, with 36% of the jobs in KCMO, and majority of those concentrated in downtown, Midtown and the Plaza, living in KCMO is close to jobs for people. And as gas prices go up, and the desire for long commute times goes down, people will WANT to move into the city vs continuing sprawl into Northern Oklahoma. But in addition to being close to jobs, we MUST provide multiple avenues for people to reach their jobs -- this includes good roads, better bus routes, light rail (yes, light rail, and more on this on Friday), bike lanes and bike routes, and a more pedestrian-friendly city that allows people to get to work the easiest and in the most prefered ways.
Crime is a bit tougher, because so many pieces are interconnected. Improving the schools will improve crime because youth will have more options than crime to make money. Improving the number of jobs available and the access to these jobs will improve crime. We'll address these later this week when we talk about helping the urban poor.
Making Kansas City more livable is also help with crime -- as empty/abandoned homes, neglected neighborhoods and yards, etc will not provide safe havens for drugs, prostitution and other crimes. But in order to bring people into the neighborhoods, they will have to feel safe. The single best way to improve crime in the short run is through increased police presence and judges who will lock up habitual criminals. A couple of weeks ago, at a neighborhood community leaders meeting, Police Chief Jim Corwin announced that he was submitting into next year's budget a request for 50 more police officers to serve KCMO. This MUST HAPPEN. In fact, give him 75, or 100. Seriously. Until people feel safe in their homes in KCMO, people will not move to the city. Until we get these people to move to the city, we will not have the tax revenue to make some of the necessary infastructure improvements anyway. Until we fill in some of these empty homes with people who are willing to fix them up and improve the neighborhoods, we will continue to have safe havens for criminals, making law enforcement harder.
Nothing improves the safety of a neighborhood like people out walking their dogs, playing in yards and parks with their children, jogging, sitting on front porches, and looing out for others. BUT PEOPLE WILL NOT DO THIS UNTIL THEY FEEL SAFE! Let's investment spend in our police force. Improve the police presence, and get people feeling safe living in KCMO again. When they do, and they begin to spend time in the neighborhoods, the "bad guys" will not be pushed out. Once we get the neighborhoods shored up, neighborhood watch programs can again be effective. Put increasing the staffing of the police force is crucial for the success of the city. It must happen. And must happen now.
Tomorrow, I'll address the final three quality of life factors.