Last week I started this little series with the mention that KC, like many urban cities, is broken. Crumbling infastructure, bad schools, abandoned homes and crime have all taken their toll on the city. Before I get into some solutions to problems, (solutions that we ALL are responsible for, not just our elected officials), I think it's important that we look back and see how we got into this situation. While this will be a very simplistic overview (there are many other micro trends that got us in this situation), I think the larger overarching trends are extremely important to get us on the same page.
Let's start by sharing the population changes in Kansas City since 1880:
1880 - 55,785
1890 - 132,716
1900 -- 163,752
1910 -- 248,381
1920 -- 324,410
1930 -- 399,756
1940 -- 400,178
1950 -- 456,622
1960 -- 475,539
1970 -- 507,087
1980 -- 448,159
1990 -- 435,146
2000 -- 441,545
2006 -- 447,306
I think this is really important for a couple of reasons. #1, Kansas City saw huge growth from 1900 to 1920 -- seeing the population double during that 20 year period. By 1920, Kansas City was the 19th largest city in the United States. It was during this time that much of the housing in Kansas City's urban core was built -- neighborhoods like Hyde Park, Old Hyde Park, Sante Fe, Oak Park, the areas along the Paseo and Benton Boulevard all came into being during this time. Following this growth, the 20s were another big decade for the city, with major entertainment areas like the Plaza opening during the 20s, Liberty Memorial (1926), and the construction of Municiple Auditorium and the Music Hall which opened in 1932, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art (1933)
Growth in KC was solid through WWII -- seeing a sharp rise in the 40s and 50s due to the Baby Boom -- and even through the turbulent times of the 60s, the population continued to grow. It was in the late 60s and early 70s that brought us the Truman Sports Complex (1972), Kemper Arena (1973) and KCI International Airport (1972).
However, the 1960s were filled with other changes. Desegregation was beginning to take place, with upscale blacks now being allowed to move into "white neighborhoods" for the first time ever. As these black people moved in, many whites began moving to other areas. Then, in 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, race riots broke out across many cities in the US -- including in Kansas City -- centering around the Linwood and Prospect area.
Also during the time of the racial tensions in this country, the crime rate was also going up -- with both all crime and murder rates peaking in 1975 and then again in 1980. While there were likely a lot of reasons for this increase in crime, much of it can likely be attributed to the high number of people between the ages of 15-24 that were there post baby boom. Youth in this age group are the most likely to be involved in crime and from 1975-1980, we had the highest number we had the highest number of people in this age group in our nation's history and they made up the highest percentage of the population in the country's history.
So, between 1970 and 1990, many people who could leave the city did -- flocking out to the city's suburbs. Overland Park, KS had a population of 21,110 in 1960, but that increased to 111,790 by 1990. Lee's Summit went from a population of 8,267 in 1960 to 46,418 in 1990. Olathe, KS grew from a population of 9,850 to 63,440 in that period.
One other point I'd like to make here. The idea of "white flight" isn't 100% the work of white people. While most of the original blacks who moved into these nice urban neighborhoods in the 1960s and 70s were of middle and upper class backgrounds, even their kids moved to the "nicer", newer neighborhoods in the suburbs during this time period. This left in these urban neighborhoods mostly only the original middle class dwellers who never moved out, and the people who were not able to afford the city's new neighborhoods.
The net result for Kansas City was a decrease in population -- and not only a decrease in population, but a major shift in the relative wealth of the population. So while Kansas City was picking up the tab for some major investments made in the late 60s and early 70s, the revenue from taxes was decreasing at a dramatic rate. This meant a decline in some public services, and a decline in the ability to maintain infastructure.
Further complicating things for Kansas City proper is the fact that much of the city's growth oer the past two decades have come in the Northland. With this growth came a need for major infastructure costs to keep up with this growing population up North. All of these costs came to the city's urban neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the poorer and older residents of the city were becoming less able to keep up with the rising costs of home repairs to the 60-70 year old homes that they were living in in the urban core, causing them to fall into a state of disrepair. Currently 29% of the population of the 64128 area code (Which is centered basically at Linwood and Prospect) lives below the poverty line -- and median HH income is less than $23,000. In the Kansas City, MO school district (which would be KCMO, and Jackson County), 35% of the children are living below the poverty line.
All is not lost however. Kansas City proper still remains the center point for jobs in the metro. Meanwhile, there is becoming a huge population of young professionals who grew up and spent life in the suburbs that are now seeking an urban lifestyle and culture. Kansas City is in a great position to capitalize on these opportunities...but it will take a full-scale effort by everyone in the community to make it happen. But it will be important to make Kansas City a desired destination for people to live. We must act fairly quickly however, as the window of opportunity may be quite narrow.
Up next. The opportunities, and how to make KC a desired destination.