Midwest Voices

Kansas City faces a growing-pains challenge

Updated: 2014-01-12T00:01:48Z


Special to The Star

A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to a bar at Martini Corner to watch the University of Kansas play.

The place was crowded, so we had to park a long way from the door. Meaning a block.

We were grumpy about it, too.

That, folks, is life in Kansas City. This is a town where people think that parking one lousy block from your destination — for free — is a huge pain.

We tend to whine when it happens. But things are changing, and we need to change, too.

Kansas City is coming of age. As our investments in the arts, culture and entrepreneurship bear fruit, life here is flourishing.

A once-sleepy downtown buzzes.

The fashion scene booms. Google Fiber is helping make us a tech hub.

A foodie scene once defined by barbecue alone now burgeons with area restaurants winning national acclaim. Hardly a day passes without our city making some travel publication’s “must visit” list.

That’s all great news, of course. But while we are enjoying the boom, we should also stop kidding ourselves. Life is about is trade-offs.

With growth comes change, and being a world-class city also means having world-class problems. For instance, rents could climb.

Crime could increase. Our oft-crowded streets and already beleaguered sewers will demand even more maintenance and upgrades.

Maybe most of all, we need to change our attitudes. You can’t have a thriving downtown, after all, yet be assured of a free parking spot steps from your destination.

Have you ever tried to park in Los Angeles? It’s either a walk a mile or pay a valet. That’s life in the big city, folks, and it’s time we got used to it.

Especially key will be how we deal with newcomers. More prominence on the international stage means more people coming to Kansas City from around the world.

That, in turn, will bring new languages, customs and skin tones. We need to embrace that. As it is, we so often don’t.

Sometimes that’s simply because of racism and xenophobia. Often though, despite good intentions, we react to newcomers with a standoffishness born of Midwestern reserve.

We also tend to have a bit of “Aw, shucks” humility. Meet someone who moved here from a bigger city or foreign land, and we'll often ask incredulously what brings them to our town.

That has to stop.

No one in Chicago bats an eye when they meet someone who moved there from another nation. Why should we? This ain’t Mayberry.

One of the best things we can do to keep our city buzzing is do a better job of reacting with aplomb to newcomers. That includes making sure we always extend that famed Midwestern kindness to those who don’t look, sound or act the same.

Jobs and cultural amenities are important, yes, but nothing will ensure the city continues to thrive more than pure, unbridled friendliness.

Mostly, though, we all just need to stop complaining. Cities, like people, must grow up.

Right now a lot of us sound like petulant teens. We want the benefits of adulthood but don’t yet understand the consequences and responsibilities that come with it.

For a long time, Kansas City has been wanting to play in the big leagues. We’re finally getting there.

It’s time to quit whining and step up our game.

Hampton Stevens of Kansas City is a freelance writer and has contributed to The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, and many other regional and national publications. Reach him at oped@kcstar.com or c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.

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