Reporting this week’s business cover story on how Kansas City is doing when it comes to appealing to the millennial generation revealed some pleasant surprises.
We’re not doing all that bad, at least according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, ranking 14th among the nation’s 51 metros with populations over 1 million people. Our population grew by an average 2,200 people ages 25 to 34 each year from 2009 to 2012.
And in the mystical world of buzz, Kansas City has gotten some love from social media sources, including my favorite, being named the 10th best place for hipsters by Travel + Leisure.
I know many of these online surveys are more about generating Web traffic than serious reporting, but in the world of millennials, they’re an important source of information.
It was fascinating, though, learning that the reasons why many young adults like Kansas City reverberate with other generations. We all like its affordability, ease of getting around, and vibrant arts and music scene.
What they want to see more of is shared by many of us too — more walkable neighborhoods and better transit. That’s why the downtown streetcar push and efforts to expand it deeper into the urban core may be more about psychology than anything else.
Rail transit is the coin of coolness in the 21st century.
Sure, Denver, which Brookings ranked second with an astonishing 12,000 new young adults annually during 2009-12, has great natural beauty nearby, but it’s also been dedicated to creating an outstanding urban environment aided largely by its growing light-rail system.
Another top draw for young adults, Portland, which added 8,400 millennials annually during that period for third place, is known for its rail transit and walkable, urban environment.
And Oklahoma City, which surprisingly ranked 12th, drawing 3,600 young adults annually, has dedicated considerable resources in recent years to improving its downtown and has plans for a streetcar.
Kansas City continues to roll out the welcome mat for millennials, with thousands of new apartments in the works downtown, plus the revival of dozens of old midtown buildings. A streetcar connecting the dots on Main between downtown and the University of Missouri-Kansas City would be a huge boon to that effort.
What also would help is additional opportunities for millennials to celebrate one another and the city.
We’ve got institutional cultural attractions second to none — including Austin, Texas, which gets an inordinate amount of buzz with its two-week South by Southwest festival.
But we still lack some fun things to bring people together, the big exception being First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District.
For example, Buffalo, N.Y., my home before coming here, has a remarkable series of weekly summer concerts downtown called Thursdays at the Square, which draw huge crowds to listen to national and regional acts. The vast majority of the thousands of attendees are millennials.
The music is free, supported by corporate sponsors who love being able to reach that desirable demographic, and the fun is fueled by affordable beer and food. It’s the premier entertainment event organized by Buffalo Place, the Nickel City’s version of our Downtown Council.
Buffalo also draws big crowds to its downtown with its annual Taste of Buffalo weekend event with dozens of restaurants participating; its annual weekend arts festival; and what’s called the “Gus Macker 3-on-3 Tournament,” when downtown is taken over by mini-basketball courts drawing hundreds of teams and plenty of onlookers.
Similar events could easily be held here to bring more millennials downtown — not just those who live there, but their friends from the suburbs too.
This summer’s first-ever weekend Boulevardia event, a music and food festival in June put on by Boulevard Brewing in the West Bottoms, sounds like a winner. And the Downtown Council is hoping to get a monthly concert series going in the Crossroads Arts District.
With people scratching their heads at how to better use Washington Square Park and Ilus W. Davis Park, a concert series sounds like a great opportunity to enliven those dormant downtown treasures.
That being said, it is very positive that we’ve been able to add a couple of thousand young adults to our population mix each year, and it’s evidence that further investments in making our city a more fun, walkable place will pay off — if we can keep the other aspects of affordability and quality of life too.