As Kansas City leaders prepare their proposal to host the 2016 GOP presidential nominating convention, it may be helpful to start thinking about what this bit of civic service will cost. I’m not just talking about the $50 million or so that locals will likely need to raise to help throw this party’s party.
Just as important will be what Kansas Citians will be asked to give up in the four days or more that the Republicans take over the town.
Let’s presume that the Sprint Center would be the event site — surely no one will argue to return to Kemper Arena, where the GOPers convened in 1976 — and with that let’s presume road traffic will be redirected for blocks all around. Kansas Citians of means and good planning who live, work and/or play downtown may well head to the lakes or the mountains in droves. Downtown dwellers who remain and hope to hang at their favorite watering holes may well find themselves spending more time in Westport than ever — if only the new Main Street rail line would carry them that far.
Whatever occurs, let’s hope our local officials avoid what happened in Tampa in 2012 (not that they’ll have any power to prevent the kind of storm that canceled the first day of that convention). As George Packer recounts it in “The Unwinding,” his riveting, National Book Award winner about political dysfunction and economic decline: “The welcoming committee got the city ready by ... rerouting traffic away from the convention hall, and cutting up the downtown grid with black chain-link fencing, concrete barriers, and Hillsborough County dump trucks. ... In spite of the diminished car traffic, the city looked less like Jane Jacobs’s heaven than ever, the sidewalks even more deserted than usual, the only eyes on the street those of security officers clustered at every intersection. ... Tampa was never safer, or more dead.”
Concrete barriers, dump tracks and fences might keep locals away from the gathered politicos and turn what feels like a city again into an isolation zone. Then again, this level of political theater generally requires the absence of regular folk and the kind of mixing chamber that Jane Jacobs envisioned for healthy and successful urban living. Kansas City leaders and locals could reasonably calculate that the tradeoff will be well worth it.