It’s the year 2025 and, wow, look at how Kansas City has changed for the better over the last decade.
▪ The new Kansas City International Airport terminal just opened to rave reviews because of its convenient layout and modern passenger amenities.
▪ The streetcar extension to the County Club Plaza is carrying even more people than forecast.
▪ Supporters have rolled out drawings of a new downtown baseball stadium for the Royals, preparing for when the Truman Sports Complex leases expire in six years.
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▪ Johnson County residents this year finally joined those in Jackson and Clay counties in paying a small sales tax to help operate the Kansas City Zoo. It’s on pace to draw more than 1.2 million visitors this year vs. 900,000 in 2015.
▪ Thanks to growth downtown as well as in the Northland, Kansas City’s total population recently passed 490,000 people. That’s a healthy gain over the 460,000 in the 2010 census.
Most assuredly, the city still faces plenty of problems.
School districts such as Kansas City and Hickman Mills are struggling to boost test scores for thousands of students. East Side development never took off as former Mayor Sly James and others hoped it would. Area voters defeated a bistate tax for a bigger public transit system. Soaring city water and sewer rates have choked off too much housing and commercial development, boosting suburban growth.
Still, Kansas City Mayor (Jolie Justus, Quinton Lucas, Scott Taylor, Scott Wagner, fill-in-the-blank) is presiding over a strong Midwestern city. It has overcome big obstacles in the last decade while facing stiff challenges in the future.
Now, back to the reality of where Kansas City stands in 2015.
Every single positive prediction made above could come true.
And all of the listed and supposedly intractable problems could be overcome.
The biggest, most important question today is — will this community have the leaders it truly requires at City Hall, in the civic arena and in the neighborhoods to work toward a major makeover of Kansas City in the next 10 years?
No doubt: The city has made strong strides in the past. Consider the now-gleaming downtown, new arts complexes, renovated sports palaces and encouraging population growth.
Yet this city still isn’t holding its own against many of its main competitors in the Midwest and elsewhere in creating jobs — which at the end of the day are crucial to building a more vibrant future.
Plus, while the to-do list in this column isn’t exhaustive or surprising, it’s also not slated to automatically get done.
The KCI terminal likely will require a rancorous election.
Voters will or won’t embrace a longer streetcar line based on how the initial system does.
Bistate taxes for a better zoo and more extensive public transit will require lots of trust-building across the state line.
The optimistic city population predictions will come true only if the downtown apartment boom continues and if developers can make money on new houses in the Northland, while also depending on other macro-economic factors that city leaders can’t control.
Against the odds, the public schools in the city’s core could really turn around. East Side redevelopment projects could come to fruition more smoothly and successfully than expected.
Overall, Kansas City could slip backward in the absence of wise public and private investments, and without strong political and civic leadership.
Or, this community could become brasher and more successful in fighting to woo residents and businesses.