Yael T. Abouhalkah

Kansas City parties on while woes mount for the St. Louis region

Nigel Jones-Mack, 3, waited for protesters to catch up during a Ferguson-related march in downtown St. Louis on Oct. 11.
Nigel Jones-Mack, 3, waited for protesters to catch up during a Ferguson-related march in downtown St. Louis on Oct. 11. MCT

It’s a great time to live in Kansas City, as we enjoy the attention that comes with the Royals playing in the World Series.

But this is an extremely challenging time to live in the St. Louis area.

Even in the fun and games department, baseball-mad St. Louis is suffering. First a Wall Street Journal essay concluded the Cardinals were the most hated team in the postseason. Then the Cardinals were beaten by the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.

The far more serious and ugly problems facing the St. Louis community now are violent crime and racial tension. Because of often negative national media scrutiny, Americans have front-row seats to the region’s multiple woes.

The Ferguson, Mo., case — in which a white police officer killed an unarmed young black man on Aug. 9 — appears headed toward a grand jury finding that’s going to tremendously displease one side or the other. That could lead to more riots and damage, creating more nasty perception problems for St. Louis and its suburbs.

The Ferguson incident has led to protest marches in downtown St. Louis and to the creation this week by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon of the “Ferguson Commission.” It will look for ways to make “the St. Louis region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live,” Nixon said.

Why should we care here in Kansas City?

Because our region suffers some of the same festering troubles as St. Louis does, just to a lesser degree. Kansas City’s police force shot and killed two people in recent weeks, without causing riots. Yet Kansas Citians definitely will be able to learn something from the Ferguson Commission’s eventual findings, given the racial and economic challenges in our area.

About 20 months ago, I penned a piece for this page titled, “KC is rising while St. Louis is falling.” It examined St. Louis’ falling population over decades, its frightening murder rate and how that metropolitan area’s residential growth had been one of the nation’s weakest in recent years.

St. Louis’ supporters responded with understandable passion about the city’s still-great neighborhoods, thriving arts scene, beautiful parks and other amenities.

Yet here we are in late 2014, and the St. Louis region’s news isn’t much better in some key areas.

The city is still slowly losing population, falling below the 319,000 level. Kansas City is still climbing, topping 467,000.

As of Monday, 113 murders had been committed this year in St. Louis. The city sadly is on pace to surpass its 120 homicides in 2013, when its murder rate was 37.6 per 100,000 people, one of the nation’s worst.

Kansas City as of Tuesday had 59 murders, far down from the 85 at this time in 2013. Overall, Kansas City had 101 murders in 2013, or 21.8 per 100,000 people. Don’t get smug: That also was among the worst figures in the country.

Are there bright spots in St. Louis? Sure. Overall violent crime has been falling, as it has in Kansas City.

In reaction to The Wall Street Journal’s negative piece on the Cardinals, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay penned “St. Louis to America: Don’t Be Jealous” in The Journal.

One of his best lines: “The point is that we here in the Midwest are not a boastful people. We’re humble and quietly go about our business, inventing the things you use every day, entertaining you, finding employment for your citizens and handing you losses on the baseball field regularly.”

Read it again, and that could have been written by Kansas City Mayor Sly James, including the part about beating other cities’ baseball teams (thanks, Royals).

Like Slay and St. Louis area residents, James and Kansas Citians routinely have to deal with people from the coasts and others who don’t know what a great place the Midwest is to live, work and play.

Right now, Kansas City is a better place to be than St. Louis. Here’s hoping Missouri’s second largest city has better days ahead.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter: @YaelTAbouhalkah.