Facing tough competitors, KC steps up its game
The Kansas City Star
America’s biggest cities have big problems. But they also aren’t in danger of dying, no matter what the skeptics say.
Mayors and other city officials from around the country and parts of Canada are in Kansas City for the CityAge Summit on the New American City. Events will take place Monday and Tuesday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
It’s a high-minded conference and one that could do a lot of good. Well-qualified experts on urban issues will discuss challenges facing large cities. They can recount tested theories on how to build better cities to hundreds of business, political and nonprofit leaders looking for solutions to troubles back home.
To succeed, the summit must avoid becoming a gabfest among like-minded people pontificating at the 30,000-foot level without offering concrete experiences about how to change cities’ dynamics.
The summit is part of a series of events in North America to promote public/private partnerships to boost cities’ futures.
Mayor Sly James hopes the gathering will spread the word of recent progress in Kansas City. But the city also has the opportunity to pick up tips to help it meet more of the goals to be discussed during 10 summit sessions.
A look at a few of those topics:
Finding value in urban infrastructure
Large cities face daunting demands to repair crumbling water lines, sewers, streets and public buildings. All elected officials voice support for rebuilding infrastructure, but many cities have continued to do business the old-fashioned way. That often has meant keeping unsupportably large public safety staffs, along with liberal retirement benefits for all workers.
This session, moderated by James, must concentrate on how cities with limited budgets can better pay for these improvements.
How technology is reshaping cities
Thanks largely to Google, Kansas City is on the cutting edge of technology. But it’s too soon to tell whether all the promised improvements will be realized in Kansas City, Kansas City, Kan., Chattanooga, Tenn., or others going down the digital path.
Will young people and startup companies flock to cities offering ultra high-speed Internet? And how will the evolution of technology affect life in lower-income neighborhoods?
Renewing urban services and governance
This is a favorite topic of the moderator, Stephen Goldsmith, who as a former Indianapolis mayor built a national reputation promoting public-private competition and privatization in delivering services to residents.
This issue has become a hobby horse for some politicians who glibly promise to deliver better bang for the tax dollar through the private sector, but with varying degrees of success. Meanwhile, businesses too often see a big pot of money to be raided to improve their bottom lines.
Kansas City officials have been longtime supporters of some good uses of the practice, such as with trash collection and management of convention facilities.
Other sessions will include discussions of:
How to encourage the rebirth of downtowns, something Kansas City has pursued with fair success in the last decade.
The vitality of amateur and professional sports to communities. Yes, Kansas City has first-class sports facilities. However, the major league football and baseball stadiums aren’t downtown, while the new Sporting KC stadium is far off the beaten path in Kansas City, Kan. These decisions fly in the face of another key way to build better cities — strengthen its core.
The importance of cultural offerings to a community. Kansas City features nationally lauded jewels such as the Kauffman Center and the Bloch building expansion to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Kansas City is intensely competing with other cities to attract residents and businesses. Pursuing positive steps — such as infrastructure repairs and high-speed Internet — helps.
As this week’s convention will show, however, Kansas City must be innovative and take more risks to truly become a “New American City.”