KC should become the 51st state
The Kansas City Star
Recently, The New York Times featured Kansas City’s economic border war. The Times blasted development incentives that entice firms back and forth across the state line.
In December, SelectQuote won $5 million from Kansas to move a few blocks from its Missouri home. Kansas also awarded AMC $36 million last year, same story. Days later, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback cut $104 million from the state education budget.
In retaliation, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lured Applebee’s from Lenexa to Ward Parkway with a $13 million subsidy. Shortly thereafter, Missouri officials cut the early childhood education program.
These mega-incentive giveaway programs have direct consequences. Lawmakers offer short-term gains for a few on the backs of long-term investments for many.
Even area civic leaders lobbied for a cease-fire in a joint letter to the two governors.
Many families live in the region because they think their children will get a superior education. According to the Brookings Institute, an educated population is tied to better jobs and higher salaries.
So gutting the education budget hurts Kansas City, the region and ultimately the entire nation. I’m proposing the one alternative that will bring us together, put our fate back in our own hands and give us a unified voice: One Kansas City, the 51st state.
One Kansas City could carve its own future. University of Missouri-Kansas City could become the University of Kansas City, where our best and brightest get a boost toward excellent careers.
KU Medical Center and Children’s Mercy Hospital could join forces as a health care powerhouse for children and a national research hub for cancer. Such a union of health care organizations could prepare our city for an aging population.
We could resolve stormwater issues together and create cleaner air. Collaborating to achieve common goals, our transportation would not be the ninth worst peak-hour commute and our neighborhoods 33rd on walkability.
Moreover, we could stop the Border War madness. In 1950, Kansas City was the 17th largest metropolitan area in the country. Now we are 27th.
In fact, many lists fail to even include Kansas City because they split the population by the state line. In a future of global megacities, we need to capture all our assets collectively to remain relevant.
We are the hub of a vibrant region, in terms of agriculture and transportation. We boast a model of walkability and mixed uses with the Plaza.
We enjoy one of the most vibrant arts communities outside of New York. But we compete in parts, instead of as a whole. And that only hurts us.
These two states are not unifying us. They are pulling us apart. They don’t consider the whole city.
Instead the governors use Kansas City as a war zone, a boxing match, a competition. They only care about their half.
And half of Kansas City is not a major league city. We would not have professional sports, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Plaza, a robust network of community colleges, KU Medical Center, Sprint Arena, the Liberty Memorial, or the Kansas City Zoo.
Imagine a future for Kansas City as a visionary city-state, a place seen as a national and global leader. In the 1951 painting “The Spirit of Kansas City,” Norman Rockwell envisioned Kansas City as a vibrant metropolis of livestock, crops, planes, and blueprints.
In the 21st century, we can build jobs from manufacturing, agriculture, art, education, livability, entrepreneurism and the fastest digital infrastructure in the world. Let’s pool our resources, and become One Kansas City, in hearts, minds, and actions, if not in fact as the 51st state.
Cindy Frewen Wuellner is an architect and urban futurist. To reach her, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.