Middle of the pack isn't good enough for KC region
The Kansas City Star
Three Kansas City area mayors recently boasted how their cities were gaining jobs, residents and amenities.
Sly James in Kansas City, Carl Gerlach in Overland Park and Mike Boehm in Lenexa indeed had some good news to deliver.
But boosters of Kansas City and this region shouldn’t be overconfident about how well they are doing while competing with dozens of other large American cities and metropolitan areas. Some are doing much better.
Kansas City and its suburbs must continue strong and varied efforts to improve neighborhoods, business environments and public assets.
Last week, The Star reviewed how 46 U.S. cities/regions stack up against each other in two categories.
First, how large is a city when compared to its metropolitan area? Generally speaking, a city that contains a higher percentage of its region’s population has more clout to set the agenda for the entire area.
Second, how quickly did a region’s population grow from 2000 to 2010, showing its appeal to new residents and companies?
The Star reviewed data for regions above 2 million people (the Kansas City area had 2.035 million in the 2010 U.S. Census) and for most cities around the same size as Kansas City (459,787).
The key findings:
- Kansas City contains 23 percent of the region’s population, only 26th highest of the 46 cities surveyed.
Even though Kansas City is adding residents north of the river, its share of the area’s population has been slipping for decades because of suburban growth and urban-core abandonment.
The city’s political and economic influence in the region has been decreasing, too. Many large employers such as Sprint are in the suburbs today. Key civic leaders who once would have put down roots in the city’s southwest corridor or near the Country Club Plaza now live in the suburbs.
Nine cities are in the enviable position of comprising half or more of their region’s population. San Antonio (62 percent) leads the list, followed by Jacksonville, San Jose, Memphis, Indianapolis, Louisville, Omaha, Austin and Oklahoma City. When the mayors or business community in these cities want to get something done, their decisions affect large parts of the region.
But many other cities comprise a much smaller part of their metro area than does Kansas City, usually because of suburban sprawl. These include 10 cities that have 12 percent or less of a region’s population.
A few of these cities, such as Minneapolis and Atlanta, still have the reputation for being powerhouses in their regions. Other cities on this unenviable list are Tampa, St. Louis, Orlando, Mesa, Washington, D.C., Miami, Riverside and Long Beach.
- The Kansas City metropolitan area gained 11 percent in population from 2000 to 2010, or 25th best out of the 46 cities reviewed.
While that’s respectable, many urban areas attracted residents at a faster pace. Most, but not all, were in the Sun Belt.
The 10 fastest growers were up 23 percent or more. They were led by Las Vegas (up 42 percent, despite the late-decade collapse of housing prices in the area), followed by Austin, Charlotte, Orlando, Riverside, Mesa, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta and Dallas.
In a more positive vein, the Kansas City metropolitan area isn’t treading water.
The more worrisome regions had anemic growth rates of 4 percent or less during the decade, including Milwaukee, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston and Long Beach.
And the worst-off regions were in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit. All lost around 3 percent of their populations, even after factoring in suburban growth.
- Kansas City and its suburbs fall back in the middle of the pack when the two measurements are put together.
The healthiest regions combine fast population growth and are led by a city that has plenty of influence in the entire area.
All of these areas are surging ahead of Kansas City: Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio and Jacksonville.
The regions struggling the most combine low or no population growth with a city that makes up a small part of the metro area.
The laggards include Long Beach, Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Boston and Miami.
The Kansas City area has a lot going for it, as mayors James, Gerlach and Boehm claim.
But take a look around the nation, and many other cities and regions are raising the bar, making their areas even more attractive. Kansas Citians and suburban leaders need to respond with strong plans to upgrade our region to keep it moving forward.
(A Star editorial Monday will focus on ways to do that.)