Sorry, critics: KC is better place to live than 25 years ago
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City has changed a lot since late 1987, when I began writing about local issues for the Opinion page.
Critics point to problems with public schools, pockmarked streets, costly sewer repairs and corporate welfare run amok while contending the city has changed for the worse.
The facts show otherwise. Take a look at key indicators to really evaluate how Kansas City has fared over the last 25 years. Here’s my appraisal, based on a five-star system. The more stars, the more progress the city has made.
Agree or disagree? I’d like to get your thoughts in an email.
Downtown: 4 stars
In 1987 the city’s core was an ugly mess with empty buildings and dark streets. But in 2012 the major pluses include the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Sprint Center and the Power & Light District, Ilus W. Davis Park, plus reinvestment that’s brought in a new grocery while turning older buildings into lofts, apartments and the popular Central Library. Challenges remain, including high office vacancy rates and lack of population density.
Violent crime: 3 stars
Make no mistake: Murder and violent crime rates are far too high for a city our size. However, the rates have fallen significantly over the last quarter century — down by almost 50 percent for aggravated assault and robberies. The city, as a whole, is safer than it once was.
Population: 3 stars
Kansas City had just under 440,000 people in 1987, down from 507,000 in 1970. But over the last 20 years, led by strong growth in many attractive Northland neighborhoods, the population has risen to just over 460,000. Kansas City is gaining people, not losing them, as are some other major cities.
Inner-city neighborhoods: 1 star
The real tragedy — when it comes to loss of people, businesses and hope for a positive future — has occurred in lower-income East Side neighborhoods since 1987. Thousands of people have left, and thousands of houses are vacant. Public initiatives under five different mayors have failed to improve the situation.
Public schools: 3 stars
Why the positive rating? First, the poorly performing, unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools district that had 35,429 students in the 1987-88 school year has less than half that number now, at just under 17,000. The faults of the district simply aren’t harming as many students as they used to. Second, the surging Northland growth means more Kansas City children are enrolled in the high-performing Park Hill and Liberty school districts, and in the still-solid North Kansas City district.
Country Club Plaza: 4 stars
Some traditionalists lament the closings of local stores over the last 25 years. The upbeat flip side? The area has seen remarkable upgrades in trendy new shops (think Forever 21 replacing Mark Shale) plus new cinemas, restaurants, landscaping, office buildings and even local shops since 1987. Just a few blocks to the east, the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has drawn international praise.
Liberty Memorial: 5 stars
Kansas City’s rather simple tribute to World War I veterans had a slowly crumbling deck in 1987. But after tens of millions of dollars (including too much public money) was pumped in over the next 20 years, the memorial now boasts a first-class museum that richly tells the story of that war.
Kansas City Zoo: 4 stars
Attendance at the zoo was 525,000 in 1987 but headed down, prompting a 1990 tax increase to expand the facility. Attendance rose for awhile but was falling another decade later. Now the zoo’s best days are ahead of it since voters in Jackson and Clay counties in 2011 approved a sales tax dedicated to numerous worthwhile upgrades.
Truman Sports Complex: 5 stars
Both the Royals and Chiefs are badly managed franchises right now. But the public places they play in have been renovated with hundreds of millions of public dollars to provide the teams with first-class stadiums.
Notice a constant theme? Kansas Citians have shown resilience — and stepped forward with large amounts of public revenues — to address crucial issues since 1987.
No doubt: Plenty of future challenges remain. Summed up, though, Kansas City is a better place than it was 25 years ago.
Reach Yael T. Abouhalkah at 816-234-4887 or email@example.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com and appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah