What's Kansas City Doing Right?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow and director of the Urban Futures Program at Chapman University, as well as the author of The City: A Global History, explains why he believes the center of the country will return to prosperity faster than the coastal states.


Joel Kotkin

Comments [30]

Megan from Chicago

Culturally devoid?! The mid-west has some of the best culture in the nation. Isn't it true that Gramophone voted the Chicago Symphony one of the top Orchestras in the world?! (KC and St. Louis Symphonies are also very great.) The KC Jazz scene is unbelievably amazing. I grew up in Kansas City, and while they are feared into voting "no" on a light rail system...something I hope will change will never be a ghost town. It's possible that the extreme increase in gas will change their minds. I, too, started to find KC too small yet didn't want to pay an outrageous amount for housing. So to stick with the mid-west quality of life I found Chicago a perfect fit. Though I know plenty of people quite happy in KC. I can name many things to do in KC without having to sit in a bar.

(PS-I worked for the NPR affiliate radio station in KC, go public radio!)

Apr. 08 2009 05:05 PM
Thomas from Kansas City

I find it amusing that so many people who have never been to Kansas City have such strong opinions about it, and are so willing to offer them up.

And I find it particularly amusing that New Yorkers would complain about federal subsidies for those of us in KC. I mean, Wall Street's been bailed out to the tune of more than $1 trillion, and yet these fine people continue to yammer about agriculture subsidies, as if folks in a city in the midwest somehow benefit.

A couple of response to comments:

Jane, no, not culturally devoid. Live music, theater, art, film, it's here. As you note, we even fly in talent from NY from time to time. It isn't New York, but, then, for most people in NY, NY isn't NY, and in any case, we can and do travel.

Norman, no, NY doesn't train Kansas City's doctors. New York medicine is more expensive because federal policy allows it to be.

Apr. 08 2009 09:26 AM
Amber from Fayetteville, Arkansas

I am just a few hundred miles south of KC in NW Arkansas.

Arkansas and the region generally has a better diversified economy than other regions such as the rust belt (manufacturing), northern CA (silicon valley), or NYC (financial industry) that depend on particular sectors for their economic engine. Our costs of living are much more affordable, while our quality of life remains great.

We don't experience the wild economic swings in either the up side or the down side ... usually we stay pretty constant and lag national trends. This may be a pshycological benefit because we know what's coming in from the coasts -- and it will be both diffused and predictable.

Finally, we don't have the huge state government programs or infrastructure which lead to fiscal distress when the taxes don't come in as projected. We actually have a budget surplus in Arkansas, and run our state on a balanced budget state constitutional admendment.

Apr. 07 2009 11:46 AM
david from New York City

I am from San Francisco originally. I go back to visit my relatives in Omaha several times a year... just to make sure everything is okay with my family there. What do they talk about?... an ever increasing rate of crime, violent crime and an epidemic increase in alcoholism and substance abuse. It does have its amenities, but, they tend to be expensive, rather slender, and out of reach for most consumers there. Once the high price of oil returns and the federal subsidies dwindle it will be interesting to see how this area of 'sanity?' will cope. Most everyone there that is 'educated' is amazingly myopic... and compromise their souls to be 'just plain folks'. Believe me there is nothing plain about them. The terrible truth is that the mind and the human being is not very well cherished there... believe me. It is one of the coldest places spiritually and psychicly. And if it is so great why doesn't Joel Kotkin spend more time there? Because, he knows better. Believe me, it is still a wasteland there both spiritually and physically. I'd like to be wrong, but, I am afraid not. Another waste of humanity? Very sad. Oh, and I love New York, love it!

Apr. 07 2009 11:44 AM
Jane from Manhattan


Apr. 07 2009 11:30 AM
Jane from Manhattan

@19 KR

I hear you on some fronts and I hear the commentator above who's a theatre artist (I too am a theatre artist). I would worry that for what you are paid in these other economies, it would feel the same as living here, especially as an artist and what would inspire you? Who would challenge you as an artist? I don't care what people say, when I work out of town, I am struck with how un-challenged local actors are compaired to actors living in New York who are flown in to perform. It's hard to live here for sure, and yes 30's is a tough time, but Kansas City?? Nebraska? Nooooo, methinks not.

Apr. 07 2009 11:16 AM
hjs from 11211

jane 21 great point!

Apr. 07 2009 11:14 AM
Lisa from CT

I grew up in Manhattan and looking back am saddened that it's gotten so expensive that the diversity I enjoyed in the upper west side in the 80's (when it was a largely working class and young professional, mixed neighborhood)is long gone. Now I live 65 miles away and commute. We have better schools, but often my husband (who grew up in Staten Island) and I lament that our children will not be able to grow in NY because we simply can't afford it.

Apr. 07 2009 11:08 AM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

hey norman from manhattan-
we already have free healthcare and housing for the poor. the problem is the middle class working people aren't getting a break. in nyc at this moment, if you don't have personal wealth(trust fund) then you are better off being below the poverty level. the disparity is as great as it has ever been. we're all fools for going to work every day....

Apr. 07 2009 11:08 AM
Jane from Manhattan

#10 Kai

Do you really think there's more emphasis on local economies? Because when I go home to my typical all-American home to see my parents or when I work out of town (as I do for months on end in my line of work) I am struck by the fact that most amenities are supplied by huge corporations. Drive on any highway across this country and you'll see off to the side as you pass any town rows and rows of countless blocks of Target, McDonald's, Walmart, Fred Meyer, Arby's, Lowe's, Wholefoods, KMart, Barnes and Noble, malls etc...

The sustainable communities are here in New York, in places like Brooklyn where someone CAN really be a small business owner. I never knew why Sarah Palin was trying to make it seem as if the small middle class business owners can only be found in conservative small-town USA when really such places are sustained in America's large, Northern (more liberal) cities.

Apr. 07 2009 11:06 AM
hjs from 11211

i had trouble buying what he was selling
i just don't see the evidence, that part of the country can not be sustainable.

Apr. 07 2009 11:04 AM
KR from Harlem

Unfortunately, my husband and I both lost our jobs in the fall. I took a job in my hometown of Minneapolis because we simply couldn't afford to live in New York anymore. Too expensive, complicated, frustrating. We will be moving in June after ten years of living in New York City.

Although we love it here, but the quality of living is just too expensive, and we are literally unable to save ANY money. We don't live extravagant lives by any means, but from housing to food things are cheaper in Minneapolis. Maybe we'll be able to move back someday. Even though it feels unlikely, given that New York City public schools are horrible, and public schools are excellent in MN. Once we have kids, what motivation would we have to return? Sadly, I agree with your guest that once we hit our early 30s, this city became a luxury we can't afford.

Apr. 07 2009 11:02 AM
Amanda from Jersey City

The reason people happily leave this area is that in order to live happily and enjoy the cultural things about NYC-you need to have a LOT of money. I work in the theater and I don't make enough money to go to the theater. I can't wait to head back out to the middle of the US, where I can live so much better, do more things and pay less for them, live in a 4 bedroom house for what I pay for a 1 bedroom here. Yes-there is cultural meccas here-but if I can't afford to go to them-I may as well live in Omaha and come visit once a year.

Apr. 07 2009 11:01 AM
Norman from Manhattan

The fact that Medicaid costs twice as much in New York City is partially due to the fact that New York City hospitals train Kansas City's doctors.

Apr. 07 2009 10:59 AM
david from easton, pa

i'm one of the many transplants from brooklyn to easton, pa. just 75 minutes from nyc who managed to get a 5 bedroom victorian house with original wood, three floors and a basement, backyard, front yard great restaurants, a large artist community, and right on the delaware river. all for 150K

this may be off topic a little, but i know people that commute everyday and get way more bang for their buck living here.

Apr. 07 2009 10:59 AM
EM from the nirvana called nj

Can't comment on KC or the midwest, but there are definitely many good places to live in this country besides NY Metro, e.g., Asheville, NC. However, the good ones are getting more expensive each year as the word spreads.

Apr. 07 2009 10:56 AM
Telegram Sam from Staten Island

If cheap housing is all it takes, then Cleveland should be the center of the universe right now. Notice this guy has only lived in NYC and LA. He doesn't have a clue what he's talking about.

I remember being told in the early 90s (the last recession) that I should prepare to leave NYC and move to the suburbs/exurbs to get a job because all the major companies were leaving or going to leave soon.

Kansas City. Please.

Apr. 07 2009 10:55 AM
hjs from 11211

by the way
we are subsidizing them so they can live that way

Apr. 07 2009 10:55 AM
Norman from Manhattan

New York City used to have a free City university, public housing, and a hospital system that treated the poor free.

Perhaps if we went back in that direction, New York City would be more liveable.

Apr. 07 2009 10:54 AM
Jeff Putterman from Queens

I have lived in Kansas City, and enjoyed it. It has culture (especially a jazz history that it still respects and nutures) fine dining, and wonderful friendly people.

But it also suffers from interminable racism, horrible public schools, and the entire urban sprawl issue where gringos move to the suburbs, just to avoid non-whites (and in this case to find acceptable public schools).

Apr. 07 2009 10:53 AM
kai from NJ-NYC

There are a few things going for the middle of the country:
> low cost
> conservative finances
> more dependence on local economies (save the huge dependence on global agri-business)
> economics driven largely by natural resources, tangible products, etc.

Apr. 07 2009 10:53 AM
jeremy stone from new york

really seems like the guest is comparing apples to oranges on so many levels. first of all, there's very little population in the states we're talking about. further, to the extent that agriculture is the main industry in these regions, subsidies play a major role in sustaining what would otherwise be unsustainable. i believe these two factors explain in part why they haven't participated in the boom and bust cycles that the coasts seem to experience.

Apr. 07 2009 10:53 AM
J.C. from Minneapolis

As soon as gas prices hit $5 per gallon (which they will), the Midwest will hit hard because you have to pull teeth to get any money for public transit, so you basically are a slave to your car.

Apr. 07 2009 10:52 AM
Connor from Fayetteville AR.

I moved from Woodside to Fayetteville AR the actually pretty good bus system here is free, funded by the federal government.

Apr. 07 2009 10:52 AM
Jp from NYC

Perhaps a side note, but I found Brian's comment about (and I'm paraphrasing) "more conservative banks" in areas like North Dakota really interesting, especially after finding out that ND has the nation's only state-owned bank.
Mother Jones article here:

Apr. 07 2009 10:52 AM
hjs from 11211

as oil goes up these places will be ghost towns

Apr. 07 2009 10:52 AM
Jane from Manhattan

I agree with this caller.

Apr. 07 2009 10:50 AM
Jane from Manhattan

I hate saying this, I do, but it may be cheaper, but these places are cultrally devoid.

Apr. 07 2009 10:49 AM
Tom from DC

I thought that KC has to cut its public transit at an all-time high ridership? How is Middle America going to cope with a future with less cars? Or, is Middle America always going to be car-oriented. Because if it is, then I wouldn't move there no matter how good it does economically.

Apr. 07 2009 10:47 AM

we can learn from iowa to legalize gay marriage

Apr. 07 2009 10:47 AM

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