Now that we are moving closer to the completion of the downtown make-over and the accolades are starting to flow in, I wonder when the city will begin to expand the economic development into the blighted areas of our city. I believe that in order for Kansas City to take its rightful place in the nation that the downtown make-over was needed and way overdue. A vibrant city must have a vibrant downtown. My concern now switches to the overdue economic development for the inner-city neighborhoods that are also way overdue. For too many administrations the inner-city has taken a backseat to the rest of the city, it is now time to tackle the systemic problems that continue to plague those neighborhoods.
While I am encouraged by the Mayor and City Councils acceptance of the recommendations of the Economic Development and Incentive Policy Task Force and have enacted an economic development and incentive policy and also the Mayor releasing his top ten list. The real test will be in the implementation. The Jazz District is a prime example of how what once were priorities have lost their priority. There is no way that the Jazz District should not have been carried through to completion. Many of those same stores and restaurants migrating to downtown could have been incorporated into the completed Jazz District. This is another example of how inner-city projects have been allowed to wither away for more affluent areas of the city.
The true measure of a city is not how it treats the most affluent of its citizens, but in how it treats the least affluent of its citizens. Kansas City is about to receive an influx of visitors and media attention and we should all be proud of that. I hope we can be equally as proud of how we migrate the economic development and boon in tourist dollars to the blighted areas of the city. I hope we can expand this renaissance and redevelopment to enhance our entire city. We can no longer afford to ignore the inner city neighborhoods with their absentee landlords, blighted blocks, and high crime.
We can spend billions of dollars to improve downtown and make outreaches to the young white urban professionals, yet we continue to ignore the blight just blocks away. The time for token efforts is over. The Mayor’s slogan was the city that works; well it is time for Kansas City to get to work on improving the inner-city. I suggest the Mayor put together a cleanup task force to identify trouble-spots and eyesores in the city and compel the property owners to clean it up or organize volunteers for those without owners. You have vacant lots that are dumping grounds and vacant houses that invite criminal activity.
Speaking of crime, I found it a bit disheartening that on the Mayor’s top ten reducing crime only rated a seven. I am no expert, but if we don’t reduce crime any economic boon will be short lived. Nothing can dry up a recovery faster than crime. I find it interesting that we can put foot patrols downtown and increase neighborhood policing there, but we can’t do it in other areas. Our police have become too militarized; they no longer protect and serve. They have evolved into a civilian militia with all the military hardware and tactics. We need to reinstitute neighborhood policing, with beat cops who know their neighborhoods and the people who live there. I suggest that the Mayor propose neighborhood patrols like the ones being used downtown, in Westport, and all points west of Troost. It appears that Troost is once again becoming the dividing line in this city. The city has created and employs citizen patrols to help the police to manage other areas of the city; we should be able to expand that program to include neighborhoods with high crime rates.
It would be easy to stop and pat ourselves on the back and say what a great job we have done, but the work is not done. It is time that the inner-city gets a return on all the sales tax dollars and taxes they pay. The Mayor wants to add another 1 cents sales tax on the ballot; if that money is not going to be used to rehabilitate the inner-city then I cannot in good conscience support it. The inner-city continues to pay taxes for services that have not been forthcoming. These are the citizens with the least means to pay and yet are being asked to pay the most. Our representatives have not been strident enough in bringing attention to the issues that affect us, they need to bring more of the resources available in this city to bear on our issues.
Yes, the Sprint Center is beautiful and the rest of downtown is blossoming, but we must remain vigilant in our efforts to raise the standard of living for all Kansas Citians. We should all be free to walk in our neighborhoods, all of our children should be able to play in the parks, and none of us should have to look at vacant lots and abandoned buildings year in and year out.
Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence. – Henri Frederic Amiel