Kansas City desperately wants to grow, and we’re spending or diverting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money each year on economic development, mostly downtown, in order to attract tourists and residents. When pitching the streetcar expansion, the $800 million general obligation bond, or a convention hotel, the Mayor tells us we have to build the city for the next 75 years.
But the Kansas City of right now is floundering. Our population growth is flat and our economic growth is weak. We’re in the midst of a years-long spike in the homicide rate, which is one of the nation’s highest. As The Sentinel pointed out in a recent article, “in Kansas City you were seven times more likely to be murdered than you were in New York City.” Though Chicago grabs headlines for having had an almost-unfathomable 762 homicides in 2016, The Sentinel points out, “Chicago is only 4 percent more lethal. There is no solace in that.”
How did we get where we are? The question seems unanswerable. One answer may be police resources. The Sentinel tells us that New York has “more than twenty times as many police officers to handle those killings. In sum, the NYPD had seven times more officers per homicide than the KCPD.” Meanwhile, the Kansas City police department annual reports show that there are fewer officers in uniform today then there were in 2009. While the new city budget includes an increase for public safety, it is not clear if this would allow for new officers to be hired, or if the police and fire departments are spending efficiently.
To no one’s surprise, The New York Times reports that high crime hinders economic and population growth. New research indicates that:
when violent crime falls sharply, wealthier and educated people are more likely to move into lower-income and predominantly minority urban neighborhoods….
“When cities feel safer, that opens people’s eyes,” Ms. Ellen said of the willingness of new groups to consider these neighborhoods.
All the subsidized coffee shops and condominiums will be for nothing if the city is unable to deal with runaway crime. And tax increases to spur development will likely fail if the basic safety needs of a community are neglected. What Kansas City needs is not more wide-eyed development schemes, but more effort delivering basic services efficiently and effectively, if we are to have any hope at growth.