For our summer vacation, my daughters and I made a 4,000-mile trek through the desert southwest to San Diego and back. We drove through plenty of cities and towns, each very different from one another. Some were thriving, and some were struggling, but each had an independent identity. We saw the casinos of Las Vegas and the playful seals of La Jolla, California, and we stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. These places—both big and small—have their strengths, and they are playing to them.
What about us in Kansas City? To judge by city leadership, our biggest need is to look like other places—we are constantly mimicking other cities with convention hotels, streetcars, and entertainment districts.
In a speech at the KC Library in July 2015, (video here) professor Heywood Sanders discussed the folly of convention hotels and fielded a question about promoting Kansas City. The question-and-answer begins at about 49:49 and is worth hearing in its entirety, but in short he says:
Don’t do what everybody else is doing. Okay? Period.
There is an old saying that goes along those lines, “don’t think if you’re doing exactly the same thing that everyone else is doing except not quite as big or good or well, that it’s going to be any different.”
Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what Kansas City is doing: building the same things that everyone else is building, except perhaps not as ambitious. Proponents of the Jazz District, for all its many challenges, at least want to promote something that is unique to Kansas City. Let’s think about what we have that no one else has, and promote that.
In the coming months, the Show-Me Institute will be talking more about what Kansas City has to offer. It’s a worthy discussion, and it ought to be the first step in promoting ourselves rather than simply engaging in municipal me-tooism.