Part Two: The Smallness Of The Potentially ‘Hip’ Core
On Monday, I hit the idea of “hip” development pretty hard, but let me be clear about one thing: To me, that a district is off-beat, historically interesting, or otherwise unique is a net positive. Every city has enclaves and community identities that make wonderful contributions to how a city feels. It is part of the reason I like living in cities. But those city and community identities are best developed organically, not artificially.
Why? Because governments are terrible at figuring out how development dollars should be allocated — to entertainment? to bars? to factories? to homes? — and simply do not have the knowledge that is embedded in the marketplace to make many developments successful. The decisions of individuals, maximizing their own well-being, are why most cities came to be. They are why good cities became great, and great cities became world-class. It is why cities that have fallen on hard times can be great again, if the government will stop meddling.
On a personal note, I was raised in the Northeast area of Kansas City, which for the last 100 or so years has been a heavily immigrant community. It is not necessarily “hip,” but it is real. Inexpensive housing plus ready employment made it an ideal place for a newcomer to the States to, sometimes literally, set up shop and grow a family. It is why my mother’s Italian family came there, why Jewish families came before them, and why Hispanic and Vietnamese families came after them.
“Old Northeast,” as it is often called, has a meaningful and enduring story, I think, because its history emerged naturally. Its story is a story of people, not of government or government-sponsored “big ideas.” It is a story about authenticity, not artificiality — about the uniqueness of the Kansas City experience. One chapter closes, another opens, and the story continues, but it is a story built by people, not by development experts that the city or state enlist to “revive” an area’s fortunes. Part of the problem that Missouri and her cities have is that instead of harnessing the potential of all their citizens and diversifying their growth opportunities, they are too often just tinkering with one government-subsidized development after another.
Check back later this week for Part Three. Rest assured, we will be adding meat to these broad philosophical bones.