Kansas City, MO - Going, Going, and Almost Gone - 1/6/2011
I’d like to put my two cents in regarding living in Kansas City for nearly 14 years. Let’s talk about the good first, because there is plenty good about KC, MO.
• The older neighborhoods (e.g., Midtown, Waldo, Brookside) are beautiful – gorgeous old properties, flagstone walls, huge trees, and a great mix of people. The area surrounding West 39th Street is especially endearing with its great vintage homes, funky bookstores, and dive bars full of the great local (and generally well read and traveled) weirdos. I’ve lived in lots of places around the U.S., and the 39th Street area is hands-down the best. Just an awesome vibe in general. Friends and family visiting from “real” cities would remark about how surprisingly fun and appealing midtown is.
• The city has plenty of great restaurants and bars, as well as museums, music venues, and casinos. Some great parks in the area, and the zoo is decent. Westport is good for the younger party crowd to get their drunk on. The River Market is fantastic, and a walk along the Missouri River at sunset at Berkeley Park is one of life’s better experiences. With all its hills, rivers, and trees, KC is quite pretty in the Midwestern sense.
• You can rent a pretty cool apartment or buy a great old house with character for not much money compared to other major cities.
• While I’ve never been to New England, I’d say you couldn’t ask for a prettier autumn than that which KC offers – brilliant trees and golden sunshine tempered with epic thunderstorms.
And now for why I had to leave:
• The CRIME. My gawd but it’s increased exponentially in the past three years or so. You’re an anomaly if your house hasn’t been robbed or you’ve never had your car stolen. At the very least, you’ll have your license plates or stereo stolen at least twice a year if you have to park on the street. The gangbangers and wannabes are taking over. The baggy pants and gold teeth crowd are now pushing aside the hippies and med students for sidewalk space, and the gunshots keep getting closer to the once “good” neighborhoods. If you read the papers, there’s at least one shooting a day. KC isn’t that big, and yet there was something like 100 murders in 2010. I used to feel completely safe walking the dog at midnight, but after a few experiences with large crowds of thugs flashing their gang symbols and crackheads blocking the sidewalk with their tweaked-out scuffles, I’d advise doing your walking during the daylight hours. You wonder when your trip to the convenience store will be your last, because it’s getting robbed and shot up. Again. And your insurance rates will be a painful indicator of the crime in the area.
• City infrastructure and management are both inept and corrupt. You pay taxes out the nose for spectacularly failing schools and metal plates on the streets.
• Utilities are rising at an alarming rate, as is the price of groceries. What’s the use of cheaper rent when your gas bill alone is $300 and a hundred bucks will buy you three lousy sacks of mediocre food??
• Summers are frankly pretty awful. While it’s green and lush, it’s like trying to breathe soup. Too many bugs, and everything gets moldy or rots.
I could go on for pages with more pros and cons regarding KC, but there it is in the abbreviated form. I honestly feel that KC is going the way of Detroit, and it makes me incredibly sad. The good people are sick of the crime and political bs and moving away. Elvis has left the building, so to speak. So many of those once immaculately maintained grand old properties are now abandoned or crawling with Section 8 parasites, because regular people can’t afford to heat or maintain them anymore. Like a depressingly large number of historic American neighborhoods, Kansas City’s core is being left to decay.
As for the surrounding areas, I never spent much time in them. Suburban KC, MO (Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, KC North, etc.) seems pleasant, but dull and way too far out to commute. Kansas City, Kansas, especially the Strawberry Hill area, has a lot of the same architectural charm as MO, but the crime and poverty there are also appalling. Neighboring Johnson County, KS (Overland Park, Leawood, Shawnee, etc.) is largely insufferable with its spoiled housewives trying to run you over in their SUVs because they’re too busy talking to their manicurist on their cell phone to pay attention to the road and the florid faced businessmen in tassled loafers barking at the waiters to hurry up with their $14 cocktail. Their bronzed and hair-extensioned teenage offspring drive better cars than some lawyers I know. Ugh.
It's been a few months, and I'm still homesick for KC, or at least the way it used to be. I really didn’t want to leave, but I’m just not in a position to go down with the ship.