Smart, hard-working and well-educated, the people of Kansas City enjoy a whole lot more for a whole lot less.
The People: Open, Caring and Productive
There’s a well-known Kansas City anecdote that, even if not true, tells a lot about this area.
The story involves a New Yorker who was visiting this Midwest city when he started to wonder if he had either won the lottery or become the nation’s most popular celebrity. The reason? As he walked down Kansas City area streets, complete strangers would nod or even speak a friendly hello. In New York and many other areas of the country, even making eye contact can lead to an assault charge. In Kansas City and much of the Midwest, nodding to strangers on a sidewalk or making a friendly comment in an elevator is not even unusual. They’re simply part of the climate, along with barbecue and jazz.
Some of this is attributable to the Midwestern outlook that may find its epitome in Kansas City. The region is peopled by residents who in some cases moved only recently from small towns, or whose parents boast rural roots.
These and other sensibilities have more impact than people simply saying hello on sidewalks, however. A strong sense of community and high value on issues such as education are good examples. In fact, Kansas City has often been described as a “really big small town” rather than a “small big city.”
This sense of community finds good outlet in some of the area’s larger public efforts, from fine arts fund raising to combating homelessness. Area residents have successfully tackled major questions with a sense of teamwork and local pride, some things that might be old fashioned but which bring positive results.
Local schools are also critical. Expansion Management magazine recently awarded four of the area’s school districts its gold medal, the highest of its five composite cost-performance ratings. Eight others were awarded the blue ribbon, the next highest category. In a recent count of Missouri’s “distinguished” high schools, eight were from the Kansas City region.
Even in less serious pursuits, a number of events celebrate the area’s small-town and rural heritage. There’s a Heart of America Quilt Festival and Missouri Town 1855 Festival of Arts, Crafts, and Music. Platte County each July still holds an old-fashioned county fair, the oldest continuously running fair west of the Mississippi.
Although many cities still boast a mayor’s Christmas tree, Kansas City and many of its neighboring communities still see thousands turn out in winter weather for annual ceremonies. Kansas City’s most dramatic seasonal event may be the Country Club Plaza Lighting held each year on Thanksgiving night. More than 300,000 lights are turned on simultaneously in this unique center, drawing up to 200,000 spectators.
The area’s lifestyle and people affect even real estate. The City Market, at the north end of Main Street, offers shopping in an old-style farmers bazaar that is not much different today than at the turn of the 20th century. Many of the area’s other cities host active farmer’s markets.
Fountains, boulevards and expansive parks illustrate another aspect of the city. Second only to Rome, Italy, in the number of its commercial fountains (more than 200), Kansas City also has more miles of boulevards than Paris, France. Many of these owe their existence to generous donations and excellent leadership, but they also thrive because of widespread public appreciation—and support. Kansas City area residents may cherish their Midwestern roots, but they also enjoy world-class culture.
The Country Club Plaza is perhaps the best single example. Developed by J.C. Nichols in 1922 as “America’s Original Shopping Center,” the Plaza features tile-roofed, pastel-colored buildings and imported filigree ironwork. The entire 55-acre center borrows heavily from Spanish architecture in honor of Seville, Spain, Kansas City’s sister city.