Let us hope the new mayor of Kansas City looks north now and then, and into neighborhoods and issues beyond a new single terminal for KCI. Quinton Lucas was sworn in as mayor last week. He pledged at his inauguration to “care about every Kansas Citian and every Kansas City neighborhood,” according to a quote in The Kansas City Star.
That’s going to be a tough chore because it’s a big city with plenty of difficult, sometimes heartbreaking problems. And he has to worry about what’s going on in four different Missouri counties that include Kansas City turf, and what’s going on in the Missouri General Assembly, where rural legislators can be unsympathetic to urban problems. Then he has a city council to herd. This is a city that is huge geographically, one that’s the biggest entity among numerous other separate cities in a sprawling metro area.
We wish him well because a lot of things will land on his desk. Lucas has pledged to make the streets of his city safer. Hanging over his inauguration weekend were six homicides in one week in the city. And not all those were in the so-called rough side of town, the place where the mayor grew up and hopes to improve. That’s against the national backdrop of two shocking, horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. The mayor is likely saying prayers that he doesn’t face that during his four-year term.
The mayor has to motivate citizens, business owners, and neighborhood leaders into backing progressive actions. That requires generating enthusiasm and excitement. It’s an uphill slog for him right now, because a dark pall of political and social division hangs over America. People are weary of uncertainty, of hearing self-serving words with little truth and being hit with political campaigns full of negative and distorted attack ads. Trust has suffered.
Kansas City’s mayoral election process has odd timing. That combined with political roar at the state and national levels, made this one fly almost below the public’s radar. I didn’t see anything too rough and tumble in the final race between Lucas and Jolie Justus. That gives him a good start.
Mayoral policy matters to all of Platte County, not just the big chunk in the south that is within the city limits. Many of us drive into the city for jobs and pay earnings tax. I live outside the city but I still have tax dollars in play. How rural parts of Kansas City North, transition to suburban matters to us all.
We cannot complain if Lucas seems to be talking most about downtrodden neighborhoods on the city’s east side south of the river. He comes from there. The mayor mentioned in an op-ed in The Star that the Police Athletic League needs support. Well I’ve visited their operation on the east side and I agree. Police officers volunteering in that program to serve young people in troubled neighborhoods are unselfishly noble. That’s just one example of many needs in a big city with a long, complicated history.
But we are not without some needs in the Northland, too. The mayor wants to improve the availability of affordable housing. Nothing is more important to people than home, so that’s a great goal. Platte County contains one of the fastest growing parts of the city regarding housing and population. But very little new housing being built here meets the standard of affordable for families with lower middle class incomes or those who have hit hard times. Employers needing workers for service industries along the Interstate 29 corridor sometimes have trouble filling those jobs because there is little affordable housing nearby. Platte County needs a piece of any affordable housing program.
The magnificent boulevards and parkways south of the river, such as Ward Parkway, uplift the city. Even in the purported rougher parts of town, they help add quality and hope for the future. In the Northland, developers have been asking to cut corners from the usual standards, citing costs, and they often buy their way out of making green space part of a development. The mayor must see that City Hall doesn’t cave to developers’ profits at the expense of long-term quality growth and green space preservation in the Northland. I’d hate to think that a century from now, citizens wonder why the boulevards and parkways in Platte County don’t seem as comforting and beautiful as those south of the river.
The mayor will need to be an activist in the state capital and halls of congress for our share of highway improvement money. The interstate interchanges and lanes built in the decades after World War II are dangerous and overcrowded.
Finally, the airport issues are not just about a new terminal. How the many acres of undeveloped land around the airport are developed for commercial purposes is important, too. We need growth that doesn’t downgrade the county’s quality of living, and tax breaks that don’t harm schools and other local public services.
Lucas may well keep his pledge to remember all neighborhoods, including ours. Let’s hope so, and support him in those efforts.