Monday, July 18, 2011

The Day After

Kansas City -- Fast Track to Nowhere?
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I remember the day the skywalks fell.  I think anyone who was around then remembers.  I was just back from a session at scout camp.    My mom and dad came home from work together.  She was angry because all of her co-workers went to the popular tea dance at the Hyatt, but my father was too tired to go.  It was a Friday night.  We were watching tv -- channel 9, when Michael Mahoney came on live with news of the skywalks.  My mom began frantically calling her co-workers houses to see if all of them were ok.  It turned out they were.

The next day was overcast.  We were working at a property my father had near Polo, Missouri.  The day was overcast and dreary.  We kept listening to the radio, which updated regularly each time it came on with a news report with a higher and higher bodycount.  It was unreal and very depressing.  The news broadcasts were national... we had made the big time in a bad way.

Years later, I was out applying for jobs.  One of the jobs was at the Hyatt.  I remembered that day then.  It was actually the first time I had ever been to the Hyatt.  The building cast a huge shadow across this city.  That shadow seemed to fade with time and memory.  However, I know some of the people I've talked to who were one way or another victimized by the tradgedy, completely avoid that part of town to this day.

In one of the documentaries, I understand that the construction program was "fast tracked" -- meaning we were in a hurry to slap that building up for some reason.  I, and I'm sure many people wonder if that fast tracking was the real reason the skywalks fell.  It seems we are always in a hurry in this city.

I returned to camp a year later -- this time as a councilor.  My job was to teach 2nd year campers the basics of pioneering, cooking and camping.  They were supposed to have camped at least 3 times in the year between their first year at camp, and the second.  They were also supposed to have fulfilled some basic requirements of lighting campfires, tying knots etc.   What we routinely found was that the requirements were "pencil whipped" meaning that they didn't actually do any of these things, the leaders (often their parents) just lied on paper.  I became disillusioned.  The pressure was on merit badges.  The reputation of the council was that we earned more merit badges and had more eagle scouts than anywhere else in the nation.  So camp was more like school than camp.  Kids didn't seem to have the experiences that made scouting such a rewarding and memorable experience.  It seems ingrained in the culture of our area.

It is kind of like people who while driving, weave in and out, cut off everyone around them, nearly run people off the road only to be sitting at the next light or in the same traffic jam with all the people they just pissed off.  It happens too often here.  Of course, I've been places where drivers are much worse -- Dallas, Minneapolis -- the Ozarks.  In two of those three places, they have done something creative about it -- they have gone to multi-modal transportation options.  In the Ozarks, people just drive slow -- and cut you off slow -- I call it the hillbilly turn.  Kansas City can't get its act together on multi-modalism, and when it does, I'm sure the only solution will be to fast track construction and to give a lot of money to out of town developers.  I only hope the trains will stay on the tracks.

I think Kansas City should change its culture by reordering priorities....

1.  Truely desegregate
2.  Invest in the center city
3.  Work toward liveability solutions
4.  Change the city charter to a more workable form of city government
5.  Concentrate on core services to citizens
6.  Stop taxing the poor and giving the money to large corporations

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