Combining the ratings for each regional goal — attractiveness of place, social cohesion, strategic decision-making capacity, institutional performance, human capacity, economic competitiveness, and efficient use of resources — into one chart produces the following overall summary:

Conclusions Radar Graph

Average Rating: 1.66

The graph above suggests that, overall, the Kansas City region is performing near the middle of its peers on each of its goals. While we have points of excellence in certain areas, such as low cost of housing and ease of getting around, these are offset by some of our challenges, such as relatively slow economic growth, wide areas experiencing population decline, a lack of trust and high crime rates.

A great region is made up of more than great neighborhoods. A great region creates value for the rest of the world. A great region creates an environment that helps all of its residents achieve their full potential.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “Not in my neighborhood.” And that is precisely the point. We rank our own communities very highly.But, compared to the peer metros whose residents were surveyed, our residents see their communities as most disconnected from the fortunes of the rest of the metro. Of course, this sense of disconnection is not helped by our political geography — with a state line running right through the population center of our region, we are the most evenly divided bistate metropolitan area in the U.S.

Such fragmentation hurts when, for example, the state of Missouri has one of the lowest rates of per capita spending on higher education of our peers, while Kansas has one of the highest. As a whole, the higher educational institutions in our region lag in innovation performance yet half the region cannot participate in the funding decisions to do something about it.”

Fragmentation hurts when the region's disadvantaged students are clustered in urban school districts with high poverty and crime in their surrounding communities, so that many middle-income families feel they have no choice but to move out to developing suburbs. As a region, this causes us to spend more on police than most of our peers, to less effect, and build new roads faster than we can maintain them. And while the Kansas City region is second in spending on public education, our students perform only at the peer average.

At best, then, our fragmentation makes us inefficient. At worst, it diminishes our opportunities and competitiveness.

There are signs of decreasing fragmentation, however. Median household incomes and housing values in our urban core are rising. Downtown continues to revitalize. And the region’s life-science initiatives are beginning to bear fruit. This gives us real momentum which should continue. It must.

To improve our competitive position, we need to take a "metro" outlook and come together to build things no single community can build on its own. A great region is made up of more than great neighborhoods. A great region creates value for the rest of the world in ways that cannot be easily duplicated elsewhere. Above all, this requires innovative people nurtured by world-class universities, vital urban areas, wonderful art and cultural opportunities, high-quality natural areas, excellent schools, an entrepreneurial culture and, yes, great neighborhoods, too.

There is clearly work to be done here. But despite the Kansas City region’s challenges — or perhaps because of them — we can take comfort in the fact that our citizens are highly engaged and appear to be the most willing to fund improvements that address what they consider to be top issues.

Now, if only we can agree on what these are . . ..

To help identify key strategies for moving the Kansas City region forward, the Brookings Institution studied the area’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to other metropolitan areas in the U.S. Based on this analysis, it created a set of policy recommendations for the region, which are found in the following section.

Previous: Indicators | Next: Recommendations