Quality of Life

Parks, Boulevards And Fountains Are Just The Trimmings—True Source Of This Region’s Appeal Is In The Variety Of Lifestyles It Supports.

The good people at the U.S. Census Bureau tell us that the Kansas City region was home to 2,071,133 people in 2014.

That means you could probably find 2,071,133 different assessments of the quality of life in this area, and the factors that contribute to it. But before you even go there, you have to ask yourself a question: What, exactly, determines the quality of a community’s life? The answer will differ sharply from what determines the quality of an individual’s life, but there are common threads that define both.

With the exception of a comparative few who represent the wealthiest among us, most of us have to earn a living, drive to work, pay for housing, buy our own groceries, send kids to schools—the less glamorous, but nonetheless vital activities that form the infrastructure of a healthy, functional society. 

Quality factors, then, are enhancements to that boilerplate. In large part, they represent the fine design we apply to that infrastructure, the choices we make to fashion lives for ourselves: How much time we’ll spend outdoors, whether we’ll attend philharmonic performances and ballet, vs. painting our faces for professional or collegiate sporting events, killing weekend time at a museum or opting to head for the lake, dining out at a fine restaurant or packing a picnic for the park. 

These are the options you select for the Maserati of your life. The nice thing about Kansas City is, that vehicle purrs like a kitten, thanks to what’s available here.

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The Basics

Let’s start with your work life. You have to get there, right? Well, the KC region has more highway miles per capita than any city in the world. It’s one very big reason why the average commuting times in this region are generally less than 20 minutes. Add it up over the course of a working year, and that comes to nearly 50 hours of time not spent commuting, compared to the nation as a whole. And twice that much time compared to  New York.

Or take schools. The metropolitan area is laced with first-class K-12 public school districts, supplemented by a network of stellar private schools, and infused with post-secondary options on a broad scale.

Consider public safety, as well. Virtually all urban centers, Kansas City included, come with older, core neighborhoods that have their concerns. But the safety and security of this region’s suburbs has been a huge factor in their growth for 60 years, and counting.

Cost of living? We’ve already addressed this key value piece elsewhere, but the fact that costs are so low here means that Kansas City residents have not just more time, but more money to spend on things they enjoy doing, rather than things they must do.

The Add-Ons

We’ve heard it so often from transplanted executives that we’ve lost count. It’s an Ode to Kansas City that goes something like this: “I’d heard about Kansas City, but until I got here, I didn’t really understand how terrific a place to live it really is.”

The reasons for that are varied, and many.

Think about dining out. We try hard not to be parochial about these things, but the best barbecue in the world is smoked in this region. No offense to the native Texans reading this, or to those who never outgrew the taste for vinegar in that Carolina-style interpretation. But we’re about a lot more than barbecue: Fine dining options abound—many of them, given our location, built on a platform of the world’s best steaks—from Downtown and the world-famous Country Club Plaza to urban enclaves like Brookside and Briarcliff, and across a 16-county area. 

We boast some world-class museums and nationally-recognized theatrical operations. We are home to the World Series champion Kansas City Royals, and Chiefs fans have reason to believe a Super Bowl is within reach. 

Our city was built by visionaries who understood the long-term value of broad boulevards, flowing fountains and green space, and the growing suburbs incorporated some of those values as the region flourished.

When you combine those factors, Kansas City as a region is tough to beat when it comes to picking a place to live. We’re proud of that, but we’re not boastful. We tend toward self-deprecation when comparing ourselves to locales considered hip or hot, and we sometimes apologize a bit too quickly for our perceived shortcomings.

Kansas City’s best-kept secret, perhaps, has long been the small-town lifestyle its many communities have been able to maintain, even as part of a bigger metropolis, with many of the amenities one comes to expect in big cities. True, even with the addition of a 2.2-mile streetcar line Downtown, our public transportation system isn’t particularly … refined. That, however, has long been more a function of the marketplace. We’re a people who embrace the concept of personal transportation, and most of us build our lives around the freedom that goes with it.

What about the weather? We’re probably not your choice if Southern California’s climate is your idea of ideal. We’ve got four distinct seasons—if you’re here in the spring and the fall, we’ll put our days up against the LA basin’s: 70-degree days and seasonal changes that draw tourists for miles to see fall colors and spring blooms.

There’s enough of winter and of spring, with their occasional extremes, to sustain a healthy appreciation for the periods around each annual equinox. 

Other big cities have their selling points, but when it comes time to debate the merits of individual cities, folks here like to think that argument is stacked in their favor.