Lets Address Crime and Clean Up Our City

Editor's Note

By Joe Sweeney

A significant benefit of being a niche publication—one focused on development, business growth and outstanding performances by organizations and individuals—is that our world at Ingram’s is framed by positive events and mindsets.

That allows us to have a heightened appreciation for the region’s advantages in areas like logistics and distribution, health care, construction, financial services and professional services in interest areas such as legal and insurance services. Within each of those disciplines, this region has ample reasons to boast, and to compliment stellar, innovative leadership.

But that world view doesn’t come with blinders. We also see—frequently—what’s holding the region back. And there’s simply no denying that Kansas City, and St. Louis, continue to suffer from a national perspective because of perceptions that each is incapable of dealing with violence and petty crime as well as poor public education models.

Most residents know this to be a sweeping generalization, at times the product of statistics tortured to reinforce those perceptions. In truth, each of Missouri’s two largest metro areas offers, on balance, an outstanding quality of life, excellent conditions for business formation and operation, solid educational systems and affordable, high-quality housing.

The real issue lies in a few ZIP codes in east Kansas City, KCK and north and east St. Louis. For decades, we’ve wrung our hands about what to do about the inner-city problems there.

Facts are stubborn things, as John Adams is credited with saying. But here are a few that are absolutely germane to any discussion of how to deal with urban issues of crime and poverty: Since Lyndon Johnson introduced the Great Society 50 years ago, social policies have drained trillions from the Treasury and have absolutely failed. By almost any measure—employment levels, educational attainment, family structure—residents of the urban core, who are primarily African American—are worse off today than in 1964.

The real issue lies in a few ZIP codes in east Kansas City, KCK and north and east St. Louis. For decades, we’ve wrung our hands about what to do about the inner-city problems there.

This did not happen because Kansas City and St. Louis made poor choices in public policy. Those social pathologies can be directly traced back to Washington (with an assist from Hollywood and other cultural hot spots). Safe to say, then, that our solutions will not arise in the District of Columbia.

But where then? Here’s where we can look west, not east, for answers. A generation ago, the University of Southern California launched a collaboration with area schools and community-service organizations to laser in on neighborhood-based programs to address that community’s challenges. Twenty years later, the USC Neighborhood Outreach program, now known as USC Good Neighbors, has generated nearly $18 million in contributions and extensive volunteerism efforts from faculty, staff, alumni and friends. The money raised has gone to boost educational opportunities, promote public health, reduce crime and stimulate development.

It has literally helped transform neighborhoods well beyond the university’s, which sits in a troubled part of Los Angeles. And they’re doing it locally. Here, the University of Missouri–Kansas City has, to its credit, undertaken programs aimed at fostering a deeper appreciation for what education means to the urban population.

But we need more. This is an opportunity for residents of the entire metro area to take charge. And there’s no running from the problem: It will affect outlying suburbs in each state if untreated, just as it has the Raytown, Hickman Mills and Center school districts held in such high esteem just a generation or two ago.

How about a three-prong approach?

  • Start with a collaboration of higher-education institutions, building on UMKC’s success, but drawing in other regional public and private universities that themselves are challenged to recruit qualified minorities to meet diversity goals.
  • Get the business community engaged in a more formal way, and linked to educational collaboration. If even a fraction of the 75,000 businesses in this market could make one additional hire, we can make a significant dent in this problem.
  • Engage those efforts with our vibrant non-profit sector, outlining a new set of priorities designed to address what ails the inner cities. Many of them have missions that already focus on issues like health care, education and social assistance, but could more collaboration make them more effective?

Regardless of the approach, the solution must come from within. We’ll always have to deal with flawed federal policy and cultural mega-forces that contribute to the decline of metropolitan areas. But if we let those forces run rampant and just throw up our hands, we’ve lost the battle. This one is on us. It’s time to fight back.

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher