I asked a British friend, now a Kansas City resident, what his friends and relatives back home thought of his relocation. He told me that those who visit are amazed by Kansas City. When I asked what they found amazing, he reflected for a moment and settled on the word “orderliness.” Bingo! I thought. He nailed it—the metro’s most underestimated virtue was being, well, “orderly.”
“Orderly” is not the same as “order.” North Korea has “order” aplenty. That does not put it on anyone’s bucket list. Orderliness is organic, voluntary, spontaneous. It emerges from a series of decisions made over the years by visionaries like J.C. Nichols—can his name even be mentioned without triggering some people?—and others largely in response to legitimate public demand.
Like pornography, orderliness is easier to recognize than define, and it is much easier to recognize if you’ve known the opposite—which is not so much “disorder” as “complexity.” London is complex. Paris is complex. New York City is complex. Chicago is complex. Kansas City is simple, linear, orderly.
Case in point: As a high school senior, I asked my widowed mom if I could use the family car to take my date to my senior prom. In Kansas City, kids use the family car to attend freshman sock hops. No big deal. By senior year, many have their own cars. In my case, the answer was “No!” with the emphasis on the exclamation point.
My mother suggested I use public transportation. I explained to my mother what that would entail: getting dressed in a rented tux, escorting my laboriously coiffed date to the bus stop, taking the bus to downtown Newark, switching to a Manhattan-bound train, taking the subway uptown, and walking a half-mile from the subway station to my high school.
That would be the easy part, I explained. The hard part would be repeating the journey about midnight or so. “I might just as well wear a ‘Mug Me’ sign,” I said. My mother was unmoved. The answer was still no. I would have had better luck asking her to use the car for a demolition derby.
What unnerved my mother about the drive to Manhattan, which was as close to my house as KCI is to the Plaza, was the complexity of the journey: the tunnels, the bridges, the tolls, the traffic, the parking, the squeegee men. To my date’s chagrin, I refused to go (and likely preserved my virginity for another year or two, but that’s a story for another day.)
Compared to London, driving in New York is a stroll in Loose Park. In addition to the typical urban complexities, London authorities have configured and imposed a ULEZ— Ultra Low Emission Zone—that is in effect every hour of every day save Christmas.
To drive within the zone, vehicles need to meet the strict ULEZ emissions standards or be dunned with a steep daily charge. Given that the urge to power inevitably metastasizes, regulators have added a new twist: “From 25 October 2021, the ULEZ is expanding from central London to create a single, larger zone up to, but not including, the North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road.”
This expansion will require additional layers of complexity—tracking, charging, collecting, policing, punishing, and more. For the regulators, one more high-water mark in what’s in store for them, thanks to COVID, has been the Roaring Twenties.
The authorities’ preferred alternative is public transportation. When I last stayed in London, in 2012, I took the Tubes everywhere. The climbing, walking, pushing, and shoving involved is not for the weak of will. I saw almost no elderly in the mix. In Kansas City, you can drive until you forget where you live. In London, you’re a shut-in by 70.
Kansas City is a different world. I realized this on my first trip to Royals Stadium. Finessing my way to the ballpark, I stumbled across the Sni-A-Bar shortcut, parked easily in a voluminous lot, queued up with a bunch of friendly people, and was in my seat within 30 minutes of leaving home. In New York, people plot their trips to Yankee Stadium with more care than Amundsen did his assault on the South Pole.
Admittedly, pitching Kansas City as “America’s Most Orderly City” would not be terribly sexy, but it would make the metro the sole proprietor of its own distinctive market niche. Let other cities be dynamic, creative, inclusive, diverse, or even “livable”—a weasel word if there ever was one. We’ll be “orderly,” a much bolder and more believable brag. Unfortunately, city leaders lack the moxie to stand on their own virtues. They prefer to imitate, and imitation today means adding complexity.
I could cite a thousand examples, but a relevant one has been the push for a Downtown ballpark. The promoters of this idea glory in the imagined benefits and ignore the complexity it would add to the fans’ experience: a less-accessible location, more unpredictable traffic, more difficult (indoor) parking, and less safety, for starters. A useful gauge of complexity is the a-hole variable. The more you hear that word used in anger, the more complex your environment. I’ve never heard it used at a Royals game. That would change.
What makes people in Kansas City so amiable—a charm that outsiders recognize almost immediately—is the
orderliness of our lives. I’ve been converted. On one trip to the ballpark, I found myself with two extra tickets.
I saw a needy-looking young couple standing in line and offered them the tickets free of charge. Before accepting, they looked at me as if I were offering them a baggie of black tar heroin.
When I got to the seats—good ones—the couple was already there. They apologized profusely for their coolness towards my offer. They suspected a scam, “Where we come from,” the fellow said, “no one would ever give tickets away.”
“Where you from,” I asked, half-knowing the answer. “New Jersey,” he said. Bingo!