Audience: Civic leaders at an Urban Development Conference.
Abstract: How a community can shape the values of an individual, more specifically, the essential influence that philanthropic and civic leaders can have on a specific community.
Key Words: Civic minded communities, Kansas City values, hard working, attributes of a philanthropic city, and urban redevelopment.
Someone asked me the other day, if who I am today was influenced by where I was raised? At first, it seemed like a straightforward question, until I thought more about it. My first reaction, I was influenced by my parents, family and friends. Then I considered another viewpoint; specifically, what influential roles a community might have on my development, as well.
When I tell people I am from Kansas City, they inevitably ask if I grew up on a farm, have seen a twister and invariably make some reference to the Wizard of Oz. I did not grow up on a farm, have no idea how to milk a cow, and wouldn’t know the difference between one tractor and another. In contrast, those whom have traveled to or lived in Kansas City have a much different view, one representative of a major metropolitan city with suburban sprawl, vibrant downtown, rich history and eclectic culture.
For those unfamiliar, Kansas City is best recognized for its fountains; trickling, dancing, colorful showpieces in a city with so many artistic masterpieces it is known as the City of Fountains. In the center of the City is the Country Club Plaza, a jewel of Spanish architecture and a regional shopping mecca, that maintains its cultural courtesy of pedestrians first, automobiles second, without the traditional stop lights and traffic calming devices attempted at modern day shopping centers. Topped off with foot-tapping Jazz and BBQ, the city proves that the very essence of the city’s culture is rooted even in the most refined of places. Additionally, Hallmark Cards, Sprint and the Kaufmann Foundation, a world-renowned entrepreneurial organization, are just some of the catalysts bringing people together as a community. These attributes set a foundation, which hasn’t changed in over 50 years, and is a result of perseverance, hard work, philanthropy and proud citizens.
It wasn’t until I moved to a different region of the country, that I truly understood how much people and communities differ. In the last ten years, I have had the opportunity to live and work in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and recently North Carolina. Before living in other areas of the United States, I might have believed my parents were paramount regarding who I am today. In hindsight, I realized my parents had some influence, but it was the City that influenced who I am today.
In Michigan, there was a strong union presence, with ‘us versus them’ attitudes that contrasted with Kansas City, a place that is very pro-business. I noticed immediately a different mentality where workers felt a right of entitlement. What I once knew as sense of community, philanthropy, and hard work, was soon replaced by a “work less” mentality. It wasn’t until I came to understand unions that I discovered how vastly different work culture and work ethic can be between two places. These two contrasting places demonstrated how people can be and probably are, a result of the communities they grow up in, as was the case from my upbringing in Kansas City.
However, it is not the attributes specifically, but the pride and integrity of the people in Kansas City, which had significant influence on who I am today. More specifically, people are hardworking, caring, mindful, intelligent, entrepreneurial and civic-minded. Kansas City is a leader, from a philanthropic standpoint, for which other cities follow. There is a sense of neighborhood community, as people actually come out of their houses to socialize and hard work is a way of life. This is part of what gives Kansas City so much of its character (strong work ethic, community, and family), as it is truly representative of the American dream. Kansas City is the heartland of our country; it is a melting pot of people from all parts of the United States. And, marketing executives agree, as Kansas City has long been considered one of the best places for testing new products (recently Google Fiber).
If we are influenced and byproducts of where we come from, then individuals, communities, governments and civic leaders should all have a vested interest. Instead of moving away from the problems, there is a continued need to invest in our communities. This is pivotal, as communities can be strong influencers of families. A specific example of this would be Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos, who is a pioneer in “community” thinking. He has demonstrated one man can change a culture within an organization and that cultural change is contagious throughout the organization, ultimately flowing into the surrounding community.
Zappos is currently in the process of transferring their entire corporation from beautiful Henderson, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas) to downtown Las Vegas, arguably one of the last places one would consider for a “community and family-friendly” place. Hsieh truly believes he can transform a community, city, and state.
Kansas City saw this with Hallmark Cards, which is a structural, cultural and foundational entity in Kansas City, having strong influence on the city’s community attributes, instilling Hallmark’s core values of family, integrity, connectedness and fun. Crown Center, which is home to Hallmark Corporation, is a popular place for families to spend time shopping, ice-skating and playing in the interactive fountain. However, it was once a vast hillside covered in gaudy billboards, a blight on the City, which was redeveloped for Hallmark. If communities can shape an individual, as Kansas City shaped me, then maybe a paradigm shift in thinking for a community is a logical place to start for all of us.