The Foundation of a Man (revised)

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 positively influenced by my parents and close friends. Then I considered another viewpoint; specifically, what positive influential roles a community might have on my development, as well.  Some of those influences were mid-western values, entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

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.  The City is also known for the Country Club Plaza, a jewel of Spanish architecture and a regional shopping mecca.  The Country Club Plaza maintains a cultural courtesy of pedestrians first and automobiles second, without the traditional stoplights 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.  Interestingly, several major corporations, foundations and developers have played a critical role in creating many of these wonderful, community-congregating places in the city.

Specifically, one globally recognized company, Hallmark Cards, has a strong focus of corporate citizenship, resulting in some of Kansas City’s unique attributes.  Additionally, many outside the area are unfamiliar with the Kaufmann Foundation, a world-renowned entrepreneurial foundation, which has been integral in helping companies, as well as local governments, link their corporate citizenship to the community by providing entrepreneurial funding and promoting corporate social responsibility. These attributes set a foundation, which hasn’t changed in over 50 years, 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 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 also the City and community that influenced who I am today.

In contrast, living 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.

In Kansas City, people are hardworking, caring, mindful, intelligent, entrepreneurial and civic-minded.  Corporate leaders from Kansas City, as well as their organizations, have been recognized for their integrity, work ethic, philanthropy and entrepreneurial spirit.  Last year, Kansas City ranked number two in top cities for young entrepreneurs under 30.  This is ranking included notable entrepreneurial cities such as San Francisco, Austin and Boston.  Kansas City is also philanthropic leader, for which other cities have modeled their efforts.  A reputable philanthropic ranking, Charity Navigator, listed Kansas City as the second most philanthropic city in the country.  This is part of what gives Kansas City so much of its character, as it is truly representative of the American dream.

If we are influenced and byproducts of companies and communities, then all individuals, communities, governments and civic leaders should be involved in helping to shape their own communities.  Many major metropolitan cities have seen urban sprawl, as a result of inner city neglect, resulting in a loss of community and culture.  In Kansas City, Hallmark Cards used its corporate citizenship to influence the surrounding communities.  Hallmark Cards has a corporate culture rooted in family, integrity, connectedness and fun, which they were able to integrate into the surrounding communities of Kansas City.  Hallmark’s corporate headquarters was developed on a site in midtown that was once a vast hillside covered in gaudy billboards, a blight on the City.  The resulting development is Crown Center, home to Hallmark Cards, as well as a popular place for families to spend time shopping, ice-skating and playing in the interactive fountain.

It was these positive attributes (philanthropy, entrepreneurship, family, integrity, fun, hard work) of the corporations and foundations of Kansas City, which shaped the character of communities and ultimately the city.  By extension, it was the City as a whole, which influenced and shaped much of who I am today.  Therefore, 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.

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