Could we be living in the golden age of Kansas City?
Even naysayers and Debbie Downers have to admit the metro is having a moment. Whether you’re in Kansas City proper or one of its sprawling suburbs, you’ll find evidence that the city is booming — and doing it with style. We have an irresistible panache the world is beginning to notice. From becoming a major player in the tech industry to being one of the nation’s most entrepreneurial cities, our business climate has game. Plus, the urban core is being revitalized as hipsters put down roots, and we’ve got a super swanky bar and restaurant scene that makes you stop and say, “Whoa!” Seriously, have you been to the new Crossroads Hotel? Hello, fabulousness.
But it doesn’t end there. The arts are growing and thriving, as is our commitment to keep them top tier. We’ve doubled down on education, with our schools making numerous national “best” lists. We’re becoming increasingly diverse, and we’ve found a way to make the burbs cool. Don’t believe it? Head to the Lenexa City Center. You might find yourself going full Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, saying, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” But yes, you are indeed in Kansas — a supercool version of it.
The very best thing about Kansas City right now, though, may be that we don’t even know how cool we are. We’re humble, generous, hardworking and loyal. We’re still forever Royal, and we’re crushing real hard on Chief’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In fact, there’s so much to love about Kansas City that we think the entire metro needs to bring it in for a group hug.
1. We're Number 1- or at the very least a perennial favorite place to live and raise a family
No matter where you call home in the Kansas City area, chances are your hood has been selected as one of the best places to live. U.S. News & World Report gave props to KCMO as a great place to not only live but also retire. Money Magazine must be in a long-term, committed relationship with the metro because Liberty, Lee’s Summit, Lenexa and Olathe all have been named exceptional cities to call home. Overland Park has earned accolades from multiple organizations. Livablity, a website that showcases top cities, named Overland Park one of the best places to live, and personal finance website WalletHub called the city the best place to raise a family. Leawood got a shoutout from WalletHub, too, for being the best small city in America. None of this is surprising, though. With great schools, amazing parks, ample employment opportunities, abundant entertainment, as well as considerable affordability and value, the Kansas City area has a winning formula for a good quality of life.
2. You can experience all four seasons in one day
There aren’t many places where Mother Nature will take you on a 24-hour seasonal journey that includes stops at spring, summer, fall and winter. Many mornings you can start your day with a sweater, change into shorts to take in the lunchtime sunshine, segue to a light jacket as you leave work and don a parka while you scrape ice off your windshield at 9 p.m. Meteorologist Gary Amble says the schizophrenic weather occurs because Kansas City is perfectly placed to get a smorgasbord of arctic wind from the north and steamy tropical wind from the south. Basically, our climate is a case study in which way the wind is blowing.
3. We’re home to some seriously kickass women
No, really. Newbie congressional representative Sharice Davids can quite literally kick your ass. The attorney is a competitive mixed martial arts athlete, and she channeled that competitive streak to defeat four-term incumbent Kevin Yoder for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District. She’s also the first Native American and lesbian from Kansas to be elected to Congress.
For more than a decade, Brenda Tinnen has overseen the Sprint Center and grown it into one of the top arenas in the world. Her business savvy has resulted in adding more than $1 billion to the city’s economic output and welcoming 11 million visitors and counting to the Sprint Center.
Don’t even attempt to keep up with Gwendolyn Grant because you will fail. The president and CEO of the Urban League is always on the move. From her mission of pursuing social justice to her plethora of hard-core volunteer responsibilities, Grant is like a superhero fighting for truth, equality and economic advancement for all.
4. We’re a super-star incubator
Two words: Janelle Monae. This multi-talented actress, singer, songwriter and producer hails from Kansas City, Kansas. She credits an English teacher at F.L. Schlagle High School for encouraging her writing and getting her involved with the Coterie Theatre. By the time she was 18, Monae headed to New York City, and in the next 15 years she made multiple albums, was nominated for eight Grammys and starred in two Academy Award-nominated films. Her latest film, “Welcome to Marwen,” stars Steve Carell and debuted to critical acclaim in December.
5. Our Skyline is Sexy
Even though our metro ranks 30th largest in the United States, we’ve got a skyline that says top 10. From the majestic Liberty Memorial to the newbie architectural icon that is the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, our downtown vista is equal parts grand and friendly (think: Western Auto sign). Add in the latest additions of high-rises like One and Two Light and we have a cityscape that wows you and then woos you in.
5 great places to photograph the downtown skyline:
- Liberty Memorial deck
- Kaw Park in Kansas City, KS
- Union Hill at 29th Street & Grand Ave
- Waterworks Park at 34th Street & North Oak Trafficway
- The intersection of 16th & Jefferson streets
6. We're Geek Chic
Techies love Kansas City, and they’re descending on the metro faster than on most tech stalwarts such as New York City and San Diego. Last year our tech jobs grew by 157 percent. The “Silicone Prairie” is thriving, which is why, in its 2018 Scoring Tech Talent report, company CBRE picked Kansas City as one of the top five places to get a great tech job. We’re also one of the top tech cities for women and have a red-hot startup climate. This year, keep your eye on new companies Pepper, Site 1010 and PayIt.
7. Getting Around Downtown is Fun
Who would have thought three years ago that a 2.2-mile streetcar line through downtown Kansas City would have made such a huge impact on how we enjoy the area? There have been 5 million riders and counting since the KC Streetcar started rolling down Main Street on May 6, 2016. The success of the streetcar has led to an expansion plan from Union Station to UMKC. This new route is slated to open in 2023. In the meantime, you can also buzz around the area on an electric scooter. Lime and Bird scooters are located throughout downtown and available via an app. But be careful: emergency medical service logs show there have been more than two dozen rental-scooter accidents since July, and most of those were due to riders losing their balance and face-planting. Ouch.
8. We're Hard-core Foodies
Our restaurants are bestowed with accolades. From the Antler Room being named a best new restaurant by Bon Appetit to the Corvino Supper Club getting a AAA Four Diamond award, mix in multiple restaurants being James Beard 2018 semifinalists, and our plate is indeed full. A lot of our foodie supremacy can be traced back to Johnson County Community College’s culinary program, where the next great chefs are being educated. The culinary school is one of only two in the United States to receive a Quality Culinary award from the World Association of Chefs Societies. Local chefs whose stars are rising, such as JCCC culinary grad Kelly Conwell, executive chef at Stock Hill, credit the program for laying the groundwork for their success.
9. We're Givers
Kansas Citians donated more than $2 billion last year, and almost 70 percent of that money was to local nonprofits. But wait, there’s more. The average donation per household was $3,000, which exceeds the national average by 50 percent. That calls for a communal high-five.
10. We Have Cutting-edge Medical Resources
Metro doctors aren’t just practicing medicine; they’re reimagining it. The University of Kansas Health System neurosurgeons are pioneers in the use of deep brain stimulation for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. St. Luke’s Hospital physicians are spearheading research on women’s heart health and Children’s Mercy is leading the nation in DNA research at its Center for Pediatric Genomic Medicine, the first genome center of its kind in a children’s hospital.
11. We're Raising Smarty Pants
Education reigns supreme in the metro. Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, with its average ACT score of 25.4 and SAT score of 1400, was just selected as one of the 50 Smartest Schools in America by Business Insider. In fact, four Blue Valley high schools made the U.S. News & World Report list of Best High Schools in the U.S. Moreover, Kansas City’s STEM education is growing, with more local high schools having nationally-recognized designated STEM programs. Plus, the metro’s high school graduation rate is now above *90 percent.
12. We Have a Mother Ship
Union Station has metamorphosed into being the touchstone for Kansas City — again. One hundred years ago, Union Station was heralded as the “great gate to the West.” It was one of the busiest train stations in the country and the third-largest behind Grand Central and Penn stations in New York City. After being closed in the ’80s and becoming perilously close to being savaged by wrecking balls, Union Station received a lifeline in the form of a $234-million renovation. It reopened in the late ’90s. Now, two-plus decades later, the 850,000-square-foot love letter to beaux-arts architecture has reclaimed its spot as the epicenter of our city. From being the main KC Streetcar stop to housing blockbuster exhibits such as Dinosaurs Revealed to Science City becoming one of the premiere children’s museums in the country, Union Station is once again the matriarch of Kansas City.
13. We're Hipster Approved
All you have to do is count the number of beards, ironic nerd glasses and tattoos to grasp the fact that KC is turning into a hipster paradise. There’s the explosion of microbreweries and independent coffee shops such as Oddly Correct (located in hipster central “Westport adjacent”). There’s eclectic shopping at places such as Urban Provisions, where the flannel shirt quotient is off the charts. There’s the culinary worship of avocado toast at places like The Russell. There’s the thriving River Market area that’s thick with organic sustenance, and there’s the large number of beard oil entrepreneurs. Basically, Kansas City is a beacon for millennials. In fact, our downtown is seeing a population boom, and the Mid-America Regional Council is forecasting that more than 160,000 people will move into the urban core in the next 20 years.
14. We Put the Farm in Farm-to-Market
Kansas City is having a farm-to-market renaissance. Never before have so many organic farmers and restaurants teamed up to create menus devoted to the local harvest. Dani Hurst owns Quite Contrary Farmstead, a small-scale organic farm, and she says more and more Kansas Citians are realizing the value of locally sourced food. New restaurants such as Black Sheep + Market are going all in on the locavore concept. The midtown restaurant is currently working with 20 family farms to help keep its menu fresh and local. The Sundry, also in midtown, has built a menu on sustainable food choices and features vegetables harvested from Cultivate KC. Community Supported Agriculture networks are also changing how Kansas Citians procure their food. CSA’s subscription-based service allows individuals to contract with local farms to get the best in seasonal offerings.
15. We're Cool
You can’t pick up a publication without seeing a story talking about the charms of Kansas City. The venerable National Geographic listed Kansas City as one of the most exciting destinations in the world for 2019. Yes, world. So, yeah, we’re super cool, and we were the only city in America to make that list. (mic drop). Kansas City was also featured in the New York Times this past summer with an ode to seeing our downtown via the KC Streetcar. And of all the cities in America, the Netflix megahit “Queer Eye” selected Kansas City as the location for its third season. Those episodes will begin airing soon and will feature some beloved Kansas Citians receiving “lifestyle makeovers.” We know just a little bit about who’s getting those makeovers, but our lips are sealed. We will give you one hint — barbecue goddesses.
16. We're Getting a Brand New Airport
Granted, any signs of actually building the new airport have yet to be seen, and the budget for the new KCI is increasing from $964 million to around $1.6 billion. But this is the year when things will start happening, so prepare yourself to be impressed by a single terminal loaded with amenities and more than 40 airport gates. There’s also going to be a new parking structure, so going to the economy lot and squeezing onto the blue bus for a ride to the terminal won’t be your only option. The best news may be that the new KCI will have more than double the number of restrooms the current airport has — 130 roomy stalls that will fit even the largest carry-ons.
17. We're in Love with Patrick Mahomes
Adults would give anything to meet him. Kids wanting to emulate him dress up like #15 on Halloween — or on a normal Tuesday. Chiefs fans have long clamored for a young franchise quarterback, and wow, has he ever arrived. All questions of whether Patrick Mahomes could break through in the NFL have definitively been answered as he makes plays nobody’s ever seen before. And as much as we love Mahomes, it seems he’s also crushing on us. The 23-year-old Texas native says he likes us — he really likes us! “I knew that just from being here in the short amount of time on my visits and things like that, that I loved the community and it felt like home.”
That greatness doesn’t just show up when he’s tossing touchdowns. The amiable, fan-friendly Mahomes exudes integrity and professionalism. He seems too good to be true, but Chiefs insiders share that the Mahomes you see is exactly the person he is. The quarterback is as dedicated to giving back as he is about winning football games, from helping build homes for veterans to surprising deserving kids with a holiday shopping spree at a sporting goods store. “I feel like this community, they love football, but they love each other,” Mahomes says. “Being part of this community, I know that it’s about more than just football. It’s about being a good person and giving back to the community as much as they give to us.”
18. We're Spirit Savvy
When we say you can drink local in Kansas City, we mean really local — like the booze is made here. We’re home to several liquor makers. Tom’s Town throws it way back with Pendergast’s Royal Gold bourbon. J. Reiger & Co. is expanding with a 60,000-square-foot distillery in the former Heim Brewery bottling house. Lifted Spirits keeps it Kansas with locally grown red wheat whiskey. Restless Spirits continues growing its fan base with offerings such as the Sons of Erin Irish whiskey. S.D. Strong digs deep — really deep — to make award-winning sprits: Its Parkville distillery is located in a cave 65 feet underground.
In terms of lower-voltage alcohol, the still-young KC Bier Co. has brewed up a storm and quickly made a name for itself in the regional beer game. (Try the Winterbock beer if you’re feeling thirsty.) On the Belgium beer side of things, there’s Martin City Brewing, whose multiple locations have expanded the company’s reach beyond Kansas City. Winemakers are also thriving in KC. Terra Vox has blossomed into a flourishing winery that focuses on vino made with American Heritage Grapes. Somerset Ridge has a growing wine business and club. And who knew grapes could be grown in Olathe? KC Wine Co has turned a south Johnson County pumpkin patch into a successful vineyard.
19. Funny is Born Here
Kansas City has major comedy chops. Some of the biggest comedians in the world grew up in the Overland Park area and attended Shawnee Mission schools. Paul Rudd (“Ant Man,” “Anchor Man”), Jason Sudeikis (“We’re the Millers,” “Downsizing”) and Rob Riggle (“The Hangover,” “21 Jump Street”) have a combined box office impact of almost $3 billion. On the small screen, hilarious actor Eric Stonestreet, native of Kansas City, Kansas, has received two Emmys for his portrayal of Cameron Tucker in the uber popular ABC sitcom “Modern Family.” And “Saturday Night Live” should write the city a thank-you note: In addition to Rudd, Sudeikis and Riggle starring on the show, Notre Dame de Sion alumna Heidi Garner is in her second season there.
20. We're Museum Motivated
Just as much as we love our sports teams, we’re also museum nerds. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is experiencing robust attendance, with more than 400,000 visitors this past year. Special, one-of-a-kind exhibits like this month’s “Napoleon: Power and Splendor” are helping to increase those numbers. The Kemper is vigorously growing its permanent collection of modern and contemporary art. The National WWI Museum and Memorial just wrapped up its $25-million “Call to Duty” capital campaign. Part of the funds will be used for construction of a new state-of-the-art exhibition gallery. Kansas City will soon be home to a $15-million children’s museum when Wonderscope builds a new location in the Red Bridge Shopping Center. Plus, Burns & McDonnell is investing close to $3 million into Science City at Union Station.
21. Our Food Choices are Getting More Global
We’ll always love our barbecue, but Kansas City has expanded its culinary range exponentially. Now you can take a foodie trip around the world without leaving the metro. In the deep suburbs of Johnson County, you can dive into a doro wot key, an Ethiopian chicken stew, at Fasika’s in Lenexa. Egusi soup is on the menu at Fannie’s West African Cuisine on Troost. Parlor, the newest upscale food hall concept in the Crossroads, has three vendors offering up international fare. First, Sura features what Chef Keeyoung Kim calls Korean comfort food. Next, Vildhast is all about Swedish fare, such as Copenhagen street dogs and tunnbrodsrulle, which is a hot dog with a whole lot of fixin’s including shrimp, mashed potatoes, lettuce, cucumber and egg wrapped in a flatbread with a dollop of curry ketchup. Finally, Karbon combines the flavors of the Yucatan and Middle East to bring you an unconventional menu that ranges from musakhan carnitas to sweet plantains.
22. We're Forever Royal
We love our Royals through good times and bad. Our adoration isn’t based on the win–loss record. Sure, the Royals may have lost 104 games this past season, but they won 58, and that’s what we like to focus on — the positive. We’re a hopeful bunch, and with spring training starting this month, it’s a whole new world of possibilities. Plus, Royals general manager Dayton Moore has shown Kansas City he can make dreams come true.
23. We're Homies
A majority of students in the metro stay in state for college, and once they graduate, they enter the local workforce. More than 60 percent of UMKC alumni stay in the area, and more than 25 percent of KU and K-State grads flock to the metro. Close to 16 percent of Mizzou graduates put down roots in KC after graduation. There’s absolutely no reason not to stay close to home. Kansas City makes both the Yahoo Finance and Zip Recruiters list for the best job market for recent college graduates.
24. We're Entrepreneurial
Kansas City is one of the best places in the country to start a business. Entrepreneur Magazine called the metro one of its hottest startup cities. Access to an educated work force, capital investment and lower cost of living all play into the metrics. We’re also a top city for business growth, according to multiple economic forecasters. Food-related businesses, specifically “foodpreneurs,” are flourishing in KC. In the past two years, 71 new food companies were started in the metro.
*A previous version of this story misstated the Blue Valley North ACT score.