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What Will Kansas City Look Like In The Year 2046? Here's One Take

Jake Joslyn for KCUR 89.3
The streetcar is still a thing in Kansas City in 2046.

In case you blinked, today is April 1, 2046.

The Royals opener is next week. The team is hoping to recreate that glorious season from 31 years ago. So here at KCUR 89.3, we’re looking back three decades to see how much has changed in Kansas City since the last time we were World Series champs.

The biggest turning point for our region happened on July 19, 2035, on Kaw Point Beach. Mayor Alex Gordon signed the Mo-Kan Unified Government charter, creating a single metropolitan area across state line.

“At the end of the day, my heart always has been, and always will be, in Kansas City,” he told the 800,000 people gathered on the banks of the Missouri and Kansas rivers.

It was a ground-breaking move for the cities of eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Back in 2016, when asked about the chances of the cities uniting across state line, here’s how economist Frank Lenk answered: “I’d say slim and none because we like our separate identities.”

At the time, Lenk’s agency, the Mid-America Regional Council, was trying to create cooperation between 119 municipalities in nine counties.

“The big challenge there is a regional funding mechanism,” Lenk said in 2016, “So can we have regional funding without regional government?”

Turns out, we can! Since the grand merger a decade ago, the metro’s sprawl has slowed down significantly. Development in the region has turned inward, filling in areas previously considered blighted, and worked its way up.

Housing diversity

Trump Towers on Charlotte and Eighth streets are just the latest high-rises to cut through our increasingly crowded skyline.

The hippest properties in Kansas City are along the banks of the Missouri and Kaw Rivers, on both sides, retrofitted caves that young people moved into since they were priced out of the warehouses of the West and East Bottoms years ago.

Linda Kazi-Suarez has a spacious, cavernous living room decorated with a canoe, three bicycles and a collection of retro smartphones (remember those?).

“I love this place because I can actually feel the wind off the river, and it’s so much cheaper to keep it cool during our crazy hot summers,” Kazi-Suarez says. “And I can go for a canoe ride, or take a dip in the river, when it’s not too filled with barges.”

Today, our city has a population of 2.5 million people, with a lot more racial and ethnic diversity.

Getting from here to there

Take an Uber north of the river and you’ll find Little Havana, where a lot of the migrants from Florida settled after Hurricane Jayden gutted Miami in 2025.

Last week, the old streetcar finally chugged out to Cerner Village in western Wyandotte County. Thirty years ago, some Kansas Citians scoffed at the little starter line, but MARC’s transportation director Ron Achelpoul hoped it would be a catalyst for a renaissance in local transportation.

“It’ll be a lot more significant if we as a region find ways to incorporate it into a larger regional rail transit network that also is connected to some of these new transportation technologies that we think are coming in the future,” Achelpohl said.

The future is here, but despite all the options: streetcar, commuter rail, the group ride-share service Bridj, more bikers and walkers, a lot of Kansas Citians still get to work in their own cars (the luddites still like to drive!).

Unemployment and Internet addiction

With increasing automation in almost every industry from agriculture, to retail – even education -- many of us don’t have a job to go to. Unemployment has skyrocketed to 15 percent in the metro. The jobless are finding solace elsewhere, says psychologist Jason Waters.

“Addiction to alternate realities has become the affliction of our time,” Waters says. “It is so easy for people to not leave their houses, or even their rooms, and get all their social, physical and spiritual stimulus in virtual worlds.”

Energy and hope

Technology can also lead us forward. At Sprint Labs on the campus of the old cellular service provider in Overland Park, engineer Rosa Elder is stirring a bubbling pot of a grey viscous substance. Her research team has discovered an alternative energy source that is released when you speed up the decomposition of some of our most common plastic waste.

“It smells really funny when plastic speed-rot--like cinnamon and cigarette smoke,” Elder says, “but it’s not unhealthy at all, and the resulting fluid packs a huge energy punch.” Elder says, if her calculations prove to be correct, making this new form of energy will be labor-intensive, and that’s just what Kansas City needs.

MARC’s environmental director Tom Jacobs predicted in 2016 that there would be opportunity in recycling our trash.

“You’re looking at many, many thousands of jobs, some of which can be for very high-value added activity, by using those raw materials to make new things,” Jacobs said.

Forever Royal

One thing hasn’t changed since 2016. Our boys in blue still battle it out on the last patch of real grass in the metro (because we've all turned our lawns into native habitats).

This year, the stadium will be pretty empty since most fans are experiencing the game via full body-simulators attached to the player’s uniforms. But as manager Lorenzo Cain says, we’re in it together:

“I understand it’s not going to be easy, you know it’s a grind, but at the same time we’ve got a great team, so we’re going to go ahead and do the best we can, and hopefully just get it done.”

Editor’s Note: Our April Fool’s Day exercise in imagining the future is inspired loosely by the Mid America Regional Council’s projections in the report Transportation Outlook 2040. The quotations from MARC analysts are real; everything else in this story is science fiction, written to kick off our 30/30 Vision reporting project. What’s your vision for Kansas City in the year 2046? Tell us!

Sylvia Maria Gross is a reporter and editor at KCUR 89.3, and senior producer of the show Central Standard. You can reach her at sylvia@kcur.org and @pubradiosly.  

Sylvia Maria Gross is storytelling editor at KCUR 89.3. Reach her on Twitter @pubradiosly.
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