97 Kansas City

PopulationMetro: 1,615,000
The Paris of the Plains is growing into an affordable, arty Silicon Prairie with a taste for barbecue.

In Kansas City, you can get a job that takes no time at all to get to; feel rich because you can afford a house; see a calibre of art in museums that you wouldn’t expect to find out here on the plains; listen to the best live jazz for hundreds, maybe thousands of miles; and eat ‘cue that’s the envy of the planet.

All that, and the weather’s pretty darn good, too. That’s not just talk: in our rankings, KC, as it likes to call itself these days, is ranked #76 globally for Culture and #45 for GDP per capita. Also, curiously, there are nearly as many fountains in Kansas City as there are in Rome.

Kansas City has long seen itself as a crossroads—of western expansion and transportation, but also of creativity. It’s said that jazz was born in New Orleans, but it grew up in Kansas City. The Paris of the Plains has three acclaimed art museums, more than 65 performing arts groups, the bubbling Crossroads Arts District, and the spectacular Moshe Safdie-designed Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (home to the Kansas City Ballet, the symphony and Lyric Opera), which is recognized as one of the World’s 15 Most Beautiful Concert Halls.

Place 29
Product 22
Programming 4
People 44
Prosperity 42
Promotion 11

Clearly, there’s no shortage of things to do for visitors or for residents on their time off. But they’re busy in Kansas City. According to Livability, KC is listed with St. Louis, Missouri, as “Up-and-Coming Tech Hotspots,” a ranking attributed to KC’s Google Fiber network—the city was first in the U.S. to have it—a thriving startup scene (Silicon Prairie is a definite thing) and also for being one of the best cities for women in tech. It’s the only city in America where women on average earn more than men. Indeed, the KCADC, which recruits business to the area, reports that several recent relocates came from San Francisco.

Airports are often indicators of economic health, and Kansas City International Airport’s expansion got bigger even before development began—the new facility will open sometime after 2021 with 39 gates rather than the 35 originally planned, a reflection of faster than anticipated growth—an average 3.9 percent since 2013. In 2017, 11.5 million passengers traveled through KCI, according to city figures.

There’s also growth on the ground. The Kansas City Streetcar, which runs two miles through downtown, opened in 2016 and attracted more than two million riders in 2017, an average of some 5,500 a day. Sure, rides are free, but the investment the system has generated is big money: according to the Streetcar Authority, there’s been $114 million in office investment along the route; 2,500 residential units were under construction in 2018; and more than 10 million people have visited destinations along the route. Needless to say, expansion is in the works. It looks like the city at the crossroads has reached a new turning point.