Saturday, April 21, 2007

power structures

I got some interesting comments on my earlier post about city power structures. I want to respond to one of them here, rather than in the comments section, because it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Robyne wrote:
A classic indeed. but the issue is not the position held by these folks, but the resources they bring to the table - ie investment. substitute developers in our modern era for the industrialists. KC is the last of a dying breed of family run cities that thrive on corporate and civic networks and cronies. But change comes to every city and it's happening in KC too.

I think a lot of this is on point. Except it's a more accurate description of the "Second Rate" and "Third Rate" levels of Floyd's power structure model than it is of the "First Rate" level. The one phrase I'd like to focus on for a point of friendly debate is "substitute developers in our modern era for industrialists." I'm not sure that's true, at least not here in Kansas City.

A little context from Floyd's book. He described the "First Rate" power brokers as a very small group that is not highly visable. They tend to not serve on as many boards nor appear in the newspaper as often as those in the Second and Third levels. And their influence tends to be on the really big projects and policies which shape the city as a whole. For instance, Kay Barnes's focus on downtown was an idea that came up out of the First Rate power circle, as did the current push for major public subsidies of bio sciences research.

What the Second and Third Rate power brokers do, by and large, is tend to the smaller concerns of the city, and go about the work of making the First Rate power brokers' wishes come true.

Which brings us to developers. With just a few exceptions, they are Second and Third Rate, in my opinion. While they benefit greatly from the schemes of the First Rate folks (after all, there's a lot of money to be made rebuilding downtown), they can also be put in their place very quickly if they get out of line.

I think this is what is happpening right now. A handful of developers and their attorneys got out of line with their use of tax incentives. By using these incentives to develop in places that needed no incentives (IE the suburbs) they've run afowl of both the general public and the First Rate power brokers.

That had everything to do with Mark Funkhouser getting elected.

Think of it as a market correction. My sense is that over the next four years we'll see a realligning of the Second and Third levels. New faces will appear on key boards and commissions, and new parameters will be drawn. And I think a lot of good can come of that.

But the First Rate level won't change, I don't think. My sense is that the "industrialists" and big business owners and CEOs will still quietly set the larger agenda. At any rate, they're not going anywhere. And that's a goood thing, because KC wouldn't be in too good of shape if we didn't have a few anchor tenants, so to speak.

1 comment:

succotash said...

Good point about the inner circle. Most of our significant civic projects -- commercial, charitable, research, what have you -- wouldn't get off the ground without the financial and social support of the moneyed elite. We depend on the Halls, Kaufmans, Helzbergs, etc. to underwrite a lot of things that we take for granted in the arts and other non-profit sectors.