Reconciling Redevelopment With a Salacious Past

In Kansas City, the historic home of jazz and Prohibition-era excess struggles with a redevelopment effort that attempts to build on that era's history while leaving behind some of its essential characteristics, writes Brandon R. Reynolds.
February 22, 2012, 10am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Fifteen years after its commencement, Reynolds discusses the incomplete redevelopment of the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District into a newly thriving cultural mecca. While the area was once the heart of African-American life and culture in Kansas City, it's now an odd mix of cultural anchors and the simulacra of a bygone era.

Reynolds, in speaking with KC jazz ambassador David Basse, finds that what might be missing from efforts to resuscitate the area as a living, breathing center of culture once again are those elements that formed the foundation of its artistic flourishing: the late-night pleasures of gambling, drinking, and sex.

According to Reynolds, "Basse thinks that Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, and New York draw people because they not only accept their wayward pasts, they celebrate them, and the things they produced. Kansas City, on the other hand, is more reticent to remind locals and tourists about that whole corruption/prostitution/gambling thing. 'All of that stuff is not something that is easy for a city or a convention and visitors' bureau or a Junior League to put out and say, ‘Come on out and experience this.'"

"Put another way: To not have the excess is to not have jazz. He quotes a musician friend: 'If you're not willing to stay up and party all night, you'll never have jazz in Kansas City, because that's what it's all about.'"

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Published on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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