CGO 2008: Kansas City

Our trip to Kansas City offered us some quality time in the belly of the sprawlful beast. Just minutes by van from the KC airport, our hotel was miles and miles from anywhere that could be reached on foot. For dining and shopping we had “Zona Rosa,” a pleasantly surreal sort of mall-that’s-a-neighborhood, to which this the hotel ran vans whenever we asked. The restaurants and shops were completely generic — nothing local about them, except for the people who worked there, who were all exceedingly friendly and nice. What a place. Ostensibly designed as a pedestrian-friendly “new urbanist” commercial district, it has acres and acres of parking, cannot be reached except by motor vehicle, and sports five-lane streets that daunted our slower-footed colleagues. The poor old hotel, meanwhile, was falling apart around us: room keys failed, air conditioners leaked and the groaning elevators shook the floors — yet it was graced by the pluckiest, most affable and long-suffering staff you could hope to meet. If sprawl is a plague visited upon Middle America, the folks we met in KC, anyway, are doing their best to make a go of it.

The amicable atmosphere began in our sessions on assessment, in cooperation with the International Association of Assessing Officers, which is headquartered in Kansas City. Georgists’ insistence that land be properly valued was music to the ears of our professional assessor guests; one got the impression that they’d been trying to tell people that for years, only to be drowned out by the political din.

The conference offered an unusually wide variety of sessions, ranging from tactics in Georgist advocacy, to analysis of the current recession, options for school funding and coalition-building with Libertarians and Greens. The debut of the new documentary film The End of Poverty? made for spirited dialogue. A superb lunchtime talk by author Don Walton, a winsome nonagenarian, got everyone thinking about effective communication. Dan Sullivan’s banquet speech, “The Great Realignment,” was a tour de force; we hope he’ll publish it. Then as if that weren’t enough, folksinger Ann Zimmerman stole everyone’s hearts with her land-loving songs and elfin presentation. She clearly hadn’t known what to expect from this gathering of weird economists, but a few songs in, she said, “Wow, you guys are a sing-along folksinger’s dream!”

It seemed that many people gave it a bit of extra effort this year, making whatever contributions they could to ensure a successful event. It may be that folks in the Georgist movement have been feeling discouraged by discord and disappointment, and we all felt the need to somehow make sure that our annual conference would pack the proper battery-charging power.

It had certainly been a year of transition; at the “friendship brunch” we toasted our farewells to a long list of comrades who passed on during the past year: Jim Busey, Mel Forde, Everett and Mildred Gross, Hamlet Hilpert, Oscar Johannsen, Meta Heller, Sydney Mayers, Art Rybeck, Lucy Silfa and Art Scholbe.

Next Year: Cleveland

We’ll gather on August 5-9 in, we are assured by CGO staff Scott and Sue Walton, a much nicer hotel hotel in downtown Cleveland, within sight of Lake Erie, for a high-profile celebration of Tom Johnson: America’s Greatest Mayor. The major issues that Johnson strove for are still very much in play, according to our local host, Dr. William Peirce: a) Municipal home rule; b) Municipal ownership of public utilities; c) LVT in Ohio — and the modern frantic scrambling to destroy the property tax; d) the Reform tradition: what happened? Homeless people now gather in Public Square, where sits the famous statue of Johnson holding a copy of Progress and Poverty. Tom Johnson’s message has never been more timely.

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