The problems with large groups of teens and pre-teens roaming the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., may strike a familiar chord with some Lawrence residents and officials.
Fortunately, the issue of intimidating crowds in downtown Lawrence hasn’t become as acute or dangerous as what apparently is occurring on the Plaza. Nonetheless, local officials may be able to learn something by watching how Kansas City officials approach this problem.
If the Kansas City mayor wasn’t concerned enough about this issue before, his trip to the Plaza Saturday night certainly should have raised his awareness. His body guards shoved Mayor Sly James into a Plaza flower bed shortly before 11 p.m. last Saturday when shooting broke out about 50 feet from where the mayor was walking. He was not injured but three teenagers weren’t so lucky. A bullet grazed the face of a 13-year-old girl, and two boys, ages 15 and 16, were shot in their legs. None of the injuries was life-threatening, according to police.
Perhaps they weren’t life-threatening for the teenagers, but what about the Plaza? It won’t take many incidents like the one on Saturday night to have a devastating impact on one of the area’s landmark shopping and entertainment areas. No matter how attractive the Plaza is, it won’t take long for it to become a ghost town if people can’t feel safe there.
Plaza businesses are understandably concerned. James was in the area Saturday with a former city council member and a group of ministers to assess the crowd problems. Highwood Properties, the owner of the Plaza, along with individual business owners are asking city officials to consider a 9 p.m. curfew for unaccompanied minors on the Plaza.
That’s one approach but community leaders also are looking at how to engage teens in other activities and how to get parents engaged in providing better supervision for their children. Teens have a right to walk around the Plaza, but large crowds can be intimidating to others and can help set the stage for the kind of violence that occurred Saturday night. Too great a police presence in the area also can have a negative impact on the ambiance that people love on the Plaza.
It may be on a smaller scale, but many of the same issues faced on the Plaza also have been reported in downtown Lawrence. What is the best way to protect the safety and ambiance of downtown? It will be interesting to see what solutions are applied in Kansas City and how they work.