Kansas City’s suburban demographic split

In What’s the Matter With Kansas?, “Tom Frank”:http://www.tcfrank.com/essays.html puzzles for a moment over why Johnson County, Kansas — the “Cupcake Land” of mostly prosperous western suburbs of Kansas City, far and away the wealthiest county in Kansas (it being the only metropolitan county) is split between libertarian moderates in the east (closer to KC) and reactionary conservatives in the western exurbs. The two groups create an uneasy alliance that returns Republicans to office time and again, relying on the votes and the fervor of the Cons to further the Mods’ capitalist aims, even though the Mods are sometimes troubled by the culture-war rhetoric that gets the Cons hopping. The puzzle is that the two camps live side by side and appear demographically similar in many ways, including occupation and income.

One distinction here lies in each group’s habitus; the two camps do live in different cultural milieus and relate to the wider economy and society in different ways. The “Claritas PRIZM NE”:http://www.claritas.com/MyBestSegments/Default.jsp?ID=30&SubID=&pageName=Segment%2BLook-up consumer segmentation system draws a line through Johnson County separating metropolitan “suburban” consumers in the east and non-metropolitan “edge/second city” consumers in the west. The most common clusters in two Johnson County towns:

|Mission Hills, 66208|Lenexa, 66220|
|01. Upper Crust|09. Big Fish, Small Pond|
|03. Movers & Shakers|11. God’s Country|
|08. Executive Suites|23. Greenbelt Sports|
|21. Gray Power|28. Traditional Times|
|30. Suburban Sprawl|45. Blue Highways|

The numbers refer to overall SES, ranked 1-66. Not only are the Mission Hills clusters notably more upscale, but their tastes are far “bluer.” Executive Suites, “a haven for white-collar professionals drawn to comfortable homes and apartments,” watches “Will & Grace” and drives BMWs; similarly wealthy Big Fish, Small Pond reads _Southern Living_. Gray Power goes to museums; Greenbelt Sports watches pro wrestling on pay-per-view. Suburban Sprawl drives Nissans; Traditional Times drives Buicks.

The distinction reminds me of “Chris’ point at LCL”:http://leftcenterleft.typepad.com/blog/2005/08/whats_the_matte.html about those in the major metros who’ve bought into the metropolitan status game and those who haven’t; in this case, the “Plen-T-Plaint” that Frank refers to comprises the latter’s litany of resentful, rebellious grievances against the largely self-imposed cultural hegemony of the former. Of course, all Americans play some sort of status game — as evidenced by the mere presence of the clusters — but the primary axis of urbanity remains the primary division.

(Finally published; started in January 2005, after I finished the book.)

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