Kansas City is both trapped and elevated by its reputation as the City of Fountains. It's a point of pride that the city has been building and filling fountains since 1899. KCUR's Up to Date will feature the Nelson's Paul Benson and Ann McFerrin, an archivist with Parks and Recreation, talking about the fountains as works of art today at 11 a.m. (Benson is also speaking at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library on Thursday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m.) Aesthetics aside, the question has to be asked: Should Kansas City still be in the fountain business?
After barbecue, the abundance of fountains may be the one factoid about KC that is widely known outside the city. But civic pride stands in stark contrast to the realities of the world we live in today. Last year, thieves damaged arguably the most famous fountain in Kansas City - the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain on the Plaza - in search of aluminum, copper and bronze. According to KMBC Channel 9, It was part of a rash of attempted (and successful) thefts that left the city with a repair bill of more than $200,000 in just a nine-month span.
Shuttering the fountains - a difficult proposition based on questions about reuse and the practical notion that empty fountains are liabilities and eyesores - has been done in the past. In 1942, the fountains at City Hall were shut off to save the city $1.50 in daily electrical costs from running the circulating pumps. This is not the same situation as World War II, but electricity no longer costs $1.50, either.
The mechanism is already in place for the private sector to get involved. The City of Fountain Foundations was ostensibly started in 1974 to help the city cover the costs of operating and maintaining the fountains. Do you think the city should continue to operate its fountains?