On warm fall evenings in the St. Peter/Waterway neighborhood, Waterway Park is the place to be. This urban park in Kansas City, Kan., bustles with activity as children climb on the jungle gym and adults stroll around the new walking path. But it wasn’t always this way.
A few years ago, the park was unkempt, and a magnet for drug dealers and prostitutes. The neighborhood was struggling, too, with lagging population, limited housing, and graffiti. Its residents were also grieving the tragic death of a toddler who was killed in a drive-by shooting.
A turning point came in 2006. St. Peter/Waterway — along with other neighborhoods — was invited to participate in NeighborhoodsNOW, the flagship program of Greater Kansas City LISC. It offered those neighborhoods long-term, comprehensive support, guided by the residents’ vision for a better future.
Since 1981, LISC has been successfully redeveloping urban neighborhoods in 30 major cities throughout the U.S. It works quietly behind the scenes to bring together partners, multiply resources and patiently propel strategies. Greater Kansas City LISC serves as an important economic engine and driving force behind the transformation of some of our region’s most challenging urban neighborhoods. In just over 30 years, LISC has made more than $25 million in grants, $33 million in loans, and an additional $78 million in equity investments, here in Kansas City alone.
NeighborhoodsNOW was LISC’s first effort to bring a comprehensive and targeted redevelopment strategy and resources to six bi-state urban neighborhoods. The goal was to create sustainable communities, transforming these neighborhoods burdened by crime, limited housing choices, and physical blight into places where people want to live, work and play. When first envisioned in 2005 by Greater Kansas City LISC, NeighborhoodsNOW was considered different – almost radical. But eight years later, comprehensive and targeted redevelopment is commonplace. HUD follows this blueprint, as does the Green Impact Zone. The Urban Neighborhood Initiative — one of the Chamber’s Big 5 Ideas — picked up the comprehensive strategy.
Back in 2006, the residents of St. Peter/Waterway developed their first Quality of Life Plan, a key component of NeighborhoodsNOW. The residents identified goals to increase good housing, reduce crime, and renovate Waterway Park. In just three years, as a result of hard work and their partnership with LISC, the residents achieved many of the original goals. They’re now pursuing their third Quality of Life Plan.
Today, St. Peter/Waterway stands in stark contrast to its former condition. Its evolution has halted neighborhood deterioration and sets the stage for preventing future blight. Consider:
• Since 2006, 30 new single-family homes and 17 rehabs have been completed and are fully occupied thanks to the efforts of CHWC, the local community development corporation.
• From 2005 through 2010, crime against persons and against property has dropped by almost 40%.
• Waterway Park is completely renovated and a hub of recreational activity.
• Bishop Ward High School’s Dorney Field was redeveloped, thanks to an NFL Grassroots Field grant, a national partnership between LISC and the NFL.
• McKinley Elementary School, closed for many years, was reopened. The Kansas City, Kansas, School District is partnering with CHWC to construct a new, larger building to accommodate the neighborhood’s growing population.
• The Cathedral Point Neighborhood Association is an active and strong neighborhood force in the community.
The other LISC NeighborhoodsNOW communities are making good progress, too.
For example, in the historic Douglass-Sumner neighborhood in Kansas City, Kan., the first two houses built in nearly 50 years have been completed, and later this year, construction will begin on four more. In Kansas City, Mo., businesses in Scarritt Renaissance created a Community Improvement District to beautify Independence Avenue. Blue Hills is focusing on job creation and economic development, and just opened the Blue Hills Business Center on Prospect Avenue. Ivanhoe is developing new housing, and the first LISC Financial Opportunity Center — the Prosperity Center at Rockhurst University — opened this June at 51st and Troost.
This afternoon, at Greater Kansas City LISC’s annual meeting, business and civic leaders will celebrate these success stories and more as well as hear about future initiatives. Jake Mascotte, former president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, will deliver the keynote.
So, what’s been learned?
First, targeted redevelopment strategies work. Because resources are limited, concentrated efforts provide the best opportunity for success that is tangible and enduring. Second, community development must reflect the vision of the neighborhood’s residents, to ensure that proposed change fits with their goals and needs. Most importantly, community development takes time and incredible tenacity. It requires a sustained commitment by funders and partners.
It may take many years to rebuild a struggling neighborhood. But as you can see in St. Peter/Waterway, it is well worth it.