An unprecedented alliance of civic, nonprofit and business leadership is putting a section of east Kansas City on notice:
We intend to make things better.
The area from Troost Avenue on the west, 71 Highway on the east, 23rd Street on the north and 51st Street on the south has been chosen for a new effort to improve the safety, health, education and living conditions of the area’s residents.
Currently, the area is characterized by high crime, low income, high unemployment, substandard housing, and spotty commercial activity.
The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Greater Kansas City on Monday confirmed that improving the Troost corridor will be one of the chamber’s Big 5 goals, one of five long-range initiatives to improve the metropolitan area.
“I do not want to over-promise,” said Terry Dunn, a business leader who is serving as a leading spokesman for the neighborhood initiative. “We need to tackle major problems that have been systemic in our community for many years. But, collectively, we might have a unique opportunity bring many people together.”
No single specific undertaking— such as building demolition or shopping center improvements — was announced.
The chamber announced that a nonprofit organization, the Urban Neighborhood Initiative Inc., has been formed to carry on the work. Sylvia Robinson, who has extensive experience in this kind of community work, has been hired as the project manager.
“This isn’t a short-term solution,” Dunn said. “It’s a journey, a process. In the next 20 years we hope to have success stories of leaders and entrepreneurs coming out of this area.”
Chamber officials had asked neighborhood organizations metrowide to submit letters of interest after the Big 5 initiative was announced last year.
“Our leadership group wanted to go where they were wanted,” Robinson said. “There’s already work in progress in that area and we wanted to leverage the existing work.”
Dianne Cleaver, vice chairman of the United Way board, said one of the first steps will be to sit down with the existing neighborhood organizations in the target area. Those include the Blue Hills, Ivanhoe, Manheim, Squier Park, Mount Hope, Beacon Hills, Center City, Linwood and Troostwood neighborhoods.
The United Way plans to convene a meeting with interested residents on March 6.
Planners said an immediate priority is to help the Kansas City Police Department augment community policing in the designated area with the goal of reducing gang activity and crime.
Beyond that, “this is the first time that I can see a broad base of civic, community and philanthropic interests coming together for a long-term, sustainable effort,” said Frank Ellis, chief executive of Swope Community Enterprises who is serving as this year’s chamber chairman.
Uncertainty about the leadership or direction of the Kansas City Missouri School District has limited some of that entity’s involvement in launching the neighborhood initiative, but organizers agreed that reducing the dropout rate and improving the educational options for the area’s residents are prime components of the effort.
“We will be passing the hat,” Dunn said, noting that many financial commitments also have been made, including the donation of professional time by the law firm of Polsinelli Shughart, members of the American Institute of Architects, and staff members of the United Way.
It is expected that philanthropy from the United Way, the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and businesses will increase in the target area.
John Bluford, chief executive of Truman Medical Centers, already has announced his institution’s intent to become even more involved in improving the diet and health of the area’s residents. One plan calls for a new full-service supermarket in the area, which can provide healthier eating choices and dietary counseling for the residents.
“There are lots of moving parts, lots of subjectivity,” said Jim Heeter, chamber president. “Will we end up with a great neighborhood, or not? But we do intend to look at things that will be measurable.”