A cluster of people from all walks of life mingled Wednesday at yet another hopeful announcement that progress can be made to revive Kansas City’s East Side.
It was good to see black and white politicians, business leaders and neighborhood residents come together to support the project, a new grocery store at the Linwood Shopping Center. These kinds of deals are worth celebrating. They indicate that positive actions are being taken to help parts of the city that contain the highest number of low-income residents and the highest percentages of minority populations.
This project plus others occurring on the East Side deserve even more attention these days in light of what has happened in Baltimore. It was roiled by the death of a black man while in police custody and by subsequent unrest, all in a city damaged by long-term disinvestment in the urban core, which has lead to hopelessness among a large portion of black residents.
While Kansas City officials like to say our city isn’t Baltimore, it does share some of the flash points.
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In Kansas City, an extremely high percentage of violent crime occurs within a small part of the East Side. Kansas City Public Schools has many low-performing educational institutions. And Kansas City has thousands of vacant houses in the central city plus key streets — Troost, Prospect, Indiana — too bereft of commerce.
Kansas City has a black mayor and a black police chief, but so does Baltimore, so that’s no guarantee civil unrest can be avoided.
It’s also a simple fact that no one — from Mayor Sly James to Police Chief Darryl Forté to neighborhood activists — can guarantee bad news won’t visit Kansas City in a flash one day in the future.
But actions can and are being taking to try to avoid that day.
Some are short-term. Last weekend the Police Department sponsored what Forté called a peace rally at the Linwood center. It sounded a bit hokey. Yet it succeeded in creating positive press for the police while getting officers in touch with some residents.
No, the event did not wipe out the distrust of police that still exists in parts of the black community. That’s a long-term problem that still deserves much attention.
Baltimore City Public Schools’ enrollment is 85,000 children, which is more than five times the size of Kansas City’s system. Kansas City has a better shot at turning around its smaller district and better serving its children.
Above all, Kansas City is at least talking a better game these days, while promising to pour more money into rejuvenating the East Side. Projects include new senior housing, a new police station/crime lab campus, redevelopment of old schools and infill single-family housing.
Leaders of Freedom Inc., the black political group, say they will spend the next few years bringing more economic activity to the Prospect Avenue corridor. James says he supports this ambitious idea.
In fact, after James is re-elected, he would serve the city well by making East Side redevelopment one, if not the prime goal of his second term.
But the East Side also will require Kansas City’s white business leaders to help out, as is happening in the building of a Sun Fresh Market at the Linwood Shopping Center. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Big 5 project — called the Urban Neighborhood Initiative — could make a big difference if its bid to attract new private investment to the urban core succeeds.
City Council member Jermaine Reed, in an interview on Wednesday, ticked off a few good ideas on how Kansas City could revive its urban core. “It has to be housing,” he said. Then he quickly added the city also must improve bus service on Prospect. And woo more businesses. And build new sidewalks and curbs.
The list of needs is long, the dollars are short, and priorities will have to be set in the months ahead. Kansas City has some solid leaders in place who must meet the challenge of making the proper decisions.