Fiesty neighborhood holds its own in the core
The Kansas City Star
Eddie Tapper stood at 34th Street and Forest Avenue and showed me a 1976 copy of a Kansas City Plan Commission report for the area.
It could’ve been written today. It spoke of the highly mobile, lower-income population and the old, poor condition of the housing.
“For the well-being of the people living in this area, this deterioration must be arrested and not allowed to spread,” the report said. It said the image of the blocks east of Troost Avenue must improve, pride in the community must take hold and efforts must be made for a “recruitment of middle-income families back to the area.”
Those are just some of the things Tapper and many others hope are among the outcomes of the Center City neighborhood inclusion in the new Urban Neighborhood Initiative. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Greater Kansas City have targeted a 3.6-square-mile inner city area to improve the safety, health, education and income for residents.
Center City’s 12 square blocks are within Troost Avenue, the Paseo and Linwood and Armour boulevards. Center City may be the only neighborhood completely within the chamber’s targeted area. No plan has been set, but residents are excited about the possibilities.
But it’s not as if they have been waiting for prosperity to fall like rain. Individuals slowly have improved the area.
Tapper, president of the Center City Neighborhood Association, met me by a cluster of Habitat for Humanities homes with well-maintained yards and garages. Millions of dollars already have gone into new construction and upgrading single-family homes. Multifamily units have been constructed as well.
We stood near one of Kansas City’s first rain gardens, which area resident Pete Hughes said takes 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of water off the streets and out of the city sewage system when it rains. More like it are planned there through 2013.
In Center City such additions mark a rebirth. A lot of it was celebrated last month at the annual Troost Avenue Festival.
The community expects to see more single-family construction. People want homeowners to get funding for renovations, energy audits for owner-occupied homes by 2013 and they’re planning to add an urban apple orchard.
Artists and young couples are drawn to the area because of inexpensive property, good bus service and its convenience to get to jobs and stores. Nearby is an urban bicycle collective, where kids and adults work on bikes two afternoons a week so that no young person who wants a bike goes without one.
Kids in this community also aren’t afraid to play outside. “It’s a pretty good neighborhood,” said Bobby Davis, a seventh-grader who was walking by.
“A lot of the houses that were previously abandoned are now being occupied,” Tapper said. “As a neighborhood, we are very pro-development.”
Hughes added: “It’s a small neighborhood. We can show results pretty quickly.”
But the area gets a bad rap for being east of Troost Avenue with its stigma of high crime, which is often repeated in TV news reports. That doesn’t match reality, Tapper said.
“They’re playing to a fear that already exists,” said Hughes, who moved from the Plaza to a house on Troost Avenue years ago. “It’s not as unsafe as people think.”
David Jackson and Joyce Crawford, who live in Center City, agree. They built their home with a garage, bushes, trees and flowers. Each likes the convenience of being in the center of town.
Tapper said the urban density is the counter to suburban sprawl. As gasoline prices remain volatile, lower fuel needs will add to Center City’s appeal.
The couple also likes the comfort the community provides. “The neighbors are great,” Crawford said.
What’s clear is that the chamber’s plan for the urban initiative won’t have to start from scratch. There are a lot of good developments and people in the urban core. It just needs more people and resources to make it grow.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid, call 816-234-4723 or send e-mail to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.