By Leslie Collins
December 14, 2011
East side residents and stakeholders came armed with ideas Dec. 1 on how to improve the city’s urban core.
“The aspirations tend to be very similar,” United Way of Greater Kansas City President and Chief Executive Officer Brent Stewart said of the recent community input sessions. “We basically want the same things for our lives, our children and our neighbors.”
It’s all part of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, one of the initiatives from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Big 5 Ideas. The Urban Neighborhood Initiative will focus on the city’s east side and will aim to strengthen a specific geographical area as well as improving the well being of residents. United Way is serving as the managing partner for the initiative.
“What makes this initiative different is the collaboration we’re doing here,” Stewart said.
Stewart called the extent of collaboration unprecedented and said it includes
businesses, religious organizations, government entities, non-profit organizations, among others.
In addition to hosting community input sessions and stakeholder meetings, United Way is also conducting research to look at the needs in the community and determine the strongest assets.
“It’s our belief that in order to be successful and create a model that we think is replicable, we need to have both (assets and the need) present,” he said.
United Way and the chamber will use research, community input and letters of interest to determine the target location for the initiative during a Dec. 20 meeting. Letters of interest, Stewart explained, are letters from community organizations and individuals stating their willingness to partner with the chamber and United Way for the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.
During the Dec. 1 community input meeting at Penn Valley Community College, attendees were asked to describe their ideal community, what they like about their community, what’s not going well in their community and what needs to change.
Attendees described an ideal community as one that’s vibrant and proud, safe, diverse, has high quality education institutions that prepare students to be employment ready and has residents invested in the community. Common themes that needed improvement included the city’s violent crime rate and the Kansas City Public Schools, which will lose its accreditation Jan. 1. Asked to describe what they like about the community, Historic Northeast residents listed a diverse community that’s friendly, the low cost of living, historical architecture and area parks.
Once a geographical location is chosen, Phase I, the planning phase, will begin and continue through June of 2012. The second phase is implementation, which will begin in July of 2012.
Stewart stressed this will be a community driven plan and residents within the chosen location will determine what issues to tackle first. Once a location is chosen, additional community meetings will be held, he said.
“We’re going to have plenty of challenges along the way,” Stewart said. “Finding the people power and interest is not one of them. We’ve been overwhelmed with people with a lot of passion and commitment to changing the situation that exists in the urban core. It’s a great thing.”