Btn_red_77x28 Green website certified by Greenscroll Clip to Evernote

Monday, May 31, 2010


Political strategy is found in the writings of generals and presidents, Samarai and princes, and in a movie that has provided inspiration for urban ills. The movie is the recent Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon vehicle - Invictus.

The movie is about the inspiration that Nelson Mandela used to unite his nation across the races in the post-apartheid era. He could not accomplish this task as a single leader. He needed to inspire the people of South Africa to want to find common ground. He used the national Rugby club to do it. Only Morgan Freeman could pull this off and not make it completely hokey (plus Clint Eastwood directing). But Mandela did more than just use sports to rally the country. He got people invested in the country and the team was a vehicle for that. The team literally connected with the formerly excluded black population and more importantly, the black population joined the white Afrikaners in supporting this team. By not taking the team away from the white community and finding ways to generate support from the black community, each group met on common ground.

Urban places are divided by race, class, ethnicity, gender, etc. We each have our own reasons for being in that urban space and protect our interests accordingly. This self-interest results in each group trying to maximize their own desires, often without regard to how that will affect others in the urban population.

The movie title is Latin for "unconquered" and is the title of a poem that inspired Nelson Mandela. For me, the urban application is that we cannot make cities some kind of territory to own and people cannot be conquered. Gentrification is often seen as some kind of natural market force that changes a neighborhood from poor to rich and from unproductive property to productive property. While change is fine, make no mistake that gentrification is conquering. But the answer is not resistance - it is finding common ground. Cities must be the model for how people can live together and I'm not trying to be all kum-bay-ah on you here. By this, I mean cities have to have room for all different types of people and for space to be available - not limited. Housing projects are the equivalent of homelands, as are suburbs. If you don't belong, you will be hasseled about being there or not being in your homeland. Cities cannot function this way. Let's learn from Invictus.

Here is the poem by William Henley 1875:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Mandela had to unite his country across the chasm of black and white, which seemed an impossible task. Surely, we can make cities welcoming and not conquered spaces.

Monday, May 3, 2010


A documentary short on Troost done by some young folks with idealism? Not sure, but it is an interesting view of the famous dividing line of Kansas City.

This weekend you can attend the 2010 iteration of the Troost Festival - a community fair held by the denizens of the 3100 block of Troost Avenue. I went several times over the years and found it to be a great effort, though the success varied from year to year. Seems like publicity is up this year, so I hope there is a good turnout. It's always great to support local merchants and people trying to build up their community :)

The spring celebration of Troost is seen through the colors of Tulips on Troost. The brainchild of Durwin Rice has turned into a flood of color along Troost as the tulips bloom. Pictures from many sources hit the web this spring, suggesting that people are finally catching on to this wonderful visual image of renewal on Troost

East and West of Troost are local code in KC for white and black - divided and unequal - in terms of income, housing value, employment, school performance, retail, services, trash volume, murders, drug "crimes," and so on. While living in KC I lived on both sides of Troost. I suspect it is an experience that many people in the city cannot claim. I've written about those experiences in the many posts on this blog. I learned a great deal through those experiences, particularly in how it affected my view of the world - large and small. I've tried to use those experiences to add to the momentum of transformation of our outlook on racial divides.

Small increments of change can be seen in terms of bridging the divide, but the change is too slow to be meaningful and seems to be un-scalable. By this I mean small changes are possible, but massive reform, renewal, and rethinking is nowhere near being reached. I applaud all the efforts by all the dedicated organizations and people working on and around Troost, trying to make an impact. It's all good! But let's be realistic about this. There is no way that these small steps will amount to anything more than a few small steps. For every success there is a relapse, leaving little net gain over the years.

Renewal cannot be piecemeal. You can't build 4 houses and declare success because you did something. But in the realm of urban redevelopment, you can't just scale up and ignore the community. As most people know, inclusion is messy - but necessary, if there is to be any chance of sustainability.

The conundrum is made up of several key points:
1. how do you create sustainable community revitalization? By sustainable I mean something that is linked to the market and can find a set-point to maintain gains and avoid losses. Net gain over time yields sustainability.

2. how do you scale revitalization so that the impact yields a measurable presence that replicates faster than it decays. Imagine if you took the entire length of Troost Avenue and did one revitalization project on each block over one year. That would create enough agglomeration of renewal action to make an impact. The greater the impact, the great the sustainability - but it has to be renewal that is connected to the local market. Scale is an elusive strategy in community development.

3. how do you create a sustainable market for retail and services as well as jobs on a corridor like Troost? You have to redefine the market. Developers come in and have an external yardstick by which they measure the market's likelihood of success. They can't see how the market could work with the existing neighborhood. But the local neighborhood IS the key to sustainability. Otherwise you just push the existing issues somewhere else...

So the moral of our story is that redevelopment is hard. It's why we haven't had much success in 50 years. But the tools are there, the knowledge is there. We just need the moral conviction to implement. Implement with the existing people in the neighborhoods. That's the key to sustainability and scale-ability.

Enjoy the festivals, have fun, then roll up your sleeves, sharpen your pencils, and sustain and scale - get it done.