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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.

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