Councilman Jermain Reed has asked that Prospect Avenue be renamed Martin Luther King Ave. Many cities have either done this on a permanent or an honorary basis for a major thoroughfare that runs through their African-American neighborhood. It is designed as a sign of respect and honor for MLK and to generate a sense of identity and pride for the neighborhood. Outsiders typically refer to the MLK designation as code for a neighborhood that whites want to avoid. The white disdain should not be a reason to avoid the honoring of Dr. King.
Councilman Reed's motives are being questioned in the blogosphere - this is apparently the pet project of his mentor, Alvin Brooks. Mr. Reed is carrying the water and that is a fine and noble tribute to his mentor. We can't fault him for that.
Mr. Reed, however, has decided to blow this name change up into a fantasy silver bullet - he claims it will be the start of a transformation on Prospect and will be a source of peace. I find that very hard to believe. A name change is not a silver bullet, though it may provide a more positive imaging for the local neighbors. Don't count me as one of them, though. I live 1/2 block from Prospect. I think I can speak to its problems, potential, and why a name change is not enough.
The most recent changes that I am familiar with on Prospect are the Shops at Linwood and Prospect, the Prospect Corridor Plan, the Bluford Library remodel, and the new Walgreens at Linwood. These changes have done more for Prospect than any name change ever will. They represent investment, community, and a purpose. Sadly, they are not championed by our current or former representatives as part of a strategy. Mr. Reed says he will go door-to-door on Prospect to get the name change and seek revitalization! Why? What will that do unless you have some steps to take? If you need some, I'm here to help.
Plan for Prospect Corridor (from someone who lives and works there - Viable Third Community)
1. Prospect is used as the travel lane for East Patrol - nightly there are cops in high speed mode racing up and down with sirens blaring, followed by the ghetto bird. Change the police practice.
2. Prospect is the number 2 bus route on the KCATA (I believe that was the case if not currently the case). It has no MAX, it has no streetcar. Get a MAX on Prospect and get some decent bus shelters and street scape put in as has been done on Troost.
3. Support targeted business and community commercial support at the Shops of Linwood and Prospect. Keep business local, profits, local, and investment will reap rewards. We need a social enterprise business center and incubator and we need a fresh/whole foods outlet (farmer market, co-op retail, and sustained support for nutrition). We need sustainable community development that includes green building, green jobs, and a chance for ownership by local folks to invest their sweat, life, and hope into business success. We have the density and the income for a range of businesses in this area. Get strategic and don't accept the nonsense peddled by people who do not understand the intricacies of community economic development. The Glover Plan will not work here unless you are ready to subsidize it's construction and operation for at least 20 years. If so, then build it.
4. Support community enterprises, not social services and non-profits. There is a huge difference and people need to learn and implement this. The Emmanual Community Center is wonderful! But it could be a social enterprise and not just a non-profit. Help these organizations learn to become self-supporting, not just dependent on charity and subsidy.
5. Expand the Bluford Library with a computer center in the Linwood Shops on the West side of Prospect. Computers are the #1 resource for people in the area and the Bluford library is woefully understocked.
6. Put a zoning overlay onto all of Prospect Corridor for mixed use and height. Be mindful of the Sante Fe Historic area and use that as a branding advantage on that part of Prospect. Fill in the vacant land with housing and stores and subsidize them as needed. If we can pay for the Block Building downtown, we can pay for some decent construction on Prospect. Organize a corner store initiative to incentivize these stores to carry fresh foods (as has been done very successfully in Philadelphia) and to upgrade their appearance and operations.
7. Make a CID on Prospect and get the trash picked up. That's a no-brainer.
There you go. You just got some free expertise. This is my plan for Prospect. Contact Viable Third Community if you want to get going on this. I'm already on it! www.viablethird.com