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A New FOCUS

Student Project Team members from Urban Planning +Design Senior Studio work on their report

AUP+D students revisit city’s master plan after 20 years

Moving from Point A to Point B isn’t always as simple or direct as it sounds. For Kansas City’s 246 neighborhoods, students, faculty and staff from the University of Missouri-Kansas City are helping residents plot their course.

Undergraduate students in the Urban Planning +Design Senior Studio spent the semester putting together “The Story of the Neighborhoods in Kansas City, MO,” a detailed 62-page report and accompanying database designed to give each neighborhood a clear and precise sense of its current situation – Point A, if you will.

From there, neighborhood groups can work with the UMKC Center for Neighborhoods on visioning exercises to decide on their destination – Point B – and plot a course for getting there, using the database and other tools and supports provided by the Center. Both the Center for Neighborhoods, and the Urban Planning +Design course, are products of UMKC’s Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design.

The goal of the project is to improve the organizational capacity of neighborhoods in the city. Neighborhood leadership is typically voluntary; residents who seek to stabilize, improve, and grow their neighborhoods are often not professionals and have limited resources.

The document is subtitled, “Analysis of Conditions and Challenges Neighborhoods Face 20 Years after the FOCUS Plan.” FOCUS (Forging Our Comprehensive Urban Strategy) is Kansas City’s Comprehensive Plan adopted in October 1997.

Dr. Sungyop Kim, Associate Professor of Urban Planning + Design, is the instructor for the studio. He said the staff of the Center for Neighborhoods will fine-tune the report and the data over the summer and then make the report and the database available to the neighborhoods.

“Traditionally, planning has been a top-down process. There is a need for a bottom-up process as well,” Kim said. “Cities often lack the resources for neighborhood-level planning, and neighborhood organizations are volunteers who have limited knowledge and resources. We are providing this database to help them start the dialogue.”

The student Project Team consisted of Cameron Gray Casey, Bryan Andre Jackson, Grant Dickson Lang, Abigail Katherine Newsham, Richard Anthony Sanchez, Camila Segura-Rivera and Nicolette Olivia Wallis.

Some of the student’s findings show problems with implementation of some of the FOCUS plan goals for neighborhoods.

“In terms of development, Kansas City has focused the spotlight and the investment downtown,” Kim said. “Income is not improving. Areas of concentrated poverty are widening. That needs to be addressed.”

Students also concluded that the city’s development incentive “pie” is sliced in too many disparate ways: 58 PIEA (Planned Industrial Expansion Authority) districts, 12 Transportation Development Districts, 57 active Tax Increment Financing districts, and three Enterprise Zones.

“It takes the sacrifice of the entire community to create these districts, so the benefits need to be distributed more equitably,” Kim said.

Students also found a need for more equitable distribution of Community Development Block Grants. Of the 246 neighborhoods, 71 have received these grants, and students found a lack of balance between neighborhoods that need funding and neighborhoods that consistently receive funding. Grant awards under the Community Development program are disproportionately higher for neighborhoods that have received this funding in the past, indicating that these neighborhoods have the most capable and experienced leaders who understand how the system works.

“Neighborhoods with a need for funding may not have the leadership or capacity to apply for grants and carry out projects,” the report states. “Leadership training is needed.”

The capacity-building efforts of the Center for Neighborhoods are designed specifically to close that knowledge and experience gap among neighborhoods.

The student report examines neighborhood issues in five key areas – mobility and accessibility, gentrification, quality of life, poverty and built environment – and provides recommendations in each one.

One of the key tools the database will provide is individual neighborhood data sets. Plenty of data on population, income, density, property values and the like was already publicly available, but it was broken down by various geographies including U.S. Census boundaries, which do not correspond with neighborhood boundaries. With the UMKC database, neighborhoods can get a precise picture of their current situation.

Additional plan recommendations include:

Built Environment

  • KCMO should offer better incentives for the rehabilitation of existing structures.
  • KCMO should create a strategic plan for tax incentives, offering the neighborhoods who need them the most the proper support they deserve.

Poverty

  • It is critical that developers interested in the central urban area incorporate social equity into their development plans.
  • City staff and the Kansas City Housing Authority should look to develop a comprehensive housing strategy for the city with an emphasis on de-concentrating areas of poverty.

Quality of Life

  • Stricter zoning policies can help prevent future brownfield sites by implementing location-based limitations on potentially problematic development types.
  • Stricter enforcement of KCMO’s existing codes may deter future housing stock from becoming deteriorated or dangerous. If property owners are held to a higher standard, indicators of blight can be addressed before the building becomes dangerous to the overall health of a community.

Gentrification

  • True revitalization should improve the life experiences of all residents.
  • Policy makers should develop and implement policies that equally support new and existing residents of all backgrounds.

Mobility and Accessibility

  • Public transit routes are well-drawn in terms of connecting people with jobs, but more transit stops are needed within walking distance of people who need transit for work

 


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