Green Impact Zone of Kansas City, Missouri

Article excerpt

As a resident of Kansas City, Missouri for nearly four decades, I have served my community at the Mayor's desk, on the picket line, in places of worship, on the City Council, and now as the Fifth District's Congressman in the nation's capítol. My commitment to strengthening the economic development opportunities available to my community led to the establishment of the Green Impact Zone (The Zone) of Kansas City, Missouri. The Green Impact Zone is a ISO-square-block area in the urban core of Kansas City that serves as a national model of place-based investment, demonstrating how a distressed community can be transformed into a "community of opportunity" through intense, focused coordination of programs and resources.

In 2009, before the Green Impact Zone was created, the Kansas City Star dubbed the zip code that makes up half the Zone, the "Murder Factory" after discovering that more people serving time for murder were born in that zip code than in any other zip code in the state of Missouri. The Zone has 8,374 residents, 89 percent of whom are African American. Of the 4,042 households in the Zone, 25 percent are headed by single parents- usually mothers. Nearly a third of the households in the Zone are below the poverty line with a median household income of $22,397 and an average per capita income of $12,239 a year. There are 1,066 vacant lots in the ISO-block area the makes up the Zone.

In 2009, 1 conceived of the Green Impact Zone as a way to put federal stimulus funds to work, strengthening neighborhoods, creating jobs, and improving energy efficiency. The city of Kansas City authorized $1.5 million to help launch the Green Impact Zone initiative in September 2009. The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) administers the grant and provides oversight for the initiative. Working with neighborhood organizations, civic leaders, and many other organizations- and with strong support from the White House- MARC and its Green Impact Zone partners have succeeded in bringing millions of dollars in stimulus funds and other investments to the Zone since its inception. The Green Impact Zone Leadership Council works to facilitate resident engagement, an essential part of the Zone's success.1

Based on the idea that it is not enough to solve today's problems, the project strives to build the capacity of the community to solve its own problems presently and into the future. For example, "green" job growth in the Zone is now out-pacing growth in nearly every other economic sector. By building clean energy systems in the core of the Green Impact Zone, we assure that job growth remains close to home. The Zone also helps to broadly bolster the clean energy economy through specific energy-saving systems and projects that require manufactured goods and skills training.

From the project's outset, I stated, "These neighborhoods are not unlike urban neighborhoods in broken cities across the nation- disinvested, disengaged and disheartened. If we make the promise into practice here, it can be done anywhere." Already, other urban areas as close as St. Louis, Missouri and as far away as Seattle, Washington are implementing ideas that originated from the Green Impact Zone. These ideas include improved housing, reduced energy consumption, low-income weatherization assistance, and investments in transportation and infrastructure.

IMPROVED HOUSING

A drive through the neighborhoods of the Green Impact Zone illustrates the area's serious challenges with abandonment. Approximately 25 percent of the properties in the zone are vacant lots, and another one-sixth have vacant structures. Fewer than half of the homes are owner-occupied. Over the last two years, almost 20 percent of all mortgages were delinquent and median home prices for the area are less than $30,000.

Strategies for addressing housing issues in the Zone include rehabilitating existing homes, developing new housing on vacant lots, removing dangerous buildings, working with real estate agents to increase home sales in the zone, and working with landlords and absentee owners to improve property maintenance. …