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Strawberry Hill Neighborhood Reflects Demographic Shifts In Kansas City, Kansas

Michelle Tyrene Johnson
KCUR 89.3
A quote dedicated to the immigrants that founded Strawberry Hill sits at the overlook of the St. John the Baptist Church

The next U.S. census will happen in 2020, and it promises to reveal shifting demographics and changing communities. One neighborhood to watch is Strawberry Hill, a vibrant Kansas City, Kansas community that has long been home to immigrants from around the globe. 

Strawberry Hill is just south of downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Early residents hailed from Europe, while the 21st century finds the neighborhood welcoming people with their roots in Latin America and other regions, as well as young people from a variety of backgrounds.

In 2010, the census counted about 2000 Strawberry Hill residents. The average age of a person living in the neighborhood was 43 years old, and homeowners comprised 48 percent of the population.

Credit Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Adrienne Nastov, of Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center, and Phyllis Hampton, of St. John the Baptist Church, say their community maintains its Croatian roots.

Adrienne Nastav, who runs the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center, has lived in the community for 51 years. She is of Polish descent and knows the appeal of the neighborhood better than most. Nastav says that even though the area has European roots all origins are respected and reflected.

“It’s an ethnic museum,” Nastav says. “And the fact that we not only have exhibits from Croatia, Poland, Slovenia, we also have exhibits from Africa, America, we have Mexico, we have Denmark, German, Italian--and so it all comes together here at the museum.”

Credit Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center is located at 720 N. 4th Street in Kansas City, Kansas next to the St. John the Baptist Church.

In late March, the U.S. Census Bureau delivered its planned questions for the 2020 Census to Congress. They include age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, citizenship and other questions.

The last census, in 2010, showed that Wyandotte County had a population of about 155,400. (Estimates from 2016 put the population at just under 162,000).

From 2010 to estimated 2016, the largest population shifts were:

  • Non-Hispanic White: 44.4 to 42 percent
  • Black or African American: 24.8 to 23.8 percent
  • Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 26.2 to 27.6 percent

A sign of the changes in Strawberry Hill can be found at one of the pillars of the Strawberry Hill community: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
As Phyllis Hampton, St. John’s church secretary, busily prepared for the Christian Holy Week, she reflected on the changes she too has seen over her thirty years working at the church.

“St. John the Baptist is a Croatian parish,” Hampton said. “Father Peter Jaramillo is Hispanic and he’s our pastor and he’s been with us now for about 8 years. Previously, we had five pastors here at the Croatian parish and they were all Croatian. So he’s the first pastor to not be Croatian.”

Vania Soto, an artist and muralist who is a Mexican-American, bought a house in Strawberry Hill more than a year ago and agrees the neighborhood is special.

“Oh man, it’s a melting pot, I can tell you that much. I since I’ve lived there have met Middle Eastern families, people from Russia, I have a lot of friends who are Mexican American that also live in the area, just a block away from me,” Soto says.

Soto, in addition to being a newcomer to the area, is also a homeowner. She thinks that as more businesses move in the area – such as the nearby old EPA building being taken over by the University of Kansas Health System – growth will continue.

“There’s a lot of movement in people coming over because they see the growth in the area. That’s really exciting. It’s what got me here,” Soto says.

Nastav and Hampton both see the shifts in community coming from young people like Soto. Nastav remembers that when I-70 took out a chunk of Strawberry Hill, some people moved away. But that’s changing.

“So that left a lot of homes open for the younger generation, and then they moved away and now they’re coming back again, the Croatian people, the younger generation, I would say it’s a more diverse neighborhood now,” Nastav says.

The growth and diversity of Strawberry Hill isn’t just about the residents, it’s reflected by the businesses in the area too. The draw is  affordable real estate and the proximity to downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

One new business that’s opened its doors is the Kansas City Cupcake Company Café. Owner Gregory Gant, who is black, has found a welcoming community.

Credit Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Cupcake Co. Cafe is a new business in Strawberry Hill.

“We happened to see someone on television talking about Kansas City, Kansas and their desire to have entrepreneurs come down to downtown Kansas City, Kansas, and so we took a drive out one Sunday and we happened upon this building and we thought we would inquire about it, it was affordable, something we could buy and so we decided to take a chance on this neighborhood,” Gant says.

One of the things Gant likes best about the location is the ever-present meld of history and new energy.

“We fortunately receive a lot of people whose families have been in this area for generations and they’ll come and they’ll tell us the history of this area and they’ll talk about some of the businesses that were in this very building over the years so it’s really been interesting,” Gant says.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a reporter at KCUR 89.3 and part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Kansas City, St. Louis, Hartford, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon. 

Michelle is a reporter covering race, identity and culture and is an assistant talk show producer.
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