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Between Kansas City's Troost And Prospect, Neighbors See A Green Future

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Brenda Thomas pestered the city to repair this fountain at 79th Street and Paseo Boulevard; it led to a decade-long commitment to the neighborhood organization. She just stepped down as Marlborough Coalition's president.

High poverty rates, aging infrastructure and vacant homes.

These are problems that commonly occur together and that discourage community revitilization.

The Marlborough Community Coalition in south Kansas City, five neighborhoods come together as one, is trying to do things differently. Residents there would like to see their neighborhoods roughly between Gregory Boulevard to 85th Street, Troost Avenue to Prospect Avenue, to once again be socially and economically viable.

They're beginning to see some change with the help of massive public and private investments, passionate leadership and community engagement.

Green infrastructure project

An expansive 10-acre green space rolls gently down a hill on the east side of Troost at 82nd Street, just north of a dollar store.

On a recent sunny afternoon, a young woman walks a concrete path along the outer edge. Stormwater runoff has filled a lovely little reservoir to be treated later.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The green infrastructure project at 81st and Troost will feature terraced rock walls, leisure and educational amenities and flood control by the time it's done in 2020.

Neighborhood leaders in Marlborough see this yet-unfinished project called Target Greenas the “crown jewel” of revitalization efforts in the area.

Brenda Thomas recently stepped down as president of the Marlborough Community Coalition after a decade of involvement. 

"This is where everybody (comes,) you’ll see it now that it's warm," she says. "People will walk and talk, perch and watch people."

This evolving greenspace, she says, is part of a $50 million investment by Kansas City, Missouri, in green infrastructure to update the city’s sewer system and control flooding.

It’s part of a federal mandate to ensure Kansas City is in compliance with federal clean water requirements. The reservoir is designed to catch and treat rainwater runoff. Porous sidewalks that extend from Troost  Avenue through to Paseo Boulevard will absorb excess rain.

Thomas says many residents have rain gardens and have bene encouraged to plant food or flowers.

She has two of her own.

"A lot of neighbors decided they would disconnect their gutters from going straight down into the ground and get them connected to rain barrels so that they could water their gardens," she says.

5th District city council member Alissia Canady says the green infrastructure project has had multiple benefits above and below ground. 1,500 water mains have been replaced. 400 trees have been planted and the community has received more than 2,000 trash and recycling bins.

The green infrastructure project is the first of its kind in the country and has won national awards.

Broader revitilization efforts

Marlborough is addressing other issues as well.

Neighborhood leaders have worked with legal aidand local law firmsto reduce vacant and abandoned homes.

There are plans to convert two old schools, Marlborough Elementary and Robeson Middle - into housing units and a recreation complex.

A charter school,Academy for Integrated Arts, opened in 2016 in the old King Louie East Bowling Alley at 79th Street and Troost Avenue.

And efforts to recreate a downtown district in Marlborough have attracted a limited number of businesses, a barber shop, an auto mechanic, but it's been tough.

In the mid-20th century, “Marlborough Village," around 80th and Paseo, was a vital downtown. There was a diner, a theater, two grocery stores and a drug store among other amenities. At that time, the neighborhood was mostly white.

Canady says it's time for downtown Marlborough to come back.

"18th and Vine has its own business district, Crossroadshas theirs," she says. "I think you just hadn’t heard (downtown Marlborough) being discussed. But it is, and once was ... a great economic center."

Are people coming back for good?

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Neighborhood kids live and play next to Arleta Park, one of Marlborough's green infrastructure elements.

A bunch of kids play tag on a side street around Arleta Park at 77th and Prospect. On one end, backhoes and bull dozers rested by a playground and basketball court, indicating construction is ongoing.

A sunken garden was designed for storm drainage and is planted today with flood resistant grasses and shrubs.

16-year-old Central High sophomore Cris Ferrer was watching his younger cousins play.

"It's been nice growing up over here," he says. "I've met a lot of people, see ‘em all the time when I come and hoop, so I like this community."

A healing park

At 80th Street and Paseo Boulevard, workers are pounding stakes in the ground to finish a small grass plaza with a concrete circle in the middle.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Marlborough leaders hope Hydrangea Park will be a quiet place for residents to come together, hear one another perform or have a meal.

"So this was to ... be a communal space, so we came up with the idea of Hydrangea Garden," Brenda Thomas says.

The scent of blooming lilacs is in the air and hydrangeas have started to bud. Soon benches will surround the circle in the middle and allow visitors to have a quiet lunch, hear a poetry reading or spoken word performance.

The garden was mostly grant-funded, but Thomas says volunteers donated hundreds of hours clearing trash and overgrown brush.

33-year-old Chris McMurray was born and raised in Marlborough. Much of his family still lives here. He recently bought one of the two dozen or so vacant housesin the community, rehabbed it and moved in.  Now he's buying another one for an office.

"I actually just bought this building here," he says, "next door to my uncle's building. I'm going to make it my office downstairs and then I'll probably rent the upstairs ... sometime later."

Advocates would like to see this small strip of Paseo become the heart of Marlborough. Hydrangea Park, Thomas says, would be it's living, restorative center.

"A nice clearing space where it’s just calm," she says. "Yes, you may hear the sirens. Maybe you're going to hear at night the gunshots, but the whole purpose is to bring a different environment where they can say, 'ahhh', and just breathe, just breathe."

And, Thomas goes on, have the same quality of life everyone expects.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. You can reach her via email at lauraz@kcur.org or via twitter @laurazig.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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