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As Troost Avenue changes, longtime residents say it's 'representative of Kansas City'

 Left to right: Joe Hile, Dee Evans, and Melissa Robinson discuss the state of Troost Avenue and the many communities that live along it during a remote broadcast of KCUR's Up To Date.
Zach Perez
KCUR 89.3
Dee Evans (left) and 3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson discuss Troost Avenue and the many communities that live along it during an on-site broadcast of KCUR's Up To Date.

Troost Avenue is known as Kansas City’s dividing line, long associated with the city’s history of racial segregation and slavery. But as new residents move in and more businesses open, the community balances optimism and fear of gentrification.

Kansas City's Troost Avenue is changing. So KCUR's Up to Date set up a table outside of Operation Breakthrough near 31st Street to hear from residents, community leaders, business owners and others about the neighborhood's progress and the work that still needs to be done.

"I remember the convenience store that I was banned from going to as a kid because of all of the crime and violence," said Melissa Robinson, who now represents Kansas City's 3rd District on the City Council.

Until the city provides true opportunities for people who need it most, Robinson said, Kansas City will continue to see homicides and violence. She recommended the city invest in education, workforce development and affordable housing.

"When we go out and we do canvassing after a homicide, we need to be doing canvassing every day about opportunities that are available that pull people out of poverty because that's the issue we have and that's what we need to focus on," Robinson said.

Dee Evans has also lived in the Beacon Hill neighborhood since she was a kid.

As blocks of Troost become gentrified, many residents are concerned the increase in property tax could push them out of the neighborhood.

"Those of us that have been there in this neighborhood as long as myself or others have seen our taxes go up about 400%, whereas in those new homes, they have a tax abatement," Evans said. "It's almost like we're paying their real estate taxes for them and that has caused a lot of dissension among those neighbors that have been there for so long."

Despite the presumption of crime, Jon Hile, director of impact at the Hall Family Foundation, has lived in the Longfellow neighborhood for more than 20 years.

"We appreciate the neighborhood. It's a great neighborhood and it's inclusive," Hile said. "It's representative of Kansas City."

The community's relationship with Kansas City's police department has been a challenge for decades.

Robinson, Evans and Hile all agreed that the relationship has improved under new Police Chief Stacey Graves.

But there were different views on changing Troost's street name to Truth. While Hile said he didn't think changing the street's name from that of a slaveholding physician was a top issue in the community, he believes the city needs to be intentional with who it brings to the table to make the decision.

Evans was opposed to the name change.

"I think we need for the next generation to know exactly what the history in Kansas City is, even if it's a street name," Evans said.

Amid the challenges and negative associations with Troost, non-profits and businesses such as Pawsperity and Equal Minded Cafe are shifting the culture to positive.

Pawsperity helps move people out poverty by becoming pet groomers, which is a high-demand, well-paying job. Equal-Minded Cafe owner Dontavious Young said he intentionally opened his coffee shop at 4327 Troost.

"We wanted to promote a space on Troost that brought together both sides of the lines east and west of Troost and to provide a space where everyone feels comfortable," Young said.

The non-profit Operation Breakthrough, meanwhile, has been at 31st and Troost since 1981. It serves more than 1,300 kids in the area with child care, education, career training and other resources to succeed.

Jeremiyah Bradley, currently a student at Lincoln College Prep High School, has been attending Operation Breakthrough since he was an infant. He said he is grateful for the life skills it's equipped him with.

Bradley said if there's one thing he wants to see in his community, it's more places like Operation Breakthrough.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As an assistant producer on Up To Date, my goal is to amplify voices of people who serve as pioneers in their respective fields while shedding light on issues that affect underserved communities. I produce daily conversations to uplift and inspire the people of the Kansas City area to make the world a better place. You can reach me at reginalddavid@kcur.org.
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