Few neighborhoods in Kansas City. Mo., have faced as many problems as the Ivanhoe neighborhood in the city's urban core.
Crime, drug houses, frequent vacancy, and trash buildup have plagued the area for decades, but neighborhood residents have been working towards change.
Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council Executive Director Margaret May has worked in the neighborhood since 2001, and has seen it blossom as residents like Ida Dockery take ownership and responsibility for cleaning it up.
Two weeks ago, May hosted a KCUR community listening session in the Ivanhoe neighborhood, part of our Beyond Our Borders project that takes a look at how geographical boundaries affect Kansas Citians.
During the session, May and more than 20 Ivanhoe residents shared the issues that matter to their community. We invited May and Dockery to speak on the air about the group’s concerns. Here’s a recap of her interview Thursday with Central Standard's Gina Kaufmann:
On how Ivanhoe residents started to change the image of the neighborhood
May: In the 1990s, Ivanhoe, like many inner-city neighborhoods, was really a bad place. People were afraid to come out of their houses and sit on their front porches at that time. Crime was running rampant, [there were] drug houses everyplace. Towards the end of the 90s, the Young family decided to fight six drug houses on their block. They were successful in having a prayer vigil. And almost overnight succeeded in having those houses closed.
We had the highest crime rate in the whole city — trash and litter everyplace ... illegal dumping everyplace. It was just not a good thing. And people cared who lived there, but things were so bad, they were afraid to come out of their homes. That small, courageous group that began this process is really to be applauded, because if it hadn't been for their strong vision and will ... we would certainly not be where we are today.
On how block meetings started to get more residents involved
Dockery: In 1981-82, the blocks had already started organizing themselves. [At the time] I was busy with taking my kids to school, and I decided I did not need to attend the meetings. But eventually I did, because I heard that someone was stealing tags off of cars at night. So I thought, "Well since they're doing these things, I need to attend the meetings and see what's going on in the neighborhoods."
They talked about how to stay safe in case things got rough, because people kept moving in and moving out [of the neighborhood]. In some cases you just didn't know who was moving in and who was moving out.
Mrs. Dockery on why she voluntarily picks up trash in the neighborhood
Dockery: One of my neighbors and I decided a few years ago that, from 39th to 43rd, we would pick up all the trash on Euclid Street. The first round, we picked up 15 bags of trash just between those blocks. After then, picking up trash once a month got a little easier because we just didn't have as much trash.
Now, we've cut it down to just our block and we try encourage people to pick up their own trash. Even going around then, I would always give people my name and say, "Please help us keep this city clean, it would help if you just don't throw trash down. Even if you don't care to pick it up, just don't throw it down."
I've always felt that I have to lead by example. I don't mind picking up trash, even though I didn't throw it down. Maybe eventually people would learn that it isn't a good thing to do. I always told people, "This is our city, we must learn to keep our city, our neighborhood, our community clean." If we don't do it, who's going to do it for us?
On the housing potential that exists in the area
May: We recognize that the vacancy rate in Ivanhoe is our greatest challenge at the moment. We are going to be building some new housing on the 3800 block of Euclid. We're building some duplexes, and construction will begin soon. On the 3800 block of Garfield, we've received approval from the Missouri Housing Development Commission for some one-story senior cottages.
We also are working with several developers that are acquiring and rehabbing vacant houses. We have some good, strong housing stock in Ivanhoe that is currently vacant - houses that can be rehabbed. We have a few that need to be torn down, but we have plans to try to accomplish those things within the next three to five years.
On what it's been like working with Ivanhoe residents
May: It's been quite an adventure. Mrs. Dockery is a good example of the people in Ivanhoe, and how they care about the neighborhood. [They have a] vision and willingness to do what needs to be done to the maximum extent. They do what they can do.
I work for them, and it's my job to try to help move along this path that they have started.