Community members and civic leaders gathered Saturday for the 9th annual Urban Summit at the Kansas City Police East Patrol Station to talk about how to revitalize the Prospect corridor and strengthen the city's urban core.
Organizers say the summit's goal each year is to turn community frustration into a plan of action by sharing ideas, initiatives and resources. Rev. Eric Williams opened the event by addressing some of those frustrations.
He told the crowd that issues like proper nutrition are just as important as more publicized problems with violence. He pointed out that fast food drive-thrus are more damaging to the community than drive-by shootings.
"Drive by’s are not good. We ought to be angry about that, but we ought to be just as angry about the fact that we have food deserts in our community," Williams said.
Attendees expressed their dissatisfaction about publicly-financed development projects downtown and in the Crossroads, while areas on the city's east side remain blighted.
But no matter how angry the community is, Williams stressed that the solution is not violence.
"The solution is investing. It's power, wealth and education," he said.
Ajamu Webster, president of civil engineering firm DuBios Consultants, encouraged people to empower black businesses by shopping at African American-owned stores and putting their money in black credit unions and banks.
"Pooling our resources together through banking at our own bank and spending dollars at our own businesses are two very effective ways of recapturing our markets and building wealth and economic power in our community," he said.
Several panelists shared ideas on how to revitalize the Prospect corridor. Third district councilman Quinton Lucas said residents need to be involved in the planning process for development.
"The first thing we have to to in terms of reinvigorating Prospect is to make sure that people who are there, people who have businesses and people who are close to there get to remain. What I don’t want to see the future for the 3rd and 5th [Council] districts be is that everybody who’s been there for generations has just moved out," Lucas said.
He added that often, Kansas City is too comfortable with gentrification.
Other speakers criticized Kansas City's Dollar Home initiative, saying that even the $1 homes are out of reach for people living in the blighted neighborhoods where the houses are located.
Most residents, they said, may be able to put down $1 for purchase but then can't make the investments needed to rehabilitate the properties in order to get a $8,500 rebate. In addition, they complained that banks often won't loan against such risky properties.
Dr. Jacob Wagner is the director and founder of the Center for Neighborhoods at UMKC's department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design. He said too often, residents of blighted areas are not consulted about development initiatives in their neighborhoods.
"The dollar house example of casting out whatever leftovers you have from a failed housing market and saying, 'Good luck, here's a dollar,' and not even going to the neighborhoods first to say, 'What is your plan for the houses in your neighborhood?' That's a failed process," he said.
Wagner said that residents must have a clear vision of what they want for their community so development benefits them, rather than leaving them out.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter with KCUR. She also helps produce KCUR's weekday talk show Up to Date.