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The recent November 25th Kansas City Star story, “Who are you building it up for? Troost revitalization raises affordability concerns,” presents some differing local opinions on how to address an evolving urban district. Everything I have learned as an urban planner and community development professional leads me to believe that a productive conversation about gentrification can only exist if we are looking into the distant future for predictive data. If developers, investors and policy makers just look at the conditions today and compare them to a decade ago, they will indeed see a bourgeoning market along Troost Avenue. They will be able to celebrate this moment in time when economics and demographics begin to shift. They will say that values are still depressed, pro formas barely pencil out, and buildings being rehabbed have been vacant for decades, thus no one is being displaced. This is only the partial truth.
The debate about affordability, displacement and gentrification is not so dissimilar from our discourse on global warming. It is very difficult to initiate major policy overhauls and consumer behavioral changes when the air we breathe and the water we drink today appear to be normal. How out of touch we all seem to be when we refuse to make sacrifices in the present to preserve our natural resources for the future.
LISC and our KC-CUR collaborative partners are striving to support the revitalization of Troost so that a generation from now it is populated by a multi-cultural community that, in some meaningful proportion, is attached to the history of that area and benefits from the economic gains produced by rising real estate values and successful commerce. To accomplish that, housing constructed now needs to include income restrictions. The same type of programs that spur entrepreneurialism downtown and in more affluent suburbs should be applied to help steward local women and minority owned businesses on the east side of Kansas City. Equitable and inclusive investment strategies should enable the economic growth of the district so that wealth generated from transactions can be accessed by a broad constituency, especially those who have been denied that privilege for so many years.
I was recently asked to provide examples of revitalized neighborhoods around the country in which gentrification did not occur. These are very difficult to find because over time, as the traditional metrics for economic development success tick upwards, housing and jobs most often are catered to the population who can pay the highest price, attain the best degrees, and have the power to knock down doors. There are tens of thousands of Kansas Citians who may never meet these criteria. The 21st century Troost needs to be for them too.
Stephen Samuels, Executive Director
Greater Kansas City LISC
**Mural pictued above by Alexander Austin.
‘Who are you building it up for?’ Troost revitalization raises affordability concerns.