After years and years of focus on westward development in Wyandotte County, Mayor David Alvey announced a new eastern focus in his first State of the Government Address. His plan for growing Wyandotte County economically is to begin with improving traditional neighborhoods, and he identified one of the City’s eastern most neighborhoods as his initial target.
“We must attend more closely to our traditional neighborhoods, because our neighbors deserve a better quality of life and because only by improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods will we grow our tax base,” declared Alvey.
During the annual State of the Government Address, the Mayor sets the Administration’s agenda and outlines broad-brush goals for the upcoming year. Mayor Alvey used the address to introduce his new initiative “From Our Neighborhoods Up.”
The basic theory is to use incremental steps to clean-up neighborhoods, build on vacant lots and improve services to keep established residents and attract new ones. Building new homes on just 10% of the vacant residential lots in older KCK neighborhoods would result in 640 new homes and increase the tax base by an estimated $96-million. Growing the tax base will allow for individual taxes to be further reduced for all residents.
“We can unlock the potential of neighborhoods. We must build a great community from the neighborhoods up. We need to do what good neighbors have always done: do small things and do them well,” said Alvey.
The Mayor said some things can be as simple as engaging with neighbors, beautifying blocks by picking up trash, clearing overgrown brush and planting flowers. He also wants to improve lighting and make streets more walkable.
Alvey marked downtown KCK and Strawberry Hill as offering unique opportunities for improvement. The area is bordered by Freeman Avenue on the north, Central Avenue on the south, I-70 on the east and 7th Street on the west. Alvey says the area already has many thriving businesses and government offices with room for a lot more development.
The most recent enterprise coming to the area is the University of Kansas Health System which plans to move hundreds of patients and staff into the long empty EPA building. It will be called the University of Kansas Health System Strawberry Hill Campus.
Among several organizations Mayor Alvey identified as inspirational as well as a resource to his initiative is strongtowns.org. Strong Towns organizers push rebuilding older, poorer areas of cities versus suburban areas, as a best approach to rebuilding cities.
In their report, “Poor Neighborhoods Make the Best Investment,” the strongcities.org team identifies reinvestment in poorer communities as, “a low risk, high return strategy.”
“We’re not talking about taking $50,000 homes and making them into $250,000 homes. Those kind of projects are hit-and-miss risky and not really scalable anyway. What we’re really talking about is taking a neighborhood of $50,000 homes and making them $55,000 homes. That’s a …. real gain — not an illusion — that is more likely to persist than some kind of one-off project. And it’s repeatable. ….this is also how you avoid displacement (gentrification) and ensure that the gains in wealth actually go to the poor who are responsible for it.” Strongtowns.org
So don’t look for a lot big projects from Alvey’s new initiative, instead look for small changes that combined will bring about big change and improvement in the quality of life for the neighborhood residents to the city’s core neighborhoods. “incremental projects, each building on observed needs and past successes.”
You can find more detailed information about the initiative and the theory behind the “Neighborhoods Up” approach can be found online at www.wycokck.org, and provides a report on the progress of the goals that were set the previous year.
The mayor made these comments during the State of the Government Address, an annual event hosted by the Kansas City, KS Rotary Club. The Mayor/CEO of the Unified Government delivers an address to residents, UG staff, the business and civic community about the state of local government is calling for a better quality of life for KCK residents and increased economic growth by improving traditional neighborhoods in the city. Alvey made the remarks during his first State of the Government Address. Alvey became Mayor in January. The new initiative is called, “From Our Neighborhoods Up.”community for decades. Public officials everywhere are desperately seeking an alternative.
Neighborhoods First; A low risk, high return strategy for a better Brainerd is an example of how a community can grow stronger by making small, incremental investments over time. By observing how neighbors live their lives, by asking them where their daily struggles are, by getting out on the street and discovering what is actually going on, any local government can discern what their community’s pressing needs are. These projects are the high return investments and they are all around us.
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A portfolio of, is the basis of a solid, long term investment strategy for communities of any size. It is an approach that fits into every budget. It will empower a local government to move beyond the lack of ownership and control that comes with traditional grant programs. And most importantly, you can get started right now.
We see this trend everywhere we’ve done a model. On a per acre basis, neighborhoods that tend to be poor also tend to pay more taxes and cost less to provide services to than their more affluent counterparts.
Second, it won’t take much to see consistently large returns. In these poor neighborhoods, we’re not talking about taking $50,000 homes and making them into $250,000 homes. Those kind of projects are hit-and-miss risky and not really scalable anyway. What we’re really talking about is taking a neighborhood of $50,000 homes and making them $55,000 homes. That’s a solid 10% increase in the tax base. It’s wealth that is shared throughout the neighborhood. It’s a real gain — not an illusion — that is more likely to persist than some kind of one-off project. And it’s repeatable. We can nurture 3-5% annual returns out of these depressed neighborhoods for a long, long time. (And, by the way, one quick diversion from dollars and cents….this is also how you avoid displacement and ensure that the gains in wealth actually go to the poor who are responsible for it.)
Finally, the type of investments that these neighborhoods need in order to experience consistent 3-5% returns over time are very small and low risk. We’re talking about things like putting in street trees, painting crosswalks, patching sidewalks, and making changes to zoning regulations to provide more flexibility for neighborhood businesses, accessory apartments and parking. If we try some things and they don’t work, we don’t lose much because they don’t cost much. We learn from our small failures and try something else. This is the approach we described in our Neighborhoods First report, a way of building we’ve now seen repeated in cities like Austin, Memphis and Pittsburgh. We also shared some other ideas last week in Five Low Cost Ideas to Make Your City Wealthier.
American cities can make low risk, high returning investments while improving the quality of life for people, particularly those who have not benefited from the current approach. That is the essence of a prudent, Strong Towns approach. It’s critical we get started now because we need strong cities if we are to have a truly strong America.