Saving Kansas City, One (Green) Step at a Time

By Barbara Grady 5-27-2009

Troost Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri, has been dividing rich and poor, black and white, jobless and employed in this city since the days of Jim Crow when it was a legal line of segregation. Today the neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue still bear the marks of disenfranchisement: abandoned homes, an unemployment rate that's as high as 53 percent in some census tracts, and gun violence that takes many young lives. But soon, this area could be a center of green jobs, retrofitted energy-efficient homes, a green transportation system, and hopeful residents if Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver's plans for using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding come to full fruition.

U.S. Rep. Cleaver, D-Missouri, has developed an ambitious plan for a "Green Impact Zone" to be established in a 150-block area east of Troost Avenue. He convinced the Kansas City Council to vote 13 to 0 to allocate millions of dollars of ARRA money and considerable city effort to this part of the city. And he's rallied dozens of community organizations, residents, and even businesses to work on making it happen. Now Cleaver's office and the team from the community are submitting applications to numerous Recovery Act programs, supplementing work that's already begun to bring a greener, healthier environment to this area and jobs to its residents.

At the heart of the plan for the Green Impact Zone is a massive home weatherization project that would put area residents to work conducting energy audits and weatherizing the 2,500 homes in the Zone neighborhoods.

"People would like to have those jobs," said resident Jim Moore, pastor of tiny Olive Street Wesleyan Church, whose congregation of 15 people includes only four who currently work. "One of the biggest needs here is jobs that provide basic needs like clothing, shelter, and transportation -- all of that is lacking," continued Moore, who lost his day job as a computer programmer a couple years ago.

Another key piece of the Green Impact Zone plan is developing a green bus rapid transit system that would use bio-diesel buses and green bus shelters. A third piece is developing a job training and employment program for ex-parolees in green building, park restoration, and transit work. The list goes on and on.

Planning is still in the early stages and many stars must align for the goals of the Green Impact Zone to be realized. Skeptics exist. But Cleaver and many community activists view the Recovery Act as the best opportunity to come along in decades to turn around long neglected neighborhoods. Cleaver estimates that $200 million could be invested in the 150-block area if all goes well.

"With job training, neighborhood stabilization, and infrastructure investments targeted here, 'green' is no longer an academic concept for someone else - it becomes a means to change peoples lives right here in our urban core," Congressman Cleaver said to his constituents in a recent blog post.

People involved in the Green Impact zone planning as well as critics on the outside say the Zone will have its intended effect only if local neighborhood groups commit to its success.

"The focus of the Green Impact Zone now is three things: weatherization, housing rehabilitation, and employment. But there is a whole host of other programs that have to be initiated to make this last or have a long-term affect," said Dean Katerndahl, director of the government interventions forum at the Mid-America Regional Council. "This is only going to work if the neighborhood groups and community organizations are really behind it and willing to run it," he said.

Kansas City's Green Impact Zone is just one of many efforts in communities across the country to translate Recovery Act funds into local green jobs and economic renewal.

Learn more about local efforts to bring home a green recovery for all, or take action: Write a letter to your local newspaper editor. Tell your local paper, and the people who read it, that local officials need to implement a green recovery for all.

Barbara Grady is a journalist who has worked for the Oakland Tribune and Reuters News Service. She currently writes articles and profiles from the green-collar economy for Green For All. Green For All is a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans through a clean energy economy. Learn more at, or read a profile on Green for All from Sojourners' special May issue on the green economy.

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