October 23, 2017|By Ginny Moore| Cities

I’ve worked in the conservation field for a number of years, helping to conserve critical natural areas, primarily in rural settings. Growing up in the Iowa countryside, I would spend hours outdoors exploring the natural world around me. And now living in metropolitan Kansas City, Missouri, I enjoy the many beautiful parks and green space the metro has to offer. However, most of these parks are located in the more affluent areas, and sadly there are parts of the metro where nature is almost non-existent.

This is something I learned more about when I joined The Conservation Fund and became involved with our first Parks With Purpose project in Kansas City. Through a community-driven process focused on the environment, the local economy—and most importantly people—The Conservation Fund developed the Parks With Purpose program to develop urban green spaces that provide communities with safer places to play, cleaner air and water, habitat protection for wildlife, jobs and improved public health. This initiative, and really The Conservation Fund overall, recognizes that bringing nature to cities is every bit as important as preserving nature in the countryside. Protecting green space is the perfect way to knit together a city and the communities within it, and The Conservation Fund has already launched Parks With Purpose efforts in Atlanta, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

The Kansas City Park with Purpose is located in south-central Kansas City, Missouri, along Troost Avenue on a 12-acre site once home to a run-down strip shopping center. Troost Avenue is a major north/south thoroughfare through Kansas City that has historically been a racial dividing line in our city. Even today, housing stock west of Troost Ave is generally worth 30 percent or more than similar housing stock to the east.

10 23 Kansas City Park With Purpose Site Kansas City MO Zhivko Illeieff 26Troost Avenue borders the Marlborough neighborhood and has historically been a racial and economic dividing line in Kansas City. Photo by Zhivko Illeieff.

Located east of Troost at the intersection of 81st Street, the Kansas City site lies in the heart of the Marlborough community. This was once a booming place, with new housing developments, schools and a streetcar line to downtown. Today, however, Marlborough suffers from significant decline, spurred by segregation laws that divided the city, disadvantaging the predominantly African-American neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue. The five neighborhoods of Marlborough currently support a population of 9,856, with a median annual household income of $23,919. Chronic flooding, poor rental housing stock, trash dumping, crime and lack of a strong business base have distressed the community.

Despite these obstacles, positive change is gaining momentum. In 2013, the Marlborough Community Coalition completed its Catalyst Plan, which identifies and prioritizes improvements for Marlborough and lays out an action plan for implementation. Also, in the last decade the City of Kansas City has invested close to $70 million in storm water, street and sidewalk infrastructure in Marlborough, including raingardens, bioswales and large-scale storm water detention facilities that address major flooding and water quality issues in the community. In fact, the site of this park now boasts one of the city’s most unique storm water detention basins, designed to use native plants to help filter pollutants out of the water.

10 23 Kansas City Park With Purpose Community and Partners Kansas City MO Zhivko Illeieff 90I'm always excited to discuss the plans for our new park with Marlborough residents. Photo by Zhivko Illeieff.

With generous funding through The Conservation Fund’s partnership with U-Haul International, and working arm-in-arm with our partners Heartland Conservation Alliance, Marlborough Community Coalition (MCC), the City of Kansas City, and other local stakeholders, we are helping bring nature into Marlborough through the development of a public green space here at 81st and Troost. The Parks With Purpose contributions to the site will include a community gathering space, playground areas, an outdoor amphitheater, recreational opportunities and native gardens—all designed with extensive input from the Marlborough community.

10 23 Kansas City Park With Purpose Site Kansas City MO Zhivko Illeieff 18Concept plans for the park. Photo by Zhivko Illeieff.

The community has embraced “all things green.” With the addition of the city’s green storm water features, the community has branded itself as the place to go to enjoy outdoor activities, beautiful natural surroundings, and to learn about native plants and how they function to reduce flooding and make our water cleaner. MCC has purchased a couple of vacant lots and has constructed a lovely hydrangea garden in “downtown Marlborough.” Plans are in the works for a food forest in the community. Initial designs have been completed for a “complete street,” a lighted walking trail that will connect the 81st and Troost green space to downtown Marlborough and two other new urban green spaces in the area. The Conservation Fund and its partners are working with MCC on workforce development ideas for the community, as well as plans for long-term maintenance of green spaces within Marlborough.

The city is completing native plantings around the wetland detention basin at 81st and Troost this fall. Construction plans for the play area are complete, and a contractor will be hired soon to install the play equipment. Native landscaping and “nature nodes” will be constructed around the 12-acre site in early spring, with a final completion date of late spring/early summer. A dedication will be held in summer 2018 for the community to come out and enjoy the new green space.

10 23 Kansas City Park With Purpose Site Kansas City MO Zhivko Illeieff 32Construction has begun! Photo by Zhivko Illeieff.

For me, the most rewarding part of this effort is the friendships I’ve made with the people of Marlborough, folks that I never would have met otherwise in our divided community. I’m more convinced than ever of the value of bringing nature into the city— it makes a tangible difference in the lives of people and connects them with the numerous benefits nature provides. These things are at the core of The Conservation Fund’s dual mission of land conservation and economic revitalization.

I still love preserving incredible rural landscapes … I’m a country person at heart. But the experiences I’ve had working in urban Kansas City have provided me with new perspective and the chance to make a meaningful contribution to the community in which I live. It is my great hope that the 81st and Troost green space will become a crown jewel of Marlborough, attracting people from across the metro to come together and enjoy this beautiful place of nature and play right in the heart of the Kansas City.