Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fixing "Broken Windows" - Part 1

The "broken window" theory was first published in the March 1982 edition of Atlantic Monthly by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

Very simply, the theory says that, if a broken window in a vacant building is not repaired, it signals to everyone who passes by that no one cares about the building. More windows will get broken and the building may eventually be broken into and vandalized.

Or, if trash and debris accumulate on a sidewalk or vacant lot, it signals to everyone who passes by that no one cares about the area. More trash will accumulate and the area could become a dumping ground, an eyesore and a health hazard.

Any citizen that lives near "broken window" properties then suffers the negative effects of neglect and blight.

Heartland Habitat for Humanity volunteers clean weeds and debris
from the curb gutter in front of a new home
being built at Osage Avenue and South Valley Street.
(click any photo to see an enlarged version)
The "reverse" broken window theory says that if a broken window is repaired or a littered area is cleaned up, it signals that people really do care and the initial clean up effort spurs even more positive activity.

On June 14th, we began a summer long series of cleanup projects to demonstrate that we do give a darn about our neighborhoods in District 2 and that we are going to work hard to make them the absolute best they can be.

We picked three cleanup areas as "starters". Two were centered around elementary schools and the third was centered around the newly refurbished City View at St. Margaret's loft building. The areas are colored green in the map below. From top to bottom they were:
  • McKinley School / Waterway Park (11th to 14th Streets and Grandview Blvd. to Armstrong Ave.)
  • City View at St. Margaret's (Coy St. to Mill St. and Pacific Avenue to Gilmore Ave.)
  • John Fiske School (12th to 14th and Kansas Ave. to Osage Ave.)

Here's a map that shows the three cleanup areas in green.
I am blessed to have tremendous partners both in the community and in the Unified Government. As usual, a whole bunch of great people did the heavy lifting to make one of my crazy ideas a reality. At the risk of leaving someone out (hope I don't) here are the individuals and organizations that helped to plan and coordinate so that we could make magic happen.

  • Heartland Habitat for Humanity (Tom Lally, Joe Carignan, Brad Leech)
  • Community Housing of Wyandotte County (Donny Smith, Brennan Crawford, Steve Curtis, Claudia Uribe)
  • Central Avenue Betterment Association (Marty Thoennes)
  • Downtown Shareholders (Ed Linnebur)
  • St. Joe Watchdogs Neighborhood Group (Timothy Howe, Steve Kucharo)
  • Cathedral Neighborhood Association (Patty Orth)
  • Armourdale Renewal Association (Patty Dysart)
  • USD 500 (Dr. Evelyn Hill)
  • Community Policing (Sara Lopez, Ryan Parker and Jesus Casas)
  • Unified Government (Kirk Suther, Tim Nick)

With well over 100 volunteers scattered across the three sites, we picked up trash, pulled weeds, cleared vacant lots and scooped up debris from curb gutters and storm drains.

We had distributed flyers about the cleanup to every house in the three areas, so we had lots of local residents pitching in to help. For many, all it took was for us to demonstrate that folks really care about the local community and they jumped in and sweated right along with us. One older gentlemen actually got a little teary-eyed as he watched volunteers clear a vacant lot and an overgrown sidewalk next door to his house.

All together, we filled two-and-a-half dumpsters with "stuff" that was junking up the neighborhoods.

Fox4 news even stopped by to help tell the story of our volunteers' efforts. Click here to see a video of their news story.

Two of our youth volunteers made progress on a vacant lot.

We were back in two of the cleanup areas again yesterday (Saturday, June 21).

Habitat had another great crew cleaning up around a house they are building at the intersection of South Valley St. and Osage Avenue (just two blocks from John Fiske School).

A wonderful house is taking shape at South Valley and Osage.
Thanks to Heartland Habitat for Humanity and Procter & Gamble!!
Habitat for Humanity volunteers work some "curb magic"
on a vacant lot near 14th & Osage.
Habitat staff and volunteers pose for a group photo
before they break for lunch after working
on the house at Osage Avenue and South Valley St.

Meanwhile, I headed back to the Waterway Park area where there are quite a few abandoned and vacant lots. We made good headway on clearing parts of those lots and we planned out our next effort at that location.

Yes, the sidewalk that you see in the upper left of this photo
DOES continue under all the leaves and weeds.
The mud and muck was 6" deep in some spots,
but we got the sidewalk cleared to the point
that you can actually walk on it!!
We pulled weeds and scraped dirt and leaves from curb gutters.
Woohoo! Here's another curb that we "liberated" from grass and weeds.
Looking good.  :-)
Don't feel left out if we didn't include your neighborhood in Round 1 of our cleanups.  As they used to say on the Pinky & the Brain cartoon, we're going to try to "take over the world" this summer. Our plan is to apply the lessons we learned and build new cleanup efforts on top of what we've already done. Our goal is to slowly but surely polish all of District 2.  Stay tuned!  :-)

Have a great week!
~ Brian
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Bright New Day on Minnesota Avenue

Whenever I post historic pictures or postcards of Minnesota Avenue, I always get comments that it's a shame we don't have as much activity as we used to downtown. People tell me that they are sad to see so many vacant buildings and so many fewer people compared to years ago.

Thanks to the investment of a new community partner, two buildings in the 700 block of Minnesota Avenue will be completely renovated and will soon become home to dozens or even hundreds of new workers in our slowly re-growing downtown.

Loretto Properties, LLC is a Kansas City real estate company founded by Lamar Hunt, Jr. and James Arkell. Their motto, “Investing in Families by Investing in Communities” clearly expresses the belief of both men as they work to build up communities throughout the metro.

Both men recently spent some time in downtown KCK and saw enormous development possibilities with a new Transit Center and streetscape at 7th & Minnesota along with several structurally sound buildings that were vacant and ready for redevelopment.

Loretto Properties purchased the building at 730 Minnesota Avenue (where Katz Drug operated on the 1st floor when I was a kid) a couple of months back and has already started the redevelopment work inside that historic structure. They envision a coffee shop and maybe some other shops on the ground floor with state of the art offices above.

Although it housed Katz Drug on the 1st floor when I was a kid,
this building was built in 1910 as Wyandotte Masonic Lodge No. 3.
It had been vacant for years, and
the former owner was 10 years delinquent in paying property taxes.
Those taxes all got paid in full
when Loretto Properties bought the building.

At last Thursday's Unified Government Commission meeting, the Commission voted to approve an agreement in which Loretto would also purchase the "old" EPA building at 736 Minnesota from the UG and redevelop it as well. Between the two buildings, Loretto Properties has committed to spending at least $1.5 million on renovation. When Mr. Arkell presented the proposal to the Economic Development and Finance standing committee, he said that Loretto wants to make these buildings the model for what can be accomplished in urban redevelopment.

Just west of the old Wyandotte No. 3 building is a building that is called
the "old, old EPA building" around City Hall.
The EPA was headquartered here before they moved
to their (now abandoned) new building at 5th and Minnesota.
This building had been in the Unified Government's Land Bank
for the last several years.
When the new Transit Center opened at 7th and Minnesota almost a year ago, I lamented the fact that the wonderful new streetscape (street, curb, sidewalk, etc.) only extended west about half a block and then just stopped mid-street. The remainder of the block was not scheduled for upgrade until 2016.

However, thanks to the vision and commitment of the Unified Government Board of Commissioners, that streetscape will soon extend all the way to 8th Street and it will provide a beautiful path to the two historic buildings that are being renovated.

In recognition of the significant investment being made by Loretto Properties on Minnesota Avenue, the Commission agreed to accelerate the timetable for finishing the streetscape and moved the project up one year to 2015.

The beautiful new streetscape that was built
around the Transit Center at 7th and Minnesota...
...will now extend the rest of the block all the way to 8th Street!

Because of the large plate glass windows in the storefront along the sidewalk, the new owners of the building needed to build a plywood wall to keep everyone safe while they remodel. However, they didn't want to just put up raw plywood on Minnesota Avenue, so they contacted Community Housing of Wyandotte County and asked if community organizer Steve Curtis and his Art Squad could paint a mural on the plywood construction barrier.

(You may remember that the Art Squad was profiled on KCUR last September for painting murals to help combat graffiti).

The Art Squad showed up yesterday morning and, under the direction of Steve Curtis and Jamina Bone, they have executed a gorgeous mural on the plywood construction barrier.

The mural was a collaborative work between Jamina Bone...
...and Steve Curtis
Members of the "real" Art Squad worked hard
Monday and Tuesday to create the "downtown KCK" mural ...
... while future members of the Art Squad made the grass grow.

In another very cool twist to this story, Mr. Hunt and Mr. Arkell have said that, when the construction is finished and the plywood needs to come down, they are going to separate the mural into several sections and then auction those sections to raise money for the Art Squad and for A Cup On The Hill (Facebook) (web site) (Pitch article), Jamina Bone's new not-for-profit coffee shop that will set up operation on the first floor of the renovated building right next to the street.

It may not be 100% geographically correct,
but the mural is gorgeous and highlights
many downtown landmarks.
You can see the door for construction workers
where the sun meets the green hill.

It is absolutely energizing to talk with Mr. Arkell and hear both his passion and his vision for helping remake downtown KCK into a "destination location".

Many thanks to Loretto Properties for their partnership and for their investment in our future.

Lamar Hunt, Jr. spent some time this afternoon
talking with Amy Hawley of KSHB (Channel 41)
about his vision for redevelopment in KCK.
Click here to see Amy's story online.

Have a great week!
~ Brian
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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sporting KC Proposes Futsal Courts in Wyandotte County

Every year, soccer grows in popularity and participation in the United States.

You don't need to look any farther than the packed grandstands at Sporting Park or the thousands of kids on recreational fields every night and every weekend to know that this is true.

Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Several years ago, when Sporting KC were still the Wizards, they entered into a development agreement with the Unified Government to build Sporting Park at Village West.

Part of that agreement called for Sporting KC to build three full-size grass or turf soccer fields for recreational use in the eastern part of Wyandotte County.

Over the years, Sporting and the UG encountered several challenges in finding good locations for the full-size recreational fields, so Sporting KC recently presented an alternative proposal to convert unused tennis courts throughout the city into futsal courts.

For those unfamiliar with futsal, it's a fast-paced soccer game that is played by 5-person teams (4 field players and a goalkeeper) on a court that is much smaller than a regulation soccer field (small futsal courts are just about exactly the size of tennis courts). The courts can be located indoors or outdoors and they typically have a hard surface rather than grass or field turf.

This rooftop futsal court in Tokyo shows that the
smaller sized playing surfaces can be fit into lots of spaces
where a traditional field simply wouldn't work.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia
According to Wikipedia, "The surface, ball and rules create an emphasis on improvisation, creativity and technique as well as ball control and passing in small spaces."

The challenges that the UG and Sporting KC encountered in locating sites for full-size fields are the same challenges facing communities all over the country as the popularity of soccer grows. A recent article in the L.A. Times reported that, "the emphasis on futsal is expected to triple the number of places to play in the Los Angeles region, from about 15 to 45 during the next two years."

The article noted that most of those new courts will be constructed on surfaces that used to house tennis or volleyball courts.

As part of the MLS All-Star game activities in July 2013, Sporting Kansas City and MLS Works joined together to turn two abandoned tennis courts at Wyandotte High School into two brand new futsal courts.

These courts could serve as the prototype for the new courts that Sporting KC is proposing.

A soccer ball monument marks the courts
at Wyandotte High School.
Ready for play.

I learned to play tennis right here on this surface,
but that was (many... many) years ago
 and there wasn't much tennis played here in recent years.
However, the new futsal courts are busy every day!

Chain link "nets" stand up to the abuse
of hundreds of hard shots.

SportingKC's recent proposal calls for building eight futsal court complexes (one in each UG Commission District). Each court complex could have one or two courts (depending on how many tennis courts already exist for conversion).

After considering several possible sites in District 2, Sporting KC and the UG Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments decided that the tennis courts at Bethany Park (11th and Central) would be the best choices for conversion to futsal.

The Bethany Park tennis courts (yellow box) are located
at about 11th Street and Central Avenue.
Here's a photo of the tennis courts at Bethany Park as they look today.
There is not currently a net on either court,
so not much tennis is getting played.
Whether it's futsal or tennis, these courts needs some work...

Besides constructing the futsal courts, Sporting KC has also committed to programming that will include both instructional sessions and some league or tournament play.

Several people have told me they are disappointed that Sporting KC won't be constructing the full-sized regulation fields. However, given the reduced maintenance of futsal courts compared to grass or turf, and the fact that there will potentially be 16 individual courts at the eight sites across Wyandotte County, I think Sporting's new proposal is a winner when it comes to getting large numbers of our youth engaged in this exciting and fast-paced game.

The final details of the Sporting KC proposal (including confirmed sites for some of the courts) are still being ironed out. I'll post an update as soon as we get news.

Although this court is indoors, it gives you a perspective
of the close spacing of players on a futsal court.

Have a great week!

Friday, May 16, 2014

UG Applies for Federal Transportation Funding

Over the last century or so, we have built an impressive network of highways, roads, bridges and tunnels here in the United States.

This infrastructure has given us tremendous freedom to drive our cars and trucks just about anywhere we want to go.

But there are a couple of down sides to all that construction...

(1) It's tremendously expensive to maintain and improve all the transportation infrastructure we've already built (even as we continue to build more).

(2) The increasing number of cars and trucks on our streets and highways has contributed to a couple of unwanted problems:
  • traffic congestion can create bottlenecks and make travel frustrating and difficult.
  • engine emissions can increase pollution and decrease air quality, especially in larger urban areas.

Every year the Federal Government allocates federal tax dollars to fund local transportation projects across the United States that seek to fix or improve those two problems. These funds are primarily allocated through three different programs:
  • Surface Transportation Program (STP)
  • Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ)
  • Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)

Each program approaches the transportation puzzle and problems from a little different angle:

Surface Transportation Program (STP)
Supports projects to preserve and improve the conditions and performance on any Federal-aid highway, bridge and tunnel projects on any public road, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and transit capital projects, including intercity bus terminals.

Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ)
Supports projects and other related efforts that contribute to air quality improvements and provide congestion relief on roadways.

Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)
Supports projects that help increase transportation choices and access, enhance the built and natural environment and the transportation experience, and provide a sense of place.

In the Kansas City area, the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) is the designated "metropolitan planning organization" that collects and evaluates proposals from local governments to use funds from the various transportation programs.

This is a competitive grant process as there are many more potential projects than there are dollars to fund them.

One part of MARC's overall selection process is getting public input on the proposed projects. MARC is currently asking for public opinion for projects nominated by local governments in the metro. The Unified Government submitted 9 projects applications, (see list below).

I invite everyone to click the link below, learn more about the proposed projects and submit comments if you wish.

MARC Transportation Department - 2014 Call for Projects
(Instructions: Click above link; Sort by Organization; Select Unified Government; Select Project. A window showing a summary of the application will appear for your information. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to submit your input. You may provide comments to one or all of the projects).

Unified Government – List of Project Applications
  • Bus Route 107 – Southern Extension (CMAQ)
  • Bus Route 107 Bus Stop/Station Improvements (STP)
  • 12th & 10th Street Bikeway, Metropolitan to Quindaro (CMAQ & STP)
  • Central Ave and 18th Street Intersection (CMAQ & STP)
  • Leavenworth Road Modernization, 63rd to 38th (STP)
  • Minnesota Ave 9th to 5th (STP)
  • Safe Routes KCK Phase D: TE Edison, Midland Trail & Hazel Grove (TAP)
  • Safe Routes KCK Phase E: Rushton, White and Noble Prentis (TAP)
  • Safe Routes KCK Walking School Bus Expansion (TAP)

Have a great weekend!
~ Brian
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Monday, May 12, 2014

Celebrate National Bike Month with RevolveKCK

May is celebrated across the country as "National Bike Month". The month-long celebration is sponsored by The League of American Bicyclists.

According to the official National Bike Month web page, National Bike Month was established in 1956 and is "a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling — and encourage more folks to giving biking a try."

The web page continues, "Whether you bike to work or school; ride to save money or time; pump those pedals to preserve your health or the environment; or simply to explore your community, National Bike Month is an opportunity to celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride."

We are blessed here in Kansas City, Kansas to have two great non-profit organizations who make it their mission to empower young and old alike through the power of cycling. One of them is Revolve KCK and they are about to celebrate the one year anniversary of the opening of their KCK location at 554 Central Avenue.

And what better way to mark an anniversary than with a gigantic National Bike Month party and fundraiser?

Mark this Saturday (May 17, 2014) on your calendar and plan to join everyone at 554 Central starting at 2:00 p.m. for the RevolveKCK Bike Month Fundraiser with Trio Aztlan & Iron Sunshine!

I'm sure it will be a great time. Hope to see you there!
~ Brian
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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Bits and Bytes of "Open Data"

I attended a presentation at the Google Fiber Space about a week ago that touched on the concept of "open data". This is something we've been talking about quite a bit lately within the Unified Government.

Governments (whether local, state or national) generate, collect, store and analyze tons of data. Many tons of data.

This includes data on things like property values, zoning areas, business licenses, property taxes, sales taxes, budget income and expenditures, building code violations, bus routes and ridership, trash collection routes, streets plowed, crimes committed, fires fought and much, much, much more.

Some of that information (data) is written on paper and filed in drawers and cabinets in offices throughout all our buildings. Other data are stored on computer, but in a huge variety of locations and formats (word processing document, spreadsheet, database, PDF, etc.).

A good deal of that information (data) is "public". This means that any citizen can request to see a report on the data at any time.

Socrata is a company that creates and markets products for "opening" government and business data. In a recent email, they offered the following definition and explanation:

"Open Data is making available any and all data and information that could be acquired through a 'Freedom of Information' request.

"Forward-thinking governments have discovered that opening public data helps them to set smarter program goals, more accurately gauge performance, and improve citizen engagement.

"Whether through self-service apps for citizens, faster reporting, or more efficient data management, open data gives public-sector organizations the ability to automate processes that once consumed thousands of staff hours and millions of tax dollars."

The Sunlight Foundation is another organization dedicated to the concept of "open data". Their web site says:

"Most government information disclosure laws and systems currently in place, including right-to-know, freedom of information and public records laws, are vehicles for reactive disclosure. Reactive disclosure means that a question has to be asked before an answer is given and that public information must be requested before it is disclosed. Proactive disclosure is the opposite. Proactive disclosure is the release of public information before an individual requests it. In the 21st century that means proactively putting new information online, where people are looking for it." (emphasis added)

Aaahhh...putting data online. I'm a big computer nerd and a card carrying "data guy". I'm a *huge* proponent of open data as a step toward transparency and toward solving community challenges, but I worry that "opening" the government's mountain of data and proactively putting it online is going to be tougher (and more expensive) than it sounds.

For example, how do we store all our data in a way that will still be accessible and readable in a few years or a few decades? (How many of you thought you were storing family memories for a lifetime when you recorded them on Betamax video cassettes?)

Or, how expensive will it be to build the electronic computer networks that make data available online and on demand 24 / 7 / 365? When there is a real, physical infrastructure of streets, sidewalks and sewers that is decades old and falling apart, how many tax dollars should any government be spending to "proactively" put data online?

I don't have any answers, but I've certainly been giving this a lot of thought lately.

Besides the cost, even our best electronic infrastructure can be quite temperamental. All of the cool technology in the world is useless if there is a power outage or if a hardware or software bug breaks the connection between people and data.

For example, here's the message I got on my phone this morning when I pulled up the Transit app that is highlighted below.

D'oh! Everything cleared up quickly and I got my data after just a moment's delay, but it illustrates that it's not all rainbows and unicorns in "open data land" and we have a continuing challenge ahead of us to provide useful and reliable data to all of our stakeholders at the lowest possible cost.

Even though it's not yet centralized or in a common format, a lot of the data we collect in the Unified Government is already "open" and available to citizens. Our staff are working on a webpage that collects all the links to our various online databases and resources. In the meantime, here is a listing of some of the more commonly accessed data sites within the UG.


According to the opening page of the web site:
"DotMaps is an interactive Web map service covering Wyandotte County, Kansas (which includes the cities of Kansas City, Kansas, Bonner Springs, Edwardsville, and City of Lake Quivira).

"DotMaps is your information guide to geographic features like real estate parcels, streets, landmarks, rivers, streams, etc."

Here's a screenshot of DotMaps showing the various
real estate "parcels" around City Hall.
Parcels is just one of many overlays that can be displayed on a map.

LANDS WEB ~ Real Estate Search

According to the opening page of this web site:
"This new Web-Access site will provide Wyandotte County Real Estate Tax Roll and Appraisal Information on the following inquiries:
  • Parcel, Address (All Users) & Ownership (Subscribers Only)
  • Taxes & Special Assessments
  • Property Descriptions and Values
  • Levies & Tax Districts
  • Residential Property Characteristics"
The opening screen of LANDS WEB
has explanations of what data is available
and how to access the database.
Here's a sample report on one "parcel" of land.
This happens to be City Hall, but every other parcel
in Wyandotte County is included in the database.

Neighborhood Resource Center

This web site gives citizens access to a ton of data collected and stored by the Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC). This includes:
  • General Information (property information)
  • Code Enforcement (search for a code case)
  • Planning (search for a petition, plat submittal or plan review)
  • Building Permits (search for a building permit)
  • License (search for a business or rental license)
Here's the opening screen of the
Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC) data portal.
Although there is a Login box on the right,
you don't currently need to log in to get information.


This database isn't maintained by the Unified Government, but pulls data from local Police Departments (all jurisdictions).

According to Wikipedia, " is a Baltimore-based company founded in October 2007 and privately owned by ReportSee, Inc. It provides nationwide crime information about arrests, arsons, assaults, burglaries, robberies, shootings, thefts and vandalisms, on a Google map."

The reports are interesting, but are generally a week or two behind the current date. There are also apps for iOS and Android portable devices.

This map displays several days of police report data
around City Hall.

Transit (app)

Here's a "third party" app that pulls freely available "open data" about transit schedules (busses, trains, etc.), then organizes and presents it in a useful way for transit riders. Transit currently works in 63 U.S. cities (including busses in the Kansas City metro area).

Until next time, have a great week!
~ Brian
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