By Megan McConville
Last time I visited Kansas City, Missouri, my host took me to the Green Impact Zone, a 150 square block area that has experienced severe economic decline. During our visit we also met with community leaders, local and regional policymakers, and federal partners who are working collaboratively to transform the area. We saw the challenges facing the neighborhood—the vacant structures, run-down housing, and dilapidated streets—but we also saw improvements to the Troost Avenue Bridge that accommodate pedestrians and buses, heard about home weatherization projects, and learned about the Neighborhood Leadership Committee, the Community Leadership training program, and other community engagement efforts.
Since then, Green Impact Zone leaders have begun redevelopment projects that will turn vacant buildings into affordable housing, small businesses, and community facilities; train unemployed residents to find jobs; improv sidewalks throughout the neighborhood; and much more.
The Green Impact Zone is just one of many innovative efforts I’ll learn about when I return to Kansas City February 6-9, 2013 for the 12th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. Last year’s conference had over 1,500 attendees, including environmental justice leaders from across the United States. The premiere smart growth conference in the U.S., New Partners explores all aspects of the field, from community revitalization, affordable housing, and small town livability to green building, health, and climate change adaptation.
The afternoon of February 6, I’ll attend a workshop titled Sustainable Neighborhoods, Thriving Residents: Strategies for Building Equitable Communities, which will explore how low-income, minority, tribal, and overburdened communities are integrating land use and economic development strategies to revitalize their neighborhoods and build residents’ skills and wealth. Leaders from community organizations, governments, and businesses will share how they are knitting together planning, infrastructure investment, development policies, workforce training, business assistance, and other approaches to improve the physical environment, create jobs, avoid displacement, and encourage inclusive economic growth.
As the conference continues, the agenda is packed with environmental justice and equitable development-focused events (PDF), such as sessions on green zones, cleaning up freight projects, fair housing, and engaging industrial neighbors in smart growth projects. And, there are networking opportunities for people interested in regional equity and public health, and tours of diverse Kansas City neighborhoods.
The registration deadline for the conference is coming up on January 18, so make sure to sign up before it’s too late. I’ll be there and I hope to see you there too!
About the author: Megan McConville is a Policy & Planning Fellow in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She explores how overburdened communities can combine smart growth and environmental justice strategies to improve their neighborhoods, health, and quality of life.