On a cold January day at 39th Street and Prospect, an elderly black man shuffles between cars at the traffic light. He gets through the intersection and then moves from one vacant lot to another, intent on bumming a smoke from a friend who has just secured a pack from Cigarette Depot. The store is the only building on this corner.
A few minutes away, at the corner of 51st Street and Swope Parkway, a "We Buy Homes" sign flutters against its staples on a telephone pole. Staring back at it is a shuttered gas station.
Gleaming rows of bicycles are for sale 12 blocks to the west. Revolve KC, a nonprofit bike shop, has repurposed a dilapidated garage that had been a rotten tooth nagging the neighborhood around the University of Missouri–Kansas City.
Twelve blocks north, a few men adjust winter hats and rub their hands to keep warm as they line the concrete benches outside MetroCenter and wait for the Troost MAX. None glances toward "Unite," the 20-foot-tall, publicly funded sculpture that towers over the intersection.
These are the four corners bordering the Green Impact Zone, an area united by the promise of transformation for the long-neglected neighborhoods of Troostwood, Manheim Park, Blue Hills, Town Fork Creek and Ivanhoe. Next month marks four years since U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver first put forth his plan to leverage federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to attract investment to a 150-block area in KC's urban core. The idea was simple: better housing and better streets, built with green-energy sustainability in mind.
The execution hasn't been quite so simple.
With the remaining federal stimulus dollars slated to be spent by August, the next infusion of capital has yet to be identified for the Green Impact Zone. The initial focus on creating green jobs has shifted toward a focus on large-scale development intended to secure future public and private investment on the East Side.
Construction and infrastructure projects dot the landscape within the zone. The Troost Avenue bridge has been built, the Troost MAX rapid bus transit service is running, and sidewalk and traffic-light improvements are scheduled for this spring. But the Green Impact Zone is at a pivotal moment. Three employees were set to be laid off at the end of January, trimming the staff to four people. And city officials have made it clear that the $550,000 approved earlier this month for personnel and operational costs is the last of the municipal cash.
"It's an infusion, not a lifeline," says Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo. "There has to be a game plan to remove yourself from that city support."
It's unclear whether such a plan can come together soon for an area of the city that's all too familiar with broken promises.
The requests don't stop coming into Margaret May's corner office, on the second floor of the Nutter Ivanhoe Neighborhood Center at 3700 Woodland.
On a recent Friday, a young man wants to talk to her about a job. A middle-aged man is hoping to get a neighborhood-association sweatshirt to wear for President Barack Obama's inauguration. But this is May's job. She's the executive director of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, the only neighborhood within the Green Impact Zone that has a paid staff.
She recalls when the Green Impact Zone was taking shape in a conference room at the downtown offices of the Mid-America Regional Council in April 2009.
"I remember everybody was at MARC to see what piece of the pie they could get," May says. "The first meeting, there were maybe 18 to 20 people in the room. But by the third meeting, it was standing room only."