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"Enough is enough of taking things out of the 'hood and putting everything else in parts of the city with money," Riley says. She was disgusted when a new $8 million aquatics center called the Springs opened at Tiffany Springs Park, north of the river, in 2006. The center, built through a partnership between Platte County and Kansas City's Department of Parks and Recreation, boasts a "lazy river" feature, two water slides, a pool for swim competitions and a sprayground.
But the city can't fill a measly wading pool at 23rd Street and Kensington?
Joyce Riley threatened to camp out in the mayor's office until the city found money to keep the pools filled. In the end, the Finance and Audit Committee of the City Council eked out a compromise in March that allowed all three pools to stay open.
Mark Bowland, the central regional manager for Kansas City's Parks and Recreation Department, regularly attends the 23rd Street Political Action Committee's monthly meetings. The PAC's members let him know that they wanted to see some resources poured into their ailing parks. City and parks staff know better than to ignore the Rileys, who don't hesitate to use attention-getting tactics. In May, Rachel Riley organized a three-day campout on City Hall's front lawn to protest Kansas City's homicide rate.
Still, Riley was as surprised as anyone when efforts for the parks produced results. "What we asked for, we got," she says. "It's been a beautiful thing."
Over the past two years, Ashland Square Park has seen $85,000 in improvements: revamped tennis courts, new lighting, sidewalks where pavement was lacking. More is on the way this year: a baseball diamond and benches on newly graded land. Riley has noticed the addition of 56 new trees.
Ashland Square and Chelsea Park each received a new playground in 2007, funded through PIAC dollars. Around that same time, 17 additional playgrounds were installed, mostly in the 3rd and 5th districts, as part of Parks and Recreation's $1.2. million Playground Replacement Program, which is funded by general obligation bonds approved by voters in 2004. Lampone expects another 18 playgrounds to go in soon..
Still feeling stung by Cauthen's attempt to drain Ashland Square's pools, Riley demanded that Cauthen see for himself the blight that plagues the city in a swath from 15th Street and Truman to 35th Street and Brooklyn. He accepted the offer, picking up Riley and four other PAC members in his personal vehicle for the drive.
The PAC's next goal is a new community center.
Seeing kids splashing in Ashland's pools makes Joyce Riley smile. "My mother calls it 'little South Africa,'" Riley says. "Thank God it's saved."
Once Bitten: Deb Hipp and Carmen Root
When Deb Hipp showed up at Carmen Root's door three years ago with fliers proposing a leash-free zone for dogs in Waldo's Sunnyside Park, Root thought the idea made perfect sense. Hipp and her group, the Well-Organized Off-leash Friends (WOOF), drafted plans for a three-acre, fenced-in area on the eastern side of Sunnyside Park at 83rd Street and Summit. Local architect Jeremy Schlicher came up with the environmentally friendly design for the group for free. WOOF drew 120 people to its first meeting in November 2006.
On the advice of politically savvy friends, Hipp learned that she should go door-to-door in her neighborhood, gathering signatures in favor of a dog park in order to prove that her idea had support. Hipp got 676 signatures out of 1,300 homes listed on the Here's Waldo Neighborhood Association Web site. She turned the signatures in, with her proposal and plan for the dog park, to the Parks and Recreation's development team.