A combination of the pandemic and internet access has affected who can participate in Kansas City’s comprehensive plan update.
By Celisa Calacal, The beacon
Kansas City is currently collecting feedback from residents on how to approach the city’s growth and development over the next 20 years in these four areas: mobility, ease of service, quality of life and visibility.
It’s part of the city’s plan to update its comprehensive plan, which has not been implemented since 1997. However, the 2,000+ residents who have responded to surveys and provided feedback so far are mostly from the more affluent zip codes, where fewer people of color live.
In fact, according to The Beacon, in a town of roughly 495,000 people, there was little to no engagement from residents living in zip codes east of Troost Avenue, the historic northeast, and the neighborhoods north of the river.
These neighborhoods are among the most diverse in the city and are home to more low-income families.
Jeffrey Williams, director of the Department of Planning and Development, said the plan will only be successful if feedback is received from all communities in Kansas City.
“We need to hear from everyone in town,” Williams said. “I think this is how we ensure the highest level of justice.”
The Urban Planning and Development Department began work on the latest comprehensive plan, the KC Spirit Playbook, in 2019.
Resident engagement is a crucial part of the overall plan – but since the pandemic prevented personal contact with the community last year, the department sees inequalities among residents participating in the process.
The zip codes that had the most responses so far are in downtown, midtown, and the Brookside area south of Country Club Plaza – among the more expensive places to live.
Because of the pandemic, engagement for the comprehensive plan took place primarily online. Currently, residents must register for an account on the KC Spirit Playbook website in order to participate.
There are 13 postcodes that have not yet registered responses – and according to Census data collected by mySidewalk, the neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue and the historic northeast are less likely to have internet access or a home computer.
Williams said planning and development is working with public engagement consultants to expand public outreach and engagement.
“That is, understanding what different outreach techniques in areas could be more effective in making sure we hear from everyone, because that’s what needs to happen,” he said.
Putting the plan together in a pandemic
The four overarching themes of the playbook cover topics ranging from infrastructure and public transport to affordability and conservation.
The compilation of the comprehensive plan is divided into three phases: inspire, engage and implement. Feedback and input from residents are an integral part of the first two phases in order to set a framework for the KC Spirit Playbook.
However, the pandemic affected the public relations work of the planning and development department. Williams said the department wants to meet people where they are: at school, at sporting events, and more.
We need to hear from everyone all over town.
JEFFREY WILLIAMS, URBAN PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT
The pandemic and health ordinances meant abandoning these plans.
So the planning and development team turned to online outreach as an alternative, held a virtual town hall last spring and used social media channels to get involved. Williams said the department also put blurbs on people’s water bills.
Rather than not holding face-to-face events, the department has also partnered with local organizations to give presentations on the KC Spirit Playbook. For example, the planning department has given presentations to groups that include BikeWalkKC, a local nonprofit that works for safe roads, and the local Sierra Club chapter.
Challenges for pure online engagement
Michael Kelley, Policy Director of BikeWalkKC and a member of the KC Spirit Playbook’s public engagement team, said the online address highlighted the digital divide in Kansas City between those who have access to the internet and those who don’t have made.
Census data collected by the data company mySidewalk found that 14% of households in Kansas City, Missouri, do not have internet access. Another 10% do not have a computer at home.
“There was only a limited amount that could be done through things like Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn,” said Kelley. “Trying to find additional ways to work with groups like neighborhood associations and using things like telephone trees has gotten a bit more innovative, I think, to try to reach people the city wants to hear from.”
This image shows the Kansas City households hardest hit by the digital divide. The Digital Divide Index takes the following criteria into account: percent of households without computers, percent of households without internet access and percent of households below the poverty line. (Source: mySidewalk)
Requiring a zip code for registration can be an obstacle for unoccupied people who do not have stable housing.
“If they don’t have a zip code, how can you get that entry into the system?” Said Kelley. “Because their voices are still important.”
Williams said the planning department was looking for registration alternatives that didn’t require a zip code.
With Kansas City’s COVID-19 restrictions lifted in the wake of vaccinations, more residents are returning to public spaces. Williams said the planning department hoped for more personal engagement.
The city still has time on its side. The aim is for the city council to adopt the plan in mid-2022.
“I think the city is starting from a good starting point,” said Kelley. “They are asking the right questions, they are talking to a lot of the right people, I think it’s just about expanding their efforts as much as possible and as much as the pandemic allows them. ”
This is how you can participate in the KC Spirit Playbook
For information on the comprehensive plan update, see playbook.kcmo.gov. Residents can provide feedback to the city online by completing surveys and online questionnaires.
To complete a survey or answer a prompt, you must complete the online registration form on the KC Spirit Playbook website. Your name, your e-mail address and your postcode are requested in the form.
Once registered, you can complete surveys, post on forums on topics from housing to transportation, and use the mapping tool to identify areas in Kansas City that need improvement.
If you are part of a local organization and would like your members to learn more about the KC Spirit Playbook, you can request a presentation for your group by emailing [email protected]
About the four KC Spirit Playbook topics
Mobility: This includes public transportation, roads, and, in general, how people get around Kansas City. Some of the feedback the city has received so far is the desire to improve the quality and efficiency of public transport, make it more accessible to parts of the city without public transport, extend the tram line and better connect sidewalks and path systems.
Service Capability: This includes urban infrastructure, urban services and sustainable development. Previous feedback from local residents has raised concerns about the incentives for developers. Other priorities include maintaining public infrastructure like streets and sidewalks, preparing the city for the effects of climate change, and helping small startup businesses in Kansas City.
Quality of Life: This includes focusing on housing affordability, development, and the health of Kansas City’s neighborhoods. Feedback from residents so far has highlighted the need to increase the availability and affordability of the housing stock, promote policies that do not displace residents, preserve and modernize existing housing, and rehabilitate derelict neighborhoods.
Visibility: This includes public space maintenance, town planning, and conservation efforts.
The Beacon is an online news agency based in Kansas City that focuses on local, in-depth journalism for the public interest.