Providing a More Equitable Approach to Investing in Parks and Recreation: Kansas City, Missouri

Intentional efforts to establish a more equitable process for parks and recreation investment can foster inclusive communities in Kansas City, Missouri, a ULI Advisory Services panel told the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department in December 2019 in recommendations on creation of an equitable park system.  

The panel was asked to consider how best to align the resources and missions of park entities, create strategies to develop additional resources, and maximize existing resources to meet the needs of the community. Panel members also examined strategies for incorporating community input into parks and open space design in order to mitigate inequity in Kansas City and how to equitably balance growth in the city.  

“Kansas City and the entire country have been awakened to the challenges of structural racism and how policies have created, in essence, two Americasone Black and one White, said panel chair Carlton Brown, principal of Direct Invest in New York City. “The observations and process recommendation contained in this report may not only point the way forward in Kansas City, but may also inform the creation of a blueprint for other communities around the country that believe in a future in which the entire community thrives equitably together.” 

Other panelists were David Abraham, Rice University, Houston;Karen Abramsthe Heinz Endowments, Pittsburgh;Kate Humphreycity of Detroit, Detroit;Emeka Moneme, Menkiti Group, Washington, D.C. (now at Transurban);Bonnie Roy, SWT Design, St. Louis; and Allison Schapker, Fairmount Park Conservancy, Philadelphia.  

Among the panel’s most important recommendations is that planning and development processes should be changed to focus on the people most harmed by past processes, providing an equitable approach to maintenance, park development, and programming. Equitable social outcomes can also be achieved through creation with the community of a shared definition of equitable planning and development in order to work toward community buy-in for KC Parks projects.  

The panel also concluded that to improve the vitality and experience for park users citywide, the system will require additional resources and new mechanisms for managing those resources. The panel recommended establishing a parks conservancy in Kansas City. A conservancy and neighborhood friends park network could raise money, garner community support, and advocate for policies and resources to improve the public realm and provide relevant programs, activations, and events that connect residents to parks.  

In addition, the panel recommended better alignment of the capital budget to maximize opportunities to leverage limited resources. A more collaborative process for citywide budgeting would enable KC Parks to realign its capital budget with available capital funding and staff expertise.  

The panel highlighted that KC Parks can usethe city’s comprehensive planning process to evaluate development patterns for parks following smart growth principles, as well as recognize that housing is a necessary use complementary to neighborhood parks. 

The panel’s full recommendations were published in a report titledParks and Boulevard System—Kansas City, Missouri: Providing a More Equitable Approach to Investing in Parks and Recreation. The report may provide insight for other communities interested in creating an equitable parks system that works for the benefit of all residents. 

The panel was conducted in conjunction with the 10 Minute Walk Campaign, a nationwide movement striving to ensure that residents of urban neighborhoods throughout America have access to a high-quality park within a 10-minute walk of their homes. The 10 Minute Walk Campaign, which has been endorsed by more than 230 mayors, involves a partnership among the Urban Land Institute, The Trust for Public Land, and the National Recreation and Park Association. 

Read the panel’s recommendations in the final report.  

To bring an Advisory Services panel to your community, contact Advisory Services.

(Cover photo credit: Jesse Frazier/KC Parks)


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