(this blog was originally published in December 2010; updated in November 2011)
William J. Bratton got a lot of press in the mid-90s for his unconventional ideas about how to revive blighted areas. One of the main theories he implemented was Broken Windows; if one window is broken, more will be. Blight begets blight. Minor blight escalates to major blight. But if the minor blight is fixed, the major blight never happens. If the broken window is fixed, and kept clean, more broken windows will be fixed and kept clean.
This theory has, of course, been revered and reviled both. But it makes sense to me; the messier your house is, the messier it gets. It’s easier to consider not cleaning when there’s too much to clean. The more dirty and disorganized a home becomes, the easier it is to begin to live with it and not notice it. Until relatives are arriving for the holidays; then, suddenly, you see your house through their eyes. Then you roll up your sleeves, get to work, and promise never to let things go that far again.
Figurative Broken Windows. We have a lot of them in Kansas City. And the most glaring of them reside on the street that palpably divides our city; Troost Avenue.
The history of Troost Avenue is a long and interesting one. Named for a Dutch slave owner, the area was an Osage Indian trail, then a 365-acre slave plantation, then an upscale residential area, then a thriving business district flanked by lavish neighborhoods inhabited by the city’s most wealthy and influential residents. Then in the late 1890s, a real-estate boom and bust allowed African-Americans to obtain property more easily and white flight slowly began. I have a map in my home of the 1917 plans for development of “The Country Club District,” the area between Belinder on the west, Brookside Boulevard on the east, Meyer Boulevard on the south and Brush Creek on the north. This area cuddles right up to Troost. And it is described on this map, designed to lure buyers, as “1,500 Acres Restricted.” The advertising blurb at the bottom of the map boasts of the “…comprehensive restrictions safeguarding the permanence and desirability of your surroundings…” Just one example of the exodus. By the 1950s, the Troost area was mostly inhabited by wealthy blacks. Then MLK’s assassination and the subsequent race riots caused many of them to leave and thus cemented Troost Avenue as a racial dividing line.
There is much on Troost Avenue to be celebrated and restored. The neighborhoods are still beautiful. Or have the potential to be. The churches, if repopulated by congregations, could evoke powerful good change. Once hubs of neighborhood community, many of Troost’s churches now lie in disrepair, as does much of the infrastructure along the avenue.
Enter Durwin Rice, who, in 2006, founded Tulips on Troost. Rice’s organization works to change the face of Troost Avenue by engaging in a Broken Windows activity; planting one million tulips along the street. Rice hopes that simple flowers, in honor of the Dutch doctor who gave the avenue his name, will inspire and motivate the citizens of Kansas City to recognize the value of neighborhood revitalization and beautification of Troost and other areas. For Rice, tulips are just the beginning—the deep-rooted goal is to use a beautiful, accessible thing like a tulip to represent positive change on Troost and to let the city know that Troost is worth time, efforts, and resources. In 2010, Rice formed a committee, named it Friends of St. Mark, and organized a concert; a Lessons and Carols service nestled comfortably into one of the once beautiful neighborhood churches that now struggle to make repairs and stay open for the community; St. Mark Lutheran Church at 3800 Troost. Octarium brought its beautiful choral music to this service, free of charge. All proceeds benefited the church.
In the year since that concert, St. Mark Lutheran Church has grown from only 12 active parishioners worshiping with a lay pastor to almost 100 active parishioners worshiping with their new, permanent pastor, the Rev. Donna Simon. Renamed “St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran,” the church is increasingly active in the community. While not the sole credit, the Lessons and Carols service performed by Octarium in 2010 was certainly a catalyst to a very successful collaboration between a multi-denominational community and a Central States Synod who all recognized the importance of preserving Kansas City’s architectural treasures, churches and her historic communities.
So what do Choral Music and Tulips have in comming? Both are a beautiful, accessible thing that can represent, and even create, positive change in our world.
This is a service not to be missed. December 11, 2011. 3800 Troost Avenue. 3pm. Buy your tickets online today.
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