Friday, March 27, 2009

The Green Impact Zone

Since the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), I have spent a great deal of time trying to help our community position itself in the best possible place to take advantage of this huge federal investment.

To that end, I have been meeting with community leaders, city staff, elected officials locally and Cabinet and administration officials in Washington, D.C. to advance the idea of targeting stimulus investments in a way that maximizes and deepens the impact of every dollar.

As a result of these meetings, Resolution No. 090254 has been introduced to the Kansas City Council that will target a portion of millions in stimulus funds to a hard hit area of Kansas City. We are calling the area the “Green Impact Zone.”

Under this resolution the City Council commits to use a significant portion of the funds received under the ARRA for a focused area of the City bounded by 39th Street on the north, 51st Street on the south, Troost Avenue on the west and Prospect Avenue to 47th Street over to Swope Parkway on the east. Directly effected are the neighborhoods of Ivanhoe, Blue Hills, 49/63 and Manheim and Town Fork Creek, some of the City’ strongest neighborhood organizations.

Through community discussions convened by the Mid-America Regional Council, an overarching goal of training and putting residents of these neighborhoods to work weatherizing every home that is eligible within the Zone has been suggested.

This is no small task, but has the potential of reducing utility bills, conserving electricity and creating sustainable jobs for a portion of our community where unemployment is hovering between 20-50 percent.

In a community where every dollar counts, reducing utility bills by half would be a significant achievement. Creating thousands of jobs would be a godsend and making neighborhoods east of Troost that have been historically last now be first should bring us all to our feet.

As the discussions of the Green Impact Zone have progressed, excitement has built and partnerships have been forged. Kansas City Power and Light has stepped up to the plate and committed that, if the city is willing to adopt this plan, KCP&L is willing to invest and deploy a “Smart Grid” in the Zone. In addition to making investments to put solar panels on newly weatherized homes, a “Smart Grid” would allow each home to receive a credit for unused solar energy that can be stored in batteries to be used for the rest of the grid. Their commitment is to create a model of the energy grid of the future unlike any in the country.

From Public Works to Parks and Recreation, both government and private dollars will be leveraged to create green sustainable jobs, enhance the neighborhoods and create a model for the rest of the nation.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and business as usual will not be good enough. For too long — and I am certainly guilty of perpetuating the problem — our City has drawn down federal dollars divided equally by six Council Districts and weakened the effect of the investments. We must target our funds. This Resolution No. 090254 will do just that. Those throughout the country who have the plans and are ready to go will receive the most funding. The Green Impact Zone puts us at the front of the pack.

Thus far “green” investments have been reserved for those who can afford the upfront cost. In neighborhoods like these, where the median income is less than $20,000 a year, “greening” is simply not possible. This plan removes that burden and reduces the utility bills for those who need it most. With job training, neighborhood stabilization and infrastructure investments targeted here, “green” is no longer an academic concept for someone else — it becomes a means to change peoples lives right here in our urban core.

Let us seize this giant opportunity to create a better future and show America, when it comes to “green” we are in the lead.