Monday, July 23, 2007
Kansas City Community Centers
I went to the Parks and Recreation office the other day to try to get some information on programs running in the summer, the new Swope Community Center, and the diving team for Elle. Now I didn't expect to pick up a comprehensive guide of the city's offerings like Blue Valley recreation department or the Jewish Community Center, I'm not upset that there is not a website like they have in Boston or even Detroit, and I didn't even expect a call back within 3 days from anyone for whom I've left messages . . . But when I did walk into the main office of a major municipal center that has a dedicated department with some nice parks, 2 fabulous golf courses (one appears in Gone Mild today), 2 great conservation centers - Discovery Center (okay, so that's a MO facility and not KC . . .) and Lakeside Nature Center, a brand new amazing water park, a state of the art 47,000 square foot center to be opening soon, another center dedicated to ice-skating and archeology, and summer camp programs that are unmatched by many in the city for price and quality, I thought there would be someone excited to talk to little ole me - a citizen interested in what they have to offer - especially during July, National Parks and Recreation Month!! But the receptionist seemed to be perplexed why I would be walking in to find out information (because the website kinda sucks, because people don't answer my calls, because I always wondered what was in these ugly buildings across from the zoo . . . ) and then slightly annoyed when I asked to whom I should inquire about my different missions and then pointed me to a wall where there were information fliers in a little display - a lot out of date, and most no more informative than what I could find on the web. I did learn about Free Fridays at the Community Centers last week and Free Swim Parties that are still going on and I got all the information one could want about the walking tours of Kansas City, if anyone is interested . . . - so the trip wasn't totally for naught. . .
But I just don't get why cities and communities don't spend more time on their community centers - they spend a lot of money building them, they hire a load of people to fill the offices and make some great programs - but it never comes up as an important part of planning or community development, or even a significant asset to tout. I remember introducing myself in my first urban planning class and announcing that my interest was in urban community centers and making them just that - the centers of the community - in order to spur economic development, a sense of place, neighborhood responsibility, trusted networks for growth . . . and just got blank stares. Well, where else was I supposed to go - it is the planners who map out development, who create ideas of space, who form the function of a city. With Public Administration, I can hope to bring back focus to the most elementary of city departments - the recreation center, the family center, the wellness center, the Community Center, and with my law degree maybe I can enact legislation that says you must give a shit about this. Right?
The school issue comes up when kids turn 5 in my neighborhood - people leave to go to the suburbs or pay for private school or home school their children. Elle will go to school in the KCMO district - that's not my issue. But I cringe everytime I think, 'wow, wish I lived in leawood so I could be close to all the cool things they offer there . . . ' Cool things are happening here - there's just too much politicking with the Board and not enough effort or support or importance put into the places that have the potential to trump the school issue for a lot of families out there. Give them a reason to stay and a way to show suburbia that we can do it better - or at least just as good. I mean - we can, right?
I'm taking in all the happenings in Kansas City and saving you all the trouble . . . I'll let you know whether to soak it up or squeeze it out!!