I absolutely think that Downtown Campuses can and will, if done correctly, create a more vibrant downtown. You simply can't underestimate the impact that 600 students and 100 faculty will have on an area once it's their home. Downtown has space and needs youth, the Conservatory has youth and needs space. It's a healthy synergy by having them in close proximity to one another.
The Crossroads is an already established district, and embedding themselves within it will bring certain challenges, but it has the potential to dramatically shape and bolster a community for generations to come. Ever since the Kauffman Center was built there, it was a matter of time before something of similar gravitas relocated itself to be its neighbor. I think KC is fortunate that the Conservatory is seizing the opportunity, and in so doing provides their students with the unique opportunity to play on a major stage, day in and day out.
I agree though with your concerns, it has to be done right.
As far as ideas to get engaged in that type of movement, Neighborland itself is a powerful one (we're having this discussion, right?).
Neighbor.ly has been much lauded for their efforts.
Bread KC is a great model for community involvement.
REACH KC is starting soon
The Jarboe Initiative is doing something interesting.
Utilitarian Workshop just got kickstarted
And, last but certainly not least, the FundRise model out of Philadelphia is an excellent example of the potential of community development.
We need to move away from the language of 'Urban Renewal'.
I've heard Jim Heeter from the KC Chamber of Commerce talk about the 'Big' approach to development before - after all, the Chamber is known for their 'Big 5' ideas.
While I think there's a place for the large incentive packages that have been used so far, I think what we will all agree is that those do little to foster a community, and that's what we want.
Wide streets are empty without a community to walk their dogs and strollers and to and from interesting storefront spaces. A Streetcar will go bankrupt without a community of riders.
The 'Top Down', whether it's the EDC, Downtown Concil, Mayor's office, or KC Chamber, should also look to the 'small' as well. In that, I really agree with Vegas's 'critical mass' comment; there has to be a tipping point, where people and business and families start to change their perceptions of what KC is, and start to imagine what it can be.
That's why creatives lead the way, and their invaluable for that, but it needs to keep going.
Sean, found out a little more: revolvekc.org/
(From their site:)
Revolve acts on the belief that the bicycle is the simple solution for healthy lifestyles and affordable, earth-friendly transportation.
With our co-founders being League Cycling Instructors of the League of American Bicyclists, it is no wonder that the crowning achievement of our inaugural year was our influence on the Kansas City business community to help generate eight Bicycle Friendly Businesses (BFB’s) where before there were none.
The Earn-a-Bike program currently taking place at the Revolve Community Bike Shop at 5100 Troost has already proven its effectiveness in providing earth-friendly transportation to anyone who invests their time and effort to earn it. In 1.5 years of operation, 221 participants successfully completed one of two options we offer to help participants earn quality refurbished bikes and new helmets. We get Kansas City cycling!
(More on their site)
Thanks Tom. Glad to find a fellow Jayhawk on here as well.
As far as "Top-Down", I completely agree with you, that the real creation and growth occurs within the creative collective of entrepreneurs and makers and doers found all around the Crossroads and West Bottoms.
Where Top Down does play a part is when it comes to incentives and the regulatory environment. Having a local government that not only engages the creative community, but actively supports them, is a game changer.
Most of the creatives I know will do what they're passionate about regardless, which is awesome. But I do think there's a something to be said for having a vision that can help weave those elements together to create a community.
It doesn't have to be a mayor, but few people in a community are as connected or as respected.