By Maureen Mahoney

Mahoney: The Power of Learning Together

Maureen Mahoney, is Chief of Staff for Mayor Mark Holland, Kansas City, Kansas.  Maureen recently participated in the Network’s Peer Convening in Chattanooga with ten other cities. Here are some of her takeaways from her experience with the Network so far.

Like every community across America, Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, has its challenges, its vision, and its plans. The great thing about the Network’s Peer Convening in Chattanooga last week was pulling the group of eleven communities together.  It was striking to hear from ten other cities that, despite how different we are, we all have similar stories, have similar issues, and can learn from one another.

One of the greatest takeaways from the Peer Convening is what the power of a city to unite around one vision can do to transform itself.  That seemed to be key to the success in Chattanooga and that sort of collective impact is just what we are trying to replicate in Kansas City, Kansas.

For KCK, we’re talking about a confluence — a coming together — in our community.  After a statewide evaluation in 2009, using 100 metrics to measure health and healthy living, Wyandotte County was ranked 105th out of 105 counties, making it the least healthy county in the state. The Unified Government initiated an effort five years ago and Mayor Mark Holland, since he’s been office, has been leading the charge to transform an underutilized, undeveloped lot in our downtown (North 11th Street between State Avenue and Washington Blvd.) to create a thriving center of activity, anchored by a new Community Center and grocery store.

The area we are considering will make a long term and dramatic difference to our residents.   What I have loved about collaborating with the community is that they help the vision grow.

One example of expanding the vision from our community dialogue comes from the development of a natatorium in our Community Center. None of our local high schools has a pool capable of hosting a swim meet.  When presenting this idea to USD 500 Superintendent Dr. Cindy Lane she asked, “Why stop there? Why not teach every child in the county how to swim?” Drowning is the #2 cause of death among urban youth.

This transformation will create healthier options for the residents in Wyandotte County, and be the foundation for even greater economic development.  Our vision for the Healthy Campus is just the beginning of the revitalization of our Downtown.  We see it as the catalyst and part of a bigger picture that aims to improve access to healthy living options., The city will take off in our Downtown area with retail, housing, bike trails, sidewalks, and public transportation—all toward not just bringing jobs to our own community but encouraging people to make Kansas City, Kansas home.

Our goal is for nothing less than a national model for healthy living in an urban environment.