What Manheim Park Taught Me about Community Transformation

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Source: depositphotos.com

Manheim Park is a Kansas City neighborhood that used to be a 'no go zone.' While it was still home to many proud residents, the neighborhood had become overrun with vacant properties, copper theft and drug crime. These factors combined to fuel a spread of blight that seemed irreversible.

One of the largest challenges for communities like Manheim is the sheer number of vacant homes. This creates ripe ground for drug dealers, copper thieves and others who seek to tear apart neighborhoods. This process also depresses housing values for everyone in the community. Thus, securing and restoring vacant properties is a critical first step to transforming neighborhoods.

The good news is there's a model for community revitalization, and Manheim has become an inspiring example. Fortunately for Manheim, some brave residents stood up and devoted themselves to transforming the community. Residents like Doug Shafer -- a talented real estate investor who educates others on the investment potential in Manheim. As a knowledgable real estate investor (and Manheim resident), Doug has worked tirelessly to show others how investing in vacant properties can make a dollar AND a difference.

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Doug Shafer speaks to a fellow Manheim Park resident. Source: Author Original

And then there's Bill Drummond...in all my years of community work, I've never met a more tireless advocate for change than Bill. He rallies neighbors to reimagine their community, takes on any developer seeking to make a quick buck at Manheim's expense, and is a regular face at city events focused on combating blight. Check out some of my favorite quotes from Bill for a quick lesson on community revitalization: 

Bill serves as MC at a local parade. Source: Author Original

  • "The power structure of a neighborhood is really the "Grandmothers"... They are raising the kids, they know what is the reality of the street and they lead a decent life. We should honor the Grandmothers above all others."
  • "Do not, ever, turn off your porch light. Always leave on your back yard light. Lighting is the cheapest form of home security. It will cost you much less for electricity and light bulbs- than the cost of one break-in."
  • "When I had a bit of money 4 years ago, I knew I could either fix my teeth or buy a house in Manheim Park....- I just now got dentures!!"
  • "Knowing your 5 closest neighbors is the basic foundation of neighborhood safety."

I'm an AmeriCorps alum and my work there put me on the front lines of blight in Cleveland. Since then, my eyes have been opened to the painful realities faced by most every urban core in the United States. Manheim Park could just as easily be any other neighborhood I served in Cleveland. My work with AmeriCorps is also what has most inspired my work at Social Change Nation. I founded my company to help other companies make a meaningful impact on the world, and that's ultimately how I came to Manheim.

See, it's absolutely critical that residents like Doug and Bill take charge in struggling neighborhoods. But it's equally important that non-profits, city governments and businesses do their part to restore blighted communities. In the case of Manheim, there are several terrific non profits such as Westside Housing Organization and Neighborhood Housing Services that are actively revitalizing homes. But security remains a constant challenge. As I've worked in Manheim, I've been amazed by what I've learned about how copper thieves operate. Bill calls them 'land pirates' because they have a sophisticated system for destroying neighborhoods. They run in packs, communicating with each other about the best opportunities to steal copper, appliances and tools. Once in a home, they can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage in a matter of minutes. Their reward? A couple hundred dollars worth of copper...

And this is where businesses come in. In my case, I've been working with COPR Security to help protect Manheim from the land pirates. COPR Security has developed a mobile & DIY technology for securing vacant homes. They're a startup that is devoted to becoming the world's first cause driven security company by donating devices to communities like Manheim. Additionally, COPR's paying clients are the same for-profit investors that are so desperately needed in neighborhoods like Manheim. Those sales fuel COPR's philanthropic initiative while also raising awareness about blight with those investors.

Once security is in place, socially conscious investors can feel good about buying in a community like Manheim. These seemingly simple steps have taken Manheim Park from a blighted community to one of hope in just a few years. The lessons encountered along the way provide a roadmap that any neighborhood could follow to get on the path to restoration, and that's a movement I'm proud to be a part of.

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An art project in Manheim Park

Source: Author Original

AUTHOR'S NOTE: COPR Security has contracted my company to help them build their social mission