Right off the bat, you know one thing about everyone who’s part of the 49-63 neighborhood coalition — a collective of residential associations in Kansas City, Mo. They all live between 49th and 63rd Streets.
It’s their east–west borders that may be most interesting, however. Those lines are Paseo and Oak.
The coalition is one of the only neighborhood associations in Kansas City whose members live both east and west of Troost Avenue, a major thoroughfare widely considered as Kansas City's racial and economic dividing line.
President of the coalition Les Cline says it is all about unity.
“Our very boundaries demonstrate a powerful statement of solidarity and connectedness to all people. We are not east-west, north-south, black-white people. We are neighborhood people," Cline says.
A Look Back
When 49-63 was established in 1971, it was a time of shifting demographics in the Kansas City real estate landscape.
Not far from the tony neighborhoods of turn-of-the-century Kansas City, affluent whites were being encouraged to move out of the urban core to settle in the mushrooming suburbs.
The 1980s saw the proliferation of drug dealers and crack houses in the area. Later, residents began the battle with speculators who saw an opportunity to buy up dilapidated and abandoned homes. They’d make the minimum repairs, bring homes just up to code, then market them to low-income renters.
Cline says, still today, four decades later, the association has a handful of pending cases with Legal Aid of Western Missouri to crack down on absentee and irresponsible property owners.
49-63 At Work
Early on a Saturday morning, a handful of members of 49-63 Coalition took rakes and shovels to a small lot nestled between two homes at 61st and Tracy.
The lot belonged to the late Mary L. Howard, a long time resident and neighborhood activist. She helped organize anti-crime “sit-outs” during the 80s. Hudson donated the land for public use when she died. Today it's becoming a park, thanks to neighborhood volunteers.
A different Saturday, they were cleaning trash and a few empty bottles from the lot and planting flowers and vegetables in their place.
Don McClean,vice president of 49-63, said 40 pounds of red and white potatoes would go in the ground.
“We’ll be donating them to food pantries, including St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, one of the active churches in our neighborhood,” McClean says.
On the other side of the lot, Steve Eklund, a silver-haired, 12-year resident of 49-63, scrapes his spade against the underbelly of a big rock 18 inches below the ground.
"Gotcha!" he pants under his breath as he dumps a large hunk of concrete to the side. "This used to be the foundation of a house,” he explains.
In spite of a concerned and engaged coalition of block groups, churches and two universities (UMKC and Rockhurst,) 49-63 faces ongoing challenges.
Home ownership is a big one.
The area still has a relatively high rate of violent and property crime, particularly in the eastern sector of the coalition's boundaries. Police report the residents work very closely with them on collaborative crime prevention activities.
Economic development investment dollars have been slow to come in.
Officials with the coalition know solutions to these vexing problems will not come overnight.
They say they'll keep doing what's proven most successful during their four and a half decades — continue building partnerships within their communities.