Jacob Wagner, Director of Urban Studies at UMKC and co-founder of The Center for Neighborhoods, spoke at Code for KC’s Learn Night on June 18, 2018. 

The Center for Neighborhoods is a UMKC resource that works to build the capacity of Kansas City neighborhoods. 

Jacob spoke about the best practices of leadership at the neighborhood scale. Another area he spoke about was health and safety. The Center for Neighborhoods has an equity focus, meaning they know that some neighborhoods need more help, with more challenges to face, than others, and they want to help every neighborhood build a community of health. 

Jacob explained that The Center approaches its work through neighborhood leaders, who are typically the first responders for happenings, both good and bad, in their neighborhoods. Because of this, they want to do things like connect police with neighborhood leaders beyond just a monthly meeting for reporting crime statistics. In this and other ways, The Center is helping to teach these leaders to be their own best advocates. They can negotiate what’s being done and built in their neighborhoods better this way. 

A big way that The Center is accomplishing this is through technology and communication. Because a large number of government processes are being shifted to an online format, the need for digital literacy is only increasing, but there is no guide for this now. So The Center holds workshops for neighborhood leaders with a developed curriculum and a lab to show them how to access and best use these online resources. Jacob talked about it as a “tour guide for your digital neighborhood.” This digital literacy can help to enhance the roles that neighborhood leaders already play. And all the data available online could be used in decision making processes, so the goal is to make these leaders more aware of it and able to access it. 

Another benefit of The Center’s work is that it connects community leaders to each other, letting them know they aren’t alone in their various struggles. This builds a supportive environment to discuss personal experiences. 

Jacob explained the importance of this work in that neighborhood health affects the health of the city and the region. Neighborhoods now tend to have low capacity and are in need of more collaborative partnerships to provide technological and data assistance. This can help encourage and support asset based community development, meaning that neighborhoods can use the variety of talents and skills they already have to make the progress they decide they want.  

This is another way that increased digital literacy can help. Using the data that’s already available, and gathering more, can help people feel more at home and more in control in their neighborhoods. For example, finding a use of the city’s recent market value analysis of neighborhoods would be useful. Another example would be informing residents of what 311 calls are best used for. 

The Center for Neighborhoods has a full time staff and has had no problem getting neighborhood leaders to show up and use their resources. The Center has also embarked on other projects, including getting Kansas City designated as a city of music by UNESCO, the first U.S. city to procure that designation. 

To learn more about the work being done by The Center for Neighborhoods, visit their website.

Code for KC hosts Learn Nights every third Monday of the month from 6-8 pm. 

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