KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There are new development and renovation projects happening all over the Kansas City Metro, but when certain communities are left out of the planning process, they often don’t benefit from that work.

It’s why the Urban Land Institute (ULI Kansas City) created the 15-week Real Estate Diversity Iniative (REDi), helping women and people of color learn what it takes to get a construction project planned and off the ground.

“A lot of the development that’s going in our community is your smaller, mom-and-pop stores,” said ULI Kansas City Programs Manager Shawnna Murrell.

Murrell says that means community members can be the driving force behind more projects than they might realize if they work on a smaller scale within their own community.

Alecia Kates found her way into the 2022 cohort because she decided to look for a place to live in the Leeds-Dunbar Neighborhood.

“In the process of trying to find a vacant property there, I had the opportunity to get multiple ones,” said Kates.

She has a vision to build out multiple homes for families of all sizes to live, with places to spend free time and get outside, but she was short on the specific expertise to make it all happen.

“You don’t know what you don’t know and so this totally opened the door,” said Kates.

The group has spent two month studying and creating plans for Juniper Gardens in Kansas City, Kansas, which is a public housing development that is slowly closing down.

The potential that lies in the more than 30-acre site gives people like Kates and Asa Barnes a chance to imaging what could go there.

“When there’s good development in the community, people want to stay there and they also want to improve and take care of what they have,” said Barnes. “If we live in these communities, and they look like us, we should be able to govern, and we should be able to develop and build them according to what we need.”

“It’s empowering because being a woman of color, a black woman, being able to be a leader and not necessarily tag along and support, it me gives the power to make decisions along with the neighborhood versus waiting on someone to have pity,” said Kates. “It’s like, ‘No we’re going to do it and make decisions.”

The plans that the REDi program creates are for their own learning process, but they will be presented later in December to a panel of judges that will include some people who could make decisions about the future of Juniper Gardens.

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