Now back from Atlanta, school district and city officials as well as others in the community are excited to move forward with 12 Blocks West.

What struck Marcie Gragg first as she toured several neighborhoods in south Atlanta was the severity of their decline. What she noticed next was how with the collaboration of several community groups, that decline was taking a turn upwards.

Gragg, a member of the Independence City Council, was one of nine community members who traveled to Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 20 and 21 to visit the neighborhood that spawned the 12 Blocks West project in Independence. The goal of the two-day trip, which included Superintendent Jim Hinson and City Manager Robert Heacock, among others, was to meet with Robert Lupton, whose ideas inspired the redevelopment process currently taking place in western Independence.

“If we take the best practices we learned in Atlanta and apply them to a specific, target neighborhood here in Independence, I have no doubt that we will be successful because we have all the stakeholders working together,” Gragg said about 12 Blocks West.

“With the city, Independence School District, faith community, neighbors and various social service organizations working in partnership, we can address all the issues that negatively impact a neighborhood. We can revitalize by restoring both the tangible and the intangible assets, from rehabilitating housing to addressing issues of poverty and joblessness,” she said.

The 12 Blocks West project refers to the 12 blocks west of the Truman home. The key to this “holistic approach” has been to combine the efforts of various city, community and civic organizations to redevelop western Independence.

Heacock said he was encouraged by what has been achieved in Atlanta. He said he has seen “tremendous energy and optimism” expressed within the Independence community about other city improvements such as upgrading streets and parks, and it is that energy he hopes will carry over to 12 Blocks West.

“There are still many areas that need to be more fully addressed, including stabilizing housing, job creation, crime reduction and supporting those in greatest financial need,” he said.

“The Atlanta experience demonstrates one approach to those types of issues, and there are others that we can learn from in the future. I see a great opportunity for the community to harvest the positive energy that has been created to date, and I hope the city can help facilitate in that regard.”

The trip cost $500 per person, which included hotel, meals and air fare. However, it was not funded by the school district. Hinson said those from the school district who went paid for the trip out of their own pockets.

In the case of the city’s three-person delegation, Heacock said the city paid for the trip out of a established travel/training fund used for similar trips.

Hinson, who was one of two people on the trip who has been to Atlanta before, said he is excited about what is to come. Bill Rogers, who is with LINC, is the other trip participant who has visited Atlanta before.

“This trip gave us all the opportunity to not only see what is going on in Atlanta, but to talk with each other about how we can all work together to see positive things happen in our community,” he said. “I am very pleased with the progress. Everyone is coming to the table to see how we can share our resources and knowlegde for the betterment of the community.”

Gragg said with all the players now at the table, she expected momentum to gather as the city, school district and community take the next step.

“The first step was bringing the schools over from the Kansas City School District. That had to happen before there could be any real hope of revitalization,” she said. “The next step is to formalize the not-for-profit entity known as 12 Blocks West and begin identifying an area to target. Right now, we are seeing the most exciting synergy of passion and efforts. Each of the major stakeholders is committed to working together to revitalize western Independence. Together, we can accomplish so much more than we ever could individually.”

In addition to Hinson, Gragg, Heacock and Rogers, others who went to Atlanta were Brad Smith, director of family services and caring communities for the Independence School District; Nancy Lewis, director of public relations for the Independence School District; Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Council for Economic Development; Jennifer Clark, director of community development for the city of Independence and Brian Mundy, treasurer of the ICED.