Kristen's Corner

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Welcome to Kristen’s Corner, here you will find Visioning endeavors  through the perspective of a millennial new to Topeka. If I see a need, I ask myself how can I be a part of the solution? Join me as I explore adaptive challenges and successes in Topeka!

Other fun facts:

  • Born and raised in Ponca City, OK
  • Recent K-State graduate
  • “Love Does” by Bob Goff is my favorite book
  • Facilitate Gallup’s Strengths Finder in all sorts of entities
  • Love working with older adults
  • Last year I ran a half marathon and backpacked Europe 
  • Planning a wedding for February 2017

 

Change Takes Time

According to some of my old notes… We started discussing the chance of the National Park Service coming to Topeka in summer of 2015.

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A few of the NPS architects visited Topeka on August 19, 2015 and they told us it would be an ENTIRE YEAR before they could come and do a design charette in Topeka. That seemed like forever at the time. Sure enough, a year later August 22-26, they came and conducted a splendid design charette. When the event finally arrived the team and community were slightly giddy.

Nearing the end of the week, myself and others of the public started asking what’s next? We found out we would receive the final plans from the NPS within 8 months – 1 year. The Army Corps of Engineers is working on the levees and their work further dictates the construction of the park. The City of Topeka is acquiring all of the properties on the land and will begin park preparation by clearing the land hopefully sometime in the end of 2017. Then Shawnee County Parks and Recreation will likely develop and operate the future park, if that is the final decision of the County Commissioners. But how long will all these next steps take? Could be 4-5 years…yes, I said 4-5 years.

I have come to further understand and appreciate how long these projects take and how important each step is and each person who gets involved along the way. In a world that moves quickly through social media, emails, crazes like Pokémon Go, etc., it is hard to accept that community change takes so long. I was sitting at the NPS reveal and John Hunter went into explaining these next steps and who all was involved. I had to laugh out loud at the end when John’s tone of voice changed and became more down to earth and he said, “So don’t go writing to the Capital Journal saying ‘here they go again saying something will happen and it doesn’t.’” People were laughing and nodding all around the room.

Other good long time coming news is the Neighborhood Improvement Association for Downtown is officially official! Now the work continues of course, engaging more neighbors, but the project is handed off to the neighbors now and they don’t need the facilitation and structure of Heartland Visioning any longer. That is what we do best, facilitate change and then let the group fly. And guess how long this one took? 1.5 years with lots of meetings and talking.

Change takes time! We have to be adaptable along the way, but it sure is rewarding. Therefore, we forge ahead and keep moving. You can join us on the trek. Just reach out and we can discuss how and where.

Revitalizing Topeka

Meet Jeff!

  • Age 28
  • Lifelong Topekan
  • 2009 Graduate of K-State
  • Finishing MBA at Washburn in May 2016
  • Works at Westar Energy

Jeff’s curiosity for the city’s lack of growth led him to do a research paper on downtown and urban development for his MBA. I was able to read through his 46 page analysis and loved it so much I asked him to share a snippet with the general audience. He discusses research, opinions, opportunities, and challenges. Enjoy! - Kristen 

What does it mean to revitalize?

To revitalize is to impart new life or vigor to, to restore to an active or fresh condition. Synonyms related to the word include: recreate, rejuvenate, refresh, repair, and revive. This sounds like just what our city needs. People have a very negative image of our city, our city needs to rejuvenate itself into something that both residents and visitors will enjoy and be proud of.

Kansas Avenue Project
One approach to revitalization right now is the current project on Kansas Avenue and improving our downtown. In order to create further development opportunities infrastructure has to be the first thing addressed. According to Doug Whitacre, Public Works Director, Kansas Avenue was in need of repairs badly. From a streetscape standpoint it hasn’t been updated since the 1980s and the utilities under the street haven’t been updated for more than 100 years. This first step of infrastructure is nearly done!

Why focus on downtown?
Many critics question the value of putting money into downtown. To me, your downtown is your heart and center, a strong core represents a strong city overall. In Topeka, there are over 25,000 people employed downtown, each working 40+ hours per week. The financial center of our city as well as our state capitol is in downtown.

Denver Donwtown
Downtown Denver, CO

• What do experts say about downtowns? “Picture in your mind a city you have visited. You are probably not thinking of the suburbs, shopping malls, or industrial parks, you are picturing the downtown area. It is where a city defines itself, and it is the prism through which the outside world views the city. Downtown is a city’s heart, so if a city is to thrive, its heart must be strong. A downtown with a large commercial, office, and residential base will contribute significantly to the tax rolls of the city with the effect of reducing the tax burden on residents in the city’s neighborhoods, helping residents throughout the city save money” says Rick Baker, in the book A Seamless City: A Conservative Mayor’s Approach to Urban Revitalization that Can Work Anywhere. Baker, who is the former mayor of St. Petersburg FL, helped revitalize their downtown and reduce crime significantly.

Case for riverfront
Just like downtown, there will be plenty of critics who claim this would be a waste of money; however a revitalized waterfront could be a crucial part for this city’s rebirth. Not all cities can say that they have the luxury of being along a major river. And, water tends to be an attraction for people of all ages. The riverfront has been referred to as a “game changer” in terms of helping to form opinions of Detroit from the perspective of the visitor and residents. “The riverfront has evolved beyond a physical asset, and is now both a community in itself, and an asset to the entire downtown area.” The potential for recreational attraction exists here as well as another potential way to improve this city’s quality of life and image as people travel by it every day.

branson landing MO
Branson Landing Branson, MO

Riverfront Iowa
Riverfront Des Moines, IA

Challenges
Taking an objective approach to revitalization, there are no doubt multiple challenges to work around in Topeka:

• Layout: The layout of our city seems awkward and segmented. Walkability to me is a major issue. Downtown is by the river but frankly isn’t in extremely close walking distance. Downtown also lacks a catalyst, something to act as an anchor to draw people consistently. The Expocentre could be that, but the problem is you can’t walk there from downtown like you can to arenas in Kansas City, Wichita or Des Moines. When people come from out of town to events, they all go to Wanamaker to eat, shop and stay. Hopefully the proposed downtown plaza, if implemented correctly, can act as some sort of anchor to help draw people consistently.Ice Rink AZ
Ice Rink, Pheonix, AZ

• Urban Sprawl: This is characterized by low-density development patterns and development spreading further out from the city’s core. The City Of Topeka Planning Department had some interesting comments on this in their latest Land Use report: “when development is compact and supports a higher population density, the cost of infrastructure and the benefit of services are both spread out over the higher population which can help keep a lid on taxes. Fire and police stations, which have coverage areas based on distance can cover and protect more people without having to create new stations. And, more people are adjacent to or could benefit from new or improved infrastructure projects. With lower population densities, the benefits and impacts from these services or improvements are spread out and the impact is lost; net operating costs, however, remains the same and revenues are lower. There are fixed on-going operational costs that must be paid by taxpayers whether a fire station has 10 or 100 calls, or if a water line built for 100 people serves only 10. In Topeka, the overall city population density has decreased while the total land area increased dramatically, a 7% increase in population compared to 65% increase in land area! Suburban residential location increases the distance between home and destination (e.g., job), increases the reliance on automobiles, and minimizes walking. Topeka and Shawnee County in recent numbers came in at 56 healthiest out of 105 counties in Kansas, with obesity and sedentary lifestyles being main contributor. The hope with a strong core is that the negative effects of urban sprawl can be neutralized and more residents can rely more on walking to get to places than driving. This active lifestyle could really improve the health of those in the area and community. The bike share program is already a great example of opportunities to shift lifestyles.

• Lack of housing and residents living downtown: Besides low income, there are minimal housing options in the downtown district. The hope is a new downtown with new businesses and eventually more recreation near the river will draw interest. In order for downtown to really take the next step and not be a ghost town on nights and weekends, there has to be a consistent base of people living there within walking distance. And, people often complain that parking is an issue downtown. One way to fix that is provide more housing for people downtown. This gets into the argument, do you first need people to attract events and businesses or the other way around? To me, a balanced mix of both is ideal. Quality of life is important, and the riverfront development is aiming to help with that.

Why Millennials are so critical going forward
This age group according to research, commonly referred to as people born between 1980 and 2000 is now the largest generation with over 80 million people, and it is expected by 2025 they will make up 75% of the global workforce.. The same study showed Millennials greatly value walkability, mixed-use neighborhoods, public transportation, and retail and entertainment options. Millennials expressed a higher level of dissatisfaction with their communities and local housing options than people in other demographics did. They say that neighborhoods lack convenient outdoor spaces to run, walk, bike, and exercise. In addition, they believe that both traffic and crime make it unsafe to walk.” The most telling statistic perhaps however is that more than 60 percent of millennials want to live in areas where they can use their cars less. “Though they are living wherever they can afford, the report found, millennials ‘remain steadfast’ in their preference for an urban lifestyle. While 83 percent said they own a car, many said they preferred walkable communities, different options for getting around and easy access to shopping and entertainment”

Looking forward
Our downtown is starting to take shape and hopefully it will lead to many great businesses and attractions down the road. Instead of having two movie theatres on one side of town, how about build a new fork and fine IMAX theatre downtown? Or how about a comedy club? Perhaps a brewery or nice sports bars?

To me, revitalization and development is all about momentum. All it takes is a little to get more people on board and believe and keep pushing the ball forward. The private investment with improving the streetscaping and aesthetics is a good thing. You need to have local corporations invested in order for it to work because it shows people and businesses care about positive change. I’m almost 29 and if I’m going to settle down here I want a city to be proud of. I would love a beautiful revitalized riverfront that you can see while driving down I-70 instead of old empty buildings, or have a downtown that is lit up during Christmas time like the Plaza in Kansas City, or an outdoor amphitheater along the river with summer concerts like Starlight or Sandstone. I could easily pick up and move to Kansas City for a better paying job and have ample opportunities to go do fun things. However, Topeka has an opportunity to improve. Growing up here, my family and friends living here, I sort of have pride in this city. When people talk down on it, it sort of motivates me to help make it better, even if that entails doing simple research or writing a blog. If other cities can have these things, why can’t we?

Jeff
Jeff and his wife Lindsey

Heartland Visioning Steering Committee

Meet Jensen, an insightful senior at Washburn University. Enjoy this candid and fresh perspective of her first Heartland Visioning Steering Committee Meeting. - Kristen

Jensen

Heartland Visioning Steering Committee Meeting
By Jensen Moore, Senior Washburn University 
October 28, 2015

With my final year in undergraduate studies at Washburn University on its way in, and the pressures of my (limited)  job experience creeping up on me, I kept my focus on unique options and internships for an English Major with a writing emphasis. And perhaps my want to focus on the familiar and the un-talked about drew me to Heartland Visioning.

My history with Visioning started at a subconscious level; before I knew what the organization stood for, I witnessed its effects on my community. With the NOTO Arts District making its appearance in 2010, I became associated with the name "Heartland Visioning". But the name went misunderstood, until I met John Hunter.

I recall the day in John Hunter's class, Introduction to Theatre, when he brought up his role with Heartland Visioning. Being the Executive Director of the organization and a professor of Theatre at Washburn, he often built a bridge between the two. He told us that Topeka would be "very different" in the years to come. Visioning's mission was to address what Topekans need to experience a better quality of life; thus, creating a more holistic, dynamic community. What does this really mean, though? Basically their mission is to make Topeka a more enjoyable (safe, complete, ect.) place for its residents to interact in. However, this (giant) task must be tackled at a holistic level, which brings me to the Steering Committee meeting.IMAG0799

Held in the lower level of Washburn Tech. on October 9, 2015, the Steering Meeting commenced at the tender time of 7:45 AM but the overall turnout was over 40 people. The separate tables assigned to Parks and Rec, Dynamic Core, Community Pride and Services, and Entertainment all retained representatives speaking for these sections. The steering committee chair, Miriam Krehbiel, opened the meeting with new attendee introductions and the presentation of the Topeka Proud, downtown video by Phillip “Braille” Watson. This was followed by an update from Mayor Larry Wolgast on events such as The Kansas League of Municipalities, The Downtown Topeka Jazz Workshop event, and the 2015 Christmas Parade.

The final part of the presentation segment was the introduction of Glenda Washington, Vice President of Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development. Washington’s presentation strongly represented the potential change Heartland Visioning hopes to offer Topeka. By profiling and educating Topeka’s small businesses Washington’s program hopes to create “better skilled entrepreneurs” and “small businesses that actively engage in enterprise”. This development of Topeka’s small businesses, Washington addressed, will greatly strengthen the community. However, Washington also recognized that there are gaps in the system and strongly recommends collaboration between separate agencies. For Washington it was clear that “unless we work together we will remain fragmented.”

After these separate presentations, the individual tables divided into groups for a round robin discussion on topics related to the individual network team. As a part of the Community Pride table, my group discussed the examples of progress and gaps related to social services, public health, public safety, and so on. My ignorance about these subjects quickly surfaced as my group-mates named off the numerous programs created to address these concerns; e.g., The Market Match, Recycled Rides, Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods, Safe Streets. The common gaps that needed to be addressed (either by Visioning or the holistic community) often came down to exposure. Many of these programs lack marketing and staff, educational protocol, and government advocacy.

At this Steering Meeting I spent a little under one and a half hours with other people volunteering their time to discuss the future of Topeka. This short discussion offered me a base of education, a platform for discussion, and the opportunity to connect with those involved with the future development of Topeka.

I’ve found the biggest challenge for Visioning (other not-for profit organizations) is keeping the conversation going. Many people, myself included, have thought our voices too small and our connections too few. Consequently, this mindset feeds the notion that “I, as a citizen, have no control of the progression of my society and change seems all but impossible”. Now, obviously, it’s easy to be a cynic when you’re alone. However, civic outlets are more than available. Wolgast, Washington, and multiple members of diverse, local organizations are available. Therefore, change is not unattainable and neither is one's ability to impact his or her community.

Magic Wands

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If you could wave your magic wand and transform this community, what change would you most want to see?


You are driving around Topeka with a magic wand…


Think about this for a moment…


This summer Heartland Visioning partnered with the Topeka and Shawnee County Library to do community engagements. At an engagement with young professionals, the top aspiration for the community was, “opportunities to embrace and value diversity and different cultures.” I asked a friend to share his perspective:


“Where can you go and find a vibrant arts community (NOTO and other aspects of Topeka fine arts), nearly every shade of the socio-economic spectrum, dual-language schools (Whitson elementary) next to upscale historic neighborhoods (Westboro)...Germanfest, Irishfest, Indiafest, different races, religions, and cultures living right next door to one another, shopping together, and even working out together (the gym where we work out is super diverse)...does this place sound like New York? LA? Chicago? In fact, I just described Topeka, Kansas.

When I shared these observations with people back home in Wisconsin, our family and friends were amazed. They had never thought of Topeka (let alone Kansas) as a place of diversity. This has been one of the most endearing aspects of Topeka to me and my wife, especially in comparison to other places that we have lived in the past. Topeka has been a place where we have observed and been invited to take part in holistic diversity, which crosses socio-economic, professional, and racial barriers, among many others. We are excited for the future in Topeka, and we can't wait to see what this community will look like in the months and years to come!”


This testimony is a superb example of Topeka leveraging and celebrating differences. Like my friend, I see differences in color, age, gender, social economic status, and more. I see things I wish were celebrated more and I see negative situations I wish were discussed more.

Think about your own experiences. Do you wish to engage in the discussion about diversity but don’t feel like you have a safe arena to do so? I think I’ve found a magic wand: Topeka is coming together to celebrate Remember Rosa, the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks taking a stand through a unity walk and a 6 word sharing of experiences. This is going to be a BIG event.

The part I am most excited about follows the model of the Race Card Project. Individuals are asked to share 6 words about their race experience. The 501 schools are asking their students this: “Think about your experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments, or observations about race and identity. Take those thoughts and distill them fdown to 6 words. Race Cards can be thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking, brave, teeming with anger and shimmering with hope.”  Thier participation, your participation will help create enriching conversations about equality that promote healing & unity in our community.

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What are your 6 words? What is the story behind them? I urge you to join the discussion, walk united over the bridge, and enjoy a community focused evening in NOTO on October’s First Friday. Sign up now to share your 6 words at http://www.rememberrosa.com/. I have no doubt this will push everyone there outside of their comfort zone. Topeka is not perfect and no place is, but look at the unique array of diversity we have around us to further leverage! #rememberrosa

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Celebrating neighbors in Topeka

I was honored to jump on the Topeka Metro Bus bus as a VIP for National Night Out. We stopped at five neighborhood parties and the bus was full of caring individuals, officers, and event organizers. Citizens were given an evening of intentional space to get to know their neighbors. For me, I was peeking into Topeka’s unique and beautiful range of diversity.

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I experienced…

• yard games
• balloon animals
• fruit salad consisting of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and pecans
• nachos
• white people
• black people
• brown people
• Low social economic status
• High social economic status
• Fancy spaces
• Outdoor spaces on a Kansas summer evening 
• And more

No matter the location I always saw families together and having a good time. Though there was diversity, there was a special sameness: family, laughter, food, and space to build friendships. I wish that everyone could have seen and experienced the array. Topeka is full of differences and I got to lean into the beauty of the differences at each of the five stops. I applaud anyone who celebrated in their neighborhood this fall and next year let's be a part of the goal to have 100 neighborhood parties in Topeka! (#100in2016) Stay tuned as this and some other experiences have led me to share more perspective on Topeka’s diversity. Also mark your calendar for October 2nd as Topeka participates in The Race Card Project, celebrating Rosa Park’s 60 year anniversary movement, and walk united over the Kansas Avenue bridge to enjoy First Friday in NOTO!

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Take a Seat vs. Walk and Talk

TedxTopeka Logo

When my 40 hour work weeks began, I was warned: “- ,you will gain weight simply from sitting so much.” Yikes! Why do we have a system that is so conducive to sitting? Is sitting the next smoking? That might be a stretch of a statement, but before sitting at a desk all day every day becomes my norm, I want to do my part in re-thinking this.

But, how do we re-think the norm?

RE-THINKING is something Ted Talks are diligently teaching people everywhere. Last fall Topeka was both excited and supportive of hosting a TedxTopeka event. Nathan Morris, Topeka’s Tedx Organizer shares:

“TED talks challenge me to look at everything differently. All of us are problem solvers and if we are lucky we get to spend our whole lives trying to come up with solutions. I’ve learned ‘normal’ solutions are not always the best.”

Is sitting at a desk the normal solution to doing my job effectively? Listen to this Ted Talk and join me in re-thinking this for three minutes!

Got a meeting, take a walk?

Heartland Visioning is helping our community re-think what is possible. Before the end of the year we can look forward to another authentic TedXTopeka event. In the meantime, when I ask you to meet with me, could we do a walk and talk instead? Let’s roll up our dress pants, slip on our chacos, and re-think taking a seat.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the TedXTopeka team for more info and share your favorite Ted Talk here.

What is the story we are telling ourselves?

Shunga

When I moved to Topeka (a year ago this memorial day weekend) I was surprised by the frequency of concerns that people shared about safety issues. I was told where not to live, where not to shop, where not to ride my bike, where I could get ice cream with someone and where I could not get ice cream by myself, because it would be unsafe. I sat in a cubicle and listened to my co-worker freak out every time the TV station sent her scary updates about crime on her phone. My thought process went like this; “Is it necessary to give the crime stats that much attention? Do I need to join this cloud of fear? Should I just become a hermit? How safe is safe?”

I was “advised” not to ride my bike to the West of Burlingame on the Shunga which caused me to complain about not being able to do so. John recently challenged me in this thinking asking me what would make me feel safer. I replied, “Having people around on the trails and having other’s recommendation to ride there.” So if everyone tells everyone else that we shouldn’t ride our bikes on certain parts of the Shunga, then no one is out there to make the ride seem safe. Hmm…Or, if people started riding on all parts of the trail, then maybe the unsafe feeling would go away. Maybe the stories we tell ourselves and each other would change.

What is the story we are telling ourselves? Is it based on other’s perceptions? Maybe personal experience or even statistics? We make decisions based on what we think we know. I challenge you to think, experience, and create your own perceptions. If you still see a problem, then be a part of the solution. Come with me to the next Safe Streets Coalition Wednesday, June 3rd at Great Overland Station. Email me in advance This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. They celebrate individual’s hard work in this area and report on the realities in order to make Topeka/Shawnee County the Safest Capital Community!

Would this looming cloud of fear look differently if the newspaper splashed positive messages front and center instead of constantly reporting on our non-heroes? Through our newspaper, TV alert text messages, and casual conversations what are we giving the most attention to? What is the story we are telling ourselves?

May 20, 2015

What do millinnials really want?

Since moving to Topeka 11 months ago, I have observed many organizations objectives to recruit and retain more millineals or young professional to the community. Through conversations I have learned about gaps in this area anywhere from large corporations Human Resources encouraging their young recruits to live in Lawrence to Washburn students graduating and then moving elsewhere.

Next time you think about this adaptive challenge, start by asking a millennial what they really want? Listen to that person’s desires for the future. I’ll make it easy. Start with me.

In my community I want...

  1.  Lots of people around my age to be friends with and (elephant in the room) to date
  2.  A job in which I am contributing something meaningful to this earth
  3.  Opportunity to exercise leadership no matter my title or authority
  4.  My voice and my engagement welcomed and valued
  5.  Innovation…change is good
  6.  Mentors, role models, and environments to develop
  7.  Down to earth, passionate, and non-pretentious people
  8.  Space to be creative, walk, bike, run, exercise, spend time outdoors
  9.  Ease of access to travel (I don’t have to be in the mountains all the time, just opportunities to get there.)
  10.  A healthy church family to grow in actionable faith
  11.  Close enough to family for visiting and far enough away to exercise independent living

Heartland Visioning is working both with and for the community to make many of these desires become a reality. Remember, I am only one young professional. My challenge to you is to ask a milllineal what they really want in the community. Then invite them to the table and partner with them to make it happen! 

April 10, 2015