My Family’s Kansas City Story

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My family is lucky enough that we can all revisit this house any time we want, to see childhood bedrooms, or look through the mountain of photo albums my grandmother collected over the decades. 

Whenever my family all gathers at our grandparents’ house, my aunts and uncles can’t wait to reminisce about how they used to ride their bikes around the neighborhood to the nearby zoo and concert space in Swope Park. Old disagreements between uncles over who won what kickball or flag football game inevitably get stirred up. And, my personal favorite, stories about my mom growing up as the youngest sibling and how her older siblings would give her a hard time for it. 

Hearing these stories as a kid, I always was so confused about why my younger cousins and I didn’t have similar experiences there. Sure, we played in the yard that felt like the size of a football field, and explored all the strange tools and old things in my grandpa’s garage, but we never really rode our bikes around there, or walked to the zoo, or walked around at all, really. 

Now, after learning more about neighborhood planning in Kansas City, I understand the history of my grandparents’ neighborhood a little bit more, and why it’s so different now than it was when my mom was a child. 

The neighborhood changed rapidly after my grandparents moved in. There is a good possibility their neighborhood fell victim to blockbusting, a practice by real estate agents that results in neighborhoods rapidly changing from mostly white to all black, because agents convinced white homeowners to sell by telling them their property values would decline with the increase of black families in the neighborhood. 

My aunt remembers when they moved in, she was in elementary school and all of their neighbors were middle class, many of them business owners. She remembers the neighborhood was very diverse, with all of their next-door neighbors being white. By the time she went to high school, her neighborhood was predominantly black. From my experience visiting there over the past two decades, I never saw people of different races; it very much felt like a segregated space of the city. 

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