The Mid-America Regional Council is the largest planning agency in the Kansas City metro area, with a staff of some 150. It's involved with a wide range of programs, and serves as the region's "MPO" (metropolitan planning organization, responsible for region-wide transportation planning) and council of governments. It serves 9 counties and 120 cities, with a population of nearly two million.
But despite its many functions & high tech capabilities, what struck me most in a wide-ranging discussion I had with Marlene Nagel (MARC's Executive Director; right in the photo), Dean Katerndahl (Government Innovations Director), and Jody Ladd Craig (Public Affairs Director; middle of the photo) was the organization's role as a facilitator. What Marlene, Dean, and Jody most wanted to tell me about was projects in which MARC helps bridge divides between and within communities, and foster greater citizen participation and understanding of local planning.
One area that MARC puts much effort into is training local government officials -- including planning commissioners -- on a wide range of topics. Thousands of local officials participate in one or more of these programs each year.
Another program that Dean has been involved with is facilitating the Kansas City First Suburbs Coalition. While this informal group of 19 communities shares some of the same objectives as Cincinnati's First Suburbs Coalition (see my earlier post on that organization) it's initial project focused on what its participants identified as a priority: finding ways of revitalizing the housing stock in these older, mostly built-out suburbs.
To that end, MARC helped in developing a very popular "Idea Book" that identifies -- with excellent photos and graphics -- ways to renovate and expand the various kinds of post World War II housing that comprises so much of the housing stock in older suburbs. Design ideas are offered that allow for compatible changes. This kind of information should make it easier for homeowners to remain in their houses -- and communities -- even if their space needs grow.
[a page from the Idea Book]
But there's more to this program, MARC staff helped work out an arrangement with Community America (a lending institution) to offer small below-market-rate home equity loans to homeowners within First Suburbs communities. So far, thirty loans have been made -- drawing on an initial pot of $2 million -- for home modifications. Loans range from $5,000 to $30,000. To participate, a home's market value must be under $200,000.
Before closing, I also want to make a brief mention of one more example of MARC's role as a facilitator. Marlene told me about the "KC Voice" program (which MARC staffs). Its aim is to develop ways of encouraging citizen participation. A recent success was work in Gladstone, Missouri, bringing together residents, developers, planning commissioners, and city officials to take a fresh look at their development review process. In Gladstone, MARC help facilitate a series of meetings that led to consensus on making a number of changes.
To get a more complete picture on all that MARC does, take a stroll through their web site.