IDEO's Urban Pre-Planning

Can the design company's "Smart Space" practice shake up the lumbering world of infrastructure, zoning and public process?

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Eighteenth and Vine — Kansas City’s historic but down-and-out jazz district — had a vision problem. “I always heard people say, ‘The vision for 18th and Vine is this, the vision for 18th and Vine is that,’” says Daryl Williams, director of research and policy for minority entrepreneurship at the Kansas City−based Kauffman Foundation. But whenever he asked people in the community what the vision looked like, nobody could ever produce a picture. “It was just people talking,” he says. “But a vision is not something you talk about, it’s something you look at.”

The Kauffman Foundation, with $2 billion in assets, bills itself as “the foundation of entrepreneurship”; but 18th and Vine, right in its backyard, had for decades been struggling to reinvigorate its storied past as a center for both jazz and black-owned businesses. In the late 1990s the American Jazz Museum opened, but rather than revitalize the community it seemed to turn a living place into a museum. For nearly a decade the Jazz District Redevelopment Corporation (JDRC) had been struggling to attract commerce back to the neighborhood without much success. So over lunch with now former JDRC president David Whalen at Peach Tree, the Vine’s famous soul food restaurant, Williams offered to “bring some resources to bear” to help develop a vision for the neighborhood — essentially to create a marketing brochure to attract future development. “We want to see the neighborhood be successful,” he told Whalen, “not by dictating what it has to be but what it can be.” Eighteenth and Vine had already tried the if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach with the jazz museum. What Williams envisioned instead was a set of possibilities rooted in the history of the neighborhood: “A straw man — something to give the community a jumping-off point to really do something else.” He had an idea how to get it.

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