Good things grow when neighbors band together

Kids playing at Marlborough Park

Kids zooming along on the zipline at the playground at 82nd and Troost. Photo by Ivan LaBianca.

Welcome to Marlborough. This vibrant community in the southeast section of Kansas City, Missouri, is home to about 10,000 people and covers five connected neighborhoods spread over two-and-a-half square miles.

Today, Marlborough residents can meet at their community center, enjoy walking on more than two miles of consecutive sidewalks connecting three different greenspaces, and let their children run and climb at the playground.

This urban community’s struggles with stormwater and sewer flooding, trash dumping, lack of greenspace, and general neglect have been greatly improved over the last decade, thanks in great part to the efforts of the Marlborough Community Coalition.

The Marlborough Community Coalition (MCC) is an association of engaged residents, businesses, and partners volunteering their time to promote a healthy, sustainable, and vibrant community. The Conservation Fund is proud to have partnered with MCC on fulfilling the community’s vision for the greenspace at 82nd Street and Troost Avenue. We recently checked in with two of MCC’s leaders, Diane Hershberger and Jeff Primos, to learn more about their organization.

Diane Hershberger has lived in the neighborhood for 26 years and is one of MCC’s founding leaders. She is currently MCC’s healthy community program director:

“Together, we are Marlborough.” That is our motto at the Marlborough Community Coalition. We utilize housing, greenspace, and the arts as core revitalization approaches, and also advocate for equitable treatment and resources.

In the past, each of the five historic neighborhoods that comprise the overall community of Marlborough had their own association; some were originally formed in the 1960s and 1970s to counteract practices of redlining in the city. These individual neighborhood groups had very few activities or were totally dissolved by the early 2000s, leaving Marlborough residents without a clear avenue to voice their concerns and hopes for their community.

That all changed in 2008, when the city’s plan to quietly close the Marlborough Community Center was challenged by a small group of concerned citizens from all five neighborhoods. I was part of that group that banded together to successfully prevent the closure of the Community Center, which was our only real public gathering space. More than that, we got the City’s attention—really the first attention to our neighborhood at all. We then officially incorporated our organization in 2009 as the Marlborough Community Coalition.

Over the last decade, that first accomplishment has opened the door for more visibility and victories. The City has invested millions in storm water, street and sidewalk infrastructure in Marlborough. This includes green infrastructure at three sites that were originally designed only to address major flooding and water quality issues in the community, but with the help of Marlborough Community Coalition and other partners, these sites can now provide that important flood control function and so much more.

These green infrastructure sites—Rachel Morado Garden, Arleta Park, and the 82nd
 and Troost site—provide both large-scale storm water retention and a place to enjoy nature in a park-like setting, complete with native plants, walking paths, and in the case of the 82nd and Troost site, a playground with a zip-line. Connecting these greenspaces are more than two miles of sidewalks and paths named the Greenwalk that are part of Marlborough Community Coalition’s initiative to bring livable streets to the community.

Jeff Primos was born and raised in Marlborough, and when he moved back three years ago with his family he noticed many good things happening in his community. Looking to get more involved with the positive momentum, he joined MCC and is now the organization’s resident:

Some of my best memories growing up in Marlborough are of playing baseball in the parking lots around town. There was not a lot of park space back then; it was mainly parking lots and you’d play wherever you could find empty space. It is good to actually have greenspace now where kids can play. Hopefully having all these greenspaces connected and fixing up other areas will spur interest and pride in our community and bring a better quality of life to those that live here. Our larger vision is to make this a walkable community that is healthy, vibrant, and a place where you’d want to raise your family. Plain and simple.

The investment in this community has certainly been put to good use during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has demonstrated the benefits of having access to nature and safe places to play and explore outdoors. The walking trails and playground at the Troost greenspace have been continually used by families and small groups during the pandemic. What a great thing to have during COVID, when people can’t go anywhere else, they can actually just walk around the neighborhood and go to these great parks. It was a really great experience to drive down Troost the other day and see the park full of kids zip-lining and playing. I look at that space and really see that its impact will start to make the community more family centered.

The Troost greenspace’s location presents itself like a “front door” to the Marlborough community, and the Marlborough Community Coalition partnered with The Conservation FundHeartland Conservation Alliance, U-Haul, the City of Kansas City, and other local stakeholders to seize the opportunity to make it the best it could be.

Partnerships allowed us to actually bring this dream to fruition. Without partners we wouldn’t have been able to finish the project to the level that we wanted. For example, when we hit a roadblock, partnering with The Conservation Fund and their Parks with Purpose program helped us get through and we were able to get this playground and make this a beautiful space with direct support to add benches, trees and plants. It is a feather in the cap of Marlborough that everybody loves. We are appreciative of The Conservation Fund’s long-term commitment to the park and to Marlborough.

Working in partnership with the Heartland Conservation Alliance, residents are being trained on how to maintain the green infrastructure at the park. Plans to increase onsite programming are also in the works, which is important because programming brings both benefits of the programs themselves, as well as generating positive activity to help deter crime on the bordering streets.

And thanks to a grant from Health Forward Foundation, the Coalition is reaching out to people who live in the roughly 1,100 homes along the Greenwalk to develop “Block Ambassadors” who will keep their eye on things happening in their small part of the community.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on The Conservation Fund’s website. Republished with permission.


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