Building a Healthy Village

“It takes a village to raise a child.”
– African Proverb

I’ve been involved with the community surrounding 31st and Troost since 1987, working in the social services and as a priest in the local Orthodox parish. Our diverse congregation and neighborhood have provided the opportunity to spend time and learn from people with many different cultures. I was struck early on by the sense of community held by cultures from Africa and the Middle East. Their sense of self was tied to the rest of the community, leading their decision-making process to first ask how something affected the group as a whole, as opposed to the individual.

It was this sense of community that inspired a village approach in our neighborhood that straddles the street known as a racial dividing line – or “the Berlin Wall of Kansas City,” as Walt Bodine called Troost Avenue. In our sense of village, we share a vision of how the whole community can affect its 10 essential interconnected sectors: art, communication, community, education, the environment, justice, science, resources, spirituality, and health. If one sector grows too rapidly at the expense of another, it becomes cancerous.

Troost Village is now a community association that meets weekly, governed on a consensus model in which everyone must treat each other with respect and listen to other viewpoints. Troost villagers hope to grow the essential sectors in a 12-block walkable radius, bringing together goods and resources to make the neighborhood a desired place, while improving the health of the community as a whole.

We’ve worked to improve quality relationships among the community, which research has shown develops the resilience young people need to make it in this world. In addressing the lack of access to healthy foods, which is tied to obesity, Troost villagers created a community garden for fresh herbs and vegetables, and joined the Squash Blossoms food co-op for locally grown, locallly-owned, organic grains and meats.

A walkable neighborhood also provides more opportunity for commerce, mixed with a healthy lifestyle. And as the community economy grows, crime is reduced. The economic downtown has only shown us that the need for a village approach has grown, as more people are forced to rely on others for their basic needs.

It was around this time seven years ago that Troost Village began to be formed while planning for the first Troost Festival (which is now in its seventh year and being held again on May 14 from 12-10 pm at the intersection of 31st and Troost). The Troost Festival brings the 10 community sectors together in the form of local community groups, artists, faith-based groups, local entrepreneurs, and people from the neighborhood.

We’ve already seen several encouraging things come from planning the Troost Festival, including Troost Village; the Troost Alliance, a network of neighborhood businesses; the continued beautification of Troost Avenue such as Tulips on Troost, the public art sponsored by the Kansas City Area Transit Authority, and, most significantly, the relationships continuing to grow from both sides of this diminishing divided corridor.

As we look to the future, we realize, for a sustainable village, we can’t be like artificial Christmas trees but a living forest! It takes time, patience, love, and plenty of heart to heart connections. But the village is growing and people are finding each other day by day. It’s interesting, because the early meaning of Troost is Comforter (in the Dutch New Testament, the word Troost was used by Christ when He promised to send the “Comforter”). It has the same root as tree, trust and true. What great images to draw from as this village grows in the middle of the city!

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