The Walking Detective™ is KC Healthy Kids’ new kid-friendly activity that teaches kids about the built environment and empowers them to advocate for change. Our intern Andrea Clark has been hard at work on this tool and reports on a test run.
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Juniper Gardens is the oldest and largest housing project in Kansas. It’s also home to New Roots for Refugees, a farming program operated by Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate KC for refugee women. Many of the women live in Juniper Gardens where they grow produce to sell at farmers’ markets all around the KC metro area, including Northeast KCK.
On a hot Tuesday afternoon, I went to Juniper Gardens to talk to a group of kids from the neighborhood while they ate snacks before their tutoring began. After chatting with the kids about their experiences walking and biking in the neighborhood, I set out on a walkability audit of Juniper Gardens and Edgerton Park, a public park just across the street. Juniper Gardens, like most neighborhoods, has its plusses and minuses, and could use some improvement to better serve its residents.
Many of the kids there walk to school and to the park to play. The sidewalks through the housing project were in good condition, but with few trees for shade, it gets quite hot. While there are open green spaces for kids to play outside, some play in parking lots which can be dangerous.
As I walked towards the park, I saw significant discrepancies between the infrastructure in the housing project and the surrounding neighborhood. Sidewalks randomly ended and reappeared further down the street, and some sections were overgrown with grass and weeds. A crosswalk with pedestrian signs provided a safe route for kids to cross the street to the park, but there were no sidewalks on the other side of the street.
Juniper Gardens is unique because the housing project is financed through Housing and Urban Development, rather than the city or county. This in part explains why infrastructure in the housing project is in better condition than the surrounding neighborhood. The city generally focuses on infrastructure in higher density areas, so neighborhoods in Northeast KCK are less of a priority. Connecting existing sidewalks and crosswalks would create continuity and make Juniper Gardens and surrounding neighborhoods more walkable.
Edgerton Park has a playground, a shelter with a picnic table and a small amphitheater. This is great for physical activity and community use. However, accessibility to the park is limited due to the lack of sidewalks. To access the park, people have to either walk in the street or up a grassy hill. This is unsafe for kids and problematic for people who use a stroller, walker or wheelchair.
I saw some litter in the park and along the sidewalks, mainly cans and bottles. More trash cans and recycling bins in the park and near the bus stop may help with this issue.
As the temperature climbed, I looked around for a place to buy a drink or snack, buy my only option was a liquor store across the street from the park.
The Juniper Gardens neighborhood scored 60/81. This score indicates the neighborhood is good for walking, biking and playing, but some improvements are definitely needed to make it better.
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