Blue Springs a Testing Ground for UMKC’s Urban Geography Class
Blue Springs is one of the metro’s increasingly populous suburbs. Just 20 miles from Kansas City’s center, the once quiet town of a few thousand people has experienced a nearly-eightfold increase in population since the 1960s.
Now, concerned citizens and civic leaders are promoting Renew the Blue, an aggressive, citizen-driven initiative for analyzing and updating the services and amenities that originally attracted new families and businesses to Blue Springs. In order to evaluate the efficiency of the city’s governing boards and commissions, Renew the Blue members turned to UMKC’s Urban Geography class, taught by Professor Steven Driever.
To get his students started, Driever brought urban planning professionals into the classroom. They advised the students about what to look for when examining a city’s economic and community development infrastructure.
The students applied some general questions in analyzing the way Blue Springs does business:
- how to guard against conflicts of interest
- how to select members for boards
- how to encourage more citizen participation
- how to assure attendance at meetings
- what qualifications should be required for board service
Nazgol Bagheri, Ph.D. student, Department of Geosciences, said the student teams were very involved.
“We looked at experiences in other cities, Blue Springs’ own history and what constitutes reasonable board composition,” said Bagheri. “As my group conducted our study, we came to see a link between Blue Springs retaining its sense of community and more public participation. When residents participate, it generates social capital that makes them feel connected.“
After the studies were complete, the students made recommendations for setting long-range meeting schedules, changing some membership requirements, Internet access to applications, combining boards where responsibilities overlapped, and adding new commissions for areas — such as the environment — that were not currently covered.
“I was impressed by the detailed analysis and the insights the students offered for possible changes to the boards and commissions,” said Tom Rodenberg, Renew the Blue member. “The students did a very good job of identifying issues of concern with respect to improving citizen participation and proposed many substantive ideas for improvement.”
Throughout this process, the UMKC students gained a profound appreciation for the influence ordinary citizens can have on the communities where they live.