A plan to launch the Urban Ecosystem Standard in Kansas City
How Carbon A List is helping the Foundation for Regeneration lead a new initiative.
Last month, part of the Carbon A List team met in St. Louis, Missouri for a business trip. On this trip, we had the chance to get to know one another beyond our computer screens and meet clients in person.
After a few days in St. Louis, we hopped on the River Runner to Kansas City. The following day, we sat down with co-directors Bob Berkebile and Brian Weinberg of the Foundation for Regeneration (FfR) to discuss our upcoming work. The FfR is an organization based in Kansas City that develops regenerative projects to show how regeneration can positively impact the Midwest. The organization hired Carbon A List to help co-create the Urban Ecosystem Standard to support monitoring and measuring practices of several environmental interventions that would occur along the Blue River Valley and its industrial corridor. During this meeting, we also met one of their project partners, the Hoxie Collective, another local organization specializing in community planning and engagement.
However, on a more grand scale, the FfR and its diverse project partners, co-created a large-scale regenerative project that would restore portions of the river that run through Kansas City with the intent to create value for the surrounding neighborhoods, and more broadly, Kansas City.
For me personally, the opportunity to meet and engage with the project partners was a great opportunity to witness what I believe to be the powerful makings of a regenerative project.
Creating the Urban Ecosystem Standard
As I described earlier, the Urban Ecosystem Standard (UES) is a collaborative effort that will build off the knowledge and experiences of FfR, Carbon A List, and the Hoxie Collective and advance the critical groundwork of the Heartland Conservation Alliance. It will establish a methodology that supports funding for ecological interventions within city limits through a streamlined approach to track outcomes and co-benefits and support progress against city climate action plans. And once the standard is active and used to quantify outcomes, they will be made available for purchase by local buyers on regen.network’s blockchain. The revenue generated by these outcomes will be used to continuously fund ongoing regenerative activities. The UES is inspired by voluntary carbon markets but moves beyond carbon as the primary asset being sold.
In addition to the standard development, the Hoxie Collective and FfR will work alongside the community and provide the resources to initiate pilot projects that will road-test the methodology. Once final, these organizations will apply the methodology and work with the community to reintroduce native grasses, launch a 200-acre regenerative farm, and restore trails to improve the Blue River’s ecosystem, all while using the standard to quantify changes.
While we discussed these topics in our meeting, the FfR, the Hoxie Collective, and Carbon A List defined a set of goals to help us identify our motivations and ground our future work. For a joint effort like this, I believe the meeting was a useful way to identify the skills each team member offers, our collective and individual motivations, and collectively envision the project’s end results. In doing so, I noticed that the individuals from these organizations are driven by the opportunity to restore the river and address the community’s needs. I think this became most clear when we quickly identified two long-term goals: the first is to empower the community, and the second is to create a project the community can inherit. Throughout the day, I noticed that these same goals underlined earlier phases of the project and would also resonate in the remaining stages of the project.
The Blue River Valley
In the 1800s, Kansas City experienced an economic boom that transformed the area into a prosperous industrial corridor. The corridor housed various manufacturing companies and industrial districts, like Ford Motors, Armco Steel, and others. The Foundation for Regeneration describes the early history on its website by explaining:
“ The Blue River Valley was once a source of abundant clean water, rich soil for farming, and a favorite playground for Kansas Citians enjoying fishing, water sports, houseboats, and restaurants. The industrial age brought great change to the river and surrounding neighborhoods; where industry selected riverside sights and brought jobs and economic activity but, over time, converted the once pristine river and surrounding land into a toxic wasteland. As the industrial businesses left, so did the jobs supporting the surrounding neighborhoods.”
After we met with the team, Bob and Brian took Carbon A List on a tour around the Blue River Valley Neighborhood and the industrial corridor. On this tour, we would see first-hand the remnants of this once thriving area.
On this tour, I saw residential areas, some with vacant homes and schoolhouses, an abandoned recreational center, and a mix of active and inactive warehouses. While they showed us around, Bob and Brian described the area’s history and their additional strategies for regeneration.
Seeing it that day and learning about the plans to restore the area allowed me to think beyond what I saw and visualize how this project could empower the economic, ecological, and social systems inextricably linked to the Blue River.
The Blue River Valley Project
Earlier in the post, I mentioned that there are future plans to regenerate other areas of the Blue River Valley. For more information about the additional project action areas, I encourage you to explore this interactive map, to learn more about the work at hand and the work the community has done to restore this part of Kansas City. The interactive map was created by one of their project partners, the Heartland Conservation Alliance (HCA), a local alliance of conservation groups and entities that is working with the community to restore parts of the Blue River.
On a larger scale, the Blue River Valley Project’s development strategy was forged out of numerous public, private, non-profit, and place-based partnerships. It brings together organizations like the Economic Development Corporation, The Nature Conservancy in Missouri, Parson Associates, municipal government departments, and neighborhood associations, all of which have contributed to knowledge sharing, surveying, and community engagement in the project’s strategy to regenerate the area.
Some of the plans of action include restoring wetlands, removing invasive plant species and expanding native species, community volunteer days, and more. If you would like to explore current and future project work, view the Blue River Action Plan for additional context.
A collaborative and community-based design
My exposure to this project has shown me that this community project is hyper-aware of the systems that existed in the past and that exist today and that they are making an apparent effort to engage community stakeholders. I believe that because of this, the project has accurately prescribed solutions that holistically address the community’s needs.
One way that the efforts to restore the river were made more aware of the ecological, social, and institutional systems specific to Blue River Valley was via the Heartland’s Conservation Alliance’s assessment of the upper, middle, and lower portions in 2019. This assessment would later produce the Blue River Valley Report Card that scored the overall health of these systems to uncover areas of intervention. The report would encourage municipal governments to work creatively to monitor the watershed’s health, inspire green infrastructure concepts, and guide efforts to inform and engage the community. All of which were integrated into the project.
The FfR did similar work by assessing the opportunities for redevelopment. Earlier this year, the FfR and its partners published a report that summarized their Phase 1 Discovery Results. The work they did leading up to the report includes economic trends assessments, listening sessions with members of the community, the integration of the HCA’s Report Card nature assessment, and the inclusion of their historical learnings of innovative industries that once settled there. I believe this effort to regenerate the area is primed for success because FfR, and its partners, did a great deal of work to understand the systems stemming from the river and then used this information to strategically inform their 10-year intervention roadmap and playbook. And by doing so, I believe that FfR boosted its capacity to build a framework that holistically regenerates the river and the communities that surround it.
Lastly, the project created space for community engagement by holding multiple stakeholder engagement events, one of which was a stakeholder workshop that happened earlier this year. Bob and Brian explained that this workshop allowed them to engage with the community and effectively incorporate their visions for positive change. I think this level of community engagement and the plans to engage with the community in future stages increase the project’s ability to successfully craft solutions and identify action areas that will create the most value for Kansas Citians.
The work ahead
The work done by the Foundation for Regeneration and its partners demonstrates a degree of awareness, collaboration, and community engagement that, I believe, will regenerate Kansas City.
I believe the effort to learn about the area’s past and present state, engage with those living there, and collaborate with numerous local organizations has equipped this project with the skills and understanding to transform the river. I also see that the project design intentionally integrates systems thinking that will create far-reaching benefits for Kansas Citians.
My job has expanded my understanding of the multiple ways to tackle climate change. In fact, before working with Carbon A List, I wasn’t aware of the mixed ways regenerative projects could revitalize environmental systems, and this project is a fantastic example of how regenerative projects can restore economic and social systems too.
I am very excited to be a member of this project. I am eager to contribute what I know about interventions and ecological standards, and I look forward to learning with the team.