A New Heart for a Fragile Community

  • SEEDocs Bancroft School

    SEEDocs: Bancroft School Renovation Participants talk about renovating a neighborhood from the center out.

  • Reviving Community from the inside out The Bancroft School renovation in Kansas City's Manheim Park neighborhood came after an inclusive and collaborative process involving neighbors, community leaders and architects. Image Credit: Chuck Olsen

  • Reviving Community from the inside out The Bancroft School renovation in Kansas City's Manheim Park neighborhood came after an inclusive and collaborative process involving neighbors, community leaders and architects. Image Credit: Chuck Olsen

  • Reviving Community from the inside out The Bancroft School renovation in Kansas City's Manheim Park neighborhood came after an inclusive and collaborative process involving neighbors, community leaders and architects. Image Credit: Chuck Olsen

  • Reviving Community from the inside out The Bancroft School renovation in Kansas City's Manheim Park neighborhood came after an inclusive and collaborative process involving neighbors, community leaders and architects. Image Credit: Chuck Olsen

A New Heart for a Fragile Community

When civic leaders and residents of the embattled Manheim Park neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri looked for a way to combat the creeping blight and decline of their community, they first looked within the community and then worked their way out.

The neighborhood was asked what needed to be done, and the result grew into the Bancroft School renovation, a transformation of an abandoned school into a showpiece and center for the community. 

Manheim Park residents approached BNIM Architects with the idea of turning a derelict, boarded-up school into a revitalized community center that would encourage civic engagement. With the help of actor Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation, BNIM collaborated with the neighborhood residents to design a multi-use center that would feature affordable housing units, a health clinic, and public gathering space.

Gathering around the table with neighbors--complete with Kansas City barbecue--was a key to developing a shared vision for the plan, said Bancroft School renovation designer Sam de Jong. “Sharing food together just builds a relationship,” de Jong said. “Community engagement is always a messy process, but it’s a good process. No one knows as much as everyone.”

“I want to see all the boarded-up houses unboarded, re-fixed and people living in them,” said community activist Grace Price.

The approach, which integrated the local community into the process from the start, exemplifies love and forgiveness by fostering the interdependent relationship of designer and community to shape the built environment and create a healthy, sustainable future that supports people and the planet. It epitomizes the SEED Network’s mantra: “trust the local.”

The result, in the words of Saundra Hayes, the president of the Historic Manheim Park Neighborhood Association, was empowering for the architects and the community as a whole: “This project has uplifted humanity [...not by] inducing dependence but creating empowerment--and that’s powerful.”

“What’s striking about Manheim Park and the Bancroft School is that they chose to define their own future,” said Bob Berkebile, Principal at BNIM Architects, “not to allow the community and fear to define it for them.”

The open collaboration and respectful approach not only helped the Bancroft result, Berkebile added, “it shows us a way to deal with urban communities anywhere in America.”

The linked documentary about the Bancroft School project is one of a series of SEEDocs, documentaries focusing on social, economic, and environmental design. This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Design.

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