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The Foundation for Regeneration prioritizes community, industry and nature in the Blue River Valley

By Sarah Benal

The industrial age brought great change to the river and surrounding neighborhoods; where industry selected riverside sites and brought jobs and economic activity but, over time, converted the once pristine river and surrounding land into a toxic wasteland. Photo by Brian Weinberg

The Foundation for Regeneration (FFR) completed a comprehensive analysis of the Blue River Valley and is available to read in the Phase I Discovery Results Report. In partnership with the Industrial Development Authority, Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Hoxie Collective, and Parson+Associates, the report studies the last 100 years of Blue River Valley by integrating perspectives of industry, community and nature. The nature perspective largely draws on the work of Heartland Conservation Alliance’s 2021 Blue River Report Card and aims to support efforts that will improve the Report Card’s score.

“We are excited about the potential for our community to reverse a century of decline in the Blue River Valley,” said Bob Berkebile, the Principal Emeritus at BNIM. He explained that at the turn of the century, Blue River Valley was the most popular recreation area in the region with floating restaurants, resorts and water sports. The industrial age brought Henry Ford, Sheffield Steel, Fisher Body/Chevrolet and others, delivering thousands of jobs and several new neighborhoods to house the workers. But those neighborhood benefits eventually began departing for cleaner sites in surrounding communities that offered tax credits to fund their relocation, and it was later discovered they left behind polluted soil, polluted water and air, and more than 10,000 residents in surrounding neighborhoods without jobs.

The report shares notable developments, the status of regional assets within the Blue River Valley footprint and adds depth to the concept of “Ecodustrial” with national comparable and applied economic theory.

“After listening to all the stakeholders and building on the work previously accomplished by HCA and others, we have identified a number of exciting opportunities to work with nature and regenerative systems to break this destructive pattern, restore beauty and create long term vitality and resilience for this important place and its residents,” said Berkebile.

The report articulates an investment thesis for a new and emerging regenerative economy to take root, offering building blocks across sectors of regenerative agriculture, circular economy, carbon/ecosystem assets, open source manufacturing and outdoor recreation. There is a full master list of projects and a short list of pilot projects defined as interventions - or ‘urban acupuncture’ points to implement in the coming months. The pilots represent a holistic, systems thinking and place- based approach totaling $850 thousand. HCA plans to partner with FFR around these shared goals.

“I'm personally excited about the opportunity to connect more people to the Blue River and for all the opportunities for regeneration of the land and old industrial sites that give residents the chance to be creative and dream up ambitious solutions for the future,” said Regan Tokos, Community Planner at Hoxie Collective.

The Foundation for Regeneration is dedicated to creating meaningful demonstrations that showcase the promise of Regeneration. FFR believes in using the tools of philanthropy, social entrepreneurship and impact investing to catalyze programs in economic development, community empowerment, and ecological health in the American Midwest. FFR is fiscally sponsored by the Giving Back Fund and led by co-Directors Bob Berkebile and Brian Weinberg as a intergenerational team supported by a world class Advisory Council.

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