Idris Raoufi’s views on urban planning in Kansas City border on bleak.
KC is one of the most underplanned municipalities in the United States,” Raoufi says. “We’re 30 years behind the curve with land use, neighborhood preservation, municipal services, community health. There’s been almost no emphasis on planning for the future.” But even in challenging environments, dedicated souls tend to locate niches in which a difference might be made. Raoufi’s niche: the 816 Bicycle Collective, where he focuses his energy when he’s not working his day job as a transportation planner for Wilson & Co., an engineering and architecture firm. The 816 Bicycle Collective is a free community bike shop, staffed by volunteers who repair bikes and teach commuters how to do the same: how to adjust the brakes, how to change a flat, how to fix a derailleur, even how to build a bike from scratch. “People who rely on a bike to get to work — many of whom realistically can’t afford to ride the bus — are in large part the people who visit us,” Raoufi says. “There’s a large population of people in this city that gets around by bike, and our main function is to empower those people with the knowledge to fix their own bikes.
Raoufi co-founded the collective in 2008 with Suzanne Hogan, Kirk McDowell-Shafer, Bri Lauterbach and Sean Eagan. For now, it’s located in a back alleyway off Troost, at 3116 Forest. But in late spring or early summer, it’s moving to a more visible location, in the Union Hill neighborhood. Two years ago, at the Jackson County delinquent-tax auction, the organization purchased three buildings near the corner of 31st Street and Cherry.
“We got these three buildings on the same parcel in incredible condition, in a great location,” Raoufi says. “We had no intention of actually getting them. But nobody else bid on them.”
Thanks to donations at the shop, heavily discounted services from a friendly contractor and $32,000 netted from a 2013 crowdfunding campaign, the 816 Bicycle Collective has gradually renovated the properties. The new space will be multifaceted, housing the collective as well as its parent organization, the KC Bicycle Federation. The goal is to have leasable spaces in the other buildings that will generate revenue to fund the operations of the bike collective and pay for expenses associated with upkeep. “Ideally, we’d be leasing to like-minded nonprofits,” Raoufi says.
A self-sustaining hub for cycling advocacy: not bad for a town that historically has been less-than-progressive on transportation issues.
“There’s a lot you can do here that you can’t do in other cities,” Raoufi says, sounding a little more optimistic. “It’s why the collective has been able to do what it’s done so far. The work I’m passionate about is taking technical abilities I learned in school and helping advance disenfranchised communities to take better hold of the development of their neighborhoods. If you tried to do that in lots of other cities, you’d be dealing with higher real estate [costs], scarcer resources, more competition. This is a city of great opportunity if you’re aware of it.”
Read the complete Five do-gooders quietly make it easier for KC to heart itself The Pitch News article.