Kansas City's 18Broadway Urban Rain Garden Showcases Sustainability

A corporate-sponsored urban rain garden demonstrates food-growing techniques, renewable energy and stormwater management—all in one square block in downtown Kansas City.

| March/April 2011

Kansas City’s historic and now-bustling Crossroads Art District has seen many revitalization efforts over the past decade. But few have offered as many community benefits as the new 18Broadway project, an urban rainwater-harvesting food garden in the heart of downtown—the first of its kind in the country.

Originally conceived to help tackle the city’s stormwater and wastewater treatment problems, the garden has evolved to do much more. Volunteers demonstrate gardening techniques in container, raised-bed and in-ground gardens, all watered from an underground 40,000-gallon rainwater-catchment cistern. The cistern is fed by rainwater that’s filtered through a street-level bioswale system—a vegetation-filled drainage system that captures and filters rain or other water. The food grown is donated to local food banks, and the entire site is powered by a photovoltaic array and prototype wind turbine.

When It Rains, It Pours 

In 2008, financial services technology provider DST Systems was planning to build condominiums on a plot of land at 18th and Broadway, just a few blocks from its headquarters. But a sudden decline in nationwide economic conditions led the company to set aside those plans. DST had already demolished the building that had stood on the site because of  structural integrity failures, and the company was left with a large, empty plot of land. “We had this vacant, bare, highly erodible site, and we needed to stabilize it,” says DST vice president Steve Taylor. The company turned to its neighbors, 360 Architecture, whose stated mission is to create projects that “enhance the well-being of people, organizations, communities and the environment.”

DST envisioned building a series of rain gardens as part of Kansas City’s 10,000 Rain Gardens initiative. Because Kansas City’s sewage and stormwater runoff systems are linked, large storms overflow the city’s water treatment system and send untreated sewage into area waterways. Though the municipality will invest billions of dollars over the next 25 years to remedy the situation, the citywide 10,000 Rain Gardens initiative is a stopgap measure to proactively involve individuals and businesses in rainwater management until major renovations are complete.

DST and 360 were determined to showcase how much one city block could affect one big environmental problem—then they realized they could also directly benefit community members and build on DST’s history of community gardening by growing food. “Once we started to find a solution, it became a platform for a more expansive idea,” Taylor says. For 18 years, DST staff volunteers have been growing food in a garden in the nearby Quality Hill neighborhood and donating it to a local soup kitchen. They decided to expand on the idea at 18Broadway, storing and using rainwater to irrigate food gardens that would produce fresh vegetables for area food banks. “It’s a nice synergy with our gardening core and expands our community gardening efforts,” Taylor says.

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