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One man tries to spur an urban revival with tulips

Durwin Rice leads a drive to change the image of Troost Avenue, a racial and economic dividing line in Kansas City, by planting millions of flowers.

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Durwin Rice is an interior designer, an art gallery owner, and a noted decoupage artist – someone so into his craft that he once glued paper cutouts from floor to ceiling in his house, including inside the refrigerator. In other words, Mr. Rice is a creative guy. Now, however, he may be attempting his most unconventional venture yet – trying to revitalize one of the most infamous thoroughfares in this Midwestern city ... with tulips.

Call it neo flower power. Call it a petal revolution. Whatever it is, it may be one of the most unusual approaches to urban renewal in the country. Led by the mild-mannered but tenacious Rice, local residents on both sides of Troost Avenue – young and old, black and white, middle class and poor – are planting tens of thousands of tulips to help beautify what has long been the city's premier social demarcation line.

They're planting them in small clumps in tree wells, in neat double rows along parkways, and in great showy beds up and down the 10-mile length of the Troost corridor, which cuts through the heart of Kansas City, running north and south from downtown to the city's southern reaches.

While Tulips on Troost, as the enterprise has been dubbed, has not resulted in anything as tangible as a needed new business, a rehabbed building, or a cleaned up facade, it has broken psychological barriers and united the community as few initiatives have in the past. It has also brought a host of visitors to the area and generated a positive buzz.

"It's a complete new paradigm for Troost," says Jim Rice (no relation to Durwin), who spent more than 20 years working in community development in the area. "It isn't just a band-aid."

• • •

Few streets in Kansas City are more in need of a makeover than Troost Avenue. A prosperous commercial and residential thoroughfare in the early 1900s, its fortunes dropped precipitously in the years following World War II, when large social phenomena – the rise of the automobile, the decline of the streetcar, white flight to the suburbs – sapped inner cities across the country. By the 1960s, the Troost corridor was beset by crime, poverty, racial discrimination, and abandoned buildings.

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