Thursday, June 12, 2008

Responsible Urban Renovation

St. Louis city has many excellent characteristics, including a very strong urban renovation movement. Many old neighborhoods have survived the hard times of urban decay, many have been successfully revived, at least one has been completely bulldozed over (Botanical Heights, nee McRee Town), and some have continued to decay, falling further downward into the spiral of crime and poverty.

Until recently, North St. Louis has received the least amount of attention as far as renovation goes, but in the past few years that trend has taken a wonderful turn, thanks to some dedicated groups of people. Now that momentum has picked up in Old North St. Louis (ONSL), the movement has come to a critical crossroads.

Have you ever heard of New Urbanism? Well, if not, you can read the Wikipedia link. Anyway, there is this guy, Paul McKee, Jr., who has bought up a whole bunch of parcels in North City, and even managed to get legislation passed at the state level to assist him in his mysterious plans. He may or may not be planning to implement New Urbanism in the form of this Blairmont project, which has urban activists very nervous due to its scale and his company's record of displacement and neglect. Basically, McKee's Blairmont project has, so far, been the poster child for the worst form of gentrification.

Everyone wants to make St. Louis city a better place, right? And of course everyone has their own ideas about how to accomplish that, but when you buy up millions of dollars worth of contiguous properties and then let it all decay, refusing to divulge any details about your plans for that property, it tends to make people freak out. Yeah, it does.

Well, finally, a group of concerned citizens has formed a group called the Develop with Dignity Coalition, prominently placing themselves in the fray with McKee, hopefully forcing the Mayor to get off the fence w/r/t the Blairmont project. The Vital Voice has published an article describing the coalition's emergence, and potential influence on the situation.

This is pretty exciting stuff if you love this city and/or care about urban revival. Some might say McKee should not be alienated because few people have the money or desire to attempt a large-scale residential development in North St. Louis. On the other hand, the ONSL project has proven that traditional rehabilitation efforts coupled with an energized, enthusiastic segment of citizenry can accomplish great things!

Stay tuned, because successful development in North City could be a very positive catalyst for this city in terms of reduced crime and higher education levels, which results in reduced poverty, which results in reduced crime and higher education levels . . .

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