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Documentary Film About Pruitt-Igoe in the Making

June 13, 2008 Media, North City 12 Comments

Pruitt-Igoe and other failed urban renewal era projects are one of my personal areas of interest so when I got a request from a group of documentary film makers to help them find people to help tell the story of P-I I thought it a worthy goal. Here s their request:

Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films of Columbia, MO is preparing to produce a feature-length documentary film about the notorious public housing development Pruitt-Igoe.

When Pruitt-Igoe was built in St. Louis in 1954, it was hailed as a triumph of modern architecture and a prime example of post-WWII federalism’s ability to improve the lives of underserved citizens. When it was destroyed in the 1970’s, it represented the failure of American public housing and urban renewal. To this day, Pruitt-Igoe remains a controversial symbol of bureaucratic inefficiency, systemic racism and the struggle to solve the problem of poverty in America.

The Pruitt-Igoe Documentary will explore the social, economic, historic, cultural and architectural issues surrounding the conception, construction, expectations, degeneration and ultimate destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex.

This is a pivotal story, not only for St. Louis’s history, but for the American urban experience. We seek to remove the layers of misconception and stereotype surrounding the development’s design, funding and tenant population.

We are seeking:

Former residents of Pruitt-Igoe who have interesting stories to tell about life in the developments.

Anyone interested in contributing visual or audible artifacts (obviously photos and films are most beneficial) that would assist in the telling of the story of Pruitt-Igoe

We will begin production in July. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!

Best regards,
Chad Freidrichs

Contact: Chad Freidrichs
Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films

I think the story of the Polish immigrants who were displaced for the construction of Pruitt-Igoe is an important part of the story. I think we’ll also find individuals that have fond memories of living at Pruitt-Igoe, despite the conditions.


Learn to Grow Your Own

With gas, food and other prices on the rise people’s budgets are being stretched. One way of dealing with this is to put your yard to work for you by growing some of your own food. If you toyed with the idea but didn’t know where to start then I hvae a workshop for you.

This Saturday May 17th the New Roots Urban Farm will present:
Home Grown, a backyard gardening workshop for city folk
10am to 3pm

Their description

a how-to vegetable production workshop that will cover basic soil science, backyard composting, no till
and raised bed construction, intensive planting methods, garden design, and more.
come prepared to create a garden plan and to get your hands dirty!
cost: $10-20 for those who live in Old North St Louis, Hyde Park, or St Louis Place; $45 for
any other city resident. Workshop, farm tour,lunch, and basic gardening supplies provided.

location: 1830 Hogan St Louis, MO 63116.  If you’d like more information or would like to register email molly@newrootsurbanfarm.org or call 314.664.2361  www.newrootsurbanfarm.org

This workshop funded in part by a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant

Like expensive leeks?  They are easy to grow.  Eating produce you raised yourself is one of the most enjoyable things you can do.


Old North St. Louis 2008 House and Community Tour on Saturday, May 10th

May 9, 2008 North City 3 Comments

My favorite former neighbor is showing off Saturday:

Join us for the Old North St. Louis 2008 House and Community Tour on Saturday, May 10th.  Ten homes and community gardens will be open to the public from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.   You can also get a sneak-peek at the current redevelopment of the former 14th Street Mall.

Come see why Focus St. Louis declared Old North St. Louis “What’s Right with the Region,” why St. Louis Magazine says Old North St. Louis is “one of St. Louis’ most exciting up-and-coming neighborhoods,” and why Alive Magazine listed Old North St. Louis as one of “St. Louis’ Most Influential People, Places and Ideas of 2008.”

Visitors will be able to walk between the homes and gardens on the tour at their own pace or use the free “trolley” shuttle service.  With homes built over a span of 150 years – from the mid-19th Century to this year – the Old North St. Louis House Tour offers an opportunity to view a range of different housing styles.

Advance tickets can be purchased for $10 on our website at www.onsl.org or for $12 the day of the event.  Advance ticket orders will be available for pick-up at the registration area on the day of the tour, which will be on the south side of the intersection of 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue, at the edge of the former 14th Street Mall.

Your ticket includes a program and FREE ice cream cone from landmark Crown Candy located across the street from the neighborhood office. They may be purchased the day of the tour or in advance. If you purchase in advance, the tickets will be waiting to be picked up at the registration booth on the day of the tour.

Proceeds from ticket sales benefit the ongoing neighborhood improvement efforts of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group.  ONSLRG is a 27-year-old neighborhood association committed to restoring and developing the physical and social dimensions of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood in a manner that respects its historic, cultural, and urban character.

For more information, call the Old North St. Louis Restoration office at 314-241-5031.

When I moved to Old North in 1991I was sure it would take off any minute.  It has taken a few longer but this area just North of downtown is really taking off now.


Two Years After Wheelchair Bound Resident Killed by SUV, Sidewalks Still Not Passable

Yesterday a jury found the city responsible in the death of a woman who was using her wheelchair in the street when she was struck by an SUV. Elizabeth Bansen had wheeled the three blocks to the Mobil station east of her apartment to get a sandwich. The Mobil was and is the closest place to get food in the area.

From the Post-Dispatch in November 2005:

Federal law makes wheelchair access a civil right. St. Louis has responded aggressively in the past decade by putting curb ramps at 90 percent of the city’s intersections at a cost of $7.5 million, said city streets director Jim Suelmann.

Despite these efforts, certain areas — such as Bansen’s midtown neighborhood — fall through the cracks. Sidewalks are the responsibility of property owners, Suelmann said. The city offers to pay for half of a sidewalk repair if a property owner asks for help or if there is a complaint about the condition of the sidewalk, he said.

From Today’s paper:

Thomas McDonnell, an attorney for the city, had argued that the sidewalk on the south side of Delmar Boulevard was passable, and that in two years of living nearby, Bansen had never complained about its condition.

I like that argument, if you don’t complain to the city your heirs shouldn’t have a claim for negligence. And sorry McDonnell, the sidewalk between the store and her former home is not passable today. Clearly the city is not sure on this point, also from today’s paper:

The city’s director of streets, Todd Waelterman, said Wednesday afternoon that he was not sure whether the sidewalk had been fixed. “I can only tell you the truth: I do not know.”

But [City Attorney Patti] Hageman said she understood it had been fixed.

Well, it ain’t fixed! Is it better than it was when Bansen was struck and killed? Yes. But is it passable? No.

As we learned from Barden v. Sacramento, courts have ruled that sidewalks are part of the ADA and basic service cities provide to citizens (source and legal brief from the Dept of Justice). The city must now pay the parents of Elizabeth Bansen $250,000 — a nice sum of money but nothing compared to a love one.

I wanted to check out the conditions myself.

This morning I started at the Mobil store and walked both sides of Delmar from Jefferson to the apartment three blocks to the west where Bansen resided until she was killed. I was wearing gloves as I took the pictures so you’ll see a couple of fingers in a few pictures, sorry about that.


Above: Starting at the Mobil store we see from the sidewalk that the car wash exit comes between the public sidewalk and the front door of the store. Pedestrians must go to the auto exit to go around this obstacle. The orange cone in the above is in the middle of the no parking area adjacent to an accessible parking place, likely to keep people from parking and blocking the ADA ramp.


I cross Delmar and headed Westbound toward her apartment. Above is looking back at the Mobil, Jefferson is to the right our of view.


So here we are on the South side of Delmar facing West. To the right, out of view is the Mobil station. To the left and behind me is 2600 Delmar, the offices of general contractor EM Harris. Their sidewalk is new as part of their recent renovation of the building. Immediately to my left is a vintage car dealership, also a new addition to the street. The sidewalk here is fairly new. Just ahead, past the tree, you can see part of it is not finished yet.
It was in this general area, I believe, that she was struck. A streetlight was said to be out at the time, presumably this one.


Further up we see broken sidewalk in front of offices of the state Department of Natural Resources. This is next door to the Scott Joplin House museum operated by the state.


This may look fairly passable but to someone using a manual chair with small front wheels, going through here is a good way to get stuck.


Again, sorry about the glove blockage. Anyway, after crossing Beaumont St we can see recently installed sidewalks, so new street trees have not yet been planted. The adjacent land is owned by the state which may have paid to have their sidewalks done.


Then we run into a problem, a very old and un-passable sidewalk. The owner of the vacant land to the left is N & G Ventures, LC (aka Paul McKee). This land was purchased about six months prior to the accident. Not surprising, the falling down building on the corner is owned by the city’s LRA (Land Reutilization Authority).


Looking back where we had just been, we can see that at that corner there is no curb ramp.


Bansen’s apartment was here, on the North side of Delmar. This accessible unit is located not on the front sidewalk but off the back. Given the either incomplete sidewalks or those with steps, I’m uncertain how she would have gotten out to Delmar.


Heading back Eastbound now toward the Mobil, the sidewalk in front of the apartments where she lived are fine.


Getting back to Leffingwell Ave, however, and we are again faced with a curb rather than a ramp. This would force anyone in a wheelchair to use the street instead.


Besides the broken sidewalk in front of the existing business on the street, much of the sidewalk area on this block is completely impassable to a person in a wheelchair. It does, however, have a new curb cut at the corner.


Looking back West after crossing over Beaumont, we can see the new sidewalk adjacent to state owned land. This stretch of Delmar is in the 6th ward where Kacie Triplett was just elected earlier this year.

This city doesn’t know how to construct environments for pedestrians. Subsidized new construction is being built lacking any means for pedestrians. Drive-thru places are popping up throughout the city and region while pedestrian access is ignored.

One of my next steps will be to request a copy of the city’s latest ADA Transition Plan, to see how they plan to more. Will it continue to be hit or miss — installing the corner ramps to sidewalks that are not passable? We already have places like Loughborough Commons where it was suggested the partial lack of sidewalks along Grand as a reason to blight the area only to have the developer remove all the sidewalks along the East side of Grand — even though the West side of Grand is also not compliant by not having curb ramps. That was why I spotted a guy riding his mobility scooter in the street last May (see post).

Despite millions, make that billions, being spent around this region on various projects we are seeing the quality of life for the pedestrian continue to decline overall. Sidewalks are basic service of cities — one we need to demand. Aldermen need to stop funding pet projects in their wards so that we can get some real money to connect real places together.  For example, one block North of here along MLK we see new sidewalks and curbs from Jefferson to Grand.  Looks pretty good, especially from an SUV windshield.  However, in all that distance is has one crosswalk — yes, one!!!  It was designed to look pretty but not actually function well for citizens attempting to use the sidewalks.   See prior post on this MLK streetscape fiasco here.

At some point we must begin to build our public rights of way for those using means other than the private car to get from place to place.  It doesn’t mean at the exclusion of motorists, just not at the exclusion of pedestrians.


St. Louis May Be One of Few Cities in the World With an Elevated Bikeway

The message to the crowd was simple — the Great Rivers Greenway District already owns the old elevated railway trestle that runs from Hadley and Cass to the McKinley Bridge and they want to turn it into one of the world’s few elevated bikeway and walking trails. Inspiration comes from Paris’ Promenade Plantée and New York’s planned High Line.  Chicago and Philly are also working on similar projects.

A good crowd (a “few” if KSDK were counting) gathered last Thursday evening at the Confluence Academy in Old North St. Louis to hear the early thoughts on the proposal. Questions centered around specifics and planners had to continue to remind everyone that this in the very beginning stages — no specifics are known other than what it is they own and control.

Paris and New York are the only two cities with elevated bikeways. Chicago is looking at doing the same thing but they don’t yet have control over the trestle they have in mind. The following are some of the images from the presentation:

The idea is to have a bike path, a walking path, message boards, native greenery and to make creative use of the old supports for the electric wires that powered the old interurban lines.


Some of the concepts they presented included wind, sun and rain collection.


They hope to encourage adjacent buildings to add green roofs to improve the experience, reduce the heat island affect and reduce energy costs for those owners. Taller trellis’ would be added where necessary to prevent people from gaining access to roofs from the trestle.


One idea they explored is to widen the trestle at a point or two to gain more “plaza” space and room for viewing.


One nice thing is the prominent view from I-70. Greening up the trestle and incorporating signs would hopefully increase the curiosity of motorists.


A small portion of the trestle is already being prepared for such a use — connecting to the soon to re-open McKinley bridge. This will give cyclists an easy route to Illinois.

One potential issue is the proposed Mississippi River Bridge — it would intersect with I-70 immediately south of where the trestle crosses. Although the clearance from the highway to the bottom of the trestle is fine, it does not meet current standards. MoDot is seeking Federal approval to allow for an exemption so the trestle can remain in place. Of course, no final design or funding has been worked out between Missouri and Illinois on this bridge so it is anyone’s guess when and if I every actually happens.

I’d like to see I-70 removed from the area between downtown and the arch but part of me doubts that would every actually get removed even if a new bridge for I-70 traffic was built. I’d like to see the MacArthur Bridge, located to the south of the Poplar Street Bridge, reopened to auto traffic, or perhaps as another bike/pedestrian bridge like the Chain of Rocks (the MacArthur still carries railroad traffic below the former auto deck).
Despite the potentially high cost, I think retaining these old industrial structures and reusing them for bike connection is a worthwhile pursuit. The connection with the wonderful North Riverfront trail at Branch Street would be great.