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Planned and Unplanned Destruction of Neighborhoods and Churches

Yesterday the historic St. Alphonsus church on North Grand, better known as “The Rock”, suffered a devastating fire as a result of lightening. The church building, dedicated in 1872 per a KSDK report, is known for its rock exterior and stone wall.  To me the church was a rock for another reason, actually surviving the surrounding neighborhood being leveled — twice!


Last year the church, above, stood in relative isolation to the north as land once occupied by a thriving neighborhood sits vacant and paved.  Taller buildings in the Grand & Washington area can be seen in the background.  This is the corner of Page & Grand, looking south.


Stepping back to Dr. King and Grand the church steeple still reminds us of how great this neighborhood once was, before the generic public housing projects and the proliferation of gas stations.


These images, taken on October 12, 2006, show the old Blumeyer housing project just before demolition.  Of course, this area once contained a real neighborhood prior to Blumeyer took that all away in a costly planning experiment.  Through all this destruction, The Rock church survived.


Above, in October 2006, is a 15-story Blumeyer building being prepped for demolition.   This building was located along Page with The Rock church just out of view to the right, back a block or so along Grand.


By early January 2007 all that remained of the Bluymeyer complex was a pile of rubble that had yet to be hauled away.  The Rock remained one of the few stabilizing forces in the neighborhood.


A firehouse that also survived the planned destruction of the old neighborhood for the Blumeyer project once again survives the second wave. 


Sometimes we think we know best so we continuously destroy and rebuild, burning through resources and lives.  Other times nature (or God depending upon your views) does the work for us such as yesterday’s fire at The Rock, the recent earthquake in Peru and two years ago, the hurricane in New Orleans.  I have no choice but to accept the results of nature, but I refuse to accept the way we handle public space and buildings in St. Louis.

Yesterday morning I scootered by The Rock church on the way to a press conference about Paul McKee’s vast land holdings in North St. Louis.  I wish now I had stopped and snapped a few shots of the building — it is one of those that you just always think will be around serving the community as it has done for generations.  My sympathies to the members of the parish. 


Lack of Maintenance Cannot Spoil Beauty of Fairgrounds Park

When I arrived at Fairgrounds Park on Saturday for the Jeff Smith 3 on 3 basketball tournament the large crowd was having a great time enjoying the mostly pleasant weather and all the activities. I briefly watched some of the guys on the courts and chatted with the host Sen. Jeff Smith as well as Mayor Francis Slay (sans body guard!) and License Collector Michael McMillan. Despite all the tournament activity, I was drawn into Fairgrounds Park.

So, I went for a walk…


I had driven my car and ridden my scooter beside and through Fairgrounds Park numerous times but I had never just taken a casual stroll. Wow, what a gorgeous park! I’m really a sucker for bodies of water — especially those with cattails. Note the long-dead tree to the right.

… Continue Reading


Ville Phillips Estates Remains Unfinished Months After New Alderman Takes Office

Nearly four months after I showed the unfinished mess left by developer Mary ‘One’ Johnson, the issues at the Ville Phillips Estates look to remain the same.  Click here to see my prior post.
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Above was the scene earlier this year, an open sewer adjacent to a sidewalk where I child playing could get hurt by falling in.


Monday the same sewer is still open.  Do I need to personally find a piece of plywood and some bricks to cover this hole myself?  Hmmm, I think Mary One’s old signs remain in the pile of weeds, perhaps I simply use those to secure this dangerous situation?

Building lots remain empty with no marketing signs in place, unfinished sidewalks only add to the appearance of failure.


An alley remains just shy of reaching the street.   Sure, money is limited but so are people’s patience.  If we can’t finish the infrastructure and new homes right now let’s at least find a way to keep the lots looking moderately decent and get some signs up marketing the lots to potential home owners.  These lots aren’t going to sell themselves.  Tearing down every vacant building in site also isn’t going to fix the ills of the neighborhood.

In many ways we are starting from scratch.  The area has needs an economy — unless we think the Ville should simply become a bedroom community for jobs elsewhere.  Like neighborhoods everywhere, the Ville is overwhelmingly occupied by decent hard working people with a few bad apples.  But as we know from past experience, tearing down old buildings or constructing new ones will not stop people from dealing drugs or engaging in other illicit activities.  A good economy and a hopeful future, while significantly harder to achieve than razing or constructing buildings, is the more sustainable path.  Covering open sewers is likely one of the easiest first steps.


A “proud Catholic” Takes Me To Task…Anonymously

Two years ago the big controversy in town was the tug of war between Archbiship Burke and the lay board of St. Stanislaus Kaska over their property, building and substantial endowment. Although excommunicated, to my knowledge the lay board still controls the church’s financial matters.

Recently someone stumbled onto my post from December 5, 2005, St. Stanislaus Kostka to Welcome Father Mark on Christmas Eve, and had a few things to say

You do yourself and your readers a deep disservice when you write out of such ignorance and limited knowledge. Not being a Catholic (or Polish if that has anything to do with it) you show your ignorance of the governance and organization of the Roman Catholic Church when you write about the lay board being more able to govern the finances of the Archdiocese as well as when you write about St Stan’s “belonging” to the parishioners. Study your American Catholic history, friend, and you will find millions of immigrants and native-born ethnic folks who have given their last pennies to their Catholic parish, not because it belongs to them, but precisely because it DOESN’T–it belongs to God, as does all glory, laud and honor. And because the Churches belong to God and not just people, the Catholic Church entrusts them and their finances to the existing Church reporting structure so that prideful, controlling manipulating people don’t try to “own” what belongs to God! I know this is much after the fact, but I just read your blaaagghh and totally disagree. And please keep the judgement call about “harshbishop” Burke to yourself unless and until you ARE Catholic AND Polish!

I’ll be the first to admit that I know little about the Catholic Church, what I do know doesn’t impress. Although I was not raised in a specific faith, my mother was raised Mennonite. My upbringing was largely based on what my mom learned from being raised Mennonite in a small farm community in western Oklahoma (the 2000 census shows a population of less than 600). That whole side of my family is filled with Mennonites and Friends/Quakers. One of my mom’s aunts was a missionary in Africa (the largest Mennonite population is in Africa) and another uncle was a published theologian. One of the things that appealed to me about my family’s history and faith is that it was built around a simple life and local control – values I hold very dear.

So for me the notion of a local man, himself controlled by a man in Rome, having power over a group that has for decades fought to save their church against very high odds is just a foreign concept. Did God make up these rules or men in power? Then we have people giving their “last pennies” to a church that then closes — using those pennies to build new facilities in exurban areas in the region while abandoning areas in the urban core. If the churches belong to God then God needs to do a better job maintaining the buildings that have been left to deteriorate.
As far as my views, I will continue to exercise my rights of free speech and freedom of religion. If you don’t like what I say, you have the freedom to ignore me or vocally disagree. Catholicism is not the official religion here in St. Louis despite my alderwoman referring to areas by their parish. I am curious though, now many “proud” Catholics against a lay board running the finances at St. Stans support the lay board running the finances at St. Louis University?


The Dictatorship of the Wealthy

A guest editorial by Greg Michaud

A law that gives Paul McKee access to 100 million in tax credits for North St. Louis shows clearly the Dictatorship of the Wealthy is alive in Missouri and in America. No matter what happens in North St. Louis there are serious implications in writing a law that benefit one man and his companies.

The tax credit is unethical and represents a pattern of continual transferring of government resources to benefit a small select group. This pattern occurs on the local level all the way to the nations’ capital.

There are three main aspects of this tax credit law which has turned the political process into a playground for the wealthy. The first problem is the law is clearly written for Paul McKee, he owns some 500 properties in the area, no one else could qualify. The state legislators do not explore alternatives; they simply pass, almost mindlessly, the law for their patron. Donations figure into the passage of this law to the extent we should stopping clowning around and call donations what they are, bribes.

Beyond that serious breach of public trust is the complete exclusion of the citizens in the political process. Apparently neither Mayor Slay nor the aldermanic representatives know of any plans. The State of Missouri passes a 100 million dollar tax credit without assessment of the needs of the area in question is poor leadership, management and shows a lack of legislative skill and judgment. (I wonder if they would give a citizens group asking for passage of a 100 million dollar tax credit the time of day)

The final problem is the lack of a new city plan to accommodate any redevelopment. Citizens without a plan are not represented. If there was a plan, citizens in general would have been less concerned about McKee buying up property, as anything he did with the property would have to fit into an urban framework already agreed to by city government and the people. Unfortunately the city government has a reputation of just the opposite, rather than protecting the interests of the citizens, the wishes of developers are put first, hence the alarm at McKee’s purchases.

For the Dictatorship of the Wealthy topics such as the welfare of the people are meaningless. McKee has a trail of donations/bribes solidifying his interests. There are many variations this 100 million tax credit could have taken to help rebuild north St. Louis. A small scale tax credit is just as likely to be successful. And just why is 100 acres needed before redevelopment occurs? The questions, the options, and the possibilities are endless. Yet the way the state has handled this law it appears granting McKee 1 million dollars an acre to insure his profitability is the only viable option

The city of St. Louis, like most cities was built by many individuals and developers. The delight of a city like St. Louis is the visual variety and beauty. With someone controlling 100 hundred acres the visual monotony would become deadening, if not grim. In any case Soulard, the Loop, Lafayette Square, the West End and other neighborhoods revived without the input of a mega developer.

And is he going to bring his suburban outlook to the City? Will it be cul de sacs and a major strip mall every so often? He controls the real estate; it means his chain store friends will also be in line with their hands out. The little guy will be locked out in a suburban format.

America is at war, possible energy shortages loom in the future, global warming is real beyond a doubt, and fully 40% of the energy America uses comes from the built environment and another 28% from transport. There should be serious debate about what type of city to build now and in the future. It is past time to rethink how St. Louis is doing business. It is astounding there is a lack of political or corporate leadership (and courage) in this area; the conditions are so obviously headed for a potential crisis. Yet like Nero playing his fiddle as Rome burned, these modern day Nero’s don’t want to upset their status quo money making machine.

Reimagining the built environment is essential. Any rebuilding of the city must include all transit, which means a city designed for bicycles, walking, streetcars, trains and mopeds as well as cars. Any rebuilding should consider densities, including energy saving row housing. Any rebuilding should look at dispersing stores into neighborhoods and public space and parks should be included and connected to a city wide system of public spaces (also connected by transit).

In his blog Mayor Slay said he doesn’t know McKee’s intentions are exactly the problem. Mayor Slay and the Board of Alderman as the representatives of the people should be telling McKee what the plans are for St. Louis, not the other way around.

Without taking hold of Urban Planning within the city limits, without a plan that integrates transit, public space, housing densities and commercial areas, city officials and the mayor are derelict in their duty. The citizens are left out of the process.

Mayor Slay attempts to reconcile McKee with the citizens in his blog by saying he will need a “battery of commission and legislative approvals, and a forest of hearings and meetings will be necessary” and he also says “should there ever be a redevelopment plan for the area current stakeholders must be included in the process.” It sounds good, except citizens have been systemically excluded in the recent past; so it is difficult to trust his words now.

However flawed the planning issues are concerning this project, the Dictatorship of the Wealthy is no more than an inside deal for insiders in the political process. It is a deal signed off by state legislators without investigation and without due diligence.

The Post-Dispatch has shown independence from the pervasive power structure, but cannot ignore this insider trading. Until it is stopped, the notion of a tax credit for one man graphically illustrates the nature and condition of a dictatorship. It is “an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law or other social and political factors within the state.” McKee operates beyond the realm of democratic principles.

In summary Governor Blunt should veto the measure. Upon the veto the House and Senate should enact new legislation in cooperation of the people, leveraged for the benefit of society, not to protect the profit margins of McKee and his entourage.

Failure to enact new legislation will demonstrate the corruption of government and its dictatorship towards the public. As stated in the Declaration of Independence “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

The Dictatorship of the Wealthy subverts democracy and severely limits debate. It directs government funds into the pockets of a few. In the end it is destroying America with decision making colored with attempts to fulfill the lust of the wealthy. It is not a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

– Greg Michaud has lived in various parts of the world and is currently raising his daughter in South St. Louis.