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Community or Die!

The key to inner-city rejuvenation is the establishment and invigoration of communities. Without coherent social structures empowering, educating, and energizing individuals cities tend to fall apart. The worst aspects of modern infrastructure planning involve the isolation, division, and starvation of communities. The resulting individual atomization ends in isolation and dehumanization.

Humans need communities, they need them just as much as they need families and friends. How else do they come by these? Per chance? From the masses of strangers that surround us we select our friends, our lovers, our mates. From thence we find love, happiness, and identity. Without that, what are we? The struggle for community is a struggle for the bonds which hold all of us together. It is the basic unit upon which our country is built on. Even the family wouldn’t exist without a community to support and encourage mate selection, and what family could do without the vast educational and social support of the greater society?

Suburbia is perhaps the most horrific example of dehumanization through the lack of community. The obvious Lack of intellectually-stimulating diversity is not the most damaging consequence of moderate-density life. Suburban Americans suffer from relative detachment from the rest of the population. The immediate population! It is not unusual for someone in O’Fallon to have no idea who their neighbors are. From five houses down to next door. Television, fences, the internet, motor vehicles, and corporate malls have allowed people a relative mental detachment from everyone else.

This is far from the “good ‘ole days” complaints of our grandparents. The isolated existence of suburbanites results in sociological catastrophes. Many of our socio-economic problems arise directly from the collective choices of millions to live in a most abnormal manner. Global Warming, cultural depreciation, educational lagging, Wal-Mart, Garth Brooks, Republicans; the most daunting problems of the 21st century find their root in freshly trimmed, identical lawns.

Great men and women, great ideas, great projects; these all rise from the cities and dense villages of the world. From communities.  If we are to generate those geniuses and a culture to rally behind them we must regroup and recommit to each other on a local level.

To put it plainly, every suburban sprawl zone must be evacuated and leveled. For the sake of our people, for ourselves individually, and for the future of our country. This is not necessarily an extreme program, people must voluntarily leave their yard gnomes and three car garages behind. There must be a grand national campaign to bring the people back to the cities and town centers, leaving the razed ground to return to nature. Our cities and towns must develop in a humane and socially-oriented manner. Our cities must be welcoming places; places of peace, prosperity, ingenuity, art, and diversity. The best of the Urban must be magnified and the worst must be diminished to negligible proportions. Crime, poverty, educational atrophy, and prejudice need to go the way of the dinosaur.

What have we to lose? Should we allow catastrophe to occur? Most importantly, do we have hope and faith that such important and integral policies can be implemented successfully?

In future installments I will identify what the former suburbanites will return to, current examples of strong communities and community centers. Additionally, methods and tactics for community-building will be enumerated and left to public debate. By working together we can create an Urbia attractive and enticing to the lonely denizens of the counties. Your lowly idealist (myself) will strive to present alternatives and methods for establishing them.

This will be a series much like what Brick By Brick will become.

– Angelo Stege


Brick by Brick: 2857 Cherokee Street

At the West end of the Cherokee Station Business District lies a three story brick storefront property. Ruined by years of neglect, this rotting structure stands in defiance of being utterly forgotten by its owners.

2857 Cherokee

2857 Cherokee

The city finally issued a condemnation notice last week. The door had been kicked in by vagrants, unmasking the internal ruin. This debris-filled stairwell degrades right inside of the front doorway. Plainly visible to any passerby; and enticing to anyone needing a free place to stay the night.

Saint Louis doesn’t need to be losing any more buildings, that goes especially for 107 year old brick storefronts. South City has done a remarkable job of avoiding the wholesale tear-downs that ravaged North City. South City has thoroughly rejected bulldozers and the McKee’s that circle over them. Thanks to dedicated landlords, an undaunted Alderman, energetic entrepreneurs and activists, and a sprinkling of idealistic artists Cherokee Street has managed to save, restore, and invigorate its numerous historic buildings.

2857 is the only building within the mixed-use/commercial district in the shape it’s in.

20th Ward Alderman Craig Schmid, once contacted about the property’s condemnation, committed to finding what resources the city has in getting the property into the hands of a responsible developer.

The situation is ripe for a community-driven rehab project. As a resident and proprietor on Cherokee Street, I have a vested interest in seeing this building reconstructed. Other stakeholders, business owners and residents, have expressed interest in pooling what resources they have to save this building.

To be sure, this is a major job. The structural report states plainly that whole walls will need to be relaid. Internal damage is severe, water has had nearly every window open to its invasion. Plants have managed to grow from the windowsills and a tree has sprung out of the garage.

This post is a call for more involvement. Brick by Brick Saint Louis needs to be preserved. If you are a rehabber, a member of the Cherokee Street community, or simply a fellow Saint Louisan dedicated to the preservation of architectural history I ask that you join this project.

For more information on how to get involved please contact me.   With enough volunteers we can start putting together an organization and a plan to save this building.

Update: Before I’ve even managed to post the first installment, new developments have arisen. On Saturday, June 20th, workmen were spotted making superficial fixes on the building. A real door has been placed in the front; no other changes are visible.

Photos provided by Cranky Yellow’s photographer Amanda Beard; www.amandabeardphotography.com. All rights reserved.

– Angelo Stege


Screening of Select Scenes from Documentary Film on Pruitt-Igoe

Saturday June 20th scenes from the still in-production documentary film on Pruitt-Igoe will be screened.


The 33 buildings known as Pruitt-Igoe only stood for two decades. The bulk of the site has been vacant now nearly twice as long.

Here is a short clip from a 1981 program entitled Trouble in Utopia:


Pruitt-Igoe’s architect was Minoru Yamasaki.  Yamasaki is best known for the World Trade Center project that was destroyed on 9/11/2001.

The scrrening location is the Des Lee Auditorium at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park at 5700 Lindell Blvd (map).  Bike parking is presumably available and access is easy from the Forest Park MetroLink light rail stop.

– Steve Patterson


Darst-Webbe Public Housing Project Long Gone

The old high-rise housing projects that used to ring downtown are gone now.   One such project that struck me upon my arrival was Darst-Webbe.  The J.M. Darst Apts., opened in October 1956,  consisted of four 9-story towers and the A.M. Webbe Apts., opened in May 1961, consisted of two 9-story, one 12-story and one 8-story towers.  Darst was bounded by Lafayette, 12th (now Tucker), Hickory and 14th.  Webbe was to the North bounded by Hickory, 14th, Chouteau, and 12th.  To the West, across 14th, was the Clinton Peabocy Terrace 2 & 3 story apartments which opened in July 1942.  Click here to see a map of 12th (Tucker) & Hickory.

Winter 1990-91
Winter 1990-91

I took the above picture a few months after my arrival in St. Louis.  I believe this is the Webbe Apts. located North of Hickory. The housing in the background still exists.

  • Darst/14.75 acres/645 units built/683 units razed
  • Webbe/12.27 acres/580 units/578 units razed
  • Clinton Peabody/27.49 acres/657 units/687 units razed

All of the above information is from an early 1970s St. Louis technical report titled, History of Urban Renewal.

Thanksgiving of 1990 I had visitors from my home state of Oklahoma visiting St. Louis for the first time.  Driving them around my newly adopted city I took them past Darst-Webbe.  I said, jokingly, “maybe we’ll see a fire.”  Guess what?  There was a large fire in a dumpster near one of these towers.  In the years that followed I’d drive by and see lights on in a few of the apartments.  I was shocked that people lived in what appeared to be ruins.

The reasons high rise public housing failed are numerous and complicated.  But very simply we would have been better off had they left the old slums in place rather than razing them for the new slums.  Hindsight is a wonderful teacher.

– Steve Patterson


What Does a Neighborhood Center Look Like?

Perhaps a public square or park as a neighborhood center?  Or a commercial district?  Not if you live in Carr Square urban renewal area:

All the natural neighborhood centers were razed along with the rest of the neighborhood during the dreadful years of Urban “Renewal.”  With community centers that evolved over time the planners & architects created faux versions.  View the above on a Google Map.

The basketball and tennis courts, adjacent to the center, are quite sad.

Carr Square Village was one of the earliest  clearance projects in the city.  It was completed in August 1942.  The 24.3 acre development consisted of 53 2 & 3 story buildings with a total of 658 units.

The above center was not in place as of a 1971 aerial photo of the city.  The building appears to be from the 1970s or perhaps as late as the mid 1980s.  By then the renewal area would be been 30-40 years old.  The “neighborhood center” was likely another attempt to renew the area.

At some point after 1971 much of the housing was razed from the two green sections in the bottom left corner.  The remaining buildings have also changed considerably since 1942.  With enough time and money we will eventually reverse all the mistakes of the past.  But will this neighborhood ever have a real center again?  Doubtful.