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>The North Side: Old North St. Louis

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Barb continues:
"So I know it looks like a long slow rehab, but it has been only one year, and I have 2600 space of habitable house. All original trim has been stripped of the paint and the horrible textured popcorn that was sprayed on every surface has been removed. The building has all new systems, 40K worth of brickwork, 5 working doors, 13 working windows, 5 more windows to go, one new roof hatch and cellar entry, 5 repaired basement windows, AND an inhabitant who keeps the lights on and the arsonists at bay. (I spent 4th of July sleeping on my roof with a hose after watching the Turnverein burn.)

"Also, I have "sold" the LRA house next door at 1517 Hebert to a nice family of rehabbers and am working on "selling" 3243 19th street to another determined single woman like myself, who has the additional problem of having to evict a long-time serious-alkie squatter who is heating the place with a propane burner. A coast guard officer bought the little cottage at 1902 Palm. He got his tour of duty involuntarily extended, but his mom is over working at the house pretty often and had a new roof put on. So we are working hard on 19th St and hope to have even prettier pics for you next time you visit."

The Future - Still Uncertain
Like many Old North residents, Barb has expressed deep concern over the actions of Blairmont LLC in the neighborhood. The lot immediately adjacent to hers is among the many near north side parcels bought up by the holding company since 2002 -- as well as a lot across the street and others immediately around her. With other adjacent lots owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority, the spector of emminent domain looms large, particularly in light of how it has been threatened and abused at other sites in the city.

Blairmont's total silence on their plans for this area have fueled the fears of residents who have invested countless hours and dollars in their homes and neighborhoods. If their intention is to build something that works with the historic context of the near north side, why not get input from residents and neighborhood associations, to build trust and cooperation with the people who care most about this area? Why not board up their vacant properties, maintain their vacant lots? The most ready conclusion is that there is no such intention -- that the current residents will be swept out, along with their homes.

"I am not opposed to large scale development efforts funded with tax credits," Barb noted recently. "I am opposed to destroying homes and communities of one demographic and replacing them with another demographic. This is illegal in and of itself under federal law, even when done with legal development tools such as eminent domain. Even when done with no intent to discriminate. If the effect is to increase racial segregation, that qualifies. In addition, I am opposed to ham-handed eviction practices which are even illegal under city ordinances governing the basics of the landlord-tenant agreement. I am also opposed to illegal collusions between public and private sphere in the use of public monies. This is not yet proven in this case, but is starting to get hinky...

"As more and more of this plan has emerged, I have realized that I'm going to lose everything, probably in the next 1-3 years. I am unlikely to win this fight... The image I keep seeing over and over in my head is how my house will look from the outside as the wrecker rips into the wall. I woke up thinking about it again this morning, wondering, will I cry? Vomit? Pass out?"

The City of St. Louis would do well to ask itself why it is not doing more to help people like Barb. The city's finest historic neighorhoods -- Soulard, the Central West End -- grew into what they are today in large part thanks to the kind of organic, small scale growth that people like her foster. With the right kind of new development, Old North could be next -- but it all hinges on that development respecting both urban principles and the neighborhood's surviving context and community.


The view north from the roof top: spectacular! The spires of Holy Trinity dominate the horizon.


The firewall separating the two halves of the building, which Barb had to add onto herself -- before even being able to purchase the building!


View southeast from the rooftop, with downtown's skyscrapers faintly visible through early morning haze.


View southwest. The smokestack of the Falstaff Brewery and the spire of Zion Lutheran are visible on the distant horizon.

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