Sunday, October 25, 2009

McKinley Heights Neighborhood

McKinley Heights is an officially designated historic neighborhood right in the middle of some of St. Louis' most famous neighborhoods. It is just south of Lafayette Square, west of Soulard, north of Benton Park and east of Fox Park. A great location if you ask me. One of my favorite St. Louis streets is Russell. From Broadway all the way to Vandeventer, I think this is one of the most beautiful and representative streets of the unique St. Louis neighborhoods and architecture, and it goes right through McKinley Heights.McKinley Heights is just about as diverse as a St. Louis neighborhood gets. The 2000 census data indicated a mix of mainly black and white people at 35% and 60% respectively; Hispanics (2.2%) and Asians (1.5%) make up the rest. 2,085 McKinley Heights residents were counted, a 7.1% decrease or 159 residents lost since 1990.  2000-2010 was not kind on McKinley Heights were a 28% loss was observed with a racial breakdown of 48% white, 46% black, 3% Hispanic/Latino and 1% Asian.

This neighborhood is one of my favorites. The tree lined streets are on a rectilinear grid. If the housing market comes around and we can sell our home, this will be one of the places on our list to move. MH is just about the perfect mix of small, medium and large dwellings (nearly all brick) with many of the architectural styles that makes St. Louis the great city it is:Fire escapes are one of my favorite urban fixtures:Not to mention, my kids will eventually go to McKinley School on Russell, so walking to school would be a huge plus, even though they ride the bus today. And, the school itself is a work of art:
As is Sigel elementary on Allen:The neighborhood could use a few more small businesses to accentuate the truly self contained and walkable configuration of the streets and neighborhood. If you want a cup of coffee, cold beer or a quick meal (not Jack in the Box), you'd have to take a short walk to Soulard and crossing Gravois is a death wish. If ever there was a place for a traffic signal and marked pedestrian crossing, it's here. The McKinley Heights website does a good job of listing the businesses that do exist in the neighborhood. The neighborhood area is actually quite small, but I like that. The interior containing most of the the residential property is clean and tidy and for the most part is in just about as good of condition that homes this old can be. Many are rehab ready, many have already been carefully redone. There is a good mix of multi-unit rentals, multi-families and single family options.There are also some really cool looking warehouses and old business properties within the neighborhood. Here's an old funeral home:
The churches are varied and interesting:Unfortunately, the retail and residential along Jefferson and Gravois is not the most inviting. There are some rough properties. However, most are simply cool old buildings that are vacated and awaiting good tenants. There are also some really good signs of life on Jefferson from Gravois to I-44.Art gallery:Barber shops and a Nicaraguan restaurant:
There are also some mistakes that need rectification, like the boarded up suburban styled Burger King across from the Way Out Club. This is a total eyesore. However, for the most part, MH has avoided many of the uglier modern developments that plague other neighborhoods.

On to Princeton Heights and Boulevard Heights, and then "the Heights" neighborhoods are completed. Interested in a particular neighborhood? I'll go there next. Let me know.

Friday, October 23, 2009

High and lonesome

I recently learned of a 2008 documentary about American beat poet/writer Jack Kerouac entitled "One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur." This story has St. Louis ties as local musician Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt) and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) recently collaborated to set Kerouac's writing to music and it's featured in the movie. The music is sparse and beautiful, truly an American American as jazz or blues or dixieland or traditional country in my opinion. Gibbard's voice is channeling a bit of Gary Louris from the Jayhawks, yet still original and true as always. And Farrar's voice and playing is spot-on as usual. If popular country music had half of this soul and emotion tied to the traditional American sound, I'd listen to it. But I don't think anyone could make the claim that contemporary popular country music has much authenticity or respect for tradition and culture.

Son Volt performs live at the Pagent on November 6th with support from one of my all time favorite (and most underrated) British musicians: Peter Bruntnell.

More on this project here.

And you can listen here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

2010 Census Data-a potential sea change for St. Louis

I cannot wait to see the 2010 U.S. census data for St. Louis. I hope to see a 10 year gain from 2000-2010. This would be the first decade gain for St. Louis since the 1940-1950 post war increase of 5% when we peaked at 856,796 residents. The estimated population of St. Louis in 2000 is 348,189. That's the lowest since the late 1870's...pretty depressing, eh?

As I research St. Louis' 79 neighborhoods, I am using 2000 census data as my source for tracking resident changes over a 10-year span (1990-2000). In all 7 neighborhoods I've looked at so far there were drops in residential populations. This is evident in the nice and not so nice neighborhoods alike. So the question arose in my mind, did any neighborhoods see an increase in population from 1990-2000?

Here's a look at the 11 neighborhoods from 1990-2000 that gained residents (the remaining neighborhoods all lost residents) and the 13 worst for losing residents based on percentage:

Congratulations to Bevo Mill and Dutchtown who added quite a few people and topped the list. Having lived in Dutchtown as my first neighborhood in 1994 and now living just south of Bevo, I know that Bosnian immigration is the main factor behind the increases. Congrats to the other neighborhoods as well for attracting people and keeping things stable. Not sure why Near Northside and North Riverfront gained, I'll have to visit those neighborhoods sooner than later.

However, that's where the good news ends. Take a look at the massive declines in population across north St. Louis. What the heck is going on in Jeff Vander Lou? 3509 people moved out in 10 years. That's simply staggering no matter how you cut it.

I'll quote a line from Debravka Ugresic's book "Nobody's Home":

"The beauty of the city is in the eye of the beholder. The more beholders, the
more visions of beauty."
True, we need every beholder we can get.

More than lowering crime, improving the schools, increasing the investment $$, I think we need more PEOPLE calling St. Louis home.

If more people chose this place as their home, the other things will follow. If conscientious, caring, outspoken people fill the halls with their kids, the public schools will be forced to address the issues they have. The more people that are watching the streets, the less crime we'll have. The more courageous people who take the time and effort to report crime the better the police will become. The more people here, the more money spent here.

I look forward to the 2010 census numbers. If the numbers hold true, based on the 2008 estimate. We could have our first increase in 10 year population since 1950! No matter how smalll the percentage increase, this could be a sea change for St. Louis. I hope it would be a pshycological boost, if nothing else. Or on the other side of the coin, it could simply mean we hit rock bottom in the 1990's and there nowhere left but slight ups and downs around 350,000.

So move to St. Louis and help be part of history and positive change that is occuring all over the city.

My wife and I are doing our part, we've added 3 new city residents to the population in the last 7 years through the art of breeding. Every little bit counts :)

Wave that flag hoss!

St. Louis has a cool flag.

"The design submitted by Professor Emeritus Theodore Sizer, Pursuivant of Arms at Yale university, and now on file in the office of the City register is approved, adopted and designated as the official flag of the City. The flag with a solid red background has two broad heraldic wavy bars, colored blue and white, extending from the left top and bottom corners toward left center where they join and continue as one to the center right edge. This symbolizes the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Over the point of confluence a round golden disk upon which is the fleur-de-lis of France (blue) calling attention to the French background of the early city and more particularly to St. Louis of France for whom the City is named. The golden disk represents the City and/or the Louisiana Purchase. (Heraldically, the disk is a "bezant" or Byzantine coin signifying, money or simply purchase.)
The flag's colors recall those of Spain (red and yellow or gold), Bourbon France (white and gold), Napoleonic and Republican France (blue, white and red), and the United States of America (red, white, and blue)." Here's my source.
But my favorite might be the mighty flag of Belleville, Illinois; a place my parents raised me for 19 years. Belleville is a fascinating city, one that I hope to profile soon in a post I'm working on. But until then, I've just got to appreciate that sweet looking flag:

This adopted design was the winning entry in a contest to create such a flag, which was sponsored by Belleville Carling Brewery Company in cooperation with the Belleville Chamber of Commerce as part of the Sesquicentennial Year Program.The design for the flag, submitted by Fredrick L. Lange of Belleville, features a large field of black, symbolic of the area's rich soil basin. Next to the black field is a bar of yellow, representing our mineral wealth. There is next a bar of green, standing for agricultural abundance; and finally, a bar of white, representing our culture and plenty. The white post horn, used in early European postal systems, notably in Germany, is symbolic of the heritage of our area's pioneers, and also of the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra, the nation's second oldest. Here's my source.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Carondelet Rec Plex Update

As members of the Carondelet Family YMCA, we received a letter on October 1st from YMCA branch executive Dan Schulze.

The highlights are:
  • the facility is scheduled to open in the afternoon on November 19, 2009
  • the current facility will no longer be open after November 15, 2009
  • our rates will increase $8/month, which will help the YMCA bring new and exciting offerings to our community through this state-of-the-art facility.
  • we now have access to the South City YMCA on Sublette Ave.
  • you can check out these new offerings at Sneak Peek Week: Nov. 7-8 and 14-15 from 10 am to 4 pm and Nov. 9-13 from 9 am - 7 pm
  • there is a parade on Nov. 19 at 3 pm which will go from Loughborough and Vermont to Holly Hills then across the I-55 bridge to Carondelet Park Rec Plex. A ribbon cutting will follow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hamilton Heights Neighborhood

Hamilton Heights is located in north west St. Louis:As you can see in the map, the street grid is relatively in place. The westernmost boundary of the neighborhood abuts Wellston.

Demographics wise, this is a 98% black neighborhood that is loosing residents at an alarming rate. From 1990 to 2000, there was a 30.4% decline in Hamilton Heights residents. In 2000 there were 1371 households, 70% of which had 2 or more people. 94% of those were considered "family households". Only 27% were married; and 83% of the family households are female only with no male householder.  The 2010 Census data was not much better, where another 21% left the neighborhood.  Hamilton Heights is still 95% balck per the 2010 Census data.

The scant neighborhood website claims: "Although two-to four-family units are prevalent, a large number of larger single family homes are also present. The vast majority of the housing stock consists of brick architecture built between the years 1890 and 1920. The area offers good opportunities for housing and land redevelopment."

Sounds pretty intriguing to me, since this is my favorite time frame for housing stock in St. Louis. So what does this neighborhood look like today? The architectural styles are of course amazingly beautiful. The housing is widely varied, but overall reminds me a lot of Shaw, Tower Grove East and Fox Park. The obvious and unfortunate reality is that maybe 25-40% of the housing is either burned out, boarded up, or falling in on itself. That's not to say there aren't some beautifully manicured lawns and homes. However, there are no entire streets or stretches that are maintained or rehabbed to give the neighborhood a sense of hope or a beacon of light toward the future renaissance of the neighborhood. The nicer homes sit right next to the not so nice homes. Another thing we noticed is there is a high frequency of corner lots that are vacant. It was kind of strange; it almost looks like an intentional effort to demolish and remove the corner lot structures. Here are some photos of what I'd describe as fairly representative of Hamilton Heights:
And of course there are some parts of the neighborhood with new housing that makes no attempt to fit in with the older homes.
The bleak pictures are somewhat misleading in that there is still quite a bit of activity on the streets. Typical city neighborhood stuff: nice people who wave when you pass, people walking dogs, people working in the 3 community gardens (thanks-Gateway Greening!) and people sitting on the front porch.
Unfortunately, there's also a lot of the bad stuff prevalent in Hamilton Heights that gives the north side it's reputation. Zero racial diversity, few useful businesses, lack of pride/cleanliness and my biggest pet peeve: people walking in the middle of the street that don't get out of the way of cars. It's hard to imagine this part of the city ever being anything like central and south St. Louis in my lifetime. Massive investment, tax credits and an influx of immigrants or something. Who knows, I don't pretend to have the answers. With all that said, it doesn't seem a completely hopeless place. To me, it's still an intriguing neighborhood.

I'm especially fascinated with the commercial stretch of Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. that goes through Hamilton Heights. This must have once been a thriving business district. This stretch must have once had a "main street" feel. There is huge potential here. There are a couple of auto repair shops, night clubs and odds and ends stores; but most of the businesses closed up shop long ago. There is a treasure trove of cool old signs along MLK Blvd.