Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Carr Square Neighborhood

The Carr Square neighborhood is located in north St. Louis.  It is south of Cass, north of Cole, east of Jefferson and west of Tucker/N. 13th Street:

Carr Square had a 19% decline in residents from 1990-2000.  98% of its 2,339 residents are black, 1% white and 1% Hispanic/Latino.  There is no website for this neighborhood on the city neighborhood page.

Carr Square's 1,327 housing units are 74% occupied, 99% rented and 1% owned.  Can that be right?  The numbers suggest a lot of apartments and condos and no owner occupied properties.  But, the stats don't lie.  Good news is the 2010 densus data indicated a gain of nearly 16%!  No racial shifts occurred, census counts stated it is still 98% black.

This is one of those parts of town that has seen such massive disinvestment and lack of care and respect from it's inhabitants and leaders, that it is basically a wasteland.  There are huge swaths of unused land, mainly the north west corner where Pruit-Igoe used to be, that are just jungles of weeds.

There are so few reminders of St. Louis' history here, it's disturbing.  It's been leveled.  It's been filled in with some good intentions, but unsustainable rental/subsidized housing that attracts very little growth potential, nor historic meaning or urban context. 
There are a couple of old buildings, the Carr School being one of them.  Please click on the link to see some amazing photography from Built St. Louis.  Here's what is looks like today:
Here are a couple other remaining structures from our heydey:
Carr Square may have the most underutilized, open land of any city neighborhood I've seen to date.  Anyone who has word/thoughts to the contrary is welcomed to speak up.  This is merely my opinion.

I was recently on the roof at the City Museum and rode a ferris wheel where the cars face north toward CS; if they were pointed east or south, you would get sweeping views of Downtown and Down Town West giving you an idea of how great the city still is.  But the aerial view of Carr Square helps prove my point that this area is a low density, urban wasteland with some low rise subsidized rental apartments, condos and not much else.

But the weird thing is, I had one of the best north city experiences yet in my visit to Carr Square.  Firstly, my 3 year old and wife were with me today.  We stopped into Kram Fish on Biddle Street to check out the retail side of the business that's been around since 1904.  This place is a simple fish stand with buffalo, cat, carp, etc.  They also have some frozen fish and shrimp, but no salt water fish.  Nonetheless, it's a cool little place with soul.

Secondly, we knew we had to get some solid photos of St. Stanislaus Kostka.  If you haven't heard of this parish, you should do some reading on the history.  In short, this proud Polish-American Catholic church founded in 1847 has been fighting to retain their heritage and financial anonymity from the larger St. Louis Arch Diocese.  The Catholic Arch Diocese tried to take over the finances of this church and close them down.  The church has raised it's own money over the years through generous contributions of parishioners, corporations and other notables such as baseball great Stan Musial.
I've always been peripherially aware of this issue in north St. Louis, but today we were graced by the generosity and kindness of people that love their church, heritage and history more than most Catholics I've ever met.  My wife was outside taking pictures of the church when two gentlemen approached her, and struck up a conversation.  Usually when you have a camera in hand and no credentials, people are suspicious of your intentions.  I assumed this was the same type of thing.  Not so.

My wife came back to the car and told me that these fellas asked her if she wanted a personal tour of the inside.  Sure.  So we were lead on an insider showing and telling of the history of many pieces inside the church.

We also got some good anecdotal stories on Pruitt Igoe and it's effect on bringing down Carr Square.  But the church has remained.  One interesting tidbit we mined was that the tenants of PI would shoot holes in the roof of the church.  Kudos for St. Stans for not packing it up and shutting down.  They took a stand, waited out the worst of times, and now have a strong parish and church once again.

Anyhow, here are some photos of the inside of the church:
We were lucky to have had this experience, as frankly there just isn't anything else going on Carr Square other than these large planned community-like (I'm assuming) subsidized apartment "complexes" complete with a neighborhood center and strip malls providing some junk food and services to the locals.
These parts of St. Louis are in the NorthSide plans of suburban developer Paul McKee.  I think we should look forward to any investment in this part of town.  Here's the St. Louis Post Dispatch map that shows the proposed phases and investment dollars of the NorthSide plan.  The red circle highlights the area that includes Carr Square:
This part of town is in dire need of some investment, and being that it abuts Down Town West, it will be an important gateway neighborhood to the north side.  If McKee, etc. can come up with a contemporary, urban, mixed use, sustainable plan for redevelopment, this could be one of the greatest improvements in the city's long history.


  1. Surely this neighborhood must be considered the eye of the storm of racial segregation, poverty, and misguided urban renewal policies in St. Louis.

    On the one hand, part of me agrees with you: If Paul McKee wants to come in and build a neighborhood here on open land, more power to him, right?

    But on the other hand: What happens to the 2,339 people, almost entirely black, who do live here? This neighborhood is not entirely open land, it's also people's homes. Just because they rent doesn't mean they can be disregarded. Will they be able to find affordable places to live elsewhere? And what effect will their relocation have on the places they relocate to?

    Paul McKee's top-down, large-scale, clear-cutting plan has much in common with the policies that created Pruitt-Igoe and made Carr Square what it is today.

  2. ^ I hear you. BUT, there are tons of places to live on the cheap here in STL. North, south and central you can find cheap rent all over the city. I don't feel too sorry for lower income people in STL, because it's insanely cheap to live here.
    Even the nicest neighborhoods have extremely affordable rent. We have no shortage of available space for renters and more residents. These subsidized areas in Carr Square were slapped together with little thought or design standards. But they could be worked into a good plan the adds mixed uses and be part of a community that might draw in some level of racial and economic diversity that is completely lacking today.

  3. It is obvious from your crude statements and assessment that you do not value the community that is already living in this area. You feel that since they are poor, they can be pushed to live somewhere else.

    What McKee is trying to do is profit from this poor community. If McKee project ever get built, because right now it seems he just wants to pocket state & city money, this community will be in the same position in a few decades.

    Your analysis is just another example of the lack of understanding and respect many have for this community.

  4. ^Anonymous, thanks for your comment. My intent is not to be crude, but honest. You may not like that, and I'm sorry if you don't. You can't please everyone.

    Let's take another look at some facts:

    19% of the "community" was lost from 1990-2000. That's not the sign of a healthy, sustainable "community". I don't want ANYBODY displaced from the city. We need every person we can get to fill up every apartment, condo and home in this town. That's one of the main factors that can save us is more people on the streets spending money, paying taxes and adding to the vibrancy of our neighborhoods and city. Carr Square ain't vibrant "anonymous". It's not and you have to admit that. I know what you mean by community, I'm not dumb. I am not suggesting that the "community" be displaced, simply adding some OWNERSHIP to the Carr Square neighborhood would be a good long term plan. Did you read the census stats in my post? 99% rental is not a good plan for sustainability. Do you like the big empty overgrown acres where Pruit Igoe used to be? Do you like the lack of services in Carr Square? Do you like the lack investment? I think you probably don't like McKee or his ilk because he's not a member of the "community".

    I would like to hear your plans on what Carr Square needs to be a functioning neighborhood that draws people in from all over the city, region and country.

  5. I enjoy reading your neighborhood postings, but found this one to be off-putting.

    Per your article, the neighborhood gained 16% in population. I would hardly label that as a declining area. While the area had a massive decline in the previous census, they were able to stop the exodus.

    Yes, the area is in need of investment and services for residents. But I wouldn't call it an urban wasteland.

  6. Wow! Carr Square is a community of families. Generations of families was raised there. My grandmother has been in Carr Square since the 60's. Most inhabitants cannot afford home ownership, most like my 80 year old grandmother don't want to. Fuck statistics! You and your wife may have a change of opinion if you actually interviewed the residents. Your on the outside looking in and is obviously clueless.

  7. ^Miss Chelle, thanks for reading. You are right, I am outside looking in to all neighborhoods I visit except the one I live in. You say f stats but how else to logical people evaluate population, economic and racial trends of its residents? The U.S. Census. Facts are useful, you should not discount them. Emotional arguments are just that. Spirited and entertaining, but not always based in fact.

  8. Very interesting read. Hope the best possible outcome comes of this area. I'm from Buffalo ny so I'm all to firmilar with the strain that undevloped land puts on a city. When city officials, devlopers AND community members come together with a plan, great things can happen. But u gotta love ur community enough to think about the "Big picture"

  9. My sister was married at St. Stanislaus Koska. Beautiful church.