Friday, June 11, 2010

Ignorance is no longer bliss or halfway to the promised land

Alright, time for a quick process check.  I'm at the halfway point toward my goal of visiting/photographing/yakking on each of St. Louis' 79 neighborhoods.  I've learned a lot to date, more than I ever expected.  I've seen a cross section of the good, the bad and the ugly that this city has to offer.  I've stepped outside my comfort zone of the cozy south side, and the adventures have been nothing short of inspiring.

I can say my view of the city is constantly evolving with each neighborhood I visit. My perspective as a person, citizen and urban thinker is broadening.  Not to get just too dramatic, but my personal views of race, segregation, choice, class, suburbanization, etc are all evolving.  Suffice it to say that my sensibilities have been righteously challenged.  I am pining to move to a more urban setting/street/neighborhood.  I am invigorated and looking to invest more time and labor into making St. Louis a better place. 

But, simply put, I'm having a straight up blast.  I am confident I'll be able to complete this personal goal because it's just too much damn fun to quit.  Yes, I have had much help and encouragement along the way.  My very understanding family (read wife) that supports me by giving me the camera lenses and lessons, time and space to do this.  I'm a bit obsessive with things, and they've allowed me to dive into this thing and get lost in it for many hours.  Thanks.  My hope is that one or all of my kids will take the torch when I'm ready to lay it down and keep the documentation of this amazing city going.

I am aware of how ignorant about the city I was just a few years ago; I am now actively learning about my city....the entire city.  When I hear Hodiamont, I know exactly where that is.  When I hear someone say Dutchtown is a scary place, I try not to dismiss them, rather assume they mustn't have been to pockets of the Ville, Fountain Park or O'Fallon. 

But I'd be lying if I didn't say that there aren't bad and scary places to be found or stumbled upon in St. Louis.  There are, and if you're looking for trouble you can find it.  Some of these places have helped mold my perspective on the definition of "bad neighborhood" or "bad street".  The good thing is, bad doesn't scare me as much as it used to.  Before I started this project, "bad neighborhoods" were to be avoided.  Not true...ignorance is certainly not bliss in this case.  These areas need to be explored, talked about and brought to light.  Hell, Soulard or Lafayette Park were once considered scary slums, right?

Some of the so called "bad neighborhoods" are amongst our best looking with the greatest potential.  Personally, I think all rehabbing hands on deck need to report to Fountain Park or Academy or Jeff Vanderlou for a collective joining of forces to transform these aging beauties into the next Benton Park's, Soulard's and Tower Grove South's....STAT!

Maybe Carr Square with it's acres of fallow ground where Pruitt-Igoe used to be is the true "bad neighborhood".  Or maybe the suburbanized pockets of the Gate District or Penrose are the bad areas.  Maybe they need most of our attention to turn back the tides from big ass garage in the front of the big ass lawn to a more sustainable, future looking mod take on St. Louis' future.  How symbolic would it be of the rising phoenix to see Carr Square rebuilt as the new "green neighborhood" or self-feeding, self-sustaining community garden cooperative neighborhood, or the new/connected live, work and play neighborhood?  The new, mod place for young professionals and the like that pine to live near the central hub of the entire region.  A place that draws all classes and types and backgrounds, you know diverse places like the Central West End or Downtown or ONSL or Shaw.

I am nothing short of energized to continue my trek through the city of St. Louis.  I wake up on the days of my tours and I am giddy.  I hope to find the perfect aging metal and neon sign from the glory days, or the new little restaurant or bar to try.  I hope to find remnants of the street car lines.  I hope to strike up conversations with good people or get insulted in new/funny ways by not so good/crazy people.  Can't you do better than white boy or cracker?  Really?  BORING!  I hope to connect with history and the better days gone by.  And also, to take in all the amazing improvements that are happening all over the city.

Half-way-done.  Man, the first half has been a blast.  I'm no longer an ignorant south sider.  I'm hitting the pavement and walking the streets that were once unfamiliar.  I'm discovering treasures that are off the beaten path.

I've discovered that McKinley Heights, Fox Park, Compton Heights, Midtown, Academy, North Point and Old North St. Louis are among my favorite places to visit.  I am anticipating driving the streets of Hyde Park or Covenant Blu.  I can't wait to see the industrial North Riverfront and Mark Twain/I-70.

Overall, I'm amazed at the beauty and potential of this town.  I am more convinced that we are one of America's greatest untold stories, or at least under-appreciated cities.  There's something here for just about anyone.

And I'm only talking about 50% of it...

Thanks to all those who've read my posts and checked in to comment, it's nice to see people are following along and will hopefully pick up the pen, keyboard, camera or pocket book and start their own investment in St. Louis' bright, bright future.

Get off the couch, turn off the 10:00 news, let your subscriptions to the staid/negative media sources expire, throw a dart at a map of St. Louis and go ride the bus to that part of town and hang out.  You may find you have a story to tell that's way more interesting and true than the story being told by the so called experts.

Don't listen to the naysayers in this town, no matter how loud their voices become.  Don't let them bully you into thinking St. Louis is inferior in any way.  You should know better!  Don't let people who consider St. Louis City "downtown" get your goat.  Don't let suburbanites put you down without a fight or at least an indignant rebuttal.  We have the upper hand remember.  Don't let ignorance be part of your time in St. Louis.  Don't shoot your mouth off about the public schools, the north side or entire groups of people until you have first hand experience with them.  Learn about and experience the various streets and neighborhoods and they will become YOURS to cherish and protect for generations to come.

Viva la city!


  1. Amen. As native west countyite who grew up with more exposure to the City and its neighborhoods then the majority of my friends I say thank you for your posts and tours. Your posts have certainly increased my knowledge of the various neighborhoods. I'm currently not living St. Louis but your posts (and those of the other dozen or so bloggers) continue to inspire me and I look forward to returning to the St. Louis to help push its progress further.

  2. Keep up the inspiring work Mark. I love it.

  3. Great post, Mark. Although I had been coming to St. Louis since I was a kid, I never knew anything about the city beyond the ballpark until I moved here for grad school. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with an urban planner documenting some neighborhoods who asked me to walk each street an note each building. I had a very similar experience to yours, and have been hooked ever since. Thanks for this, and I look forward to reading more in the future.

  4. This post was wonderful to read. Keep up the amazing work! Do you think you'll ever publish your pictures somewhere? Sorry if you mentioned this already... I'm a new reader : )

  5. I personally can't wait for development north! It is time. You nailed it, ignorance is not bliss. We must have all levels of individuals living and dwelling together, low, moderate, middle and upper income folk YES upper! Living and learning together we all make a differnce. We can no longer have the status quo!!! Change in St. Louis IS HERE!

  6. Be sure to eat at Cornerstone Cafe, corner of Salisbury and Blair in Hyde Park. The people who eat their regularly are a wealth of knowledge about the neighborhood, city, etc. The food is great as well, I personally eat there every Saturday.

  7. Mark I've truly enjoyed this series, and have left a few comments along the way. I've also recommended your posts on multiple occasions. May I suggest you create an index page somewhere that has a link to every post. This would be a great link for sharing with people who are coming into the series late, not to mention those of us who want to find an earlier neighborhood's entry. The site is weak in the area of finding older posts, imho. Keep up the good work.

  8. Thank you for this piece. I am a native St. Louis suburbanite, but was raised to explore the dormant treasures of the city. As I'm currently not living in St. Louis, writings such as this are getting me more and more excited to get back home and become a part of the progress. Keep up the inspiring work!