Friday, July 20, 2012

Some facts before I move on...

I wanted to get some facts on the table before I move on to some topics like regionalism and cross-county cooperation. 

Whenever I say 'St. Louis', I mean it literally.  I don't mean the combined statistical region, I don't mean our TV market, I don't mean Cardinal Nation, I don't mean unincorporated St. Louis County, I mean St. Louis...the city, you know?  The place with the Arch and the Big Muddy to the east, Forest Park and Skinker Boulevard to the west, The bluffs along the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers & the old Chain of Rocks Bridge to the north and the St. Louis Skatium to the south (alright can you think of a better landmark between St. Louis and Bella Villa or Lemay, Missouri?)  Klebs Clothing or the River Des Peres would be righteous choices as well...

Anyhow, I don't point out these facts to further divide us or to be contentious in any way.  If I come across like that it's because I'm fed up with the fact that the majority of people I talk to DO NOT GET THIS.  I simply want the truth to be realized.  I am not drawing a line in the sand and saying St. Louis (my favorite city in the region) should separate itself from it's less exciting, but much more well-monied/well-educated influential neighbors.  It's actually quite the opposite.  I simply want to speak honestly and accurately about our region and my city.  In order to do that you have to face some facts:
  • St. Louis City is its own County as well. St. Louis is not part of St. Louis County. It is in St. Louis City County (I kid you not, I learned this the first time I used Turbo Tax to's true).
  • There are 90 cities in St. Louis County (St. George just dis-incorporated) and huge swaths of unincorporated land, none of which can accurately be called St. Louis.
  • Each city in St.Louis County has its own political, tax and other city entities. They have nothing to do with St. Louis.
  • If you live in St. Louis County and work there, you don't pay any St. Louis income or property taxes.
  • If you live in St. Louis County or elsewhere in the region and work in St. Louis, you pay 1% earning tax to St. Louis.
  • If you work in St. Louis County or elsewhere but live in St. Louis, you pay an additional 1% income tax earnings tax to St. Louis.
  • If you live in St. Louis County you cannot vote on St. Louis issues (mayor, taxes, reducing the # of aldermen, etc); and vice versa.
  • As of July, 2011 official Census data, St. Louis had a population of 318,069.
  • St. Louis is the 58th largest city in the United States, wedged right between Santa Ana and Riverside, California. (source)
  • The Greater St. Louis combined statistical area's (CSA) population of 2,878,255 and is the 16th-largest CSA in the country, the fourth-largest in the Midwest. The Greater St. Louis area is the largest metropolitan area in Missouri. 
  • St. Louis has the 62nd greatest population density/square mile of land area, wedged right between Erie, Pennsylvania and Detroit, Michigan.
  • In the late 1960's the city and county voted for a special Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District to raise money based on property taxes in the county AND city to go toward funding essential cultural institutions in St. Louis.  The Art Museum, Zoo and Science Center were included; Botanical Gardens were added in 1983 and the History Museum was added in 1988 (source).   
  • On March 23, 2007, the Missouri State Board of Education ended its accreditation of the St. Louis Public Schools and simultaneously created a new management structure for the district. A three-person Special Administrative Board was created, with members selected by the Missouri governor, the mayor of St. Louis, and the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. The current board has authority to operate the district through 2013. The local school board remains in place but has no administrative authority over the district.  Cities in St. Louis County have their own school districts, distinctly separate from St. Louis'.
  • St. Louis does not have local control of its police force.  St. Louis County and many municipalities have their own police and fire depts.
A brief break from the facts into opinion:  what are the 2 biggest issues facing St. Louis?  Many will tell you the schools and crime.  Hmmm, we don't have local control of either...

Similarly clustered up, St. Louis runs the suffering Lambert International Airport located in unincorporated St. Louis County between the cities of Bridgeton and Berkeley, Missouri.   The state voted down our ability to lure in international cargo business with the 2nd largest economy in the world:  China (source).  We are being held back as a region by competing interests and entities that should be feverishly working together to stem the bleeding and disinvestment.  We have external interests more powerful than our own controlling many of our key local interests.  I feel the county and state work against St. Louis more often than not.  That needs to change.

But when we do work together, the results can be astounding.  For example, the Zoo, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens are world-class institutions.  Every property owner in St. Louis and St. Louis County should be proud of there contribution to these amazing places.  This is the premier example of x-county monetary cooperation that I can think of.  Another prime example of x-county fruit is the Great Rivers Greenway District, funded by a 1/10th of 1 cent sales tax raised in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County, which generates $10 million annually. We can all be proud of that one too, and the bike trails seen throughout the city and county unite us as opposed to dividing us.
Maybe I'm in the minority in thinking that this region is drastically over engineered from a political standpoint...but the simple fact is, both St. Louis and St. Louis County are losing population.  People are voting with their feet and vacating this region at alarming rates.

Here are some other Midwestern cities and how we compare:

  • Indianapolis, IN #12 in population @ 827,609
  • Columbus, OH #15 in population @ 797,434
  • Nashville, TN #26 in population @ 609,644
  • Oklahoma City, OK #30 in population @ 591,967
  • Kansas City, MO #37 in population @ 463,202
  • St. Louis, MO #58 in population @ 318,069
We are a tiny city bleeding residents.  We are a large metropolitan region that is fractionalized more than maybe any region in our country.  The political systems are bloated and the people are stubborn.  We are an inbred (read: promotes from within entreched ranks) region that doesn't like change and is wary of new comers and progressive thought patterns.  We're now seeing where that is getting us.  2010 Census data indicate that the mighty County of St. Louis has posted its first population loss in its short history.  The city is bleeding, the formerly shiny all white suburbs are aging and showing signs of slipping infrastructure, unsafe streets, mounting debt, etc.  The County population is wicking out to St. Charles and other green fields to find cheaper new construction and less pesky poor people, with their social ills and minorities.  We have to fix this.  We need to be honest about where we live and how services get paid for and who foots the bill.  We need to embrace our problems and assets as a unified region, not a bunch of petty little suburban fiefdoms and one formerly grand city.  We need to become the biggest city in Missouri.

Understanding these facts are an important place to start.

I am not from St. Louis, so I had to learn these things myself.  And don't believe the Interstate signs sprinkled throughout St. Louis County, they too are misguided in false local lore, as the "Welcome to St. Louis" signs exist miles from St. Louis' actual borders:

I hope these facts are clear and provide readers with the proper context when thinking about and debating regional issues in an honest manor.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Donnybrook-II The Next Generation

I am a big fan of the locally produced show "Donnybrook" on public television station KETC Channel 9. 

Per the KETC website:
The show that gives new meaning to the word “debate.”
Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Followed by Donnybrook…Your Turn at 7:30 p.m.

don-ny-brook (don’e-brook), n. [slang], a rough, rowdy fight or free-for-all

See what happens when five quick-witted, highly opinionated St. Louis journalists disagree on tough topics. This is not another dry, tame talk show. On Donnybrook, the issues are hot and so is the discussion. It’s a high-energy, no-holds-barred debate on the week’s news topics. With tongue-in-cheek, Donnybrook’s subtitle is “polite conversation on the issues.” With host Charlie Brennan, the conversation is highly opinionated and not always “polite.” The panel of regulars tackles tough issues and controversial subjects. The opinions are well-informed and widely divergent.
I like that they are discussing local issues and try to maintain a broad range of opinionated panelists.  It can be very entertaining.

But, after tuning in (off and on) for several years now, I can't help but think it would be fun to expand on the local show and have a sort of Donnybrook-II...The Next Generation.  One with even more emphasis based on St. Louis issues as opposed to the more regional or statewide topics.  An urban-progressive donnybrook so to speak.  I take from the next generation...Generation Y.

I believe the current panelists are all Baby Boomers.  And while I appreciate their perspectives, I think the next generation in their 20s and 30s (ones who want to live in a vibrant city) are the keys to St. Louis' future.  They will be the ones that move back in large enough numbers to maybe, just maybe, bring us to our first population gain in over 60 years.  I hear many of the baby boomers in St. Louis talking about why something won't work in St. Louis, and constantly pointing to events of the past 50 years in STL as to why something will fail now.  Now I get it, you have to look to the past to understand the future.  But you've got to admit, we've had among the worst 50 years in the history of any American city. We've been beaten, battered and left as broken.  I don't blame the boomers, they've seen St. Louis get worse and worse, decade after decade.  We've had failure of leadership and massive population decreases and a beautifully crafted urban city destroyed and abandoned...all in 50 years or less. 

But, maybe St. Louis is on the mend.  Maybe the more optimistic generation Y'ers will be able to pick up the pieces, forget the worst years in our history and be more prone to look forward more often than not to create a city they want to live in, not the one the boomers watched go to pot during their lifetime.

Back to the current Donnybrook panelists; do they represent current thought patterns in St. Louis?  Do they even live and have the right to vote in the city?  Based on the bios below, at least one (Wendy Wiese) does not:
Charlie Brennan
Charles Brennan is in charge of radio station KMOX’s top-rated weekday mid-mornings. Brennan has been voted St. Louis’ favorite talk show host four times in the Readers Polls of the Riverfront Times. In 1998, he was named Media Person of the Year by the St. Louis Press Club. Brennan was named one of America’s top 25 “most influential radio talk show hosts” in USA Today. Brennan has worked at KMOX since 1988, after working in Boston radio beginning in 1982. He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio and a graduate of Boston College. Brennan assumed the role of host in January 2010.

Ray Hartmann

Martin Duggan gave Ray Hartmann his first newspaper job as a copy boy at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Surprised? Don’t be. Despite the chasm in their political views, the two seeming adversaries know friendship isn’t limited by such boundaries. Hartmann founded The Riverfront Times in 1977 and with partner Mark Vittert, sold it in 1998. Today, Hartmann Publishing also owns St. Louis Magazine. Hartmann is a native of St. Louis and a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Bill McClellan

Letters to Channel 9 about Bill McClellan comment as much about his clothing as about his political opinions. Whether or not viewers regard McClellan as a sartorial icon, his style is as firmly entrenched as his love for his hometown baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. He joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1980, shortly after moving to St. Louis. He and his wife, a graduate of Washington University’s dental school, have been married since December 29, 1979, and have two children.

Alvin Reid

Alvin Reid is lead sports columnist for the Globe-Democrat, the latest stop in a 26-year journalism career that has taken him from Danville, Ill, to Little Rock, Ark., to Lansing, Mich., to Washington, D.C. and finally back to his hometown of St. Louis. Reid spent 12 years at the St. Louis American, where he twice was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Columnist. He also is a member of the 101 ESPN radio staff and in January 2010 became a regular member of Donnybrook.

Wendy Wiese

Wendy Wiese has anchored newscasts, interviewed local, state and national newsmakers, narrated award-winning documentaries, and has been a fixture in St. Louis radio for more than 20 years. A recipient of Ohio State Radio and Television News Directors and Missouri Broadcasters Association awards and a graduate of Visitation High School and Fontbonne College, Wendy is active with Catholic Charities and a board member of the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club. She lives in Chesterfield with husband Chris and daughters Kate and Maggie
This panel is made up of very experienced and respected journalists and broadcasters.  It's a good group of people and I like the mix of opinions; but, I'm wondering if a "Donnybrook-II:  The Next Generation" could draw from a broader pool of the hoi polloi...a more "word from the streets" take on debating St. Louis issues.

Maybe this would be a nice panel:

  • successful young city business owner
  • libertarian-bent, charter school loving, voucher wanting, govt-shunning person
  • fed-up ex-city suburbanite; but still loves the Lou, just had to leave though
  • unabashed cup half full city lover with heart on sleeve
  • preservationist
  • urbanity/density or death type
  • regionalism advocate = consolidation of regional political entities and boundaries or die!
  • city government insider willing to speak to the challenges of the status quo/baby-boomer/entrenched nepotism laden govt and what is needed to lead us toward brighter future
See where I'm going?

It would be nice to see a broader mix of people invited into the discussion as well.  Occasionally allow the host to invite experts and guest panelists based on the topic of discussion.

I'd also like to see the younger generation take on some of the subjects that really are affecting the city, but the older guard may consider too taboo or risky based on their generational purview.  Think how much different baby boomers and Gen Y see the issues of race, suburbs and quality of life...very, very different.  Wouldn't that be fun? 

How about a topic about immigrants in St. Louis.  What's it like to be a teen or young person growing up in an English as second language family living in St. Louis?  Invite a Bosnian-American, a Vietnamese-American, a Hispanic-American, a Somali-American for lively discussions. 

Or, being black in 21st Century St. Louis:  get a privately educated, de-seg educated, public school educated, etc mix of people from all over St. Louis City to speak up on the topic.

What's it like to be a white urban pioneer in Hyde Park, St. Louis Place or Old North St. Louis?

How about some more gritty subjects that get swept under the rug:  high rates of black on black murders, STL gonorrhea and syphilis rates among the tops in the nation, gentrification, what do county kids think of city kids and vice versa, why aren't there more indie/neighborhood businesses in St. Louis, why can't we retain the top educated people from SLU and Wash U in the city, top 10 FAILS from the previous generation...on and on...

As a Gen-X'er raised by boomers in the burbs/small town America, I think it would be fascinating to sit back and watch and listen to intelligent, out spoken people from Gen-Y in their 20s and 30s talking it up on the St. Louis we see now.  They are the ones who will bring meaningful change to St. Louis.  They are the ones with more optimism and less guilt and bagage.  They seem to have a more can-do spirit. 

I want to see their Donnybrooks.  How about it KETC?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Child Rearing In The City or Cheers to Dubb Nubb and SCOSAG For Bringing It All Back Home

Art is important to kids.  They need it in their lives as much as they need sports.  Fact.  The arts challenge kids to use their minds in creative and personal ways that sports don't always bring.  I'm not knocking kids sports as they are important, healthy and can be a hell of a lot of fun too.

I'm basing much of this opinion on the fact that my kids have been involved in several youth sports across several different organizations.  And, in the not too distant past, they went to a summer arts camp for a couple years called SCOSAG in Tower Grove Park. It wasn't cheap for sure (thankfully, the grandparents subsidized the venture), but my wife was staunchly in support of it. So, we sign em up, they have fun and it was creative and unique and they love Tower Grove Park as a result of going there. During the course of this summer camp, they discovered a part in the park called "the tree's knees" which is a grove of mature Bald Cypress against a man-made creek that flows through the park where you can race little boats down. It's one of those things that are very personal and I won't try to explain why, but parents likely know what I'm talking about.  It's simply got a good vibe and Tower Grove Park is now the backdrop to some very fond memories of the kids and us as parents as well.

Anyhow here's the crux of this post, and why, based on having experienced both sports and arts related kid activities, I feel more rewarded with a musical memory that I will always carry, instead of the fleeting charge I may get out of a goal or a base hit or a win (although that's a lot of fun too).

One day my kids came home from the camp with this hand drawn picture. I didn't know what the hell it was, but I liked it. It reminded me of a record cover with a track list. After awhile I learned what it was. The kids were talking over and over about a band that came and played at SCOSAG. They loved it, they sang it and hummed it and the melodies were subconsciously growing on me. I assumed it was kids music and I must confess I don't usually enjoy kid music, so I was naturally resistant.  I have heard Barney and others that could make the Dalai Lama wanna shank a mutha. But my oldest who had taken a recent interest in music was starting to gain my respect. He had to have 'Harnessed in Slums' as the opening track on his new mixed tape, so I started listening to him a little more. He showed me the CD he wanted me to listen to. The artwork was similar to the picture he drew and is now framed in his room:

We were heading down to southwest Missouri on a long drive, so my wife brought the CD and insisted that we listen to it.  So I popped it in the mini-van CD player with full skepticism and hovered my elitist finger over the eject button. The first track caught my full attention, 2nd did too, by the 3rd track, the back of the van was rocking and I recognized the melodies I'd been hearing filtered through 3, 5 and 7 year old ears...this was not kids music by any means, but it was created by teenagers. 

Then it happened, track 4 'Soldier' stopped me in my tracks and wife and I had a good, tearful moment in the front row of the van. Now, I'm a softy when it comes to lit, poetry and song writing (the greatest of all writing)...and I don't mind admitting that, music just has that power. I also have a soft spot for soldiers/veterans, especially ones who were forced (read drafted, not volunteered) to kill or be killed in war. So the song resonated and made me think of A Farewell to Arms, and All Quiet on the Western Front...World War I in general. It stopped me in my damn tracks. Everyone in the front row of seats was teared up, a quick view in the rear view mirror revealed the youngest two mouths agog staring plaintively out the windows worried about why mom and dad were upset and taking in what a sad lyric can do to people. The third row of seats had the oldest one teared up too. He got it, I got it, we all got it and marveled in the power of youth and the written/sung word.

Dubb Nubb is the band, they are from the suburbs of St. Louis. And they were teenagers when this album was recorded.  They are part of the underrated local music scene, they are now part of our life and experience and everything else. Here's the song I'm talking about:

You've got to read the lyrics:

When the war was over
I went home and cried into my pillow until dawn
I put my gun in the drawer
Sold my old clothes and bought some new ones, put them on

I lost my best friend in the battle
I watched him fall dead right into the snow
I lost me too much blood
But I bandaged up my wounds so nobody will know

It's alright, it's alright
I could have yelled surrender, but I thought that I could win the fight
It's alright, it's alright it's my own fault
I've been holding on to my own lies to tight

When the war was over,
I couldn't sleep with all these nightmares of my past inside my brain
I didn't win the medal
All I got are all these memories all traced across my face

It's alright, it's alright
I could have yelled surrender, but I thought that I could win the fight
It's alright, it's alright, it's not my fault
All these bullets have impaired my sight

Some day I'll go back to the battle ground
And cry for what was murdered, what was mine.

Let me say these words take me to somewhere very, very few words do. It's a WWI, Civil War imagery that gets conjured up and an amazingly sensitive take on a soldier's story, and to be transported to that place through the interventions of my child...that's good stuff.

This good parental memory would not have been possible without my kids experience at SCOSAG and seeing Dubb Nubb play for them.  My kids' opportunities growing-up and being introduced to so many different cultures, and experiences of sound and sight and taste and people and places, I feel are opportunities that are enhanced by my choice to be a city dweller and raise kids right here in St. Louis vs. the calm/staid cul-de-sacs of a suburban municipality. I like art and it's influence on our lives, and how St. Louis elicits thought and emotions on nearly every block.

I am sharing my joys and interests with the kids to the best of my ability; but as they grow, they share and teach me new stuff as well. I hope that when it is all said and done, they appreciate these gifts and broad experiences, and make the choice to hand them on to their own kids.  I hope that St. Louis is part of their experience and they realize how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful place with so many caring, dedicated, creative people in their midst.  Artists inspire me daily in this city...

The effect of this song didn't wear off, it still means a lot after a couple years.  So, I had to find out more about the song and get the scoop from the writer herself.  I was able to catch up with 1/2 of Dubb Nubb - Delia Rainey, who wrote the song.  Note that this was not a live interview, rather a list of questions sent/answered, so the flow is not interactive and conversational.  Anyhow, here are her replies to my questions:

I understand that you wrote the lyrics, is that correct?

Yes, I did.
 Has this song had the same effect on your friends and other fans?

'Soldier' is definitely a big favorite among my family members and other people who have been listening to us for a while, since we don't play it at shows very much any more. Every time we do play it, everyone gets super quiet and people really pay attention. We really only play it at intimate acoustic shows where this is possible. 
How does Soldier stand out to you personally compared to the other songs on the record?

I wrote Soldier by myself while desperately heartbroken in my bedroom. It came to me very organically and was probably written in about an hours time. For me, it truly is the most genuinely written songs on the record.
Is the soldier in the song triumphant in beating war and getting over his past; or is it a depressing tale of having lost innocence and a piece of his life lost forever?

Definitely the second one. The Soldier in the song is a metaphor for me trying to 'soldier through' a really tough time in a relationship, and not being able to fix it in the end, or 'win the fight'. It's always funny to reveal to people who really love this song that it is about a breakup with my high school boyfriend when I was 16, which is super silly and embarrassing now that I am 20!
 Was there special consideration to sequence it as the 4th track, right in the middle? It’s between two really upbeat happy songs.

I have no clue why we would've chosen to put it there, we made that album so long ago! We re-recorded Soldier for our most recent full-length with glockenspiel and violin added (Sunrise Sleepy Eyed 2011), and put it in a similar spot in the middle of the track list (track 5), but I think putting an emotional song like that in a the middle of a record is a good turning point; 'moving on' to the happier times with the next song!
On to the melody. Did you also come up with the melody? Was it written on piano or guitar? I love whistling as a melody maker, and the whistling fits this song perfectly.

Thank you!! I did write the melody. I am horrible at guitar, (and have since moved on to ukulele), but back when I wrote this song I was still pretty into playing a little kid learn-to-play guitar, and that's how this song was written. I think I get this from my Dad, but I am always whistling little tunes, and putting them into songs! I'm really fond of Andrew Bird's quote that whistling should be considered as it's own musical instrument.
Is that a mandolin? Was it single note plucked? Was that played by you guys?

Yeah, that's Hannah on mandolin. She is amazing at stringed instruments - she has been playing classical guitar since she was 10 and it's now her music major in college. She says, "I was tremolo-ing on one note at a time"
Was it recorded live together, or was it recorded on multiple tracks and put back together?

For this whole record, we recorded each song in one take, and all together! It also only took us about 3 hours to record the WHOLE album! It was crazy. We never do this anymore with our other recordings, so The Best Game Ever is a special one.
In the last 2 lines are the lyrics: “Some day I'll go back to the battle ground
And cry for what was murder, what was mine.” Or “cry for what was mine, what was mine”?

You were close!! The line is: "cry for what was murdered, what was mine."
 Finally, since my blog is a STL centric one, I’ve got to somehow tie this back to my audience.  Are you from St. Louis? If so, what neighborhood?

Yes!! We are third generation St. Louisans, and grew up in Olivette
What’s it like gaining traction in the music community here? Was it hard to get gigs when you were in high school?

We were lucky to be a part of a really supportive group of high school musicians from around the county that had house shows and stuff, and that's how we found our support group. For the release of Best Game Ever, we played on Cherokee Street at Cranky Yellow, and ever since then, Cherokee Street has been our favorite place to play - mostly at Foam Coffee. Especially our last year of high school, we were surprised by how many shows we were able to play. Some of our biggest shows were at Firebird and the Billiken Club, and we got the honor to play at the RFT music showcase and also Loufest after winning the high school battle of the bands!! Because of school priorities and our parents worrying, we tried to only play one show a month in high school. 
Do you think your sound and writing style is influenced by St. Louis or Missouri or the Midwest in general?
We are SO influenced by where we are from. We love to write songs about our love for St. Louis and midwest nature. The glory of the city and then also the beautiful country side of the midwest where we have traveled has a lot of emotional meaning to us, which gives inspiration to write songs. Also, we use some 'twang' in our music, which definitely derived from St. Louis music. 
Are you inspired by the city in any meaningful way as an artist?

Driving into the city and seeing shows with traveling bands and local acts really inspired us to become part of the St. Louis music scene. The DIY venues and supportive community we encountered really helped us keep going with our art. As well, the feel and scenery of the city inspired us to write a hometown song called 'Mound City Baby', which you can listen to on bandcamp:
So there you have it.   Cheers to SCOSAG and Dubb Nubb for being part of my kids' lives...and our evolving music collection and the St. Louis artist scene.  The CD is on the shelf and the kid drawing of the album cover in on the wall...forever.

Dubb Nubb are playing at Plush on August 2nd.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I've been everywhere man (in St. Louis that is)

Recently I completed my personal goal to visit and photo document each and every St. Louis neighborhood.   I didn't traverse each and every block of each and every street but I came pretty damn close.  With a camera in hand and gas in the scooter/car tank, I hit em all man.  My modus operandi evolved as the adventure continued (sometimes dragging on) for 27 months.  My only goal at the onset was to take plenty of pictures and let them unfold and tell the story of current day St. Louis and keep the commentary light and conversational.  You know, informal and simple; not a lot of academic analysis or historic perspective, to me that's being done so much better on other blogs/websites.  I didn't want to specifically point out exact locations of signs, scenes, buildings or homes.  I wanted people to have their curiosity piqued and maybe go visit the neighborhood themselves and try to find the things I noted in each piece.

I started by looking at a list of 79 neighborhoods, man where to start.  I thought, well there are many "Heights" neighborhoods, why not start with thosse.  So our maiden voyage was in Botanical Heights driving around with my wife in the car, me behind the wheel and her with the camera.  We had an absolute blast.  But I knew I was going to have to change my method if I was going to do a good job at this for the other 78 neighborhoods.  First of all, it's too hard to take pictures from inside a car.  Battling the sun, traffic, etc is a bear.  Just navigating the chopped up street grid, one way streets, cul-de-sacs, Schoemehl pots and multitudes of stop signs is a monumental task.  This was clearly a job for a more urban-friendly get a bout....the 125cc Yamaha Vino:
This fuel efficient and highly maneuverable scooter allowed me to get in and out of alleys, streets, up on sidewalks and everywhere else I needed to go to get the access and photos I wanted.  And in St. Louis, where scooters are rare, there's another benefit...they get people's attention and folks naturally want to talk to you.  And in some neighborhoods where the locals are not used to seeing white dudes, esp white dudes on scooters, I got a lot of social commentary that I probably wouldn't have had I been in a car.  Scooters are not something you ride if you want to assert your manhood, I get that.  And for whatever reason, guys doing their best to live up to the thug stereotype are seemingly programmed to hurl racial and homophobic slurs when seeing someone on a scooter in the hood.  It was actually pretty funny, and by the end of my treks, I could almost anticipate a block away who was going to hassle me, give me shit or try to front/threaten me.  Some prostitutes even grinned and wanted to talk as opposed to do business.  But the vast majority of people who came across me on the scoot with the camera around my neck were simply curious and friendly.  They would typically ask the 2 most common questions of all "what kind of mileage does that thing get?  How fast does it go?" 

Then came the issue of photographing from public property.  People would see me taking pictures and many would stop and ask me what I was doing.  This elicited many responses from anger/hatred related to the current poor state of many neighborhoods to jovial conversation and little history lessons and personal stories.  I have so many great stories in my head, some I shared in the neighborhood pieces, some I couldn't corroborate or thought too personal or I simply forgot the whole story before I wrote it up.  But usually, when I explained my intention, people would chime in and tell me what I should make sure and photograph.  People would point out their favorite buildings, homes, tree houses, restaurants, etc.  Most people are proud of where they live and want to talk about their neighborhood and their home.

I tried not to research neighborhoods before I went.  I wanted to be surprised and curious upon first witness.  I wanted this to be part of the experience.  And when I'd come up on something really unique, I'd ask the neighbors about it.  This was a lot of fun, and something I'll never forget.  St. Louisan's are generally very kind.  There are a lot of accents and dialects that I loved hearing.

At first I was kind of shy about pointing a camera at people or private property, but as I went on, my confidence increased and I used street smarts to know what was and was not a good scene.  Trust me, I got in a couple sticky situations.  I know a lot more about racism, ghetto scenes and other crazy stuff going on in St. Louis. 

Anyhow, my method for visiting a neighborhood ended up being:  go down every street, talk to as many people as you can, go early in the morning, take a shitload of pictures....come home with the feel and the stink of the neighborhood on you and the stories still fresh in your head and open up the gallery and write the blog based on the feel I had or the feel of the pictures I had just taken.  What I've got here on this blog is merely a snapshot in time of St. Louis' neighborhoods.

I hope to update these neighborhood posts from time to time, espescially as positive developments evolve and new census data come in.  My goal at the onset of this project was to become more informed about the city as a whole.  As a non-native St. Louisian and since moving to STL, an extreme southsider (Holly Hills/Boulevard Heights/Dutchtown/Northampton), I heard about North City being scary and dangerous.  I read about brick theft.  I read about "bombed out wastelands", I read about Paul McKee's delapidated properties.  But I had no first hand experience.  I'd get pissed when people in the suburbs would trash the city with no first hand knowledge.  I would staunchly defend the city carte blanche.  But I also know folks who thought I was being hipocritical when I'd defend the city and denounce that it's not a crime infest ghetto shithole.  They'd say, you know, you living in Boulevard Heights isn't the same experience, how can you tell me you know what it's like to live on the state streets or north city.  Yeah, they have a point.  So my goal was to visit every nook and cranny in St. Louis and form my own opinions and hopefully share them with like-minded people.

You know, to not be scared in your own city, or at least now where you might run into real non-random trouble is priceless to me.  I've refined my urban spidey senses and feel like I'm more street smart as a result.  I had to endure a couple weird and sometimes scary situations and some insane amounts of racism/anti-scooter commentary (funny actually).  It made me reach out to many other neighborhoods when thinking about where to live and hang out. 

In retrospect, I've looked back at the 79 neighborhood posts and realized I need to make some updates.  For instance, it took me awhile to get my sea legs with the process and I really fell short on some areas like Clifton Heights.  When I first started, I thought people would get pissed if they saw me taking pictures of their home/business, and this was evidenced in CH.  As it turns out, my overall experience was quite the opposite.  People in St. Louis love their homes and take quite a bit of pride in them.

I feel a bond with parts of the city I never will live in or frequent.  It is an emotional roller coaster to visit some of our worst neighborhoods.  Sometimes I would come back home with a camera full of destruction and negativity, a headful of racial insults and sneers, mean mugs and hate and be left trying to paint the picture in a balanced light.  I firmly believe that if you don't have anything positive or thought provoking to say, just keep your mouth shut.  Much of North City certainly falls in this category.  Sometimes it's a reach to find the positives; but they are there and ignoring them is the worst thing you can do.

I never wanted this site to be for profit, or copy protected in anyway.  It is all meant to be free, referenced, lifted, whatever for the good of St. Louis.  It's my 79 love letters so to speak.  With that in mind, some friends and readers criticized me for painting with too bright a brush...polishing too many turds...not keeping it real...when it comes to the downtrodden, neglected areas of the city.  Yes, I am guilty of that.  I don't see how tearing someone or something a new one on the internet does any good.  Unless of course you are directly working toward positive change in that area; then you have the right to intelligently criticize. 

What I hope this project did was encourage others to explore their own city.  To get people to start their own project related to St. Louis.  To open up people's eyes to the good the bad and the ugly.  To form more educted opinions of what this city is really like.

So anyhow, thanks to all for reading and linking, etc.  I never thought I'd have the responsibility of writing for an audience, but it came to that.  I learned a lot and met some new people I consider to be friends along the way and for that I am very thankful.   The top 3 neighborhood profiles based on readership are Hyde Park, Tower Grove South and Bevo.  I'm happy that there is interest in Hyde Park, a neighborhood with huge potential, yet not much of a spotlight on it. 

The content of this blog will be changing away from the neighborhood/photo based posts and getting into lighter stuff and focusing in on some other areas like parks and cemetaries, parenting in the city, gentrification, local activism, etc.

So here's the fair warning to all who have linked to this site based on the neighborhood posts.  The content is changing, so feel free to adjust accordingly.