by Robert Ping, WALC Institute Executive Director Robert Ping
I recently got to travel to St. Louis, Missouri to attend the New Partners for Smart Growth conference, hosted by the Local Government Commission. The Local Government Commission took advantage of the presence of walkability and livability experts from around the country to have an impact on this great region that is experiencing population stagnation and even shrinkage. Some of us were invited to participate in a locally-sponsored workshop in St Louis to help selected neighborhoods become more livable and walkable.
The workshop was the culmination of the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) “Neighborhood Challenge”. Livability experts worked closely with one of three different neighborhoods in St. Louis, each with a specific challenge they wanted to address — using arts in their placemaking efforts. Each neighborhood received $2500 in seed funding to help them implement the action plans that we helped them create during the workshop.
My team was from the West End neighborhood, an under-served area of strong African-American heritage that is being squeezed by high-income development on several sides. The goal of local champions on my team was to:
· plan for a brand and identity that would help to preserve their history and culture (an artist participating in the workshop created an inspiring “WE” design that stands for ‘West End’ and for the people of the neighborhood standing together as a collective ‘We’),
· imagine partnerships that would help bring lenders into the neighborhood who wouldn’t ‘red line’ black investors and potential home owners, and
· imagine a wayfinding system that would bring attention to this neighborhood and its substantial community assets, such as stately homes, a new light rail line and shopping center, a hospital redevelopment, and the St. Vincent Greenway segment, part of the regional Great Rivers Greenway network.
What an impressive neighborhood team I got to work with, and what a fun and productive workshop! Even though St. Louis, and especially the West End neighborhood, struggle to be economically sustainable and vibrant, there is a distinct positive spirit within the group of local leaders who are spearheading efforts in the West End neighborhood. I was supposed to be the one to inspire them with what is possible from a technical standpoint, but I think that they may have inspired me even more with their commitment to the health and well-being of everyone in the West End, and their determination to make it a better place to live, work and play.
I continue to stay in contact with them, and hope to see their action plan become reality. The West End deserves it – The West End is the Best End of St. Louis!