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!