The Ville Neighborhood has been top of mind lately.
Having a son who plays high school soccer, I've been to fields all over St. Louis and the small towns of North County to witness games. There is something special about Sumner High School. The areas surrounding it to the immediate north and east are stunning.
There is something special about parts of the Ville, still to this day. I've been poking around this city for years now and there are certain spots I come back to and just feel the place. The Ville around Sumner is one of those places, something strangely spiritual, can't put my finger on it. But, this part of the city is a beautiful place even after so many up and left.
So, I was happy to read a July, 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article outlining a $7.1M plan to bring new and renovated homes to the Ville:
Then in November, 2017, NextSTL reported on the project with new numbers and more specifics including the following:
I knew this had to be a top twenty announcement for 2017...might be #1. I can't think of a more deserving neighborhood for attention, investment and preservation. The history here is awe-inspiring and vital to our city.
Most of these new homes will be built on vacant lots of former homes and businesses. Here's a screenshot of the corner of North Sarah and St. Ferdinand:
- photo credits - RISE
I'm well aware of the history of this neighborhood, how black people were confined to certain parts of the city through deed restrictions, redlining and other racist policies.
Always dreaming and trying to empathize with the migratory patterns and decisions people made when the pulled out St. Louis roots and replanted in the suburbs, I've come to terms with migration. People generally want more and new things...bigger, newer, modern things. They want to look at their lives and say they did better than their parent's generation. Americans have unlimited space to sprawl, and every generation does it. Growth still exists on our furthest reaches of the Metropolitan region. Rooting down comes hard to most Americans.
The Ville certainly experienced it's exodus of the once strong black middle class and continues to see staggering losses of residents. During the years from 1990 to 2000 the Ville lost 25% of its population; and it got worse from 2000 to 2010 with the loss of another 31% taking the Ville down to less than 2,000 residents.
It's hard to come to terms with and rationalize. But, luckily, the next generation is tackling this subject head on. The Ville remained top of mind when the We Live Here Podcast published a story called "Out of the Ville". From the producers:
"This fall, we teamed up with WYPR's Out of the Blocks podcast and the local 4theVille organization to collect oral histories and stories of residents past and present from this historic black neighborhood in north St. Louis."
The podcast was enlightening and well done. I love hearing voices of the latest generation trying to come to terms with the history and current state of our city. They are the ones with the most power and desire and ability to make real change. It's exciting whenever somebody passes them the mic.
One particular voice struck me, it was that of Aaron Williams, neighborhood activist with the "4 the Ville" organization. On the subject he said:
This guy really opened my eyes to this "gift and curse" thought on deseg.
So, when I read about 43 new and renovated homes in the Ville, I get excited. Maybe the generation who heard their parents or grandparents talk about the good/bad ole days, they will inch their way "back home" and help return the Ville to a successful, fully functioning place.
I really hope this project sees completion and success in the future.