Old North St. Louis

The Sunflower Project in Old North St. Louis

Some parts of town just seem to have it together.  Whenever I visit Old North St. Louis, I seem to notice something new and positive each time.  A couple weeks ago I was up in ONSL exploring Jackson Park and drove west and noticed some beautiful new homes filling in vacant lots.

I also noticed some public art that reminded me of Tibetan prayer flags.

note the Stan Span in the distance

I stopped and walked around with my curiosity piqued.  I new I could research what was going on here, but I also wanted to talk to some locals about what was going on.

What better place than a coffee shop to get info, right?  I stopped in at La Mancha Coffeehouse at 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue.  I spoke to the barista while she served up a great cup of joe.  Turns out this empty lot on the 1300 block of Warren Avenue was tilled and planted with sunflowers to provide some interest in an otherwise dead space.  The flags were an addition to beautify the lot after harvest of the sunflowers.

If you have empty lots, why not make the best of them while they are in their transitional state...or fallow period?

I love stuff like this.  Empty lots don't tend to make people turn their heads and stop and get out of the car to investigate what's going on.  The Sunflower Project did just that.

Here's the story from Washington University's Sustainable Cities Land Lab Conference:

The Sunflower+ Project: StL proposes turning previously developed urban lots into a community asset through the planting of sunflowers. With a goal of eventually spurring redevelopment of these vacant parcels, the project will serve as an appropriate, scalable, and productive transitional solution. An experiment in the realms of phytoremediation, public art, public health, education and sustainability, the project will beautify the neighborhood and enhance the usability of the land in a low impact, low cost, and entrepreneurial manner. Using Lot #4, we propose planting a field of sunflowers with a repurposed rubble wall intervention marking the historic foundation line that would serve as a didactic tool for learning about history and sustainability. In addition to brightening the neighborhood, the sunflowers will serve the practical task of phytoremediation of the soil, while offering the potential for development of food or fuel products that could provide a source of local income. Alternative plantings will also be used to promote the remediation process year round. The Sunflower+ Project: StL is led by a multidisciplinary team with expertise in urban redevelopment, sustainability, horticulture, soils analysis, environmental air quality analysis, masonry, graphic design and communications, civil engineering and organic farming. (source)

The mix of agriculture and brick buildings is a thing of beauty to me.  I can't wait to come back and get some photos of the sunflowers in bloom.

Congrats to those working hard in Old North, your neighborhood is an example for the other 78 in St. Louis.

Old North St. Louis: Old North Grocery Co-op

My recent visit to Crown Square led me to another fascinating personal first...a stop into the

Old North Grocery Co-op

.  The amount of positivity that has sprung up around Crown Candy Kitchen is simply amazing.  The

ONSL Restoration Group

is doing a great job at organically building the neighborhood back up to it's original glory.

Now, there are some things that simply make sense to me on every level.  Buying fresh, locally produced food and products is one of those things.  I like to spend every dollar I can within the limits of the City of St. Louis.  And when I can't find it there, extend my reach to the state level and then made in the U.S.  It's a challenge for me, and I think it's my duty as a good citizen to support local business owners.  When it comes to food, it's getting easier and easier to get local (within 100 miles of the city) produce and meat products.  With farmer's markets and co-ops and neighborhood gardens popping up all over the city, I'm very impressed with the locavore activities in St. Louis.

The Old North Grocery Co-op is just one positive example of this. 

Upon my visit, I bought some bacon, pork chops and an ~8 pound chicken (butchered within 48 hours of purchase) from a local farmer in Truxton, MO.  Lee Farms is approximately 70 miles from DT St. Louis; a mere 1.5 hour drive.  The processor (Davis Meats) is also in the great state of Missouri in a town called Jonesburg only ~66 miles from DT St. Louis.

It gets better.  As I was shopping for some delicious food, there was a couple in the back having a conversation.  As I approached the cashier to check out, one of the people at the back table approached me with an extended handshake and introduced himself as the farmer that raised the animals that I was purchasing.   He gave me a heartfelt thanks and I returned the thanks for doing one of the most important jobs in the world, providing food for the masses.  It was a good experience.

I am very proud of the work that farmers do to feed the world, especially farmers that are interested in serving their communities and regions with fresh, healthy food.  I am also very proud of folks like the Old North Grocery Co-op that are working toward fresh, local solutions toward healthy nutrition and living well.

Old North never looked so good.  You've got to check this place out.

Old North St. Louis: the 14th Street Mall or Crown Square

I've been reading a lot about the opening of the 14th street pedestrian mall or as it's referred to now: 

Crown Square in the Old North St. Louis neighborhoodBuilt St. Louis has some great "before" pictures from this section of the neighborhood.

It's clear, the space had seen better days.  But today a major transformation has occurred.  Not only has 14th street been opened up to vehicular traffic, this is straight up one of the most handsome business corridors in the entire city.  The views of DT and the Arch are unmatched.  The buildings look fantastic, and I was beaming with pride as I walked around.  This is one of the greatest transformations in my time living in St. Louis.  Cheers to all involved on a top notch effort.  Take a look:

views from in front of Crown Candy Kitchen

new street signs, lights, bike racks, parking meters and planters/benches

landscaped path to parking lots

PARKING IN THE REAR!!! So the storefronts can shine!

WOW!!!!  Can I get an Amen St. Louis? 

The regional/tourist draw of Crown Candy Kitchen should not be underestimated.  People from all over the suburbs and metropolitan region come here, especially at lunchtime and weekends.  Tourists flock here as well.  Hopefully more tenants in Crown Square will bring more tourist/visitor dollars to the neighborhood. 

On the day of my visit, people were walking around peeking in windows and admiring the workmanship and feel of the area.  It's great to see.

Now keep in mind this is St. Louis...the naysayers are already out in full force....they say, I'll call this a success when and only when there are businesses occupying all the storefronts.  I see what they are saying and there is still many a negative element in the surrounding areas.  They will try to make their mark (some genius started a fire in one of the brand new trash receptacles):

But the guts and drive it takes to make a successful renovation on this scale is simply astounding.  If you let the naysayers have their way, it would never have gotten off the ground, nor would it have come to completion. 

I commend all those involved!  You make this city guy proud!!!!

Want to read more?  Here's some great content: yahoo, St. Louis business journal, St. Louis beacon, Urban Review STL

Old North St. Louis Neighborhood

Old North St. Louis Neighborhood

Firstly, this neighborhood has the best website I've seen to date.  Shaw's was good, McKinley Heights and Clifton Heights were good, this one is exceptional.  This place sounds like the garden of freakin' eden.  I'm a gardener, I'm a lover of local foods and produce, I'm a fan of old buildings; I was giddy to check this neck of the woods out.

After visiting Patch yesterday and ONSL today, I feel as though I've discovered two of the neighborhoods with the most rehab activity and positive improvement going on.  I really like it here.  This could be the Soulard of the north because of all the row houses.  I feel optimistic about the future of this place.