Michael A. Okpara

Over the many number of years that I have lived in North St. Louis I can't recall seeing such a rapid decline and deterioration of neighborhoods as currently exists in Baden. The area has been neglected for far too long by the city government for any type of meaningful economic development and revitalization. Baden is dead.

It is not uncommon to travel any of the residential streets and find that only a handful of homes on that street have occupants. The area has become so blighted there appears to be no incentive for residents of this community to believe they are actually part of the City of St. Louis.

Criminals have taken over the area. Street corners are filled with vagrants. Derelict vehicles with no licensing identifications are found all over the streets. Drug dealers are running the streets unrestrained. Street traffic signs are being violated with impunity. Gun shots are keeping the few remaining residents awake all night long. The neighborhoods' law-abiding citizens are scared to death.

The area needs heavy police presence and economic opportunities for youth in this area to stabilize the locality.

I know the often-cited reasons for blight in minority neighborhoods, such as national economic downturn, unemployment, redlining, predatory lending, crime. But it is possible something else is responsible for the rapid decline of the North Side, especially the 2nd Ward. I wondered about the City of St. Louis' capital infrastructure and other economic development resource allocations to improve communities.

I attended the St. Louis Equitable Economic Development Strategy meeting organized recently by the St. Louis Development Corporation. It was an open event to gather input from the public on creating an environment for equal opportunity. The city's map was broken into regional sections. Attendees were given two colored stickers and instructed to find their neighborhood on the map and to paste the stickers wherever they want to see future investment.

I located my neighborhood, the North-near-riverfront, where I pasted my two stickers. Upon looking around the other neighborhood maps, I found that those maps were almost completely covered with stickers. The only stickers on the North-near-riverfront were the two stickers I had pasted. If the City of St. Louis should rely on data from this event to decide where improvements will be made, it would be capricious. Here is why. 

The event organization was too elitist. It was not organized as a proper community forum where all residents can dialogue with governmental officials, raise or ask substantive questions, offer insights on the nature of issues that affect their neighborhoods, and receive answers or assurances.

Also, the time and venue placed too many of the North-near-riverfront residents in utter disadvantage and effectively aborted any opportunity for them to participate. The event was scheduled for 4-7 p.m. at Vashon High School for residents of North City as a whole. Given the public transportation challenges that exist in Baden and Ward 2 in general, where one-in- three residents lacks transportation, I don't see how they could easily participate.

Due to the effective exclusion of most residents of the far North City area, the data generated from this event will be biased heavily in favor of other neighborhoods. The North-near riverfront area will remain neglected as it has been.

In reviewing the city's map, I found that the North-near-riverfront residential neighborhoods were classified and buried deep into the industrial zone alongside Hall Street, which obscured the residential areas. This obscurity meant that even the neighborhood retail strip on North Broadway that previously housed a grocery store and other small retail businesses was neglected in terms of revitalization to lure back jobs in the area. The city simply repackaged this area and rented it out to companies for storage. Those containers have become a total eyesore in that stretch of North Broadway.

I see no equity in the way the city has is gathering information to determine equity in resource allocations for community development. The developmental strategy should be rearticulated. Such an event should be brought much closer to the city's neighborhoods rather than staged only in a few locations that are not easily accessible to many residents. The process also should include ways to gather input from everyday folks who might not have the elitist capacity but whose opinions are vital for equitable economic development. Otherwise, the entire exercise is fraught with inequity and suspicion.

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