“By studying what other neighborhoods do and then modeling the attributes that you think are important or could help your neighborhood is a valuable resource for neighborhoods that feel under resourced,” said Judith Arnold, a neighborhood planner with the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations (SLACO).
On Saturday, June 16, the Ville and Benton Park neighborhoods joined together to participate in SLACO’s program Neighborhoods United for Change.
“We cover things like the special economic tools that are used by other neighborhoods, where many of the North Side neighborhoods knew nothing about that, such as special business districts,” Arnold said.
“It’s very easy to say that our neighborhoods are segregated by race. They are also segregated by lack of knowledge of what each does. Learning what other tools neighborhoods have used, because they have been using them for years, are invaluable in the redevelopment scope.”
Neighborhoods United for Change pairs residents from a North City neighborhood with other from a South City neighborhood for a half-day of touring neighborhoods on a bus and engaging in structured conversation involving impressions from the tour; ideas for bridging racial, economic and geographic divides; and brainstorming how to develop ongoing conversation and joint projects.
“If we really want to get the most out of this experience, people have to be prepared to have some tough conversations,” Harlan Hodge of SLACO said.
“We come to this conversation with a simple agreement that we’re going to have an assumption of good will. That assumption of good will says that we are all here to learn from each other, and that we can all benefit from each other’s wisdom.”
The group’s route began at the SLACO office in the West End and then went into the Ville Neighborhood in North St. Louis, where the group saw the former Annie Malone Children’s Home, the former Homer G. Phillips Hospital, the Poro Site, Turner and Turner middle schools, Sumner High School, and Tandy Park.
“I had heard of the hospital, Homer G. Phillips, I heard various things, Sumner High School, but I had not realized the great history behind it and how people can have great pride in these buildings, as well as the memories,” said South Side participant Bill Byrd.
All of the people participating in the program were leaders inside of their communities, such as neighborhood association presidents and community activists. Byrd has been a member of Benton Park West Neighborhood Association since 2004 and served various offices on the board. One of its board members, Linda Haney, represents the neighborhood at SLACO and the association is always represented at SLACO conferences.
On the second half of their trip, they went through Benton Park West neighborhood in South St. Louis where they saw two community gardens, a dog park, and Cherokee Street.
“Even though our communities look different, we still all have a lot of the same problems,” said North Side participant Julia Allen. “I used to think that our problems were different than everybody else’s problems, but they’re not.”
Julia is with an organization called 4theVille, organized out of the Regional Art Commission’s Community Arts Training (CAT) Institute.
Hodge of SLACO asked participants to give some solutions to the problems they saw in each other’s neighborhoods and highlighted the good in each other’s neighborhoods
“Benton Park West has a strong business association,” Allen said. “We don’t have that in the Ville, and if we organize that business association we might be able to get some different types of tax breaks to come into the neighborhood to support things like lighting the street and different things like that.”
The Neighborhoods United for Change program came about in 2016 as a result of the contention and turmoil that surfaced in the wake of Michael Brown’s police killing and subsequent unrest. After a year hiatus, the program has been back since March.
“This is a formal arrangement for people to get together,” Hodge said. “We don’t have to wait to do this formally. We can informally say, ‘Hey, can I show you around my neighborhood and then you show me around yours?’ That's the work that we can do on an individual level to transform our city into what we want it to be.”
SLACO plans more tours for this summer and wants neighborhood organizations to ask for its assistance in putting such a tour together.
For more information, visit http://www.slaco-mo.org/, call 314-361-9406 or visit SLACO at 5888 Plymouth Ave., St. Louis MO 63112, in Etzel Place Apartments building.
Ashley Jones is an Emma Bowen Foundation editorial intern at The St. Louis American, supported by a grant from the Democracy Fund.