Far too often in our urban cores across America, we hear and witness the frustration of people in the community desiring investment and change in their neighborhoods. The discussions of those in positions to bring aid to the plight of the residents often result in solutions disconnected or indifferent to the needs and longings of the people who will ultimately be forced to live with the decisions.
These conditions can leave one believing there are no solutions to move forward or foster change in the “forgotten spaces” in our small/mid-sized cities. However, despite the realities described thus far, I believe that not only is transformation possible, it’s already happening. The foundation is being laid for long-term change in St. Louis as well as other cities in similar landscapes.
The challenges are real and the needs are numerous. St. Louis has a plethora of issues to engage such as inequality in neighborhood investment, access to capital for underserved areas, income-based social exclusion, inequitable access to the resources necessary for a reasonable quality of life, and limitations in inclusive living spaces that are attainable for all 2.8 million residents, not just the elite or the selected chosen few. Time and space do not allow permission to address other critical woes such as the subjects of systemic racism, governmental divide, zip code-based education as well as cultural brokenness amongst various ethnicities that exist internally and externally among the “groups” which call our city home. The plights listed have existed for decades leading us to a place of severe brokenness forming despair for many residents as they ponder what is next for the city they love and have built family legacies.
While the challenges are the reality in which the work so desperately needed begins. There are glimmers of hope as we look to the future of St. Louis. The traces of hope are found in the spaces that many have walked away from and discredited, drawing the conclusion they are beyond repair thus not worthy of investment. The individuals leading these efforts are not from the inner circles of the well-known in St. Louis or the upper echelon crowd of those considered experts, but they are building unlikely collaborations to spark sustainable change at the neighborhood level. Partnerships are the critical link and required component to revitalizing St. Louis. As we endeavor on the audacious task of rebuilding our neighborhoods, working in tandem is the only means by which significant and lasting change takes place. These collaborations are happening from neighbor to neighbor as people aid each other in the midst of this pandemic with food, transportation, child-care, and other critical items necessary for survival. Alliances are evolving between small and mid-sized organizations to provide vital services to the community such as COVID-19 testing, food and clothing drives, counseling as well as employment assistance. Place-based community development is spawning relationships between organizations and residents enabling a platform for trust to develop along with the value of people, allowing physical structures to grow into tangible actions, beyond just conversation.
One important reason St. Louis is a model for other mid-sized cities as the people have the creativity along with the passion to work a plan of transformation. They possess the commitment as well as the understanding that change happens step by step as a marathon, not a sprint. This ingenuity is visible amongst the partnerships formed, organizations created, and the projects they produce. Obstacles are often the incubator for creative solutions, and the people of this city have continuously risen amidst the difficulties encountered to develop a means forward. An example of this is the reduction in services for the homeless that led a team with passion to serve people without shelter, to locate space, originate and launch City of Hope. The innovation of local entities that are committed to people over profit is building the pathway forward to urban renewal in the city of St. Louis.
There are citizens dedicated to the rebirth of St. Louis city’s urban core. While others would view the following assets as possessing no value: land, vacant buildings, and red bricks, these treasured items can be utilized to revitalize communities. The question becomes for those in leadership and places of influence: will they resource and invest over the long-term significant capital in the “forgotten spaces”? This critical inquiry must be answered to move the region forward and exemplify that everyone matters. Realizing that time as well as the ground forward is not a straight line.
“First, the line of progress is never straight. For a period a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as though you were moving backwards, and you lose sight of your goal: but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again, closer by.”― Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?