A couple of years ago I wrote about a large expanse of Urban Prairie in the St. Louis Place neighborhood. While I’ve driven through a few times since, I haven’t really taken the time to stroll around the neighborhood again until this afternoon, when poor road conditions on North Florissant prompted me to park my car and inspect it for damage.
Luckily my car was fine, and without anything on the calendar decided to let my feet and camera guide me around the neighborhood to the west. This led me through St. Louis Place Park to St. Louis Avenue (St. Louisans have always been proud of the city), where a homeowner wondering why I was photographing her property directed me to revisit the prairie only a block or two away. As I took her advice and started walking south, I was shocked to see large cornfields filling up many of the vacant blocks.
Over the course of the next hour or so that it took me to explore the 10+ blocks of mostly demolished city, I chatted with numerous people who live or work in the neighborhood and pieced together some of the story. A local firefighter and resident each credited the crops to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation (which has an urban farm in East St. Louis). Some saw the city maintaining them. Others thought that corn looked pretty out of place, that rebuilding a mixed use neighborhood should be the priority and that Paul McKee would probably continue his track record – in the tradition of previous developers – as a serious disappointment at best. The consensus was that none of the crops are intended for human consumption. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any additional information on the internet (please share if you know more).
Although I agree that new urban buildings would be much much better than cornfields, I think that the conversion to farmland is a positive. While visiting the town of Valmeyer, Illinois a few weeks ago (devastated by the flood of ’93 and mostly relocated to a nearby hilltop), I saw that many blocks of the former downtown – street grid still in place – are now soybean fields.
A strange sight, but I imagined it at the intersection of 23rd and N. Market.
Old North St. Louis also has a program to open up vacant lots for projects like this sunflower garden:
Below are more photos from today of the urban farm in St. Louis Place:
Visit my St. Louis Place flickr set for more.