Wednesday, September 28, 2005
The public can even use the restrooms at City Hall or the Carnahan Courthouse without any difficulties. But at SLPS, you are turned away.
Thankfully, there is a nice big lawn for the cruder members of the general public. Everyone else has to wait as they walk the four blocks south to the small businesses on 10th and 11th streets that welcome visitors, even those just needing to use the restroom.
Of course, I really want to see Convention Plaza destroyed. If not through outright demolition and replacement with larger buildings with ground-floor shops on a restored street grid, then through reconstruction of the street grid through the area and the introduction of small additions to the existing buildings that would bring them flush with the sidewalk with storefronts. Connecting Columbus Square and downtown is essential to making the very logical step of increasing the interactions between downtown and the near north side, which is seeing amazing growth.
In the meantime, SLPS would do well to open its facilities to the people who pay for them!
Monday, September 26, 2005
Walking through here is dangerous, but safer than one alternative -- the pedestrian walk behind the Central Institute for the Deaf. I have heard about muggings on this bridge, which is secluded and only visible to motorists below on the highway -- they ain't exactly in a position to help if they manage to see anything while shuttling by at 65 miles per hour.
The worst problem is that this sidewalk is totally, completely and utterly inaccessible to people using wheelchairs. The sidewalk is not continuous, for one thing. It's also lacking adequate width even for walkers to pass each other comfortably, let alone someone in a wheelchair. Trying to wheel across an on-ramp lane is probably not the smartest thing someone could do, either.
Oh, and if the pedestrian manages to walk successfully through the intersection on the way to the MetroLink station on Euclid Avenue, it isn't exactly easy to find or well-marked. The hospital looks like a fortress that starts at Kingshighway, and someone unfamiliar with the station may not assume it would be located where it is -- the streets seem to be more private service drives back in the complex.
Perhaps the mammoth BJC Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine should think about this the next time they spend several million dollars on new streetlights, planter boxes and illuminated street signs. How about new safe (and ADA-compliant) sidewalks and illuminated MetroLink signs?
The we can start thinking about what to do with the growing spread of ugly huge parking structures for the complex located along Taylor Avenue.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
We both scrambled to call 911. I called on the land line and Michael called on his cell phone, figuring we might get someone out here faster if there were two calls. The man noticed us watching them and dragged the woman elsewhere. Distracted by our dashes to grab telephones, and also just not staying in the window because we thought the man had a gun and we didn't want to get shot, we didn't see where he took her.
It took the police over ten minutes to arrive. The man and the woman were already long gone. If he had meant to kill her, he certainly could have done so and gotten away comfortably by then. Certainly, wherever he had taken her, he only beat her more, while the police took their time in showing up. When they did come, the single van they sent barely even slowed down as it passed the stretch of sidewalk where the woman had been beaten. The van did not linger, did not drive down the alley where he most likely took her (That's where all the trouble around here seems to hide, that alley I have to cross on foot by myself when I'm going to work.), did not even drive down the 4500 block of Swan. It LEFT.
I hope that woman is safe now, wherever she is, but the man seemed to know her so probably she is not okay. If the police had actually showed up on time or made any effort at finding them, she might be okay. If anyone in power actually tried to keep abandoned buildings around here sealed, or god forbid if they tried to STOP ABSENTEE OWNERS FROM KEEPING SO MUCH OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD DANGEROUSLY VACANT, there would not have been conditions that would have allowed this to happen in the first place and she might be okay.
I ought to note that the man beat the woman not ten feet away from the spot on the sidewalk where a shirtless man was laying sprawled out several days ago when he threateningly shouted "FUCK YOU, WHITE BITCH! DID YOU HEAR THAT?!?" at me as I was walking home from work, crossing the vacant lot directly across the street from my home. (Again, this is on the sidewalk in front of 4501 Swan, which is owned by King Auto Financing at 3300 S. Kinghighway.)
I don't know how people can talk about fancy rehab plans for this area when we don't even have the basics. There's nowhere to get a sandwich or a slice of pizza here, or a pair of shoes, and those things are pretty basic. Utilities are basic, too, and it seems to me we've had more problems keeping our utilities connected than folks I know who live in other areas. But even beyond that, WE DON'T HAVE BASIC HUMAN SAFETY IN A LOT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD SOUTH OF MANCHESTER. I'm very hearty when it comes to gritty urban areas, and I'm also a longtime fan of meandering solo walks through new places, but here I don't even feel okay walking out the front door in front of my own home.
My next door neighbor's garage and HOME have both been broken into since we moved here, and the glass near the latch of our building's back door was "mysteriously" broken. My neighbors' cars get messed with. We hear weird sounds at night--dragging sounds, gunshots, shouting, and lately a whistle that we've learned means a drug dealer is at work. The decomposed body of a missing prostitute (who had been rumored to have been murdered around here) turned up in a vacant building less than two blocks from here. A woman was recently bludgeoned to death by her boyfriend over on Arco, less than a ten minute walk from here. Several of the surviving businesses on Manchester have recently been victims of violent smash-and-grab acts of vandalism and theft. Just last night, someone who lives on the 4400 block of Norfolk (immediately south of us) had large statues stolen from her backyard, and she was surprised because they were very, very heavy statues. These are just the first few things I can think of off the top of my head.
I used to take pains not to use the word "ghetto" in reference to poor, majority black, urban neighborhoods, or things associated with them. I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and my grandmother barely escaped extermination in a ghetto in Poland. So, ghetto is not a word I take lightly at all. When we moved here, before our part of the neighborhood reverted to the state it was in several years ago, I used words like "rough," "gritty," and "struggling." After having experienced life here for a while, I think those words are inappropriate and silly to describe the place where I live and the things I see and experience here. Sure, some areas might just be "rough," I guess, but this is a ghetto. There's no other way to describe it.
I wouldn't use the word ghetto if I thought this was at all accidental.
Things can't get this bad and stay this bad by themselves, especially in a city with growing resources (and real estate values), in a neighborhood with not one but TWO community groups, and in a ward with an alderman whose family has been in power locally since the 1950s (He has the clout it would take!). If the powers that be in this ward--most of all, Alderman Roddy, The Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation, Wash U, and the major landlords (Dave Renard, Jack Krause, and others)--actually gave a shit about the people who live here, things would be changing. We wouldn't have rows and rows of abandoned buildings with unboarded entrances and holes in their walls if not for years and years of neglect, and if we didn't have those, all the criminals who make life a living hell for us wouldn't have anywhere to hide, and they wouldn't terrorize us like this. But Roddy and the FPSE Development Corp have been letting notorious slumlords buy 'em and board 'em and ignore 'em for YEARS, so here we are. And..really...are we fighting the gangs and drugs, or are we not? Roddy's disinterest in our letters and other contact with him over problem properties suggests to me that people here are not serious about taking care of the gang and drug problem. The dodgy behavior of FPSE Development Corp. representatives and the perpetually dark, miniblinds-down windows of their storefront (which is located north of Manchester) suggest to me that no, they're not serious about getting rid of the crime here.
I'm not trying to say that Roddy and the FPSE Development Corp. and Wash U could just snap their fingers and instantly turn this neighborhood into a perfect, peaceful place, but there is no way it could possibly be this bad if they actually cared and had the will to change things. Just forcing landlords to keep buildings boarded and to keep crooks and trespassers away from their own properties would make a WORLD of difference. Doing a handful of drug stings (We all know where they deal! It's not hard to figure out!) would make a WORLD of difference.
The area's current dangerous state reflects both years of neglect built up in the past, and ongoing neglect of our well being.
So, when will the powers that be in Forest Park Southeast actually try to come down here and get rid of the relentless crime? How long is it going to take? It has already taken far, far too long. For the woman who was beaten on the sidewalk in broad daylight in front of my home yesterday, it's already too late.
Friday, September 23, 2005
The scars of historical neglect are visible on every corner of the northside, but few of them make one's jaw drop faster than the crumbling red brick hulk running from the corner of Salisbury and 20th streets all the way south to the corner of Mallinckrodt and 20th. This is the Nord (or North) St. Louis Turnverein, and it may very well be one of those buildings that even its admirers never mention in the future tense. Its ownership has passed to a negligent owner and it has suffered major roof collapse since going vacant nearly one decade ago. Yet it remains a powerful symbol of the lost ethnic heritage of the Hyde Park neighborhood -- which hopefully has a future despite its many setbacks.
Hyde Park began as the German-founded town of Bremen in 1844, and for the first 100 years of this area's development, Germans were involved in every aspect of civic life here. Despite annexation by the city of St. Louis in 1855 and an influx of immigrants of other nationalities, Hyde Park retained a distinctly German character. The Germans created businesses, wholesale companies, factories and saloons, built great homes and introduced some institutions of a progressive bent, from kindergarten to the St. Louis Philosophical Society (a Hegelian group that published the Journal of Speculative Philosophy from the neighborhood). Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of German social ideals was the founding of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein in 1870. ("Turnverein" is German for gymnastic society.) The members, popularly called Turners, formed the association not only to promote physical health but to promote socializing and civic participation among the working and upper class Germans of Hyde Park.
In 1879, the Turnverein built its first building at 1926 Salisbury fronting Hyde Park itself. This two-story red brick building was built in an Italianate style with a half-mansard parapet wall on its symmetrical five-bay front elevation. Storefronts for rental income faced Salisbury in the two bays to the east and west of the center doorway. Behind the front elevation sat the large gymnasium with its arched roof. This stately building, designed by architect H.W. Kirchner, still stands and has suffered the most damage of the portions of the Turnverein complex.
The new building opened one year after the Turnerbund, the national coordinating organization for Turner societies, moved its office to the temporary Hyde Park home of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein. St. Louis Turners played an important role in the national organization, and were notably progressive in their outlook. They urged passage of successful resolutions calling for the direct election of United States senators (years before that actually occurred in 1913), child labor restrictions, workplace and health inspections and the right to recall and referendum. The Nord St. Louis Turners pushed for adoption of physical education in the St. Louis Public Schools, which was established in 1883. They also advocated installation of public playgrounds around the city.
The Nord St. Louis Turnverein served as a popular civic center for German Americans living on the north side. Widespread use necessitated additions to the first building. A three-story Romanesque Revival addition built in 1893 behind the first building included a bar, meeting rooms and lounges. The addition featured a center arch proclaiming the name of the Turnverein. An 1898 gymnasium addition in the same style facing Mallinckrodt Street, connected over the alleyway with a bridge, expanded the Turnverein building to a full block in length. Turner Oscar Raeder designed the additions while Turner A.H. Haessler served as contractor.
The Turnverein prospered for decades into the Twentieth Century as the acknowledged center of German social life in the neighborhood. The Mallinckrodt Chemical Company, owned by the German Mallinckrodt family, held its board meetings at the Turnverein into the 1980s despite the availability of fancier locations with air conditioning. However, German culture in the city declined following World War I, through political suppression as well as inevitable assimilation. German Americans also joined the flight to the suburbs after World War II. By the 1960s, the Turnverein was renting its space to other organizations, including Veterans clubs. Regulars held on, and the bar remained a good, safe place in the neighborhood for a drink. The bar had no tolerance for fighting, but would serve minors who were employed at the factories on the north riverfront. As former underage patron told us, the Turners figured that anyone "doing a man's work could have a man's drink."
In the early 1980s, the Turnverein enjoyed some renown as a venue for punk rock shows that drew young people to Hyde Park, some for the first time. A nascent rehab effort in the neighborhood and the shows seemed to indicate a better future for the Turnverein, but neither lasted. In 1994, the Nord St. Louis Turnverein closed its doors for good. The buildings already had many problems from deferred maintenance, and quickly deteriorated. The Turners sold the buildings to a non-profit that wanted to revive the buildings for a cultural center, but that group dissolved and somehow DHP Investments LLC ended up with ownership. They have done nothing to repair the buildings; in fact, they allowed the roof on the first gymnasium to collapse and have left the doorways wide open. Inside, the wooden floors have buckled, joists sag and even exterior brick walls have spalled to the point of failure. The condition is so poor that rehabilitation will surely cost several million dollars. Still, much of the interior retains original features and could be made to be very attractive again.
Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr., whose ward includes the Turnverein, has expressed interest in using eminent domain to remove the buildings from the ownership of DHP. Bosley has no specific details on who would then own the buildings and how they would be restored, but he has told constituents that he would like to see a comedy club open in the Turnverein. Whatever happens needs to happen now. The Germans are not returning in large numbers to the now mostly African-American neighborhood, but their grand hall is part of our polyglot heritage that honors everyone through preservation.
Monday, September 19, 2005
This lack of connection will further the wall-like effect of the hulking America's Center/Edward Jones Dome complex, which acts as a barrier between east and west between 7th and 9th streets and north and south between "Convention Plaza" and Cole Street. On top of this, the Dome is separated from the very wall-like I-70 overpass by only one (empty and unused landscaped) block. With the Bottle District project immediately north of the Dome, the wall effect will be severe.
With the Mississippi River Bridge proposed to the immediate north, this area could become a very scenic but ultimately difficult to navigate area. Visually, it may not seem intuitive to cross this area even on foot, and so people may not even try.
The burgeoning near northside needs greater connections with downtown. The last thing St. Louis needs in its downtown area is another superblock development. The developers need to redesign the plans to connect streets through the Bottle District.
That said, the architecture of the Bottle District raises other issues that I will address in a later essay.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Friday, September 16, 2005
The blocks are laid out well, with many one-, two- and three-story commercial buildings on the sidewalk line sitting amid opulent workers' flats, reminiscent of north St. Louis, and striking steel mill buildings. It's a great place to walk around, and would be even better with more activity. Too bad that may never return -- the close proximity to downtown St. Louis could be enhanced with MetroLink service and a renaissance could get underway.
There are, however, a few places to find instances of urban magic. We found a small resell shop at Niedringhaus and State. If we had not already eaten lunch, the Petri Cafe or one of the other remaining workers' lunch counters would have been a choice place to nosh. Other secrets seem to beckon for future visits, although I don't think we'll visit Henry Burns Furniture (why, Henry, why?).
The red car sitting behind the house at 4667 Norfolk Avenue (owned by Lamb's Bride Church at 1324 Tower Grove Avenue) in the southern end of Forest Park Southeast arrived about a week and a half ago. Some people dropped it off one night, took a few parts off of it and left it behind. Now it sits on blocks, hood perpetually open -- a reminder that this part of the neighborhood isn't particularly safe or desirable.
We have joined our neighbors in calling the Citizen's Service Bureau, and yesterday called the police.
Dumped stolen cars mark a neighborhood as a ghetto. Dumped stolen cars that sit for weeks despite citizen service requests mark the neighborhood as unchanging and its leaders as unmotivated to change the neighborhood.
From the latest St. Louis Schools Watch:
"According to Reuters News Agency, Sajan George, a managing director at management company Alvarez & Marsal, said of New Orleans public schools that 'the destruction Katrina caused was, in its own way, an opportunity to renew the beleaguered system.'"
...and I just wanted to add my own little commentary to it.
Reading this reminded me of recent efforts at reforming the public schools in both St. Louis and Chicago.
As you may recall, multiple waves of school closings have swept St. Louis City in recent years, with the closings disproportionately shutting down North Side schools. SLPS placed confusingly upbeat signs in front of each shut-down school. The most prominent statement on these signs was "FEWER BUILDINGS = STRONGER SCHOOLS." Despite the fact that overcrowding was already bad enough, despite the fact that kids with behavior and gang issues would now be packed into classrooms with everyone else, despite the endangerment of such fine historic buildings, despite the toll that these almost entirely untended abandoned buildings stood to take on their neighborhoods, those signs were somehow still optimistic.
Similar school closing efforts have taken place in Chicago recently, as a part of the Renaissance 2010 plan. As is the case in St. Louis, the closings primarily affecting low-income, majority black areas of the city. Shut-down schools will be revamped and reopened--critics say, reopened in time for significant gentrification to have occured around the area of State Street where some of the schools are located. Mayor Daley plans to build 100 new schools within the next few years, although he still inexplicably plans to tear down some perfectly good extant historic buildings.
The people running the public schools in New Orleans certainly did not bring on Hurricane Katrina, and I'm sure they're just trying to sound positive, but still it troubles me to hear yet another urban public school system invoke this idea of sweeping away. St. Louis, Chicago, and now New Orleans public school administrators have now all expressed the idea--in some way--that the schools in their respective cities are so bad that the best way to cure them is to just completely obliterate them and start with a clean slate. (This line of thinking does not reuse perfectly good resources, and it's often too busy denying that the past happened to learn any lessons from it before proceeding with its new creation.) As someone who's gotten most of my education at troubled urban public schools, I can't help but feel vaguely insulted. Somehow, the messages seem to imply that my classmates and I part of what's supposed to be swept away. I get this image of some of the low-income black neighborhoods where I went to school, and I imagine them being erased. Maybe that's just me, but still, one school I attended has already been closed, and I can't help but take that personally. Does my history and tradition as an inner city poor person have to be to be eradicated in order for you to make things better?
Or, another question: If you've let things get so bad that everything has to be completely thrown out so you can start over and do things right with the city public schools this time, do all of us who went to these schools get to start over, too? The kids I've seen go unreached in overcrowded classrooms, kids who just couldn't learn in their perpetually 90 degree schools, kids who gave up on St. Louis based on their school experiences here, kids who've lost their love for learning in such tense and stifling school environments, kids who've gotten beat up or shot at at school, the girl I knew who ended up in a coma from injury due to construction workers' neglect on our school building.... Well, do we get to start over, too?
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Please, after reading this article, make an effort to visit some place like the Scott Joplin House in St. Louis, the Museum of Labor and Industry in Belleville, Illinois or somesuch. Better yet, ask these places if they need a hand with things. Preservation efforts aren't just threatened by floodwaters -- societal apathy is still the biggest destroyer of our past.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Saturday, September 10, 2005
An Open Letter to Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick: Could "Repair-to-Own" help the displaced residents of NOLA? by Xtina Lloyd
I'm also intrigued by Lloyd's description of the Repair-to-Own program, which the city of Detroit uses to get abandoned buildings fixed up and occupied. A low-income person gets a home, and the city has one less burnt out shell to deal with. St. Louis's Land Reutilization Authority would do well to start a program like Repair-to-Own, to encourage urban homesteading and reuse of the buildings they acquire. Neighborhoods like Soulard and Old North St. Louis are a testament to what urban homesteading can do for the city. Unfortunately, I don't think any of us have to look too far for an example of what the LRA's current hoard-it-until-it-collapses policies do to city blocks.
An Open Letter to Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick: Could "Repair-to-Own" help the displaced residents of NOLA?
by Xtina Lloyd
I never thought the day would come when I have something nice to say about Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Most of you know that Detroit is in the middle of a financial crisis, and Kwame's administration has been plagued with a variety of scandals and issues surrounding mismanagement. This morning when I heard that Kwame had a plan for helping the people in NOLA displaced by Katrina, I about cringed for I wondered WHERE in the world would this money come from?
...but not a dime of his plan would come from the city's cashflow -- here is what he's pulled together, check it:
1. Michigan Dept. of Community Health Region II Director has promised supplies and funding for an examination center to be established once the people arrived to do physicals and triage the sick/injured to local hospitals (St. John's, Henry Ford, Oakwood and Beaumont ALL have said they will take on the sick). Region II is also putting a call out for nurses to work at the examination center.
2. The Caldean grocers have signed up to provide food. Meijer, Kmart and other major food and clothing distributors have made him promises of food and clothing until they can receive government assistance. I am sure that DHHS (formerly the FIA) will expedite the processing of Bridge Cards (formerly Food Stamps) and Medicaid and help them with FEMA paperwork processing. So this means that FEMA will be giving money into the State's Medicaid fund to cover this. assured...
3. Kwame lined up 2500 hotel rooms at various locations in the city to be used for no cost until end of December. See, Detroit's hotel capacity is at 50% from October thru December anyhow -- so the hotel owners have said they can put out the space. There is only one drawback to this plan -- we have the superbowl coming up in January, so the folks have to be moved into housing or relocated once again.
4. FEMA told Kwame they would give him $200,000 to be used towards transporting people to Detroit. But he said in a live news interview this morning that he heard horror stories from people regarding bus transportation of these people -- so he is speaking with some of the airlines at Metro Airport, working on trying to get some fees lowered so that plane vouchers can be used to fly them up here.
2500 rooms. Let's say that each room holds 4 people only -- that is 10,000 people. Ok, Kwame -- this is a good thing you are doing, and I will give props to you for it. But, things to ponder:
1. Jobs -- we don't have them for our own people.
2. Are you going to push that these people relocate here? Or is that going to be a requirement for them to be able to come to Detroit? If so, what about those abandoned houses and the ones confiscated by the police? They aren't generating tax revenue -- fix 'em up and work out a way to give them to these people if they want to stay. Or get them on the "Repair to Own"** program, contact the builders unions and companies like Lowe's, Home Depot, etc. and get the materials donated. See if FEMA might give some $$$ towards this sort of arrangement as well.
3. I heard no mention about education for the children in your interview this morning -- with the recent closure of so many schools in Detroit, can the city handle such an influx of students? Since no mention of where the hotels are located, I am assuming that you are spreading this out so that these children can attend school somewhere in the Metro area or outlying areas within Wayne County?
4. Transportation -- have you made arrangements for these people to get around once they get here?
5. Protection -- you have just laid off 150 cops and more are to be gone after Labor Day. Wayne County and Oakland County both have sent today members of the Sheriff's departments and police officers from local communities to head to NOLA to help bring peace and to do search and rescue (i.e. go around and mark the dead on the doors & rein in the violence). During the time they [the displaced people] arrive, some show of force is going to be needed to help direct people and keep things calm at any intake/examination center. Who is going to do this? Or are you going to call "The Wolverine Queen" (*laugh* this is my term for Gov. Jennifer Granholm) and have her call up a National Guard unit to help?
I am not trying to belittle the actions you are taking in the least -- I think its wonderful. But Kwame, you have made no mention if this is going to be temporary or are you going to push for long-term relocation of these people?
...inquiring minds would like to know.
**More on the "Repair-to-Own" program:
The program was created in 1997, spearheaded by MaryAnn Mahaffey as another attempt at blight-busting city-owned properties. Participants are required to live in the home while the repairs are being done (either by the participant or they can have a contractor help). Unlike the now defunct Nuisance Abatement Program (NAP), the participants are only required to live in the home for one year. At the end of the appointed time, the participants can purchase the deed to their home for $1. A new list of houses available is supposed to be generated every three months. Applications for the Repair to Own Program can be made through the Planning & Development Department at (313) 224-6389.
Xtina Lloyd is the curator of Project X. Her creative work is online at starknakedanarchy.com. You can contact her at xtina.lloyd at gmail dot com.
Friday, September 9, 2005
Down south on Taylor, from Manchester to Hunt, the street probably has not been repaved in one decade. It barely resembles a street at all, looking more like an one of the ill-maintained roads in the restricted zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, or a street in a forgotten part of East St. Louis. Yet it gets lots of use and runs along blocks of occupied homes. This area has more life to it than that block of McKinley, but it remains neglected.
Thursday, September 8, 2005
But most of my route doesn't worry me too much. When I get a few blocks north of Manchester I relax somewhat, and will sometimes even put on my headphones. But the part of Forest Park Southeast where I live, the Adams Grove area south of Manchester, scares me. Adams Grove has long been a target for thugs, everyone from gangbangers and dealers on up to the Alderman, the Development Corporation, and the many slumlords they work with. Though the whole neighborhood has suffered over the years, the area south of Manchester seems to have been conspicuously left out of the revitalization efforts in this area in recent years. Somehow, south of Manchester has seen abandonment only rise while rehabs blossom north of Manchester. Somehow, the Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation found the money to repave alleys north of Manchester, but not south of Manchester (The alley behind our building is worn down to bare bricks, with a strip of plant-covered pavement down the middle.). What it amounts to in the most tangible sense is that when I walk to work, I have to cross an area riddled with vacant buildings, with roads too cul-de-sac'ed and potholed for many people to drive through the area (Such low traffic means fewer people watching out, and thus more crime.). I have to walk past the spot where I see frequent drug deals and suspicious activity, and past long-vacant buildings with strange people sleeping and sitting on their lawns.
So, I do what I can to make myself safe. On Monday morning, when I worked the early shift, I did these things to protect myself:
-Kept my head up
-Carried my keys in my fist with the jagged parts sticking out between my fingers, like a set of knuckles
-Did not cut through the corner vacant lot or even walk on the sidewalk (where sidewalk exists--it's simply not there anymore in some places around here), instead taking a longer route and walking down the middle of the street
-Did not wear my headphones, even though the beat of music is usually what fuels to me to walk when I've just woken up
-Breathed loudly, wetly, and irregularly as if I was somehow disgustingly ill
I also considered doing these things, but decided against them:
-Changing my clothes before I left the house, because I was wearing certain colors
-Singing or humming
-Taking a flashlight with me
-Not carrying a purse
-Taking the bus to shorten how much I had to walk, even though it actually makes the trip take longer
...If some of these things seem silly or unnecessary, that should tell you how scared I am of my own corner. I'm not usually one to feel that uncomfortable in an area that has been labelled dangerous, but in recent weeks, our corner has rapidly gotten scarier.
Yesterday, I met a woman who has lived on the 4500 block of Gibson (a part of the neighborhood north of Manchester that's much more stable and rehabbed than our area, although it certainly has issues of its own) for many, many years. I told her what the corner of Taylor and Swan has been like lately. She told me I should wait, because that's how her part of the neighborhood was ten years ago. I tried not to take too much offense, because she's actually been through what I'm living through now and she actually lives in the area (and probably assumed that I own my home, and that I don't understand how gentrification works; and she likely doesn't know the extent of the backroom deals that have kept our neighborhood the way it is for so long). But MAN am I sick of people telling me to wait because "great things" are coming for "Forest Grove." I hear it everywhere. The media has reported on real estate deals going on around here and how great things are coming, and people who don't live here echo those articles to me in conversation, telling me they heard that the area is heating up. Even Alderman Roddy told us to just wait. Earlier this year, Michael wrote him a letter asking for help because one of the many vacant buildings on our block had become the center of a great deal of crime and we wanted it boarded back up; because he was about to be up for re-election, Roddy responded by leaving several messages on our phone about how we would really like the way that the block would look "in twelve to eighteen months."
Besides the sheer rudeness of telling someone that they will like how their own neighborhood looks after it has been put through a development process from which they are completely excluded, I think it's pretty presumptuous to assume that we, as poor renters, are even a part of the ultimate plan for the neighborhood. My neighbors who've lived here over a decade tell me that literally hundreds of families have been pushed out of the area by the development process already. It's not fair to say "just wait" when I've seen people half a block from me get evicted when speculators bought the place where they were renting. It's not fair to say "just wait" when real estate speculation has driven up home prices so high on even the most dangerous blocks around here, so that if we want to stay in the neighborhood, we'd have to pour out all our money just purchasing a tiny home when we could buy a bigger house for much cheaper on a stable block with a less corrupt Alderman in another neighborhood. How do people who tell us to wait know that we're a part of the plan for the neighborhood, that we're not supposed to be forced out before the time comes?
More than anything else, though, I'm sick of hearing "just wait" because it almost never comes from anyone who lives in Forest Park Southeast. And no one who has ever told me to Just Wait Great Things Are Coming lives in my part of the neighborhood. I always have to wonder if the people who say such things realize how long people have been telling residents of this area to wait. I also wonder if they realize how hollow such statements sound coming from people who don't have to deal with the the question of survival here on a daily basis. People from the Alderman on down can tell us to "just wait" all they want, but when it comes down to it, they don't live here. When I leave the house in the dark in the very early morning to cross the scary alley on foot, I am completely alone.
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Look for lots of activity on Benton, North Market and Monroe Streets between Hadley and North Florissant this fall and spring. Re-densification of a neighborhood is always interesting to watch, but rarely heartening. This project is encouraging. While the new homes use some materials that I do not find appropriate, their design, scale and -- most notable -- lot placement (close to the sidewalk, close to neighboring buildings) are compatible with the neighborhood.
Tonight was the last day of the year when the Gateway Arch was on summer hours and thus open until 10:00 p.m. We joined a friend for trip to the top at night, since none of us had been for years and were excited to see the city from above in its nighttime glory. (It's a great view that can inspire even the most demoralized urbanist to love the city, and splendid at night before the horrid floodlights that illuminate the Arch come on -- I recommend taking a trip.) Afterwards, we trekked down to the river for awhile and then walked back to our friend's vehicle.
After crossing 4th Street on Chestnut, in front of the Old Courthouse, a car careened by and one of its occupants fired two shots at us. Quickly we realized that we were hit with some sort of oily pellets that left bruises on our bodies -- no one got hit in the face or head -- and stains on our clothes. The reports of the gun were so powerful that it could have been a .22 for all we knew. In the confusion, we did not get a good look at the car but did note that it was a silver car with Illinois plates. I shouted loudly but did not chase the car, fearing getting fired upon.
Of the three people standing in front of the Adam's Mark Hotel, only one man began walking toward us. No car deivers slowed down or stopped. Two tourists barely looked at us, and then boarded a casion bus that came for them. The man who approached us turned out to be a homless man whom we see frequently around downtown. He asked what happened.
While he was walking, at 10:22 p.m., I called 911 and dealt with a dispatcher who seemed annoyed that I wanted to report the incident. Since we were at the corner of 4th and Chestnut in the heart of downtown's tourist ghetto, we had nowhere to see shelter. On one corner stands the Adam's Mark Hotel, which lacks many windows on the ground floor; one another, an empty park; on another, where we stood, the Old Courthouse; and on the fourt corner stands the banal one-story portion of the Bank of America Tower, which has windows but no storefront uses, openings or meaningful connection with the sidewalk. There is not a single store or indoor public space at this corner, making it an ugly and potentially unsafe spot to be at night. Had there been a 24-hour convenience mart or donut shop, or even a bar, someone would have seen the incident better and we could have had a witness. Alas, this corner joins many others downtown as one that remains dark and silent at night and bright and silent in the daytime.
By the way: there is no metered parking on this block, as all parking is completely reserved for taxicabs 24 hours a day, even though few cabs park there after 9:00 p.m. most nights. Note to the dumbass who approved this cab-only zone: A row of cars would have protected us.
The slow response time of police helped, though: the car returned, its now-describable occupants laughing at us and its license plate revealed. They did not fire again. At 10:36 p.m., I called 911 again -- no officer had arrived. Two toursits walked by on the opposite side of the street and stared but said nothing. A homeless woman approached us, asked what had ahppened, and then flagged down a passing police officer on a bike -- who was indeed coming to answer the call. We began speaking to the officer at about 10:40 p.m., 18 minutes after making the report.
Fortunately, the officer who responded treated us with respect and pledged to file a report of assault. We appreciated her demeanor and felt better about our night. The bicycle-based officers are much more accessible in case of emergency -- they can hear your shouts and see your face.
After filing the report, we walked two more blocks west on Chestnut. Kiener Plaza appeared dark and unappealing, a perfect place to get jumped at night. This area of downtown east of Broadway -- or maybe east of Sixth Street -- is a horrible place for people to walk. There are few stores, many buildings overscaled and too many street closures (Locust Street between 4th and Broadway being the most recent). Some parts of downtown work better, such as Tenth Street (thanks, Craig Heller!), Washington west of Tucker and some of Olive Street. There are businesses in these areas, with windows at sidewalk level and, most important of all, people to watch the streets who actually care (unlike the guests of the Adam's Mark, apparently). There's even a hugely successful monthly nighttime art gallery walk in part of downtown to encourage street life. It might be hard to pull a drive-by shooting in those areas without finding a witness other than the victims. Something to think about before you design your next empty block of park space or monument to vanity.
After all, some people downtown don't have the relative safety that we had tonight: a nearby vehicle. Transit riders, pedestrians and homeless people adrift in parts of downtown literally have no refuge. Creating nighttime vitality downtown will make it a safer and more fun place to walk.
Pass the ice pack.
Sunday, September 4, 2005
At about 1:00 p.m. an ambulance came barreling west on Swan, abruptly halting when the driver unexpectedly reached the cul-de-sac at Taylor.
I hope other people are having a relaxing Labor Day weekend.
Saturday, September 3, 2005
The People of the Dome
My friend Les Evenchick, an independent Green who lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans in a 3-story walkup, reports that 90 percent of the so-called looters are simply grabbing water, food, diapers and medicines, because the federal and state officials have refused to provide these basic necessities.
Les says that "it's only because of the looters that non-looters -- old people, sick people, small children -- are able to survive."
Those people who stole televisions and large non-emergency items have been SELLING THEM, Les reports (having witnessed several of these "exchanges") so that they could get enough money together to leave the area.
Think about it:
- People were told to leave, but all the bus stations had closed down the night before and the personnel sent packing.
- Many people couldn't afford tickets anyway.
- Many people are stranded, and others are refusing to leave their homes, pets, etc. They don't have cars.
You want people to stop looting? Provide the means for them to eat, and to leave the area.
Some tourists in the Monteleone Hotel paid $25,000 for 10 buses. The buses were sent (I guess there were many buses available, if you paid the price!) but the military confiscated them (!) and would not let the people leave. Instead, the military ordered the tourists to the now-infamous Convention Center.
HOW SIMPLE it would have been for the State and/or US government to have provided buses for people BEFORE the hurricane hit, and throughout this week. Even evacuating 100,000 people trapped there -- that's 3,000 buses, less than those that come into Washington D.C. for some of the giant antiwar demonstrations there. Even at $2,500 a pop -- highway robbery -- that would only be a total of $7.5 million for transporting all of those who did not have the means to leave.
Instead, look at the human and economic cost of not doing that!
So why didn't they do that?
Why have food and water been BLOCKED from reaching tens of thousands of poor people?
On Thursday, the government used the excuse that there were some very scattered gunshots (two or three instances only) -- around 1/50th of the number of gunshots that occur in New York City on an average day -- to shut down voluntary rescue operations and to scrounge for 5,000 National Guard troops fully armed, with "shoot to kill" orders -- at a huge economic cost.
They even refused to allow voluntary workers who had rescued over 1,000 people in boats over the previous days to continue on Thursday, using the several gunshots (and who knows WHO shot off those rounds?) to say "It's too dangerous". The volunteers wanted to continue their rescue operations and had to be "convinced" at gunpoint to "cease and desist."
There is something sinister going down -- it's not simply incompetence or negligence.
How could FEMA and Homeland Security not have something so basic as bottled drinking water in the SuperDome, which was long a part of the hurricane plan? One police officer in charge of his 120-person unit said yesterday that his squad was provided with only 70 small bottles of water.
Last year, New Orleans residents -- the only area in the entire state that voted in huge numbers against the candidacy of George Bush -- also fought off attempts to privatize the drinking water supply.
One of the first acts of Governor Kathleen Blanco (a Democrat, by the way) during this crisis was to TURN OFF the drinking water, to force people to evacuate. There was no health reason to turn it off, as the water is drawn into a separate system from the Mississippi River, not the polluted lake, and purified through self-powered purification plants separate from the main electric grid. If necessary, people could have been told to boil their water -- strangely, the municipal natural gas used in stoves was still functioning properly as of Thursday night!
There are thousands of New Orleans residents who are refusing to evacuate because they don't want to leave their pets, their homes, or who have no money to do so nor place to go. The government -- which COULD HAVE and SHOULD HAVE provided water and food to residents of New Orleans -- has NOT done so INTENTIONALLY to force people to evacuate by starving them out. This is a crime of the gravest sort.
We need to understand that the capability has been there from the start to DRIVE water and food right up to the convention center, as those roads have been clear -- it's how the National Guard drove into the city.
Let me say this again: The government is intentionally not allowing food or water in.
This is for real.
MSNBC interviewed dozens of people who had gotten out. Every single one of them was WHITE.
The people who are poor are finally leaving the horrendous conditions in the SuperDome and are being bussed to the AstroDome in Houston.
Call them "People of the Dome."
If people open fire on the National Guard coming to remove them against their will, will New Orleans become the first battle in the new American revolution?
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party of NY