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Sunday, August 5, 2007

How Useful is the Distressed Areas Tax Credit for the Rest of North St. Louis?

The western half of St. Louis Place suffered some of the most severe building loss of any city neighborhood within the last 50 years. While many houses and businesses survive, there are a few blocks there that provoke comments akin to Camilo Jose Vergara's chilling statement in The New American Ghetto: "There is so much empty land that in some places the city seems to have ceased to exist."

The extreme appearance of parts of St. Louis Place is jarring to people not accustomed to seeing urban decay in their daily lives. The preponderance of vacant land is frightening even to optimists. However, most struggling north side neighborhoods don't look like that. From Hyde Park to the Ville, the more common pattern of north side decay comes in rampant abandonment of buildings, substandard conditions of many occupied units, gradual and scattered building loss and flimsy, quick-to-decay new construction. Even more important to consider is that most of north St. Louis has a population density greater than St. Louis Place.

How practical is the proposed Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit to most of north St. Louis? Not very much, it seems. The latest version of that tax credit act that will be considered in the state legislature's upcoming veto session mandates developments of at least fifty acres. Fifty acres has proven difficult to assemble in even St. Louis Place. In areas with greater population density, use of the tax credit would be almost impossible and even less desirable than it is on the near north side. Take the Blairmont approach to a densely-populated distressed neighborhood in north St. Louis and the acquisition phase would be cultural annihilation.

North St. Louis is a large place with many different types of neighborhoods. There is no denying north city faces unique challenges, and that it's high time that state government aid in the rebuilding of half of the state's oldest big city. However, the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act is really only practical for the near north side where developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. wants to use it. In areas where vacant buildings and substandard housing are more common than frontier-like expanses of vacant land, land assemblage isn't the most pressing development concern or the most appropriate strategy for renewal. We still have the chance to prevent the Ville or Wells-Goodfellow from looking like St. Louis Place. We have the chance to use incentives to improve neighborhoods for current residents, not for potential developers. Surely a better incentive for renewal for north St. Louis could be devised.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Reasonable question.

Here's another: what parts of distressed north St. Louis county and its municipalities, and what areas of Kansas City could be helped by the program?

Doug Duckworth said...

Stop making sense, please.

Your logic is simply alien to my fragile mind.

Anonymous said...

I think you are an excellent writer and offer insightful comments about political issues affecting St. Louis and how they relate to our built environment. But I'm now going to remove this blog from my daily list of websites.

Posts like the original (yes, I read the full post before it was shortened) "On Fame" entry epitomize the "patting yourself on the back" shift this blog has taken. Why is it not enough to go out and live a just life, fighting for what you believe in? Must you also congratulate yourself for a job well done?

The work you've done to shed light on the Blairmont situation has been enormous. And people are recognizing those efforts...leave it at that.

Moderating comments was the tipping point though. You dish out a healthy dose of criticism to everyone from elected officials to developers to neighborhood groups, but when someone calls you on a self-serving post like "On Fame" you remove comments and require that the blog author approve all in the future. Malicious comments are one thing...those that are critical are something all together different.

No, blogs are not traditional journalism and yes, it's your blog and you can run it how you see fit. But until you leave posts unedited and critical comments posted next to congratulatory ones, I'll get my fix at UrbanReviewSTL.com. Steve sure dishes it out but at least he can take it.

Michael R. Allen said...

I appreciate the thoughtful feedback. I have no problem with critical comments, but not those that pointlessly attack myself and others (one of the comments that I deleted attacked Steve Patterson). Honestly, the amount of anonymous sniping in cyberspace is really a bad thing. The easiest and most self-serving thing to do is to offer an unsigned attack.

Really, I intended to meditate on something I really don't want -- attention. It's sadly ironic that people mistook the post for hubris. I rarely write in the first person, and only write about myself when it relates to rehabbing. Steve and others write about their own lives, fame and fortune a lot more than I do and I think that's fine. The post in question is my first and last attempt at discussing the effects of attention.

A lot of blogs use comment moderation, by the way. Moderation is no vice. Some don't allow comments at all. There is a good middle ground that keeps the focus on the issues, not personalities. Too much of the discussion takes place online anyway -- I'd rather see people take ideas from blogs out into daily life.

I like being called on things. I welcome it. Thanks for a good response, and the chance for real discussion.

Anonymous said...

I think that when you start to lower the threshold number you start to get developments that are not large enough to be transformitive. Small developments tend to need subsidy after subsidy to keep them afloat.

Anonymous said...

Today's ACC post shows Koster, the republican turned democrat appearing to be the legistor promoting the revised Distressed Land Assembly Tax credit for McKee.

Is he supporting or supported by McKee?

samizdat said...

^^^Soulard and Lafayette Sq. were literally rehabbed one building at a time. Other than the fact that many of those building were sold for $1, most of these rehabbers and restorationists recieved not a penny from the City. That process is, indeed, ongoing. In other parts of the city, this effort by individuals and small groups continues, in spite of the City leadership, which often is at odds with those seeking to make our city more livable. Frankly, I can safely say that any progress shown by this town over the past 35 yrs. can be laid squarely at the feet of those who have chosen to make this city our home, and not with any of the corrupt and craven wastrels who call themselves "leaders". This includes the current administraion.

Anonymous said...

Samizdat,

Despite having some truths, your post is mostly full of inaccuracies. Having said that, I'm sure it's tone appeals to some.