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Friday, January 5, 2007

Blairmont (aka Sheridan Place) finally made me cry tonight.

Just a few minutes ago, Blairmont finally brought me to the point of tears.

We were driving down Montgomery, west of our official neighborhood but not far from our house at all. We were driving down this one block and Michael was going “That’s Blairmont. That’s Blairmont.” And he was pointing to these unsecured vacant buildings and telling me that Sheridan Place LLC (a relatively new Blairmont company) owned them. They pretty much had the whole block. That in itself is a horrifying and saddening thought, given that they are unwilling to do even the most basic steps of admitting who they are and boarding their buildings up. I felt pretty awful, at that point.

But then, we got to the end of the block. Montgomery and Slattery.

There was another small-ish brick house, just like the rest of the block. This little building had been lovingly maintained, but there was graffiti on the side. We got closer, I started reading (and this is approximate.... I was too overwhelmed to even think to write it down): WALKER FAMILY THANKS YOU FOR 51 YEARS. And there were names.... JAMYLAH DADDY TOBY and dozens of names. On the house, the sidewalk, the fence.... graffiti about leaving this beloved old family house.

I don’t know this for a fact, but given that pretty much the rest of the block is already owned by a new Blairmont company, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to guess that this family was pressured into selling to Blairmont. And they just, just freshly sold (There were fresh cardboard moving boxes in the alley and everything). The more time we spent at that corner, the clearer the picture became: They tried, they tried to hang on, but as I know from having lived on a block where a careless megaspeculator is actively buying, with each house the speculator snaps up, the worse your quality of life gets, the lower your safety is, and the less your building is worth. I know that cold feeling, the huddling with your last neighbors and talking about how “It got so dangerous since they bought up those last two and let them sit wide open, but they made it so bad nobody is buying but them.”

And so, people sell. It looks like the Walker family had to give up.

Lately, I have been hearing little rumors and peeps here and there around the Near North Side that certain parts of the area where Blairmont buys are “blighted” or on the verge of “getting eminent domained.” The story goes that the whole area is about to get blighted so you won’t get to keep your home or shop anymore. People have heard that if they didn’t fix up all of their code violations right away, they would get blighted or eminent domained. And the story ends with the property owners being told that they better sell now. I have no way of confirming where these rumors are coming from, but it is curious to me that they pop up with property owners who own in pockets where Blairmont is very actively trying to buy, and/or who know people who have had some form of (direct or indirect) contact with a Blairmont agent lately.

Imagine having one of the last little outposts on your block. Imagine your block changing as all the other homes were bought up, one by one, and they became vacant and were totally unsecured. The neighbors that you knew left. Imagine all those dark unboarded windows and doors staring you in the face. The noises at night. Maybe you try calling the City to file a report that the buildings around you have been left wide open by their owners, but the owners do nothing and the buildings stay dangerously, gapingly, mockingly open. Imagine watching your block disintegrate.

The block where your family has lived for 51 years. The home where generations of your family have grown up.

Imagine watching this slow and awful disintegration of the place of your family’s history--this sledgehammering by willful neglect, this slow steady burn of silence and secrecy. And all the while, someone has been talking to you, telling you they can cut you a check if you would just take it and abandon the house, abandon your place. And then, you hear a rumor that your area has been blighted, so pretty soon you won’t even be able to keep your house (and oh they won’t admit it yet but you better sell now while you can).

How do you think that would feel?

I know how I felt just looking at the Walker home, with all those names on the walls making it one of the most beloved and moving monuments in Blairmont’s growing cemetery.

We drove around the corner, reading the graffiti, the story slowly unraveling itself before us. And just as we got around the corner, we saw that this house that had obviously just been sold already had that hallmark of Blairmont & Co property ownership: the wide open, gaping door not even pretending to be boarded or locked. And at that point, my eyes filled up with hot, wet tears and my throat hurt.

Like I said, I don’t know for a fact that it’s owned by Blairmont/Sheridan Place. But the picture that the block and the rumors and Blairmont’s past behavior paint is pretty clear. And on the teensy, tiny, microscopic chance that it was not Blairmont/Sheridan Place who bought out the Walker family, Blairmont/Sheridan’s recent purchase and blatant neglect of most of the other structures on the block no doubt played a very strong role in the Walkers’ decision to leave their home.

Blairmont has crossed a line. They did not cross it tonight. They crossed it a long time ago. The whole idea of a Blairmont is crossing a line. The very idea of buying up entire neighborhoods of people who are much, much poorer and less powerful than you (Whoever it is, clearly they are more powerful and many, many times richer than us) and then not even admitting that you own it is crossing a line. Refusing to so much as board up your buildings and keep them from burning down—in some cases, refusing to lock already extant doors that already have good locks on them but that you have simply not closed and locked—is crossing a line. Buying up building after building that you have absolutely no intention of maintaining is crossing a line, especially when you are doing so in an area that is blatantly Someone Else’s Neighborhood and the problems are not ones that you yourself will have to live with every day. Deliberately trying to use multiple names and representatives to hide the fact that you own and are buying this property is crossing a line. Benefiting from false rumors about blighting that will not happen is crossing a line, and if you started those rumors, that was crossing a line, too.

That is a lot of transgressions, there--a lot of steps across the line of common decency and respect for other human beings.

To me, besides the obvious basic safety and human welfare problems that are cropping up from such widespread, deliberate neglect of so many properties, the sickest thing of all about this is the fact that we really want development up here on the North Side. Oh god, do we want it. I have been watching this place ever since I was a tiny kid, and I know how much we need the development up here. So why can’t Blairmont just tell us who they are? Is it that hard to put some names to the entity that is the second largest property owner in our ward? Or just a couple of boards on some of those doors and windows that have gotten and stayed open since Blairmont bought the buildings, maybe prevent a fire or three? Isn’t our safety worth that? It just seems so particularly cruel to do this in an area where people are so poor and so disempowered. Why lie to someone who probably can’t do much about it even if you tell them the truth? Of all the people to pick on....


I got tears in my eyes when I saw that house tonight.

And then I sat down and wrote this.

I got to thinking about all the elected and appointed officials whose words hold so much more power than mine, who have yet to make one single, solitary public statement about Blairmont.

And I got to thinking about the way that Blairmont and Company apparently think that it is acceptable for them to treat the human beings who live in my part of the City.

And I wept.


Anonymous said...

Someone with the passion that you and Michael have need to here with a proposal.


NBC and the BBC Worldwide are proud to announce a primetime television event that will change the lives of everyday Americans. “FORTUNE” (working title) will bring together a distinguished panel of America’s wealthiest philanthropists who join forces to make people’s dreams come true.

Our group of multi-millionaires will be presented with a variety of people who all have one thing in common: they need money. Hopefuls will take the stage for 60 seconds in the spotlight to tell the panel their story. Perhaps your local charity needs $274,500 to buy medical devices to save thousands of lives. Maybe your small business needs $3,700 to avoid bankruptcy. Or maybe you’re a 10-year-old boy who just wants $89 to buy his mother a necklace for her birthday. No amount is too big or too small. No request is too insignificant. From a new house to a new nose or even new uniforms for your cheerleading squad, if you wow the panel with your one-minute presentation, your life could be changed - on the spot!

This forum allows our multi-millionaires the opportunity to share their wealth and see first-hand how they can make a difference. Conversely, this show presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Americans from all walks of life to fulfill their heart’s desire.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 7th , 2007
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark
One South Broadway @ Market Street
St. Louis, MO 63102

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this.

At first I barely could believe that this was the work of Paul McKee. While not an urbanist, he has professed deep religious faith and a concern for social progress.

Then, I read convincing evidence here and elsewhere. (Actually, proof that he's involved isn't buried as deeply as he wants).

Now I am shocked that a man of his stature and professed values would get himself wrapped up into such a devastating but also ridiculous plot.

The point that I keep coming back to is well-made here: The northside needs and wants development. Paul McKee could have disclosed everything from the start and gotten almost as far as he has gotten.

However, he would not have been able to buy out whole blocks at rock-bottom prices. He would not have been able to mislead the poor and elderly. He would have had to avoid purchases in ONSL and other areas where there already is a rehab market and people want the properties he bought.

In short, McKee made the choice to lie and cover this up -- in the face of the other choice, full disclosure and cooperation.

What does it say about him that he made the choice that he did, when the other choice still would have led to almost the same end?

Anonymous said...

Some run out of patience...

Dead Prez "Assassination"

Our people are poor, and you know damn
Well nobody wants to be poor
This play is gonna show how the pigs
React when the people start
To take community, control over what
Belongs to them
And liberate it back (echoes)

Sometimes I just dont care

[verse 1]
Murderation, modern hanging education
Price of your life is goin up it aint
Incrimination, they got my picture at the
Elimination, state to state we eatin by
This nation
Them belly full, my trigger finger got
To cut the bull shotsll warm your flesh
Like wool
These tools for survival make fools out
Of rivals
Fuck the bible, get on your knees and
Praise my rifle
Your life is done there aint another
Place to run
Eat your own gun, scared because my
People never known fun

[verse 2]
Cops drive down the streets and blow my
Friends away
I try to smoke enough lah to take my sins
This e&j be freein us in its own special
Way son
We live for the day, the only way dunn
The violence in me, reflect the violence
That surround me
Mr. charley keep his eye on me
To figure my head, but them ass kissin
Niggas is dead
We learn the chokeholds with fishermens
I read the art of sun-tzu in a couple of
Fuckin days
Used to practice kung-fu with this nigga
Thats like, double my age
And you can put this on the governments
Somebody payin for the way we have to
Suffer and slave
Assassination, word up

I hope they get the assassins, I hope
That something is done to them
Problem is theyre killing them, it
Reminds me of something like what
Happened to lincoln

You aint even safe wit a full clip
I swear on the presidents grave
Im sick of livin in this bullshit
We down to take it to the full length
Meet us up on capitol hill, and we can
Get up in some real shit

Assassination, *gunshot* yeah

Anonymous said...

From the Book of Job (thanks Jane):
"Here are the men that alter their neighbor's landmark ... shoulder the poor aside, conspire to oppress the friendless.
Reap they the field that is none of theirs, strip they the vineyard wrongfully seized from its owner ...
A cry goes up from the city streets, where wounded men lie groaning ..."

Anonymous said...

Just saw this on Urban Review, and thought it was quite poignant given the situation you describe, especially the last half of the 2nd paragraph below:

You are invited to attend the American Planning Association-St. Louis Metropolitan Section luncheon to be held in the Community Room on the first floor of the Heritage House Apartments, 2800 Olive St., St. Louis. The luncheon begins at 11:30 AM. Ron Fagerstrom, a local historian, will take a critical look at the Mill Creek Project. St. Louis was one of the most active cities in the federal urban renewal program during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The largest St. Louis project took place in what was referred to as Mill Creek Valley, an African-American community, in present day Midtown. Perhaps the most extensive urban renewal initiative in the country, the Mill Creek Project involved the total clearance save for four buildings of an area bound by 18th Street on the east, Olive on the north, Grand on the west, and the Mill Creek rail yard to the south. Although now developed, the land remained undeveloped for several years and was locally known as “Hiroshima Flats.” Fagerstrom will discuss how the residents of the neighborhood were shut-out of the planning process and how the fabric of a vital community was destroyed. For Fagerstrom, the Mill Creek Valley Project sheds light not only on development practices of the past, but on the continued razing of low income neighborhoods in areas like Maplewood and Brentwood in the name of the public good.

Please make reservations with entrée choices (Bake Madison Chicken Breast, Roast Beef or Meatless Pasta) by Monday, January 15 to Jason Jaggi, jjaggi at ci.clayton.mo dot us. The cost of the luncheon is $15 for members and $18 for nonmembers