The Greater University Service Foundation recently supported its first major event of 2011, Open/Closed, a summit regarding property vacancy in the North St. Louis community. Developed and organized by NextSTL,Rebuild Foundation, and City Frontier, this two-day conference served to foster dialogue and awareness with St. Louis advocates, leaders, citizens, and artists regarding solutions to this devastation in St. Louis City.
On Saturday, March 19, local GUSF representative, De Nichols, attended Open/Closed and engaged in a day fueled with passionate panelists, dynamic citizens, and a wealth of perspectives that contribute to understanding the complexity of St. Louis’ vacancy issue. With a loss of over 29,000 citizens in 2010 and the vacancy of 1 in 5 addresses in the city, Open/Closed stressed and showcased an array of strategies that must be taken to rebuild, revitalize, and reuse properties and spaces within the community.
During its morning sessions, the depth of the issues surrounding St. Louis vacancy was made most apparent by the contributions of the audience. Convocation panelists and aldermen Freeman Bosley and Antonio French articulated that the disinvestment of many St. Louis communities has been continuously rooted in historical and systemic racial and socio-economic motives and divides, as evidenced through the widespread segregation of communities throughout the city and county areas. Thus, stressed throughout the day was the mandate that solutions for this and other problems be made with the targeted community citizens, not just for them.
As the afternoon progressed, a dialogue opened regarding the physical usage and repurposing of abandoned buildings and the many restraints, opportunities, and challenges that this brings. Solutions included the repurposing of vacant schools into residential homes and community centers, the usage of abandoned homes as creative spaces for artists, affordable residential renewal and incentives to attract and bring new citizens to the neighborhood, and economic development through the fostering of small-to-midsize for-profit businesses. However, restraints regarding the financial and equity risks of repurposing the home, the cumbersome process of attaining spaces from the Land Reutilization Authority, social ramifications with entering the community, etc. However, these risks were expressed as worthy in their ability to regenerate the value of the area and attract and retain new talent to the larger St. Louis community.