Friday, March 02, 2007

Botanical Heights

On the eastern half of the old McRee Town neighborhood, a new housing development is remaking this once blighted area. For years, drivers on Interstate 44 traveled passed blocks of mostly abandoned, derelict buildings in the heart of the city. News stories of violent crime were frequent. In the larger McRee Town area, this eastern half was by far the most deteriorated.
Today, new homes nearly fill out the site. At the grand opening, there were lines of homebuyers awaiting the opportunity to make deposits on their new homes. The location is conveniently situated, near the SLU Hospital complex, the neighborhoods of South Grand, the Hill, and downtown.
The vacancy factor in the former residential housing stock was significant. There are those in the community who decry the full-scale demoliton of buildings, and displacement of the few remaining, very low income, residents. There are others who see the project as a much needed, huge success, one which draws new homeowners to the city, and reestablishes the housing market.
There is no doubt the view from Highway 44 is vastly improved, especially compared to what it was five years ago.


Doug Duckworth said...

Yes, the vinyl siding, and SUV's in the driveway, remind me of the good days living in St. Charles. Truly, McRee Town is a symbol of progress which our City should hold in high regard.

Anonymous said...

Better crime and abandoned houses, right?

Juan said...

I think there's an alternative somewhere between the previous two comments' positions. First of all, abandoned, but structurally sound buildings COULD have been renovated. But at the same time, the old McRee Town was a complete disaster of crime and was a completely malfunctioning neighborhood. The new houses aren't perfect, but they're not just rote suburban tract housing. St. Louis has to compete with St. Charles, so sometimes we have to compromise a little bit and let a few SUV owners in.

Urban Review said...

It was the prior view along I-44 that attracted me to St. Louis as I drove through. The current view may finally force me to leave the region.

Rick Bonasch said...

What part of the former view attracted you?

To the urbanists: is there never a point where you say, "okay, we need to start over and build new."

Anonymous said...


The problem is that abandoned and condemned buildings were not the cause of the problems in McRee Town - they were a symptom.

Does anyone have any valid data about where the people who were lining up to purchase these houses came from? Somehow I doubt that this construction project attracted 40 new families from St. Charles. If they relocated from elsewhere in the City, we are talking about a zero-sum game, except that the City is now down a whole lot of fixable brick structures. The "replacements" are simply not good design.

We cannot clearcut our way out of poverty and crime. The government has been trying this maneuver since the late 40's. I would venture to say that the City is not in a whole lot better position in terms of poverty and crime today than when the Arch grounds and Pruitt Igoe sites were cleared almost 60 years ago.

Rick Bonasch said...

Anonymous at 6:16,

There are other places in the city with simlar decay and abandonment as the old McRee Town. There are places even more distressed. Most people only read or hear about them. Contact me and we'll take a tour.

Should these areas be left intact until a date uncertain when market forces return and the few remaining buildings left can be renovated?

What if a private developer propose a plan to redevelop the same area today with new homes?

Michael R. Allen said...

There was well-documented service deprivation of McRee Town. To blame the ills of the neighborhood on the buildings is short-sighted and seems like a revival of the old-school miasma theory.

Blame the drug dealers, the landlords, the police, the alderman and others who let McRee Town degenerate.

The conditions of McRee Town were actually better than much of Soulard before its rehab revival started. The housing stock was newer, sturdier and far less abused than in Soulard. With the right policies, a wholesale rehabilitation effort could have been launched with good results.

The Botanical Heights project has failed at generating interest in rehab work in the other half of McRee Town. In fact, I have seen several demolitions in the last two years; there is one underway this week on McRee east on Vandeventer. The goal of the clear-cut was neighborhood stabilization for the entire area, but that has not materialized. In fact, the other half seems to be even worse off than it was before construction started.

The state of McRee Town shows how appearances aren't everything. To truly strike the roots of neighborhood decay, more than real estate development is needed.

Rick Bonasch said...

The neighbohrood was severly run down. Poor property management, lack of investment, grinding poverty, those were all contributing factors to the neighborhood's decay.

The market and economic forces which drive private real estate investment had dried up in the old McRee Town.

There was no plan to renovate the old neighborhood. And with the previous conditions in the neighborhood, the area wasn't attracting rehabbers either.

Anonymous said...

Residents who had the misfortunate to be stuck in McRee were left high and dry, especially as plans for Botanical Heights firmed up. The redevelopment included the sort of ugly practices that are typical of urban development--particularly as an impact on poor families who found themselves summarily evicted by their landlords prior to the plan's announcement.

More fundamentally, the area represents a real lack of imagination in terms of redevelopment. The substantial investment of civic resources in the project--including the Danforth Foundation--could have lead to much more creation solution to the area's problems, including ones that found places in the new community for some of the existing residents who wanted to stay. The project cried out for the sort of creative problem-solving of the sort evidenced by RHCDA in its North Market Street redevelopment--which has combined affordable rental apartments with new market rate housing--or the work that DeSales Housing has done in other parts of the southside. IMO, 20 years down the line the work of both of these organizations will rank higher than the current configuration of Botanical Heights because they seem committed to a more expansive view of community-building than just the building of new subdivisions.

Will Winter

Samuel said...

Personally I just don't get it. Do people really believe the solution to St Louis' ills is to become a suburb?

The suburban crowd is going to go to a real suburb with the typical suburban "amenities". You know, big boxes, malls, false perception of low crime... Isn't it amazing that the healthiest part of the city is where the old building stock WASN'T torn down?

Anonymous said...

Where is there a place in the city similar to the old McRee Town?

A place where few if any rehabbers are interested, and neighborhood conditions are at rock bottom?

How should things be done differently?

How would we pay for it?

Anonymous said...

"Where is there a place in the city similar to the old McRee Town?"

Hyde Park

"How should things be done differently?"

Infill, sensitivity and preservation where feasible. Examination of root causes -- environmental racism, crime, failed political leadership (Bosley & Boyd).

Anonymous said...

Boyd is a relatively new alderman. He's from the neighborhood. You can't blame him for years of decline-he's chosen to stay and serve the area.

Hyde Park had more demolition than McRee Town ever did. It's also had a good history attracting rehabbers. Not McRee Town.

Anonymous said...

I am all for the revitilization, but do we really think that the McRee Town neighborhood could have withstood the years it would have taken for it to be rejuvinated? I believe that newer homes are better than a crime ridden neighborhood on the border of extinction. I am in the social work field and have had colleagues do visits there. It was dangerous and one could not do a home visit without the presence of the police.

Anonymous said...

"Hyde Park had more demolition than McRee Town ever did. It's also had a good history attracting rehabbers. Not McRee Town."

Actually, Hyde Park has had great difficulty in attracting rehabbers in the last twenty years. After a boom in rehab from around 1975-1981, the neighborhood took a downward turn. There is no rehab culture there like in Old North, Benton Park West of Dutchtown South. Hyde Park today isn't much different than McRee Town was a few years ago.

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Anonymous said...

A neighborhood is good or bad because of the people that live there make it that way. Blaming the problems of McRee town or any other blighted are of the city on the police, the mayor, the lack of services, or any other contrived factor is beyond absurd.