Monday, August 11, 2008

Breakaway Union

St. Louis is described as a city of neighborhoods, and it is. It's like a bunch of little villages all pushed together. Each has its own flavor and personality. The neighborhood feel of our city is one of it's greatest assets. However, maybe all of the neighborhood distinctions aren't necessary? Maybe it's time to consolidate some neighborhoods? We talk about "addition by subtraction" (a topic for a future post), but maybe we should also consider how combining neighborhoods might make them stronger?

Down in South City, a quiet area, the Southampton neighborhood (that's one word with one "h"), is gaining positive attention in the media. Neighbors have branded the area with a hip new name, "SoHa", and it's catching on. The area is walkable, with narrow streets, and is filled with well maintained, charming brick bungalos. While home prices have increased, affordable housing options are still available.

Among the amenities of the area are its many mixed use buildings found on corner lots and concentrated along Macklind Avenue. Macklind is the "downtown" of SoHa. EcoUrban, a new running store, the Macklind Avenue Deli, a variety of neighborhood bars, churches, real estate offices, doctor's offices, hair salons, day care centers, and nice restaurants are all there. It's like it's own small town, and it's very pedestrian scaled. The more establishments that open on Macklind, the more walkable the area becomes. Soha has good momentum.

So much so that maybe it's neighborhood organizations should combine? The distinction is so minimal, many people don't even know it exists. But according to official records, the area is actually made up of two neighborhoods - Southampton and Princeton Heights. The difference between them is misunderstood and the boundaries change depending on who you talk to.

The city considers the boundary between the neighborhoods as Eichelberger, but the neighborhood organizations put it a few blocks south at Milentz...or is it Rhodes...Ask a neighbor, and many would have no idea what you're talking about. Some would tell you they live in St. Louis Hills, or give you their parish name.

Some of the restauants and businesses in the area don't even think of themselves as part of Southampton or Princeton Heights, but rather, Soha. And why not, that's a buzz they want to be part of. A combined Southampton/Princeton Heights, aptly renamed Soha, would have double the population of each individual neighborhood. The combined organizations would carry double the weight down at City Hall.

Major streets would be the boundary: Hampton/Chippewa/Kingshighway/Gravois. Board members of existing neighborhood organizations could form one new consolidated board. Fewer meetings would be necessary, and the area's fundraising base would be significantly increased. The combined groups would have double the membership.

St. Louisans are notorious for resisting change, and not without reason. For many, change has translated to decline. But change can also be something positive. For Soha, things are changing, and the changes are for the good.

New "Soha" could set an example for the region in terms of partnerhsip, collaboration, merger, and streamlined government. Soha is hip, and getting stronger. If city residents think mergers in the region make sense, shouldn't we start out in our own backyard?

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