Last Thursday I attended an Urban Affairs Committee meeting held at Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. ONSL is a community-based nonprofit that was started in the early 1980’s by area residents in an effort to turn around the declining neighborhood, socially and physically. What started with a goal of revitalization with no direct means or funding for change and run by volunteers has since turned into an award-winning community development corporation with a paid staff.
How exactly did this happen? The answer to this question should interest any resident, neighborhood, or community interested in obtaining the same results.
One of their processes involves community building events. By bringing residents together, they have created a community that shares a common goal of revitalization. Some of these events include:
National Night Out Celebration:Residents of the community come together once a year for an old fashioned potluck with members of the local police and fire departments. Outdoor Movie Nights: Family friendly free showings of classic and popular movies under the stars.
Quality of Life Meetings: How does a community organization know if it is acting in the community’s best interests? They create a way for the community to voice their concerns as well as suggestions for improvement. Monthly meetings are held as a way to open dialogue with the community.
Annual House & Community Tour: How do you grow a community? Attract people to move there. The Old North Home Grown Festival invites not only the local community but wider St. Louis area to check out what is going on in Old North City. Visitors are encouraged to check out restored historic homes of the neighborhood as well as open doors at various neighborhood businesses and community institutions.
Another revitalization tactic involved creating their own community based businesses. A great example of this is the Old North Grocery Co-op*. What started with an idea and a grant form the Missouri Foundation for Health turned into an amazing way to bring affordable, healthy and fresh foods to the residents of Old North St. Louis.
*A cooperative is a business voluntarily owned and controlled by the people who use it—its members. It is operated solely for the benefit of its members, to meet their mutual needs.
The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has taken the lead in neighborhood beautification by creating a Green Space Committee. This is a group of green thumbed volunteers who have already created 8 community gardens throughout Old North St. Louis area.
One of the areas of focus for the ONSLRG is historic preservation. While it is important to revitalize the area, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has made sure that it is not at the expense of bulldozing history as there are many architecturally and historically significant buildings in Old North City. ONSLRG has made it a point to acquire and stabilize vacant and endangered buildings when funding allows. In the past few years, they have transformed dilapidated buildings into historically rehabbed properties.
The last method that I will touch on is the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group’s focus on creating and attracting housing and commercial development. There are currently three main projects underway in Old North City.
Crown Square: A $35 million redevelopment of the former 14th Street Pedestrian Mall and represents the single largest investment in the neighborhood’s history. There are 27 buildings that are undergoing historic rehabilitation.
North Market Place Homes: A redevelopment plan for an 11-block area that centers around North Market Street. There are currently a total of 20 new homes have been built along North Market and Monroe.
North Market Apartments: This was a $8 million project that has produced 32 affordable apartments. This project was so successful that the Landmarks Association of St. Louis presented an award to a partnership of ONSLRG and RHCDA for this historic rehabilitation of these 9 dilapidated and vacant buildings.
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St. Louis Real Estate