By Antonio D.
Originally published in Public Defender on October 3, 2002
Sitting in a booth inside Crown Candy Company on the City’s Northside, Henry Schweinsberg compares the grassroots revival taking place around the iconic Old North St. Louis mainstay to another, more famous urban revitalization.
The 14th Street Mall reminds Henry of the redevelopment he witnessed firsthand in New York’s SoHo and Tribeca art districts. In both cases, he tells the others huddled in the booth, it was artists that took the first leaps into areas that had become completely undesirable and transformed them to demographics the city had deemed more “desirable”.
As an architect and later as a successful developer, Schweinsberg, who now lives and works in the Central West End as a land buyer for the Nature Conservancy, watched SoHo and Tribeca morph from ghettos to internationally reputed art havens. But what is most interesting is Schweinsberg’s observation regarding the role of New York’s city government in this process.
There was a decision made by New York’s city’s fathers, Schweinsberg says, to concentrate the city’s resources on the main island of Manhattan, to “make that place the great shining city,” at the expense of other areas such as Harlem, Tribeca, and the area that would later become known as SoHo.
The idea that a city government would actually encourage the deterioration of entire communities within its own boundaries is an incredibly disturbing thought. But, listening to Missouri State Representative Charles Quincy Troupe, New Yorkers aren’t the only ones to have fallen victim to their own city’s fathers.
Rep. Troupe is sort of a relic nowadays. The “Dean of the House,” as the sign reads on his office door in the State Capitol, Troupe is a historian, a keeper of Black St. Louis’ past 50 years. And he believes in conspiracies. Because in the Northside State House district that he has represented since 1978, he has seen conspiracies unfold before his eyes.
“When they looked at the housing stock in North St. Louis, they found surprisingly that 70-80% of the housing stock at that time were brick structures,” he says. “Back in 1980, they started shipping bricks out of North St. Louis to California, building half-million dollar homes in California and across the country. Demolition and [salvage] of wood, stained-glass windows, [and] bricks… is a $100 million dollar industry, conservatively, in the City of St. Louis per year.”
But first, some background:
The Rand Report and Board Bills 19 and 20
On October 21, 1973, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the city’s political leaders’ anger with the California-based Rand Corporation for a report that the company’s Urban Policy Analysis Program published predicting that the City of St. Louis “probably will soon lose its position as the commercial hub of the metropolitan area.”
The report largely blamed federal government policies for the City’s fate. Very similar to what was happening at the same time in New York City, the report said that highway construction, federal home mortgage programs, and property tax incentives all encouraged the exodus of people and commerce from the City into suburban areas. “The effect of such policies is not likely to be reversed,” the report stated.
The report went on to suggest that St. Louis City accept a diminished role as “one suburb among many in metropolitan St. Louis” and seek federal and state revenue-sharing programs and area-wide earnings taxes as ways of supporting a “shrinking and underprivileged population.”
The study, which also included much more favorable analyses of Seattle, Washington and San Jose, California, was financed by the National Science Foundation. Local political leaders at the time attacked the study on several points, including not making specific policy recommendations on how to turn around what it identified as the City’s doomed course.
Eerily similar to the mantra of today’s leadership, Mayor John H. Poelker and others adamantly pointed to development downtown as evidence of the city’s imminent turn-around; a theory that is clear today to have proven untrue.
Shortly after the Rand study was made public, two St. Louis aldermen took it upon themselves to make St. Louis a great city again.
Known as part of the “Young Turk” faction of the Board of Aldermen, in the fall of 1973, Aldermen John G. Roach and Richard Gephardt (now U.S. Congressman) introduced Board Bills 19 and 20. While they never actually became law, the bills were early versions of what would become known as the Team Four Plan.
A November 8, 1973 article in the St. Louis Argus quotes the bills’ controversial language calling predominately black North St. Louis “an insignificant residential area not worthy of special maintenance effort.”
The bills called for the preservation of 74,000 buildings in South St. Louis--and prescribed the demolition of 70,100 buildings on the Northside. The Argus pointed out that a study by the City Planning Commission published in April 1971 pointed up the fact that 70,100 houses in the section of the City north of Franklin Avenue (Dr. Martin Luther King Drive) were recommended for demolition because “rehabilitation would be uneconomical”. Conversely, 74,000 buildings in South St. Louis met “or exceed the standards of local codes and need only to be maintained.”
According to press reports at the time, the report, which seemed to be the foundation for Roach and Gephardt’s bills, noted that 50,100 of the 70,100 buildings targeted for demolition were presently homes occupied by families.
The bills quickly became a lightening rod for St. Louis’ black political machine of 1973. Board Bills 19 and 20 never became law but, not more than two years later, Northside residents found themselves under attack again.
Team Four, Inc. was hired by the City’s Planning Commission in 1973 to prepare a city-wide comprehensive planning study, an update to the City’s 1947 Comprehensive Plan.
Team Four prepared several technical memorandums for the City for that purpose. It is Technical Memorandum 6B, officially known as Citywide Implementation Strategies: The Draft Comprehensive Plan, historically known simply as the “Team Four Plan,” that many believe became the blueprint for North St. Louis’ present state.
The Team Four Plan proposed public policy guidelines and strategies for saving the City from the circumstances clearly identified in the Rand Report.
As if on a sinking ship, Team Four called upon the City to buck up and make some tough decisions if it hoped to survive. “Major shifts in public attitudes” were called upon to make the kinds of changes Team Four saw as necessary.
Team Four recommended that the St. Louis make a “realistic appraisal of the short- and long-range potential of all areas in the City” and take determined and “clear-cut stances on the strategy for different areas of the City.”
The Plan recommended that each area of the City be grouped into one of three groups: Conservation, Redevelopment, and Depletion, these distinctions being based on factors including age, physical qualities, loan policies, public service level and population stability. Race is not mentioned specifically.
Using the following example, The Plan highlights the importance of labeling City areas:
“Rapid transit, which would be City-wide in impact, would not affect each area type in the same way. An improved rapid transit system would be influenced and shaped by impact areas as much as the areas are influenced by it… In Conservation Areas rapid transit must be planned to act as a stabilizing force and therefore must be properly buffered. In Redevelopment Areas, though, transit can be used as a major stimulus to encourage private investment.”
So-called Depletion Areas – areas identified as those which receive “spotty City services” and are the victims of “red lining”, where “large numbers of unemployed, the elderly, and the recipients of welfare are left to wait for assistance which does not seem to be forthcoming” – should not benefit, the Plan suggests, from the economic stimulation that would come from hosting a stopping point for the rapid transit described above (what we now call Metrolink).
Depletion Areas present the City’s planners with an interesting riddle. On the one hand, this question: What should the City do for the residents and businesses of these Northside areas in the way of city services while their neighborhoods are being abandoned?
And on the other hand: What should the City do to encourage investment in these areas to stabilize them?
The Team Four Plan: “To answer one question with a public policy decision immediately causes a conflict with the other. For example, proceeding with building demolition and assembly of vacant parcels for redevelopment results in a neighborhood dotted with rubble-filled lots and boarded up buildings” the 1975 document states. “Such neighborhoods do not induce new investment.”
“On the other hand,” it continues, “to expend public funds on new streets, libraries, schools or code enforcement in an area designated for total renewal doesn’t make sense either.”
Team Four goes on to concede that it would be less than humane to enact a total denial of services to Northside residents. “The City cannot abandon those trapped in Depletion Areas,” it says, “nor can it ignore the eventual need to redevelop these areas.”
Team Four warns of fence-straddling when it comes to making these tough decisions, “Allowing or encouraging scattered, uncoordinated investments within Depletion Areas will only sap the City’s too limited fiscal resources.”
“Efforts must be made to adjust services and public investments so as to provide for those who are remaining in these areas. Yet these efforts should be pursued without encouraging new investment until the City determined that Redevelopment can and should begin.”
“Without encouraging new investment”? In an area that is so obviously in need of reinvestment, people so in need of help and support, what could possibly be the motivation for such passive aggressiveness?
Money, Racism, Class Discrimination, take your pick.
Representative Troupe: “As a result of the Team Four Plan, [the City] spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the Central West End to stabilize and to create a barrier between North and South St. Louis so the [few] black people in South St. Louis [at that time] could never gain political power.”
Powerless at the hands of the powerful. John Roach, the 28th Alderman who, along with Richard Gephardt, introduced Board Bills 19 and 20 in 1973, resigned from the Board of Aldermen in 1975 to become the first head of the Community Development Agency, the organization the Team Four Plan identified as the tool with which the City should acquire land and property for the purposes redevelopment, once the City determined the time was right to begin development.
Another 28th Ward Alderman would also go on to become instrumental in the implementation of Team Four’s strategy for City stabilization, future mayor Vince Schoemehl.
THIS STORY WAS MEANT TO BE THE FIRST OF A 3-PART SERIES. PUBLIC DEFENDER CEASED PUBLICATION BEFORE PART 2 COULD BE WRITTEN. THERE ARE PLANS TO CONTINUE THE SERIES ON THE NEW PUBDEF.NET SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE.