Originally published in MOGreenAction #48, November 3, 2003
Saint Louis is hardly in a position to begin thinking about replacing community gardens with new housing. The city grid is fraught with so much open, vacant space that one can hardly know where targeted rebuilding of housing should begin. Yet one can reasonably assume that some spaces should come last, if at all: open space that is not vacant, including the vibrant community gardens of this city.
Deputy Mayor Barbara Geisman does not agree, and instead has announced that neighborhood gardens are being targeted for new infill housing construction. Given that some of the targeted neighborhood gardens are those in Benton Park and Lafayette Square, I assume this housing is not going to be affordable to most Saint Louisans. Geismanís plans will replace public amenities in upwardly-mobile neighborhoods with exclusive, private spaces.
This is a regressive plan that is typical of the Slay administrationís hostility toward both public spaces and affordable housing. It also allows private developers to make a profit on land that rightly belongs to neighborhoods. Neighborhood groups have rented lots for these gardens from the city Land Reutilization Authority, which until the recent development boom primarily let abandoned property stay abandoned and crime-ridden. Now that real estate developers are looking at land they had previously neglected, they want to steal the land that they would never have bought in the past when neighborhood groups stepped in. This is cheaper than having to buy land used for parking or land that requires environmental remediation and demolition to use.
Perhaps when every last parking lot and brownfield is rebuilt and every abandoned building is renovated we can think about reusing once-vacant lots that neighborhood groups have tended as gardens. I doubt such vitality will ever happen, since the Slay administration is selective in doling out prosperity. Fortunately, those who cannot partake of the real estate boom have found prosperity in home-grown tomatoes, basil and corn on lots previously home to old tires and drug deals. We need to do all that we can to protect the beautiful spaces that they have created -- spaces that everyone can enjoy.