Monday, November 23, 2015
Happy Thanksgiving to all! In honor of this season of gratitude, all of us at Old North St. Louis Restoration Group (ONSLRG) thank everyone who has been a part of making Old North St. Louis the “Best Place to Live” in St. Louis.
And thank you again to the Riverfront Times for putting the spotlight on the great things going on in Old North and for selecting Old North as the 2015 “Best Place to Live” neighborhood in the annual “Best of St. Louis” issue. While the RFT’s few lines of explanation (as shown in the clip above from the print copy) provided a good start, we know there is so much more to the Old North story. So, for those who have asked what it takes to become a “Best Place to Live” neighborhood, we offer the following, more detailed, mostly objective, rest-of-the-story case for why Old North really is such a great place to live.
Old North is a neighborhood with character and soul - a place with a long & fascinating history… a place with visible progress achieved through a revitalization process guided by an organization that is genuinely of, by, and for the people of the community.
And for any who might question the RFT’s wisdom with this year’s selection - and with all due respect to the many other wonderful neighborhoods throughout the city, it’s worth noting that the RFT hasn’t been the only source to consider the revitalization of Old North to be worthy of recognition. That list of outside parties who’ve had upbeat assessments of Old North in recent years includes:
- Focus St. Louis, who picked Old North for one of their “What’s Right with the Region” Awards; and
- Kaid Benfield, then-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Smart Growth & Sustainable Communities Program, who referred to Old North as “one of the country’s best revitalization stories…”
So, what’s going on in Old North that captured the attention and earned the respect of these outside observers? The short answer is that it isn’t just one thing. Old North has been reviving and transforming itself through a comprehensive set of initiatives over several years.
A successful and vibrant community will be a place with a mix of positive features and attributes, not simply a place with good housing stock or nice parks, for instance. The more diverse and the stronger the mix of distinctive characteristics, the more likely it is that the community will enjoy a positive trajectory and be able to sustain itself over time. The most important element, however, is a population of community members who establish the vision for what they want their community to be - and are actively involved in the implementation of the various initiatives, as well as the ongoing work of maintaining and building on the progress.
It’s a given that just about every neighborhood will claim that it’s the people who live & work there that make it such a wonderful place. In the absence of specifics, though, that claim can sound rather superficial. With that in mind, let’s consider the “tight-knit bunch” of people who are part of the warm and welcoming community in Old North.
…Long-time Neighbors =====
Above Left: Tom Bratkowski with a picnic table & bench he built for the 13th Street Community Garden; Above Right: Gloria Bratkowski with Old North’s Girl Scout Troop. The Bratkowski Family has been in Old North for 4 generations - and they continue to serve in a variety of ways.
As a community with a long and rich history, one of the compelling features of Old North is that history isn’t confined to the history books. Old North is home to people who’ve been a part of the community long enough to be able tell the back-stories of various aspects of the neighborhood’s ups and downs over several generations. Along with residents who moved into the neighborhood 20, 30, or 40 years ago, Old North is also home to residents whose families have been in the neighborhood for several generations before them. And Old North is such a vibrant place because long-term residents are still actively involved in a lot of community-building efforts, from working in community gardens to serving on committees or on the ONSLRG Board.
…And a Lot of Newcomers, Too!
Old North has a growing population, with new residents welcomed to the community & invited to participate in the ongoing work of community-building =======
Newcomers tell us that there are many reasons they choose to move into Old North, but almost everybody reports that they love the powerful and genuine sense of community. Longtime residents welcome in their new neighbors and readily invite them to attend community events and/or to participate in the shared responsibility of community-building. Damon Moore and his wife, Kausta, (in the left photo above) had just moved into the neighborhood when the Riverfront Times stumbled across him doing work in his new front yard. Asked why he and his wife moved into the neighborhood, Damon responded: “They’re constantly building this neighborhood up, and we want to be a part of it.” And Kausta has since followed up by joining the ONSLRG Real Estate Committee.
Meanwhile the Lunsford family (in the right photo above) started showing up for community events in Old North long before they moved into the neighborhood from south city to tackle a rehab. The whole family has been regulars at Old North’s farmers’ market and can be counted on to bring a burst of positive energy to any neighborhood activity. Life in Old North as become such a central part of the Lunsford family’s everyday activities that “Old North” emerged as the most prominent set of words used in Leah’s Facebook posts (as shown below)…
It’s also important to note that population growth didn’t just happen by itself. Significant effort went into planning for and developing new housing, including finding and partnering with outside parties, such as Rise Community Development, who had resources and capacity to make larger projects happen. The process also involved considerable time and effort on the part of ONSLRG staff to recruit and assist individuals and families who were open to the possibility of moving into Old North. These ongoing efforts involve everything from hosting the annual Old North House & Community Tour every spring to preparing and distributing an Available Properties List every month and responding to inquiries from visitors who drop in at the ONSLRG office wanting to know more about the neighborhood.
And, as shown in the image above, the development of new housing options continues. Starting at approximately $150,000, new, energy-efficient homes will be available in early 2016. (Interested buyers should contact Matt Fernandez at 314-241-5031, ext. 101 or by email at Matt@ONSL.org.)
Because a growing population by itself isn’t enough to make a community vibrant and sustainable, ONSLRG regularly hosts events and activities to allow neighbors to get to know each other. Since strong and supportive relationships don’t happen automatically or through one time events, it takes a variety of occasions throughout the year, such as ONSLRG’s Annual Meeting and Pot-Luck Supper in February, a trivia night in March, the House & Community Tour in May, 20 weeks in a row of the North City Farmers’ Market in the middle of 14th Street from June through October, a big National Night Out celebration in the 13th Street Community Garden (as shown below)…
…periodic happy hours, monthly neighborhood meetings, and the Holidays in Old North Festival, in addition to several other special events, such as hosting this year’s Shakespeare in the Streets on at the intersection of Montgomery and N. 14th Street.
BUSINESSES & INSTITUTIONS
Landmark, Legendary Businesses
No story of Old North would be complete without acknowledging the importance of Crown Candy Kitchen as a neighborhood landmark that has drawn customers and visitors to the neighborhood for more than 100 years now. For many St. Louisans, Crown Candy was their first introduction to Old North - and for many years, the only reason they would have ever set foot in the neighborhood. Now, Crown’s customers have a lot more to take in and can walk down the street to marvel at the beauty of Crown Square and the view of the Arch and the Downtown skyline framed by the collection of architecturally significant, historically rehabbed buildings along both sides of N. 14th Street.
But there’s more to the Old North business community than Crown Candy, including other legendary businesses, such as another family-owned, much-older business, Marx Hardware (which also made this year’s RFT “Best of” list), and HeadHunters, a barber shop that stuck around the 14th Street Mall for many, many years after all of the other businesses abandoned the dead pedestrian mall and survived long enough to enjoy the revitalization at Crown Square.
Newer, Locally-Owned Businesses
The past few years have brought several new businesses to the heart of Old North, especially at Crown Square, such as:
- Blackmun Footcare, owned and operated by Old North resident, Dr. Annessa Blackmun (shown above)* - which also was selected by St. Louis Development Corporation as the 5th Ward Business of the Year this year;
- Kennedy’s Pet Shop;
- La Mancha Coffeehouse* (a previous SLDC Business of the Year honoree);
- Firecracker Press;
- The Racq Salon;
- Angel’s Touch Home Healthcare;
- The Gallery Clothing Boutique;
- Le Fit;
and others beyond the Crown Square portion of 14th Street, such as Better Life and Perpetua;
… and so many more.
* owned & run by Old North residents
Recent Arrival Nonprofits & Service Providers…
Old North residents are lucky to have many other organizations present within and serving the Old North community, including:
- UrbArts, a home for spoken word arts and poetry slams (with founder / executive director, MK Stallings in the photo above);
- Central Print;
- Building Futures;
- Zuka Arts Guild;
- Magdalene House;
- Peace Weaving Wholeness.
LONG-TIME ORGANIZATIONS & INSTITUTIONS
Old North is also home to several other groups that have been around for quite a while, such as:
- Grace Hill Settlement House (for over a Century);
- The Haven of Grace;
- C.J.’s Place (Places for People);
- Stepping Into the Light;
- Sunshine Ministries;
… and, of course, Old North’s own vehicle for neighborhood-driven and respectful community development, ONSLRG, which will be celebrating 35 years in 2016.
A ROBUST ARTS SCENE
The highest profile arts event in the past year was Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’s production of their annual Shakespeare in the Streets in Old North, which featured area residents John Bratkowski, Aniyah Wilson, and Robert Green, along with Old North’s very own police officer, Richard Schicker of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s 4th District.
But there is so much more art happening within the boundaries of Old North.
Recent hightlights have included a new mural by William Burton and Robert Ketchins; several exhibits in the Old North Gallery; live music within the ONSLRG Gallery, on the stage at the Crown Square corner plaza, in the street…
…poetry slams at UrbArts, printmaking at Central Print, children’s programs at NorthSide Workshop, Friday afternoon concerts at Zuka Arts, improv, drum lessons for the neighborhood Girl Scout troop, daily steel drum music by Jamaica Ray in front of Crown Candy, and on and on.
RECREATION & LEISURE
….residents walking together, outside groups bringing bike tours through Old North, soccer games in Jackson Park…
HISTORIC CHARACTER & ARCHITECTURAL PRESERVATION
As a community that dates back to its founding in 1816 as an independent municipality (the Village of North St. Louis) separate from St. Louis, Old North is home to a great mix of structures and historic sites that contribute to the neighborhood’s distinct sense of place. Residents of Old North embrace that history and character and go to great lengths to preserve what the physical elements that shape the character and beauty of the neighborhood. Part of that history is currently on display at the Missouri History Museum, with their A Walk in 1875 exhibit (shown above), and much more of that can on a walk through Old North today. Thanks to the efforts of ONSLRG and our partners, and many individual homeowners, dozens of historic buildings have been rescued from the brink of collapse. We thank all who have helped make this aspect of Old North’s character possible - and we thank Landmarks Association of St. Louis for helping to acknowledge the great contributions of so many in Old North through their annual “Most Enhanced” Historic Preservation Awards, with more awards going to more buildings in Old North than any other neighborhood - as a percentage of total buildings within the neighborhood…
Above: Owners of Old North properties that have been (or will one day be) recognized by Landmarks Association of St. Louis for the quality of their historic preservation. From left to right: Matt Fernandez future award winner; Dave Eisenbraun, past winner; James & Luz Maria Cox, 2015 & previous year winners; and Susan Tschetter, past winner.
Old North is a place that embraces healthy lifestyles in a variety of ways, most visibly through the weekly appearance of North City Farmers’ Market along the 2700 block of N. 14th Street from June through mid- October over the past 9 years.
The community-wide celebration of healthy lifestyles is also evident through the neighborhood’s 9 community gardens…
… and the community’s Walking Club.
Residents out and about and watching out for each other has also made it possible for Old North to experience a 47% decline in crime from 2010 - 2014, further reinforced by coordinated efforts, including Old North’s Neighborhood Ownership Model and regular collaboration with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s 4th District (especially Officers Lori Wozniak and Richard Schicker)…
So much of what has been mentioned above can be attributed to a simple formula of community-driven initiatives matched with support from outside partners. While the full list of partners and supporters would be too long for this space, some of them do need to be acknowledged here, such as several who’ve provided funding support for some of our programs recently: the City of St. Louis Community Development Administration, Bank of America, Regional Arts Commission, Trio Foundation; some who’ve provided funding and program support, such as Gateway Greening, Ken Kranzberg and STL North LLC; some who’ve worked with us on various aspects of our mission, including our Crown Square development partner, Rise Community Development, Community Builders Network (which is assisting with ONSLRG’s collaborations with other nearby CDCs, Community Renewal and Development and Northside Community Housing)… and partners who’ve made it possible for our staff to take on so much more work than we could otherwise afford to do by providing us with more people power in the office - Mission St. Louis and AmeriCorps VISTA for making it possible for Jessica Payne and Brendan Ziebarth to work with us, and AARP for making it possible for Charlotte Harris to keep an eye on our front desk;
…and several hundred residents and outside friends of the community.
This litany of supporters, investors, and friends could continue for quite a while. So, we invite you to add the names of others who deserve thanks and acknowledgments. Just scroll down to find the Comment box below and share your thoughts!
In light of all of the above, we THANK all who made this possible. If you’re thankful that St. Louis has a dynamic and growing community capable of showing that our city does, indeed, have vibrant, attractive and sustainable neighborhoods, we invite you to help us continue this work. If you believe it’s important for the city to have healthy and thriving neighborhoods on the north side, as well as on the south side, if you believe it’s vital to our region’s future to have neighborhoods that seek to engage all of their residents in the work of community building and that continue to reach out to various agencies and organizations to join the residents in making the community a better place for all, then we need your support. Please make a new or continuing contribution today by clicking on the image below.
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- 13th Street Community Garden, 14th Street Mall, Awards and honors, Bikes and Trails, Community Gardens, Crown Candy Kitchen, Crown Square, Crown Square Businesses, Historic rehabs, History, House Tour, Houses for Sale, Infill housing, Interns, Iron Horse Trestle, LRA properties in ONSL, Life in ONSL, North City Farmers' Market, North Market Place, ONSL amenities, ONSL in the news, ONSL people, Old North Gallery (formerly known as Crown Village Gallery), Old North Grocery Co-op, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, Parks and green spaces, Public Meetings, Renovation, Uncategorized, Volunteer Opportunities, real estate, sustainability
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