JEFFVANDERLOU – When Lime Bikes made their big debut at the intersection of N. Grand and Page this spring, the bikes and scooters appeared to be there on accident. Five or six of the neon yellow and green bikes were lined up and many prospective bikers were unsure of how these bikes got into the neighborhood. At that time, the question was simple: can we ride them?
“The target neighborhoods are areas of the city where residents face disadvantages that may negatively affect things that bike share could help with,” said St. Louis City Traffic Commissioner Deanna Venker, “like access to transportation and job opportunities, affordability of transportation, and health outcomes. These are areas where bike/scooter share could provide an amenity and option for those that are in the most need, and yet are not the population most likely to use bike share without some additional engagement.”
To accomplish this goal, Venker explains, the permit requires that bike/scooter share companies must have a non-smart phone option for use, have a non-credit card option, have a plan for providing an equitable service and maintain 20 percent of the bike fleet in the Social Equity and Inclusion Target Neighborhoods.
Target neighborhoods include Wells Goodfellow-Kingshighway West, Hyde Park and Old North, also the Jeff-Vander-Lou /Grand Center and other low income communities.
Venker adds, “These areas have high concentrations of people of color, households below 200 percent of the poverty level, households with no automobile available for daily use, and households where the adults are non-English speakers.
Venker also says bike/scooter sharing helps reduce traffic congestion and improves air quality. It also saves time by making short trips in congested areas faster on bike or scooter than they would be on foot.
Analytics for bike and scooter usage in target neighborhoods are limited in scope, but more than 30 percent of riders appear to be travelling between public parks and transportation hubs like bus stops and MetroLink stations. Data provided by Venker states 7.5 percent of the trips in the target inclusion neighborhoods utilize bikes and scooters as access to public transit, compared to 6 percent in St. Louis City as a whole. On average, 25 percent of trips are starting and ending in parks.
Venker said the city is working with both Washington University and St. Louis University to continue to analyze data to find ways to improve information and access to the program.
NORTH RIVERFRONT – For decades, the St. Louis city jail, known as the Workhouse, has had a reputation for unsafe and unsanitary conditions and mistreatment of both detainees and staff. Launched last year, the Close the Workhouse campaign is dedicated to doing something about it.
Activists from the Close the Workhouse campaign have volunteered hundreds of hours at protests, met with government officials, and connected with people all over the region to address the conditions at the medium security jail.
Last month, the Close the Workhouse campaign released a report stating reasons why they think local elected officials, including Mayor Lyda Krewson, should close down the facility. It states that detainees and employees have reported conditions such as infestation of rats and mice, black mold, unsanitary food, roaches, inadequate medical care, defunct toilets, showers and sinks, and violence instigated by correctional officers.
Highlights from the report include: Almost everyone detained at the Workhouse has not been convicted of a crime; most individuals remain incarcerated because they cannot afford bond; nearly 90 percent of Workhouse detainees are African-American.
Last year, ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights firm, filed a class action lawsuit against the city for inhumane conditions at the Workhouse.
“This report highlights the systematic disparities and structural racism which has plagued our region for decades,” said Blake Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, in a statement. “The Workhouse in many ways symbolizes these destructive forces.”
City officials countered the claims by saying the facility is old but reports of inhumane treatment and conditions are not true. Additionally, city officials said it’s not practical to close the city jail that houses about 550 inmates facing felony charges. Officials said they are weighing their options to ensure public safety first.
In an emailed statement to The NorthSider, Krewson said the city is addressing Workhouse conditions by working on reducing the population and improving conditions with new tax funding.
“We are committed to reducing the population in our City’s jails in safe and responsible ways,” the statement said. “Over the past 12 months, the City’s jail population has decreased 12%, mostly from the Medium Security Institution (MSI). We are continually looking for ways to keep the facilities at MSI up to date. The funds from Prop 1, which the voters overwhelmingly passed this summer, will allow us to make upgrades to further ensure those who remain at the facility have safe conditions.”
A workshop about prisons, policing and abolition designed for allies who want to learn more and contribute to the campaign to Close the Workhouse will be held Oct. 17 from 6:30-9:00 p.m. at the City Garden Montessori Charter School, 1618 Tower Grove Ave.
For more information about the Close the Workhouse campaign, go to www.closetheworkhouse.org.
OLD NORTH– According to owner Travis Sheridan, his container home building project is the first single-family development to go up in the neighborhood for more than 25 years.
“The lot we chose has been vacant since 1981,” said Sheridan.
Sheridan and his wife Gina have been living across the street from the building site for close to five years. She is a branch manager for the St. Louis County Library System and Travis is president of the Venture Cafe Global Institute in the CORTEX Innovation District.
The couple’s plan includes an interior space totalling 3,000-square-feet with three bedrooms, 2½ bathrooms and three stories. Sheridan described a great view of the Gateway Arch from the upper floors.
Visiting the site recently, three workers in reflective construction gear shared their handiwork, which included a fresh coat of dark grey paint planned for much of the exterior. The effect is a bit drab but neighbors may appreciate the change from a clashing mix of orange, green, white and red containers. The lot itself is attractive, with a tall tree in one corner and the ends of the containers jutting out toward Crown Candy, which is a block away from the property.
One of the main reasons the couple chose shipping containers over stick frame or brick for a home is an estimated six-figure reduction in building costs. They purchased the lot from the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) for $3,500. A similar project spearheaded by artist Zack Smithey and his wife Brie in St. Charles came in more than $100,000 under traditional building estimates. Smithey helped design the Sheridans’ structure and has his own experiences as a container home owner to shed light on what the couple might expect.
“The Sheridan’s home will be a St. Louis destination,” said Smithey. “And local businesses will benefit from its presence. People still stop to view and take pictures of my house daily with others knocking on the door to ask questions weekly.”
Asked about neighborhood sentiments, Sheridan said: “The neighbors have been incredibly supportive.”
His assessment was backed up by positive comments from at least one passing car while we spoke.
Smithey discussed the challenges of integrating a new aesthetic into an historic neighborhood in terms of highlighting differences and underscoring contrasts.
“It’s a disservice to old structures to try to imitate them with new structures in an attempt to blend in,” said Smithey. “When everything is the same, you don’t notice the qualities that make individual structures special. To put a spotlight on a contemporary structure simultaneously puts a spotlight on the traditional structures adjacent to it.”
WALNUT PARK EAST – New efforts are being made by city officials and local community groups to tackle the increasing numbers of abandoned buildings and condemned properties on the north side.
Those efforts got a big boost by a court ruling last month allowing the city to enact Proposition NS. Approved by voters last year, the proposition allows for a property tax increase to generate funds to demolish and stabilize abandoned buildings.
According to a city report titled “A Plan to Reduce Vacant Lots and Buildings,” there are 25,000 abandoned or vacant properties in St. Louis, comprising 19 percent of all property in the city. About 53 percent of the vacant property is privately owned and 47 percent, or about 11,500 properties, are owned by the city’s land bank, the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA).
Many residents complain about the crime, drug use, prostitution and fire hazards that can occur in and near abandoned properties. Studies show vacant properties are also costly due to loss of tax revenue and decreased property home value. The city report states that it spent $66 million in 2017 in maintenance and public safety costs related to abandoned buildings and it is estimated the city loses close to $8 million a year in property tax revenue.
The increase in abandoned properties has especially affected north side neighborhoods like Greater Ville, JeffVanderLou and Hamilton Heights. Out of the city’s 79 neighborhoods, 10 make up for more than half of all abandoned buildings and all 10 of those neighborhoods are north of Delmar Blvd.
Since being elected mayor, Lyda Krewson has publicly pledged efforts to coordinate with local nonprofits, and community development organizations to address the city’s blight problem. This effort included the recent demolition of 164 buildings
Better Family Life, a north side nonprofit, established the Clean Sweep neighborhood clean-up initiative last year. The organization said that about 1,000 residents and volunteers worked to remove more than five tons of debris from the Wells Goodfellow, Hamilton Heights, JeffVanderlou, Walnut Park, University City & Jennings
According to Alderwoman Pam Boyd, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) earmarks as much as $300,000 a year per neighborhood to demolish houses in north St. Louis. The Walnut Park East community, which is within Boyd’s district, was able to use MSD funds to demolish many vacant homes in the neighborhood.
Boyd said the program arrose from a lawsuit about rainwater runoff against MSD. “It was originally a project to improve water quality and to alleviate the many wastewater concerns in St. Louis,” said Boyd.
Boyd estimated that around 100 demolitions have been completed so far in Walnut Park East.
The demolitions are expected to be followed by a rainscaping phase.
“We will be moving into the rainscaping program,” said Boyd. “We’re hoping we can finish it before the end of the year.”
There are also some concerns about misuse of the demolished properties.
“We’re trying to help make sure nobody is dumping on those lots so people can feel proud of where they live,” Boyd said.
The self-proclaimed “Grim Reaper of Radio” has for years spewed his hate on the airwaves of St. Louis from across the river at his Belleville AM radio station, KQQZ. But last week, Romanik exploded in a racist rage after reading our last issue of The NorthSider.
In response to a story in our September 20 issue on the possible closing of the North City Urgent Care Center, one of only a few such facilities offering medical services in north St. Louis, Romanik declared on his show that the center was about to close, “Because none of the patients want to go there. They want to go where the white people are giving them medical service.”
“They want to go to Barnes. They want to go to south St. Louis,” he said. “Had a few of the blacks say, ‘No, man. I’m not going there. They ain’t qualified.’ And you know who they say ain’t qualified? The black doctors.”
First, though it should not have to be said, there were no quotes in our story from anyone complaining about the quality of care at North City Urgent Care. And there certainly have been no comments about the race of the medical staff. That’s just Romanik’s own racism on full display once again. But that was just the beginning.
Romanik then took aim at me personally. In response to my September 20 column, “Democrats and McCaskill Owe Blacks More,” Romanik said on his radio show: “It’s amazing, people, that a nigger like Antonio French is going to say that the Democrats owe the black voters more.”
“I don’t know what the hell we can do for the niggers,” said Romanik. “They don’t want to help themselves. They just want to complain. And that’s what they’re doing. But for an asswipe bastard like Antonio French to come out and say that north St. Louis … ’we need to bring jobs, private economic investment. ’There ain’t nobody in the private industry, nobody in the private sector that’s going to come into north St. Louis because of you niggers! Get the niggers out of there and everybody will come!”
Yes, that is an exact quote. It was said on the radio. And it didn’t end there.
“Does anybody know, seriously, what we can give the niggers?” said Romanik. “What can we do for the niggers?”
“[French says] black Democrats must demand more. … What the hell more can you demand? You got what you want. You got a blunt. You got a bottle of muscatel. You got some weed.”
And in response to my call for black leaders to demand real and specific action that results in economic growth in our communities, Romanik totally lost it.
“Fifty million dollars, [French] says, to provide no-interest loans covering 80 percent of the cost to purchase, rehab and convert two-family homes. Fifty million dollars, plus jobs, for private economic investment? Are you nuts? Yes you are, Antonio French,” said Romanik. “See, he’s playing the nigger card. He’s playing the nigger card.”
Romanik, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, also took exception to me calling Trump a racist and saying his agenda is harmful to blacks and poor people.
“The U.S. economy grew by a robust 4.2 percent rate in the second quarter,” he said. “Do you know what that does for our economy? We make more money and then we can funnel more money to the niggers!”
There is no place for this kind of racism on St. Louis airwaves. Period. And frankly, it is an affront to the African-American communities on both sides of the river that Romanik has been allowed to spew his hateful attacks for as long as he has.
But you know what? Time’s up, Bob.
Starting today, The NorthSider will be leading a year-long campaign to pull the plug on Bob Romanik. Visit our website at thenorthsider.com to learn how you can file a complaint with the FCC to have KQQZ’s license pulled. We plan to have over 1,000 complaints filed before the end of the year. And we will be posting updates on this campaign every week.
It’s time rid the airwaves of racists like Bob Romanik.