National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Redevelopment District, Northside
Heidi Kolk

“St. Louis Wins!,” public mailer sent by the Washington D.C. Office of Congressman William Lacy Clay to St. Louisans in June of 2016. 

The copy reads: “Selected For New Western NGA Headquarters | Largest Federal Investment in the History of The City of St. Louis | North St. Louis selected as preferred site for the new $1.7 billion western headquarters of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency!”

On the reverse side of the mailer, which also includes conceptual drawings of the NGA site and a photograph of city officials at a press conference in which the big news was announced, Clay explains the decision to located the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new western office as an “unprecedented, transformational opportunity to focus $1.7 billion, the largest federal investment in the history of the City of St. Louis, within the core of [the city’s] new designed HUD Promise Zone to advance my long-standing congressional priroities of bringing jobs, new federal resources and technological innovation to distressed urban neighborhoods in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.”

In March of 2016, the city’s long suspense finally ended: the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) would in fact be building a new $1.75 billion high-security facility on a 99-acre tract of land in North St. Louis.  Politicians and business leaders were jubilant: they declared the project a victory for the city (which beat out St. Clair County, IL and several St. Louis county locales) and an opportunity to ‘right past wrongs’––that is, to transform a desolate part of the city by returning it to commercial productivity, and cleanse it of negative associations with ill-conceived and abusive planning practices that harmed thousands of residents, most of them African American.   Some 44 properties, including two former public school buildings and a public library that once were part of infamous Pruitt-Igoe public housing development, and 17 private homes in the St. Louis Place neighborhood, have since been taken down or are slated for demolition in the coming months. 

This project considers the NGA district as a site of modern segregation, focusing on its vexed place in the urban landscape of the central corridor, as well as in the broader history of land use, which stretches back to ‘common fields’ practices of the eighteenth and early nineteenth-century.  I begin with a consideration of how St. Louis Place residents have sought to resist eminent domain, and what their resistance invites us to understand about the area that has led to some much conflict.  This conflict has a long history; since the mid-nineteenth century, when the neighborhood was part of an Irish settlement known as the “Kerry Patch” (a shanty town that morphed into a tenement district), city officials have perceived it as an embodiment of ‘slum conditions’ in St. Louis––a repository of waste, including debris from ‘borrow pits’ dug to build sewers and a reservoir, and debris from later ‘renewal’ projects across the city (now visible in the Pruitt-Igoe woods).  The area’s biggest landlord, Paul McKee (CEO of NorthSide Regeneration, LLC), has systematically neglected hundreds of parcels inside what would become the NGA tract, thus compounding these conditions, and reinforcing perceptions of the district as an urban wasteland whose residents have failed to maintain their properties.  Ironically, much of this material history has recently been exposed by viability studies, archaeological research, abatement, and clearance associated with the NGA project. 

By reconstituting this lineage of appropriative use of the site, I hope to suggest new ways of reading the land the city has given to the NGS (for free) in relationship to broader histories of racialized urban renewal, and also of understanding how local residents have sought to resist their impending losses.

Basketball Court, St. Louis Place Park
John Early

Markings on one of the four poles at the basketball court in St. Louis Place Park. October 31, 2016. Photo by John Early.

Christ the King UCC, Florissant
Laurie Maffly-Kipp

Christ the King UCC. Photo by Maffley-Kipp.

Confederate Memorial
David Cunningham
Nicole Fox
Christina Simko

The Confederate Memorial in Forest Park, defaced
as an act of protest following the Charleston church shootings in
June 2015. Image from https://www.rt.com/usa/269527-confederate-black-lives-matter/

Confederate Memorial in Forest Park
Matthew Fox-Amato

Forest Park Confederate Memorial, 2016. Photo by Matthew Fox-Amato.

Cook Avenue
Joshua Aiken

4004 and 4008 Cook Avenue,

December 24th, 2016, Photo by Joshua Aiken.

Delmar Boulevard
Eric Sandweiss

5500 block of Delmar, c. 1930; Swekosky Notre Dame College Collection, Missouri Historical Society: http://collections.mohistory.org/resource/143130.html

Eads Bridge
Jonathan Karp

Black East St. Louisans attempt to cross the Eads Bridge during the 1987 Veiled Prophet Fair. 

“4 Jul 1987, Page 5 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com. Accessed January 16, 2017. http://www.newspapers.com/image/142332505/?terms=eads.

Fairground Park Pool, O'Fallon
Michael Allen

African-American and Caucasian Children at Fairground Swimming Pool, June 21, 1949 Source: Missouri Digital Heritage (http://cdm16795.contentdm.oclc...)

Ferguson
Jasmine Mahmoud

Panel at Critical Conversations: Art and the Black Body at Contemporary Art Museum, September 2016. Photo by Jasmine Mahmoud.

LaClede Town
Benjamin Looker

Two boys at the LaClede Town housing complex, in a Post-Dispatch photo taken in 1968.

Image found at  https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/141859001/

McRee town
Patty Heyda

3968-70 McRee Ave, McRee Town/ St. Louis. Photo credit Jim Roos (2001).


National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Redevelopment District, Northside
Heidi Kolk

“St. Louis Wins!,” public mailer sent by the Washington D.C. Office of Congressman William Lacy Clay to St. Louisans in June of 2016. 

The copy reads: “Selected For New Western NGA Headquarters | Largest Federal Investment in the History of The City of St. Louis | North St. Louis selected as preferred site for the new $1.7 billion western headquarters of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency!”

On the reverse side of the mailer, which also includes conceptual drawings of the NGA site and a photograph of city officials at a press conference in which the big news was announced, Clay explains the decision to located the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new western office as an “unprecedented, transformational opportunity to focus $1.7 billion, the largest federal investment in the history of the City of St. Louis, within the core of [the city’s] new designed HUD Promise Zone to advance my long-standing congressional priroities of bringing jobs, new federal resources and technological innovation to distressed urban neighborhoods in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.”

Powell Hall
Patrick Burke

Grand Foyer of St. Louis Theater (now Powell Hall), 1925. Courtesy of Missouri Historical Society http://collections.mohistory.org/resource/145282.html

The “Love Bank” Basketball Court and Gentrification on Cherokee Street
Douglas Flowe

Love Bank Basketball Court on Cherokee Street. Photo by Douglas Flowe.

Washington Park Cemetery
Denise Ward-Brown

Headstones of Friends Rebecca Edward & William Maul at Washington Park Cemetery. This is a video still from Home Going, Denise Ward-Brown, 2016. Large clean-up jobs, like this fallen tree, go left undone as volunteers continue to clear and maintain the grounds of Washington Park Cemetery. Photo credit: Denise Ward-Brown (2016).

Wellston Loop Pavillion (1909)
Iver Bernstein

Wellston Loop Pavillion (1909). Photo 2006 by Gary R. Tetley, “Eleven Most Endangered Places, 2007,” Landmarks Association of St. Louis: http://www.landmarks-stl.org/enhanced_and_endangered/eleven_most_endangered_places_2007, accessed on February 26, 2017.  Note that there is no commercial use of this structure at the present time (2.26.17).