Photo by Michael R. Allen
A demonstrator walks past Beauty Town Plus at 9163 W. Florissant Avenue during the National March on Ferguson that took place August 30, 2014.

Change

Heidi Kolk


Michael Allen


The fencing of the QuikTrip on West Florissant Road may have yielded desired containment, but it did not return order to the landscape of the thoroughfare. Instead, the QuikTrip became only the most obvious incarnation of the architecturally uncanny site -- instantly readable as the product of disaster. QuikTrip stands amid West Florissant's sprawl of retail structures, which begins at Lucas and Hunt Road and rolls to Chambers Road and beyond in the form of familiar chains, strips of small businesses, auto repair shops and lots of parking lots. West Florissant in Ferguson embodies the fulfillment of mid-20th century suburban development, but currently presents its abused doppelganger.

The rioting that decimated QuikTrip spread to other businesses, on the same night and later. After the QuikTrip incident, many businesses hastily affixed plywood to their plate glass windows as protection. Others, including a loan company and the local McDonald's, did not. The landscape reads as a haphazard collection of temporary protective measures and business-as-usual appearances. Some plywood fronts are marked with spray-painted messages, mostly reading "OPEN" to beckon to regular customers who might be turned away. The Ferguson Market & Liquor Store, targeted after people realized it was the store that Michael Brown visited before his death, proclaims "THANKS FOR YOUR LOVE AND SUPPORT FERGUSON."

Some businesses have affixed more particular messaging. YOLO! Boutique's owners remind would-be looters that they are black, instilling a very sharp divide that evokes the Korean grocery store owner's protest of "I'm black too" when confronted by the agitated crowd in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. Further west, Fashions R Us has emblazoned its pink stucco front with three blood-red crosses, with their forms streaking downward and topped by stencil lettering that spells out "OH THE BLOOD." Colorful bunting remains affixed to the awnings, foregrounding the message somewhat with the ongoing effort to maintain normal commerce.

The contrasts between businesses presenting survival mode facades, the fire-ravaged QuikTrip and the business fronts that have not been changed mirror the landscapes of parts of America that have undergone slow recovery -- or pre-emptive containment - from major natural disasters. West Florissant looks more like a Gulf town during hurricane season than the sites of major American riots like South Central Los Angeles or Detroit's 12th Street. There is obvious visual parallel to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, manifest through recapitulation of the mode of architectural expression of underlying and debilitating social roots of racial relations, poverty and geographic segregation.

West Florissant Avenue has not yet returned to its state before people torched the QuikTrip. There has been no measure approximating what Sabrina Bradford and Abby Loebenberg characterize as "wholesale cleanup designed to create public order out of everything that was so out of place" when describing the post-Katrina cleanup of Waveland, Mississippi. The landscape inscribes social disparity and change -- yet it already represented the dynamic of succession. West Florissant's retail strip contains one vacant restaurant, a Ponderosa now bearing a public chalkboard inviting passers-by to complete sentences beginning "Before I die...", and a prototypical recent-vintage Walgreens that already closed and reopened with local, non-chain shops as tenants. Vacancy and succession were factors before Michael Brown's shooting. The Northland Shopping Center to the east was redeveloped with some public subsidy in 2005 after falling nearly completely vacant. The present signals of specific disorder ultimately may be historically neutral in a longer chronicle of decline and reinvention of the retail strip.


sources

Bradford, Sabrina, and Abby Loebenberg. "Space and Place in a Disaster Landscape: the phenomenology of Hurricane Katrina recovery in Waveland, Mississippi." Material World. Accessed 12 September 2014. http://www.materialworldblog.com/2013/03/space-and-place-in-a-disaster-landscape-the-phenomenology-of-hurricane-katrina-recovery-in-waveland-mississippi .

key contacts

Heidi Kolk

Assistant Professor, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, and Assistant Vice Provost of Academic Assessment

hkolk@wustl.edu

Michael Allen

University College Coordinator

Lecturer, American Culture Studies

Senior Lecturer, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Sam Fox School

allen.m@wustl.edu