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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

A photo & video update on Old North St. Louis, one of the country’s best revitalization stories

Kaid Benfield

Posted April 16, 2009

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Last year, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm when I learned what has been going on in the Old North neighborhood of St. Louis, a once-thriving community that went through massive decline.  As I wrote last year, it is being brought back in a thoughtful, inclusive, diverse, grassrootsy sort of way, but with some terrific organizational support from the Old North Restoration Group and financial investment from the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, among a bevy of supporters.

Community engagement is critical to success (by: ONSL Restoration Group)My own view is that no other single category of activity is more important to sustainable development than revitalization.  When done properly, it's great for residents old and new, great for cities, and great for the environment.

The Restoration Group posted a bunch of updates and links on its blog a few days ago.  It's terrific to learn that the Crown Square project is continuing, for example, along with many neighborhood rehabs, despite the recession.  As Michael Allen puts it on his terrific blog about preservation and architecture in St. Louis, Ecology of Absence:

"Take a walk, bike ride or drive through Old North St. Louis these days and you might be tempted to ask 'what recession?' The hardy north side neighborhood continues to be a construction zone, with activity all over the neighborhood."

In this post I'm going to mostly let the pictures tell the story.  These were all taken within the last year.  Here is a redbud tree from last spring, in front of a rehab (via Claire Nowak-Boyd's terrific photo site), and a former kindergarten being rehabbed for housing (thanks to Michael Allen):

  Old North is blooming (by: Claire Nowak-Boyd)  former Ames Elementary School kindergarten (by: Michael Allen)

From the Restoration Group, these two shots from the opening of the farmers' market, last fall, are terrific:

  opening day (by: ONSL Restoration Group)  Here's Johnnie (by: ONSL Restoration Group) 

Some shots of rehabs in progress, and one of rehabs completed, shown in the poster of last year's neighborhood house tour:

  ONSL rehab in progress (by: Michael Allen)  ONSL rehab in progress (by: ONSL Restoration Group)

    poster for last year's house tour (by: Claire Nowak-Boyd)  nearing completion (by: ONSL Restoration Group)

This year's house tour is coming right up.  On the subject of rehabs, here is an interesting blog about the subject from someone undergoing the process right now in Old North.

And, finally, I leave you with a neat video about the neighborhood shown recently on local TV news in St. Louis, and featuring some of the people who are making it happen (including one pictured above!):


Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.


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Nathan SpreheApr 17 2009 10:23 AM

Thanks Kaid for such nice words about Old North St. Louis. It's an exciting time here. And as Sean's mentioned before, if you find yourself in St. Louis, we'd love to give you the tour!

I'd also like to point out a section on our Website where we will be featuring residents and business owners telling their stories of why they choose Old North: . We have two profiles posted now, with more on the way.

Thanks again,
Old North resident, ONSL Restoration Group board member and Marketing Committee chair.

Phil ValkoApr 17 2009 01:18 PM


Thanks for continuing to share our community's story with the masses. I've lived in ONSL for over 5 years and absolutely love it. It's a one-of-a-kind place that has a very strong sense of community. Month by month, our community continues to come back to life. Everyone is extremely excited about all the activity in the Crown Square revitalization--the historic rehab of our old town center:

And very soon, we hope to have a new non-profit cafe, The Urban Studio Cafe, which will create jobs for area residents (especially teens), create a community "third place", and generate revenue to fund youth arts programs.

Thanks for sharing our story!
Phil Valko
ONSL Resident/Rehabber and Founder/Director of The Urban Studio

Kaid @ NRDCApr 17 2009 10:22 PM

Sounds terrific, Nate - Keep up the great work.

Stefene RussellApr 22 2009 08:24 PM

Hey Kaid,

I'm a relative newbie, compared to everyone else (May Day is our one-year anniversary moving into the neighborhood) but it's really lovely to see our community reflected through someone else's eyes, especially someone who really gets what is going on here. I really enjoyed your post on Over-the-Rhine ... that little movie got me kinda teary-eyed. It reminded me of ONSL too.

Kaid @ NRDCApr 23 2009 07:39 AM

Stefene and Phil, thanks for stopping by. Phil, your work with the Studio and Cafe seems terrific!

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