The thing that started me on a personal quest back in 2009 to visit each and every neighborhood in St. Louis and share my findings on this blog was the official St. Louis Website. Being an admirer of maps, I kept looking at the bird’s eye view of St. Louis thinking of all the places I’d never been or never heard of.
I then starting poking around the city website a bit more as I was researching names and other places in the city. The parks too began to intrigued me, as the city website had a comprehensive list of all the parks.
Per the city website, there are 111 parks in St. Louis covering ~3,250 acres…wow. I hadn’t set foot in most of these parks, so in order to complete my personal goal of traversing every part of this city that I love, I knew what had to be done. 111 more blog posts were in my future.
I recently read an interview with guitarist Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in the Guardian. A comment from Moore struck me and I couldn’t agree more. The interviewer was asking him about his recent move from Connecticut to the UK. Moore explained that he is trying to get to know his new adopted home by digging into the history of his new home and said:
“You should know where you live. I find that to be a certain responsibility.”
I couldn’t agree more, and I am now in the habit of exploring my city, so I decided to go back to the city website and start understanding the elaborate parks of St. Louis.
We are lucky to have all this green space. The city doesn’t necessarily “sell it” as a benefit of STL city living. The park information on the city website was sparse at best and straight up erroneous at worst. There is a lot of room for improvement in helping people understand what parks offer and where they exist.
Some parks listed might not even seem like parks at all, rather fields of mowed grass…with nothing to mark it or identify it as a city park. Some parks are trashed, some are stunningly beautiful. The park’s department doesn’t have a master plan to improve the park system. It is done piecemeal. It is up to the neighborhood to decide what it wants its parks to be.
The good side of that is if you organize and collaborate, you can have local control and tremendous influence on what your neighborhood parks are and can be. The downside is that not all parks are cared for or funded equally. The parks in the neighborhoods where the people care the least have parks that reflect that lack of care and sweat equity. It’s the St. Louis way.
I was able to build a personal perspective on what works and what doesn’t. Parks can be the beacon or centerpiece of a neighborhood, or they can be the worst eyesore and gathering place/dumping ground for city problems. The parks range the full gamut and are as honest a representation of the current state of St. Louis as any.
I had countless conversations with people in the parks, I love the interactions that these visits bring. The vast majority of my visits were positive and in some cases memorable and inspirational. It is addictive talking to strangers about their place and part in St. Louis. I was surprised how important some of our parks are to some people, especially older folks and fishermen. The parks are part of their weekly routines. It is a thing of beauty.
The interactions didn’t end there.
Another fringe benefit of this project was crossing paths with other like-minded city park lovers. Of those, I was able to meet Sonia Emmons, Liz Kramer, Nick Speiser, Claire Wolff and Jeff Wunrow.
Jeff vowed to visit each park, take three photos and post to his Facebook page…111 parks in 111 days! The others took a social approach to their project while exploring and documenting each park. They are logging their adventures on their Park Picnic Project site described as “An ongoing project to visit, picnic in, and discuss every park in the City of St. Louis.”…it is wonderful, enlightening and down right fun reading.
Make sure to check out their site; here’s one example from the Park Picnic Project:
Lyon Park: Picnic #9
Date: Sunday, June 13th, 2014
Who was there: Nick, Liz, Claire, Chris
What was consumed: Drink: Beer, water; Food: Bomb pops, homemade hummus & dip, veggies
Park assessment: This was one of our most heavily-used parks that didn’t have an event, surprisingly. There’s very little residential nearby, with just a handful of residences on the right side of highway 55. Most people seemed to come in cars, including two dog walkers and a couple playing catch on the ball diamond. A group of teenagers briefly walked through the park from down Broadway, and seemed to head towards the riverfront. The rolling hills were quite lovely, and the walking path was actually a little challenging with all the ups and downs. The fact that there were both ball fields and restrooms made it very appealing — it’s not a huge park but there are a lot of different activities that can be facilitated, including being an obsessive Civil War buff, and observing the activities of the Department of Defense.
Pertinent research and facts: This is by far the most historically interesting park we have been to so far. Check out the history of the St. Louis Arsenal (and therefore the surrounding area) on Wikipedia (we’re not historians here, ok!), plus the history of the AB Brewery (must pretend to be 21 to enter), and most importantly, the incredible story of a historical hero: Nathaniel Lyon (State Historical Society of Missouri and The Civil War Trust).
Picnic assessment: How is it possible that we picnic so often when it sprinkles on us? We were on a nice hill until the rain started to come down, so we relocated under a tree. All around delicious snacks and treats, and we had two picnic blankets for four people, so we were in great shape for space.
Discrepancies with the city’s info: This park is most definitely not in Benton Park. It’s probably used by people who live in the Benton Park neighborhood, but it’s certainly in Kosciusko (or maybe you could say Soulard if you don’t want to think about people being in Kosciusko).
Park recommendations: Our biggest concern for this park is the impending relocation of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) relocation. As one of our parkers was formerly an NGA employee, we had a little discussion about the NGA and their activities. There is quite a bit of debate going on about where and how NGA should relocate, but when the relocation happens, both the historic arsenal site and Lyon park will likely be reconsidered completely. So — we hope that this park can continue to be used and the memory of Lyon preserved in some way, and that a solution that is good for the region is worked out!
Nappability: On Sunday afternoon, this is a lovely napping park, as it’s quiet, smells a little like beer, and has some nice nooks and crannies for napping.
Nearby features: As previously mentioned, AB, the Arsenal, and if you crane your neck, the river itself.
Access: There was a really consistent bus running by on a Sunday: the #30, which lets out just in front of the Arsenal and therefore in front of the park. The #40 is also available on the west side of the park by AB. Walking access was poor, since you have to cross Broadway to get to the park from basically anywhere that’s not the river. There were bike racks, but it seems like it would be relatively unpleasant to bike to this park, given the speeds on Broadway in this section.
Awesome…and the photos are great too. Note one section of their post called “Discrepancies with the city’s info”…this is something I experienced as well…and hence the point of this blog post.
The city reached out to us to collaborate on the city parks website.
It was another one of those St. Louis big city/small town moments that I’ve come to cherish over the years. If you have like interests, you will eventually cross paths; you will have the opportunity to DO something greater than what you can accomplish on your own. This is a strength of St. Louis.
Enter Cari Cleeland, the City of St. Louis Web Content Specialist/Writer. She was tasked with updating the park data on the city website and asked to set up time to meet and discuss possible collaborations.
We met at Fritanga in McKinely Heights, noshed on fried plantains, and discussed the project. Cari explained that she wanted to update the park data, locations, maps, resources and amenities…including photos. She wanted to know what info was inaccurate. She asked us for feedback on what content to add. We spoke about inconsistencies, and shared stories on our visits. It was healthy, productive and fun. I was happy to see everyone offer their photos, experience and knowledge for free…no strings attached…the greater good. It bodes well that the city has reached out to citizens and bloggers to help get the good word out on our wonderful city. Cari has a tremendous amount of energy and got the park pages updated beautifully with new photos and accurate information. It is an incredible refresh. You have to check it out.
Congrats to the city, congrats to Ms. Cleeland, congrats to my fellow park explorers. This city is getting better day by day, and it feels good to be part of the positive energy.
So, want to see the major upgrades to the city park directory?
Click here to view an example of Berra Park on the Hill.
If you like those changes as much as I do, more good news is on the horizon. The pages for each of the 79 neighborhoods will be upgraded as well by Cari in the near future. She will be adding refreshed content and photo galleries to help people see how beautiful this city really is…maybe the next generation of STL explorers will be inspired to start their own adventures!
*this post first appeared on Mark’s excellent St. Louis City Talk website