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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bye bye, Harlem-Baden?

A sort of low key feature of the St. Louis stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or ARRA) was the request for funding of the Harlem-Baden Stormwater Detention Basin.

Where, and what, is Harlem-Baden?

It's a secondary watershed--a drainage basin that empties a portion of north St. Louis city and county. Harlem and Baden are actually two separate secondary watersheds that are located in the larger Bissell Point Watershed, shown on the map below.

From Miscellaneous Items

The Harlem and Baden secondary watersheds are located in north St. Louis city and county, in the center-right of the map.

A low point in the watershed is located near Natural Bridge and Clara Avenue, near the city limits on the northwest. The area is subject to frequent flooding and causes regular damage to residential units (mostly in basements). According to this document, the Board of Freeholders, founders and organizers of the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) in the early 1950s, mentioned this problem area as a reason that the City and County needed to work together to handle sewage and flooding. Two children had recently died in a severe flood in the Harlem-Baden area, which is actually today's Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood.

From Miscellaneous Items

To make matters worse, this area is a chief culprit for combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which introduces raw sewage into the Mississippi, where this sub-basin ultimately drains.

The stimulus package request, linked here, suggests that most or all of the housing in the area outlined above will be demolished (am I right?). This includes some attractive four-families and a series of modest, modern-style homes. Building conditions vary. Check out these St. Louis Community Information Network photos of homes in the area:

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

Certainly no landmarks are present here, but, at minimum, functional, usable urban buildings exist nonetheless. Here's an aerial overview (Maps.Live's Bird's Eye View):

From Miscellaneous Items

The benefits of the project seem clear; the city summarizes them below:

• Surface and basement flooding in areas of the City and County where stormwa-
ter is directed into the new basin will be reduced.

• Deteriorated and vacant properties in the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood will be
replaced with an attractive amenity.

• Combined sewer overflows downstream from the new basin will be reduced.

• Values of remaining affected properties will improve due to removal of problem
and nuisance properties and elimination of flooding hazards.

• New development in the area will be possible without extraordinary costs associated measures to hazards on an individual property basis or danger of flooding
in the new development.

Still, I ask, is demolition necessary? What, exactly, will be constructed? Some of the city's most important contributors to the much-spoken legacy of St. Louis as one of America's greatest, largest, busiest cities are its four families residential structures. These dense living arrangements once communicated smart and affordable living, often near or adjacent to convenient transit. Now, in our efforts to stabilize neighborhoods, they seem condemned outright. Certainly, a lot of this sentiment is justified in the face of absentee landlords and their deferred maintenance. But their importance to the city's built heritage and their loss due to such a bias is palpable.

Forgive me--since this project seems to strive for a great public benefit in flood control and urban runoff mitigation--but I can't help but react with sadness when chunks of neighborhoods disappear from the landscape, no matter the reason.

4 comments: said...

So many city leaders claim to have read "Mapping Decline," yet they continue suggesting the same failed solutions that continue to target the steamrolling of racially specific parts of town.

The City Leaders are overdue about allowing some new ideas to dictate policy. Especially since there's a hundred years of data to prove the ones they continually choose just don't work.

Rick Bonasch said...

Hi -

I've worked in this area for years, together the local community organization, Hamilton Heights Neighborhood Organization. Dealing with the flooding problems has been on the
"to-do list" as long as I can remember. In local parlance, the nickname for the area in your picture is called "the horseshoe".

Most of the buildings there are vacant and severely deteriorated. There is no national register district here, or under consideration.

Flooding and abandonment has led to major damage to the buildings. If there was ever a good place to site a flood control facility, this is it.

Dealing with the serious water problems in this area is one way to help improve the properties close by.

Rick Bonasch

Anonymous said...

3357 Blackstone was once my address. I was a resident of the Harlem-Baden/Horseshoe community for 5 years between 2001-2006. My first flood experience was in late 2002. The flooding was unimaginable. Water was 4-5 feet high in the basement, the manhole tops in the street popped up, the large dumpsters were floating down the streets, cars were underwater as high as mid-window on the average vehicle and no one could move... we were held hostage in our homes. The only good was when the water recessed, it recessed quickly. After this experience the floods became regular visitors with heavy rain. In many cases my neighbor's basement would flood and mine would not. I have read Mapping Decline and the regentrification of the city of St. Louis is an old process that saddens me. Yet ignorance will allow it to continue. No matter what individuals may say or think I must admit that I had a good experience in the Harlem-Baden/Horseshoe neighborhood.

TruthIs said...

Thank you for your blog...I road past there and the houses were gone and I wondered why.

You were helpful.

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