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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Neighborhood Guides: How would you split up St. Louis's 79 neighborhoods?

For a while now, I've been toying around with the idea of collaborating with others in St. Louis's urbanist community in producing neighborhood guides for prospective residents and business owners of St. Louis.

There are some terrific examples out there.

When I visited Detroit in the summer of 2006, Model D's website was an unbelievable help. Similar sites exist for Pittsburgh (Pop City) and Cincinnati (Soap Box).

While Detroit's site (not an official site, either) focuses only on "Hot Spots," it would be nice to produce a guide that covers all the neighborhoods of St. Louis.

The problem is that, few people agree totally with the city's "official" 79 neighborhoods. Looking for Dogtown, Kingshighway Hills, Lindell Park, the Ivory Triangle, or Compton Hill on the city's official list? Let me help you out: you won't find them.

Some people argue for clear and well-defined neighborhoods that give order to the endless cityscape, while others appreciate the local folklore and idiosyncratic nature of place-naming, where each couple blocks seems to earn its own distinction. I lean towards the latter.

E.g...what do you call the up-and-coming Morgan Ford Business District's neighborhood? To the city of St. Louis, it's Tower Grove South. To historical researchers, it might be known as part of the Oak Hill neighborhood. To others, it's simply a small section of a large collection of neighborhoods known as "Tower Grove". A small but growing minority calls the business district and surrounding area "Skinnytown". Is anyone of these correct, or incorrect? I don't know.

When it comes to assisting people through the urban maze that is St. Louis, the choices made in how to define neighborhoods are difficult and usually impossible if the effort is to please/include/represent everyone.

Nevetheless, I have taken a stab. Below are my 25 neighborhoods. Twenty-five is certainly more manageable than 79. What do you think of the idea of having a web site where people interested in the city can check out each neighborhood in-depth?

View St. Louis Neighborhoods in a larger map

For a neat take on capturing St. Louis City's neighborhoods' individual look and feel, check out Mark Groth's blog, St. Louis City Talk, where he has profiled some of the "Heights" neighborhoods: Botanical Heights, Clifton Heights, Compton Heights, and Hamilton Heights. Stay tuned for more from his series, which aspires to cover all 79 official neighborhoods.

And good luck to anyone trying to simplify the complexity of one of America's great cities!


STLgasm said...

I think both the official and unofficial designations work, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive. While the Manchester strip has become known The Grove in recent times, it'll always be Forest Park Southeast to me. Botanical Heights doesn't cut it for me-- it's still McRee Town in my eyes. The neighborhood around Cherokee is simply "Cherokee" to me, not Benton Park West or Gravois Park.

Slightly off-topic, but it's tragic that once distinct districts like Gaslight Square and the DeBaliviere Strip are not even recognizable today. They undoubtedly would be among the most sought-after neighborhoods had their physical infrastructure remained intact.

Aaron said...

I appreciate the attempt at simplification, but think you've gone a bit too far on that front by grouping neighborhoods with distinct identities into larger blocks. The Grove/FPSE is vastly different from the CWE and both deserve to be viewed independently. The same is true for some other groupings you've made. I think to make something most usable for newcomers, a neighborhood map has to recognize and identify colloquial names that aren't on the "main" city map...places like Dogtown, The Grove, Old North, etc. that ppl should be able to locate.

STLgasm said...

And Dogtown and The Hill can't be grouped together as one neighborhood! Close in proximity, yes, but they are as different as any two city neighborhoods can be. Also, DeBaliviere Place is distinctly different from Skinker-DeBaliviere, as is Wydown-Skinker (DeMun). The more I look at the simplified map, the more I appreciate the distinct identities of the city's individual neighborhoods.

Matt M. said...

It's extremely difficult to produce 25 neighborhoods out of the current 79!

While I agree that Dogtown and the Hill are different, the reality of real estate, investing, and even visiting (due to their proximity) is probably similar across the two neighborhoods.

If you think with the mind of a tourist (for whom nearly 80 neighborhoods seems too overwhelming to tackle), I think my groupings make some sense. I admit to being a little bit ignorant on the North Side on a block-by-block basis, as there are some neighborhoods there for which I've not been down every single street as I have on the South Side.

How would you guys tweak my map?

Mark Groth said...

Great post and discussion.

Persoanlly, I like the 79 neighborhoods. Yet I like areas within to be more branded a la Skinnytown or Little Bosnia or the Loop. Regarding the map, I think you could take it down to about 12 zones. If the audience includes tourists, I think 12 seems manageable and honestly can't we just combine the 2 south eastern and south westernmost sections into 2? To me, you could take in Patch, Carondelet, Holly Hills and Boulevard Heights in a half day. And you could take in Princeton Heights, Southampton, St. Louis Hills, etc in the other half.

This is a great idea though! Keep up the good work.

Mark Groth said...

^ oh yeah, and thanks for the link.

Daron said...

A while back, I took it upon myself to make all the st. louis neighborhood pages for wikipedia complete with horribly done maps (All I had to work with was MS Paint...)

I got busy, and I started a new job. I never got back to it.

Most of the pages are just stubs badly in need of some prose. I had high ambitions, but never got anywhere.

If you're thinking of putting together a guidebook, it'd be really wonderful if you compiled your notes on wikipedia as you go.

I had this vague idea that when I returned to St. Louis I'd hook up with the various neighborhood associations and try to teach one elderly woman in each group how to edit and update the page as things happened.

I guess I'm kind of lazy...

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