Comparing NE U City with Pagedale
Lately, I've been riding the #64 Lucas Hunt bus from Big Bend at Forest Park (on the Washington University campus) north to the Rock Road MetroLink station.
This ride lasts only 15 minutes, but cuts through both the most affluent and most economically depressed sections of St. Louis County.
The northbound run follows Big Bend adjacent to private streets north to Delmar, then heads east on Delmar, to north on Leland, west on Loop North, and north on Kingsland near the Parkview Gardens apartment district. The #64 is the only bus route that still uses this historic streetcar turn-around area on Loop North; although Heman Ave in that section has long been converted to a parking area / marketplace plaza., so it uses Leland instead.
From there, it travels north on Kingsland to Olive, then west on Olive one block to north on Ferguson Ave., where it enters Northeast University City.
NE U City, a predominantly African-American community, still has a fairly stable and comfortable feel. To be sure, it is very different from both the private streets and the Parkview Gardens apartment district (largely owned by WashU and occupied heavily by students) to the south of Vernon. And the industrial/commercial areas along Olive form an odd barrier there. Nevertheless, NE U City has convenient access to a fairly new (mid 1990s) Schnucks supermarket and small strip center at Olive and Pennsylvania (on the former site of Mercy High School). Right in the heart of the community at Ferguson and Etzel is Pershing Elementary School.
But somewhere around the old bridge over one of the northern branches of the River des Peres (is that Engelholm Creek perhaps?) at Ferguson and Melrose, you enter Pagedale. South of Page, it still feels a lot like NE U City. But when you reach Page, decay is clearly evident.
Pagedale and NE U City have pretty similar housing stock; if anything, Pagedale's may be newer. Both are predominantly African-American communities. But there's not much similarity beyond that. Pagedale itself is a fairly under-resourced community, similar to its eastern neighbor Wellston. It is part of the Normandy School District which, for better or worse, is not as highly regarded as the University City School District.
At Page Ave, a bus transfer point, there's a Chop Suey place and a decaying corner commercial building, as well as a very suburban-looking church with a large parking lot along Ferguson. In the several blocks to the north, some houses are in good condition. A few new houses have been built, at 1361, 1365 and 1369 Ferguson, near the railroad overpass; but they are all ugly little vinyl-clad boxes. Nothing nearly as attractive as the nearby similarly-sized brick homes.
Across the railroad overpass is a strange mix of institutional and industrial uses. On the left (west) we see the hulking behemoth of the now-closed and rapidly decaying former Lever Bros factory, and a school bus parking lot. Then there's Baerveldt Park, a small park carved out of adjacent Laurel Hill Cemetery, and then a lutheran church with a ridiculously huge parking lot.
On the right (east) are a Southwestern Bell Telephone garage, St. Louis Music Company, NHS/Beyond Housing's Pagedale Service Center, Pagedale City Hall, and a Head Start center. Then we pass a row of homes, some in good condition but others boarded up and decaying. At St Charles Rock Road are still more down-at-heel commercial buildings. The bus turns east on the Rock Road for the one-block trip to the MetroLink station.
After 13 years, the Rock Road MetroLink stop has yet to spur any development. Sure, some people may ride MetroLink to the Frison Flea Market, located in a former grocery store adjacent to the station and open only Friday-Saturday-Sunday. But this stop's main function seems to have been to replace Wellston Loop as a major transfer point between buses. The park-ride lot isn't even that heavily used here, because it's not visible from nor close to major highways or more affluent neighborhoods.
There are lots of reasons for the decay evident in Pagedale, but needless to say, it is not exactly inspiring to pass through the area. It probably isn't very inspiring to live there either. I'm sure there are some nice blocks and many nice homes within Pagedale, but the overall picture is not one of success at the present.
Although Pagedale is part of the St Louis County Enterprise Zone, it is not part of the Greater St Louis Regional Empowerment Zone; only Wellston is. So there are fewer opportunities for redevelopment incentives. Since the MetroLink stop at Rock Road is on the edge of the community, and no highways pass nearby, the decay is not as visible to most outsiders as that in Wellston. But it shares a common fate with its eastern neighbor, including the same ZIP code (63133) and fire protection district (Mid-County). Ultimately, redevelopment of Pagedale and Wellston must go hand-in-hand. Hopefully, the current residents will not be forgotten when that happens.