Conservation Comes to the City
variety of activities that exist and the impact those activities have on the lives of the city's residents.
One discovery was of the city's neighborhood gardens. Residents renovated them from abandoned corner lots to well-maintained, productive flower and vegetable gardens. In the historic Soulard neighborhood I talked to John Durnell, president of the Soulard Restoration Group, a nonprofit organization comprised of homeowners and renters dedicated to the beautification and betterment of their Soulard neighborhood.
The gardens are the result of a partnership between Soulard, the Conservation Department and Operation Brightside, a non-profit organization dedicated to making St. Louis a cleaner, more attractive environment. It is part of an Operation Brightside project called Neighbors Naturescaping.
Funded primarily through grants from the Conservation Department, Neighbors Naturescaping provides neighborhood residents with assistance for project development, landscape design and plant selection. The program awarded at least 23 grants, with a maximum of $1,500 per grant for plant materials and maintenance supplies, to organizations for planting projects throughout St. Louis.
Durnell explained that there are about 13,000 vacant lots in St. Louis. Many come under the jurisdiction of the Land Revitalization Authority, which then leases the lots for $1 a year to organizations like the Soulard Restoration Group.
The Soulard demonstration site was once such a vacant lot. Besides supplying the soil, plants and expertise to create the garden, workshops were held on site to teach residents about designing, planting and maintaining gardens. According to Operation Brightside Executive Director Mary Lou Green, this is in keeping with the mission of the Neighborhoods Naturescaping Project. "Rather than just giving a group money, we want them to have the ideas, knowledge and hands-on-experience, so they can know for themselves what is possible," Green says.
I sensed the same spirit of rejuvenation when James Hogan talked about his Fox Park neighborhood. He showed me Fox Park Farm, a community vegetable garden where lush red tomatoes hung heavy from plants in neatly arranged planting beds.
Gateway to Gardening came to the Conservation Department to ask for financial support for this and other such greening projects, explains project coordinator Kathy Bosin, who accompanied us through the gardens. Bosin works for the Urban Gardening Partnership, a joint effort between the Missouri Botanical Garden, University Extension and Gateway to Gardening. The partnership provides planting and construction materials, site development, technical assistance and horticulture expertise.
"We used to have problems with crime around here a few years ago," recalled Hogan. "Now