Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fox Park

This post is inspired by the St. Louis blogs I’ve been reading lately, and by my desire to take some photos of things that I see on bike rides around South St. Louis.

A year or two ago, my wife and I were with our daughters at Hartford Coffee Company. We met a woman who lived in Fox Park. She said her husband was rehabbing their house and thought the area was “on the way up,” but that currently theirs was the only non-boarded-up house on the block.

I didn’t know where Fox Park was at the time. But recently I came across this cool site that has all kinds of census information about every city neighborhood. I looked up Fox Park, and realized that it’s the area just east of Compton Heights and northeast of Tower Grove East. Its borders are Hwy. 44 on the north, Jefferson on the east, Gravois on the south, and Nebraska on the west.

Today I decided to celebrate finishing some grading by taking a bike ride up to the area. I brought my camera along.

In general, I was pleasanly surprised by the area. The housing stock, as far as I could tell, was in pretty good condition.

I found this line of houses (technically just to the west of Fox Park) quite beautiful.

Fox Park, the neighborhood, takes its name from a small park of the same name. At the time I was riding by, there was some kind of neighborhood picnic going on. It was a big, racially mixed crowd. Very nice to see. In terms of the racial make-up of the neighborhood, it seemed very integrated, with lots of people of all ages, black and white, on the streets, porches, even one guy out front doing work on the ornate old-fashioned doorway of his house. According to the 2000 census, Fox Park was 64% African American, 30% white. I suspect that’s changed in the past nine years.

Fox Park also includes this baseball field, constructed by Cardinals Care in memory of late Cardinal pitcher Daryl Kile. These fields are mostly built in impoverished areas, as far as I can tell. Indeed, according to the 2000 census information, the poverty level in Fox Park was 27%, three percent higher than the citywide poverty level. Again, I’ll be curious to see the new census information in a couple of years.

Here’s a modest but nicely-rehabbed home, for sale. At Ann and Ohio.

A beautiful line of homes on Russell, with cool mansard roofs.

Some new housing up the street that isn’t completely at odds with the rest of the neighborhood. (The 2000 census found that 72% of the Fox Park housing was built in 1939 or earlier.)

A community garden across the street.

One of those urban churches that seems constructed as a bunker against the urban environment outside. On California.

I find this old-fashioned and rather scuzzy-looking garage at Sidney and California charming.

There are some derelict buildings in Fox Park, to be sure. A shame, because some of them are pretty interesting. This one's near Oregon and Magnolia. The bigger one below (front and back) is at California and Magnolia.

St. Francis de Sales Church was once the center of this community. Now it's a gathering place for Catholics who like their Masses in Latin.

Riding through Fox Park, I got the sense that this area could be the next Shaw, the next Tower Grove East. There were signs of past troubles—the Cardinals Care field, the bunkered churches, and streets made into artifical cul-de-sacs to discourage drive-bys and drug traffic. But on this beautiful October day, it felt like a good place, inhabited by a population diverse racially and, it seems, economically.

If the neighborhood's fortunes continue to rise, will it retain its diverse population? Or will the typical patterns of racial succession mean that as more and more white people come into the neighborhood, buying and fixing up the houses, raising the rents, the black residents will gradually be pushed out or simply feel less comfortable living here?

One potentially hopeful sign, long-term, is the type of housing available in Fox Park. According to the 2000 census, 27% of that housing is single-unit; 44% contains two units; and 24% contains 3-4 units. That diversity in housing type would seem to suggest that this area can offer an affordable place to live to people at a variety of income levels. Of course, it all depends on whether or not people are willing to live around those of a different class, as well as a different race.

It's an interesting time to live in the city!

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