economic recovery

EPA Makes a Visible Difference in St. Louis Community: Transforming Pruitt Igoe’s Legacy into Source of Hope

By David Doyle

Since early 2014, I’ve been the point person for EPA’s involvement in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (SC2) in St. Louis. SC2 is a presidential initiative that brings federal agencies together as a team to address economic issues in communities that have undergone economic upheaval, and the social and environmental upheaval that accompanies it.

The effort in St. Louis is led by EPA. We have a staff person at City Hall who works very closely with the mayor’s staff on identifying issues important to local stakeholders.

On one of our first visits, the city planning director and two of the mayor’s top aides gave us a tour of St. Louis. One of the aides, Eddie Roth, carried along a poster board with a city map taped to it with a bullseye drawn around a site on the city’s north side. He identified it as the former Pruitt Igoe housing complex.

History of Pruitt Igoe

Demolition of Pruitt Igoe in 1976

Demolition of Pruitt Igoe in 1976

I’d heard a little bit about Pruitt Igoe, which I knew was a failed public housing complex, and I remembered seeing pictures of it being demolished, but little more. As Eddie explained, and I learned through additional research, it opened in 1954 and was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect who later designed the World Trade Center in New York City. The tenants who moved from slum housing to the new complex initially considered it to be a vast improvement.

Within a couple years, however, flaws in the modernist design, coupled with underfunded maintenance by the city housing authorities, left the complex uninhabitable. It became a scene of crime and other social unrest until it was eventually vacated and demolished in 1976.

Used as a demolition landfill in the 1990s, the former Pruitt Igoe site is still laden with the foundation and other remnants of the complex. It remains to this day as a constant reminder to city residents of a failed experiment in providing safe, affordable housing to underserved citizens.

Focusing SC2 Efforts

Eddie’s pitch to us during the tour was that the focus of our SC2 efforts should be on this site. As the largest undeveloped contiguous piece of property in St. Louis, and also well located near downtown, major transportation corridors and civic assets, the rehabilitation of this property in his mind would have a major impact on the city, not only physically but also psychologically.

I decided to spend some time looking more closely into how the 35-acre site could be reused.

Several environmental assessments had been conducted on the site over the years, which indicated some environmental issues existed on the property from pre-Pruitt Igoe uses, but these issues weren’t a major problem. The city drafted a risk assessment but never completed it.

Working with city and state staff, EPA completed the risk assessment and an accompanying soil management plan that we submitted to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and led to a “no further action” determination being officially issued. This determination meant that no further environmental remediation is necessary at the site, as long as it is used for non-residential purposes. Such a determination allows private developers to reassess the financial risk associated with investing in the redevelopment of such properties.

Looking Forward

Current debris-laden site of former housing complex

Current debris-laden site of former housing complex

EPA is currently gearing up to develop plans for addressing the large amounts of demolition debris piled on the site, along with the foundation and other remnants of the former housing complex.

Hopefully, by the time EPA’s efforts at the site end sometime in 2017, we’ll be able to leave the city a plan they can use to move forward, and change the perception of this property from one of hopelessness to one of hopefulness.

About the Author: David Doyle serves as the Sustainable Communities Coordinator at EPA Region 7. David has a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from Syracuse University, and a Master of Science in environmental health engineering from the University of Kansas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA and DOL Support For Auto Community Redevelopment

Cross- posted from the Department of Labor Auto Recovery Blog

By Mathy Stanislaus

As I meet with mayors and talk with community leaders throughout the country, I witness first-hand the significant challenges communities face as they work to rebuild their economies. Taking action to support economic development and community revitalization while protecting public health and the environment is a long-standing commitment at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Our assistance and funding to support redevelopment and economic recovery is helping communities, on the ground, to revitalize their neighborhoods.

EPA’s Brownfields program provides funding and technical assistance to help communities in assessing, cleaning up, and redeveloping former manufacturing facilities. Brownfields may be contaminated properties, but, once cleaned up; they can be transformed into important community assets. Often, these properties are in key locations with existing infrastructure. With the Brownfields program, we are making investments to help leverage redevelopment at these sites. I believe that removing blight and redeveloping the industrial properties that often sit at the heart of a community’s downtown can renew both the spirit and the economy of our cities.

Since the program’s inception, EPA’s brownfields investments have leveraged more than $18.3 billion in cleanup and redevelopment. Over the years, this relatively small investment of federal funding has leveraged more than 75,000 jobs. This year, our grants were targeted to communities that experienced auto and other major plant closures, and in the last three years alone, EPA’s Brownfields Program provided more than $15 million in financial support to auto communities.

The Brownfields Program is about rebuilding communities. Today, EPA is partnering with the White House Council on Auto Communities and Workers and other Federal agencies to identify opportunities to target federal government grant resources specifically to the needs of auto communities.

Under my leadership, EPA is working closely with the Department of Labor (DOL) to help bring necessary coordination and resources to these communities. We are working with our state partners and local officials to identify opportunities for flexibility within EPA’s regulatory programs to encourage the revitalization of these former auto plants. We are also working closely with The Manufacturing Alliance for Communities on a series of auto community roundtables that are structured to allow for local officials to identify their resource needs, as well as their visions for the revitalization these sites in their communities. These auto community roundtables bring together economic development leaders, elected officials and investors from the public and private sectors that are committed to redeveloping former auto properties.

Moving forward, DOL and EPA will continue to coordinate with The Manufacturing Alliance for Communities and the Mayors Manufacturing Coalition, the RACER Trust, and charitable and philanthropic organizations such as the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, to assess needs and to deliver resources, and to develop a comprehensive toolbox of technical assistance available including the timelines and processes for applying for these competitive resources. By developing this comprehensive tool box we are working to identify potential ways for private foundation money to provide coordinated technical assistance that will leverage available federal and state resources. We also ask that communities continue to identify priority properties and work in partnership with EPA and other federal, state, local, public, private and philanthropic partners to identify their resource needs and garner their community assets.

At EPA, many of our programs and efforts focus on ways to improve the quality of life in local communities. We realize that to move projects forward it takes a variety of resources. In 2012 EPA is looking forward to continuing to make investments in communities through all aspects of our Brownfields program so that this Administration’s efforts on behalf of American communities will continue to support redevelopment and economic recovery, and help rebuild and revitalize neighborhoods and communities across the country.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER)

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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