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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Partnership for Sustainable Communities: Four Years of Helping Communities Become Economically Stronger, Environmentally Healthier

Join us for the Partnership for Sustainable Communities Twitter Town Hall on Monday, June 17, at 1:30 PM ET.

Posted online by HUD, DOT and EPA on respective websites.

By Bob Perciasepe, Maurice Jones,  and John Porcari

June 16, 2013 marks the four-year anniversary of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since 2009, our three federal agencies have been working together to help communities build stronger regional economies, improve their housing and transportation options, and protect the environment.

As President Obama said when the Partnership launched in 2009, “…by working together, [the agencies] can make sure that when it comes to development—housing, transportation, energy efficiency—these things aren’t mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand.”

Our collaboration helps communities plan the housing, transportation and economic development they need as infrastructure for economic growth, helping them attract businesses and improve quality of life for residents.

The Partnership is a one-stop shop for communities to access federal resources that can help them become more economically and environmentally sustainable. To date, the Partnership has provided more than $4 billion in funding for projects in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, for example, coordinated investments across our agencies are supporting the revitalization of the East Side neighborhood. (Read the case study; watch the video.) An EPA Environmental Justice Showcase Community Grant facilitated renewed access to the waterfront for residents. An $11 million DOT grant for TIGER multimodal transportation is helping build and upgrade roads around the East Side’s Steel Point Peninsula to prepare for redevelopment. And a HUD Regional Planning Grant helped study the opening of a proposed rail station on a cleaned-up brownfield in Bridgeport’s East End. The station will anchor the East Side redevelopment plan, leading to new business investment; mixed-use, transit-oriented development; and affordable homes.

To celebrate the four-year anniversary of work on these and similar projects, the Partnership is undertaking three major activities this summer:

  • EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe, HUD Deputy Secretary Maurice Jones, and DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari will respond to your questions and comments about the Partnership in a Twitter Town Hall on Monday, June 17, 1:30 PM ET. Twitter users may ask questions in advance and during the Town Hall using the hashtag #sustainableqs. You may also join us through the live webstream.
  • Throughout the summer, the Partnership agencies will host roundtables in Arlington, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Toms River, New Jersey, and other communities across the country. Municipal staff, community leaders, business and industry representatives, and other stakeholders will be invited to tell us about the successes and challenges of their projects—and what the Partnership can do to help.
  • In July, the Partnership will host a webinar series about three of the topics on which EPA, HUD, and DOT offer coordinated support: investing in green infrastructure, creating context-sensitive streets, and integrating housing and transportation planning. See www.sustainablecommunities.gov for dates and further details.

Staff from HUD, DOT, and EPA continue to regularly work as a team to find ways to serve tribal communities, small towns, rural areas, suburbs, and cities more effectively. We feel privileged to be a part of this collaboration, and hope that you will join us in celebrating the progress of communities across the country that are investing in a sustainable approach to economic growth.

About the authors: 

Bob Perciasepe is acting administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Maurice Jones is deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
John Porcari is deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation.


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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Help Us Find the Winners! National Award for Smart Growth Achievement

2012 Winner for Overall Excellence in Smart Growth: The BLVD Transformation, Lancaster, CA Photo courtesy of EPA

By Sarah Dale

Do you know a community that has made its downtown more walkable, bikable, and accessible to public transit? Used policy initiatives and regulations to improve the local environment? Turned its public parks into a driver for economic development? Then you might know a community that could apply for the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. If so, please pass this blog post along!

Communities across the country are making choices about how to grow and develop while improving environmentally, socially, and economically. Through this award, EPA recognizes and supports communities that use innovative policies and strategies to strengthen their economies, provide housing and transportation choices, develop in ways that bring benefits to a wide range of residents, and protect the environment. This year, EPA is

2012 Winner for Equitable Development: The Mariposa District, Denver, CO Photo courtesy of EPA.

recognizing communities in four categories:

  • Built Projects
  • Corridor and Neighborhood Revitalization
  • Plazas, Parks, and Public Places
  • Policies, Programs, and Plans

Additionally, the review panel will choose one Overall Excellence winner.

Past winners are enthusiastic about the award: here’s what a few of the 2012 winners had to say:

  • “We’ve received an outstanding response from winning this award, and our project has received attention from throughout the state, across the nation, and even internationally.” Marvin Crist, Vice Mayor, Lancaster, CA
  • “Receiving the award increased awareness about what the Denver Housing Authority is doing among many different policy makers and stakeholders.” Kimball Crangle, Denver Housing Authority, Denver, CO
  • “I think the Smart Growth Award is a part of what solidified our position to the point where partners decided they wanted to be a part of this.” Scott Strawbridge, Housing Authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale, FL

2012 Winner for Programs and Policies 2012: Destination Portsmouth, Portsmouth, VA Rendering courtesy of Urban Advantage.

If you know a community that is doing amazing things, encourage them to apply today! The competition is open to both public- and private-sector entities that have successfully used smart growth principles to improve communities. The application process is outlined here; the application deadline is April 12, 2013.

About the author: Sarah Dale is a special assistant with the Office of Sustainable Communities, which manages EPA’s Smart Growth Program. This is her third year managing the awards.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.