Cities

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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Photo Essay: Old and New Environments Coming Together in Pittsburgh

Blog and Photos by Christina Catanese

A few months ago, home in my native Pittsburgh, I paid a visit with my family to a place I went to many times growing up – Phipps Conservatory.  My childhood recollections of the place mainly revolve around the stunning plant displays, and the plethora of colors and types of flowers that seemed to grow out of every possible surface.  I was enchanted by the re-creation of various ecosystems, like the tropical plant room that thrived even in the bleak Pittsburgh winter.  But during this visit, I encountered a new aspect of the Conservatory that changed how I saw the place, and indeed, my hometown itself.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes was opened last year as Phipps’ hub for education, research, and administration.  Striving to be “one of the greenest buildings on earth,” the Center utilizes innovative technologies to generate all its own energy, as well as treat and reuse all water captured on site.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

While a beautiful architectural construction, I was most impressed with the stormwater management measures the Center took, from the green roof, to rain gardens, to the pervious pavement used on the walkways.

Click “read more…” below to read the rest of this photo essay!

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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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Reviving Urban Waters

By Tom Damm

On the grounds of Friends Hospital in northeast Philadelphia a few weeks ago, we got a first-hand look at how funds from EPA’s Urban Waters Program will make a big difference.  This was the first year for the Urban Waters small grant program, and there was keen interest in the $2.7 million that was made available across the country.

Members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society took us down a winding path to an area where work will occur to clear overgrown brush, prevent existing flooding and improve the flow of a tributary to Tacony Creek.  It’s one of 10 projects that will be done in coordination with a local environmental group to help restore a watershed on the city’s outskirts.

Drew Becher (President, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), Julie Slavet (Executive Director, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Inc.), Barbara McCabe (Director of Stewardship, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and William C. Early (Deputy Regional Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III) with the Urban Waters small grant “big check” at Friends Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.

Drew Becher (President, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), Julie Slavet (Executive Director, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Inc.), Barbara McCabe (Director of Stewardship, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and William C. Early (Deputy Regional Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III) with the Urban Waters small grant “big check” at Friends Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.

Five days later in Morgantown, West Virginia, there was a similar scene as members of Friends of Deckers Creek described to our Regional Administrator, Shawn M. Garvin, how urban waters funds will be used to prepare for the cleanup of polluted water from an abandoned mine.

And last Friday, we toured the Bellemeade neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, where urban waters funds will help transform a neglected creek into the spark for a community revival.

Other projects in Baltimore and Philadelphia in our region, as well as many others across the country, are underway to help communities unlock the potential of their waterways and the land around them.  That’s what the Urban Waters program is all about.

Many urban waterways have been left a legacy of pollution by sewage, runoff from city streets and contamination from now abandoned industrial facilities.  Healthy and accessible urban waters can help grow local businesses and enhance educational, economic, recreational, employment and social opportunities in nearby communities.

To read about other urban waters projects and perhaps be inspired to take your own actions, visit http://www.epa.gov/urbanwaters/index.html.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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Share Your Sustainability Stories for Rio+20

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

This week I join colleagues from across the US and around the world at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. On the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Earth Summit that set an early course for sustainability across the globe, we are working to shape the next 20 years of sustainable development with the help of governments, businesses, students, non-profits and global citizens.

Our work will be focused on new strategies to reinvest in the health and prosperity of urban communities. Today, more people around the world live in cities than in rural areas. As that trend continues in the coming years, we will stretch the limits of our transportation systems and energy infrastructure, and be challenged to meet crucial needs like supplying food and clean water, and safely disposing of waste. We’re taking this opportunity at Rio+20 to develop strategies for both improving existing infrastructure and building new, efficient, cutting-edge systems. Innovations in water protection, waste disposal, energy production, construction and transportation present significant opportunities for new technologies, green jobs and savings for families, businesses and communities.

During my time in Rio, I plan to talk about the great work happening in communities across our nation. I will be sharing the stories of individuals and organizations that are implementing new environmental education programs and creating the green jobs of the future, and we’re preparing to unveil videos submitted through the Youth Sustainability Challenge. We want to hear from you as well. Please send us your stories of sustainability this week on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #EPArio so that we can share them with the world.

Even if you can’t be there in person, I hope you will join Rio+20 online. Go to http://conx.state.gov/event/rio20/ to see and participate in all of the events being hosted by the US government, and be a part of our efforts to build a better, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

About the author: Lisa Jackson is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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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