Streetcar Tracks To Greenway: Residents Lead The Way On Hodiamont Tracks Revitalization
Over the past 17 years, Lisa Potts has often looked over her backyard fence at the Hodiamont Tracks, imagining what it could be if someone fixed it up.
What looks like an alley today — full of overgrown trees, potholes and debris in many places — was initially constructed as a streetcar route. It runs 3½ miles from east to west from Grand Center to the West End, near Potts’ home.
Now, Great Rivers Greenway is working with residents, including Potts, to turn the corridor into a greenway that runs through seven north St. Louis neighborhoods. It’s part of a larger plan led by the environmental nonprofit to connect the St. Louis region with a network of greenways that provide spaces for people to bike, walk and play.
Construction on the Hodiamont Tracks Greenway isn’t expected to start for another couple of years, but the group is hoping to roll out a conceptual design plan later this year.
Shaughnessy Daniels, civic engagement manager at Great Rivers Greenway, said feedback from residents has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Nearly 95% of the 550 people who responded to a survey about the greenway said they were in favor of it.
But Daniels said it takes time to build trust and incorporate residents’ ideas. The group started asking residents for input starting in 2018.
“Most developers are thinking, ‘OK, I got deadlines, I gotta meet my timeline, let's go, let's go, let's go.’” she said. “But it's really important to step back sometimes and just hear what the needs and the values of the community are and what the desires are. What are the conflicts? Understanding all of that upfront helps to have a better design later down the line.”
Daniels said the greenway is about more than better lighting, plants and water fountains. She said greenways have an economic impact within a half-mile radius, so it’s also important to make sure the greenway design aligns with neighborhood and city-wide development plans.
“Look at housing and look at displacement and look at business growth and development and employment opportunities and how we can enhance small business in the area. So, we’re trying to look at all of that in addition to designing and planning for a greenway,” she said.
Potts is on the Hodiamont Tracks Community Advisory Committee, a group of community leaders from the neighborhoods along the tracks. They’re helping keep residents informed and managing expectations about the project. Some will be impacted more than others because they enter their garage or backyards through the tracks.
“What we don’t want is while we’re trying to make things beautiful for people to feel so inconvenienced that now they’re upset by the whole thing,” Potts said.
She’s bursting with ideas for the cleaned-up space. She can already picture kids meeting up there to skateboard and entrepreneurs setting up pop-up stands to sell local goods.
“This to me is a catalyst for growth and revitalization and neighborhood pride and neighbors getting to know one another,” she said.
Potts said the most important aspect is involving residents in the process.
“Even though people came in and said, ‘Yeah we want to do this,’ people still had one eye open like ‘OK, yeah we’ll see,’ because there have been a lot of broken promises through the years on what was going to happen and what wasn’t going to happen,” she said.
Nathan Plumb lives a few blocks east of Potts along the Hodiamont Tracks. The 20-year resident of the neighborhood is also on the committee. Safety and usability are top priorities for him. As a father of three kids, he worries about cars speeding through the tracks.
“Particularly with the playground right here and kids playing, there have been some close calls out here even in the last year,” Plumb said.
He’d like to see the area turned into a space that’s usable for biking and walking, similar to the St. Vincent Greenway, which intersects the Hodiamont Tracks near his home.
Great Rivers Greenway is encouraging people to weigh in on the project online or at their pop-up events on the tracks.
Potts is helping to organize a street art festival and ice cream social along the tracks on Aug. 7 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. She said the goal is to bring people together from all seven neighborhoods and collect more ideas from residents.
“The whole point of that is to let people know again this is happening. This is real,” she said. “Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Your voice is important.”
You can learn more about how to get involved in the Hodiamont Tracks Greenway by calling its hotline: 314-329-8544 or visiting its website.
Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan