This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 19, 2012 - This spring, a shooting among a group of teens gathered at Delmar and Skinker boulevards, alarmed the local community. It re-energized talks about finding safe activities for adolescents, and those went beyond the local. Civic leaders, citizens, city and county law enforcement and government joined together with local businesses to address this regional problem before it escalated.
After talking with people in the spring, we checked back to see what people are saying now about the Loop and the need for more places for teens to go.
In March, Chesterfield resident Jodi Redler, 58, said she liked to visit the Delmar Loop because it was the best place to people watch in St. Louis. Seven months later, Redler feels safe when she travels to The Loop. “I feel safe. Oh absolutely. My grandfather lived near there and I am familiar with the many shops and restaurants. I think it is great fun. I am looking forward to the Loop Trolley. I think that will be a lot of fun.”
Redler still believes dialogue is the key to finding common ground for the diverse people who visit the Delmar Loop. “There’s an amount of energy there,” she said. “Energy is in the air. Like when you visit Michigan Avenue in Chicago. You find different things to do there, see different styles and cultures. It’s one of those places people should go when they come to St. Louis.”
David O’Leary, a website developer for Efficion Consulting and resident of University City, frequently takes his family to places along Delmar.
When polled in March, O’Leary mentioned it was very rare for him to have anything other than a positive experience when he visited the area. He said he loved the diversity in fashion styles and ethnic makeup.
Claire Hyman has been a resident of University Heights for 13 years and has owned property in University City for 40 years. As a resident, she feels much better about the issue of large groups of youth than she did in the spring. “I have noticed changes. Those large vans (Nuisance Abatement Vehicles) are out. I think they are intimidating and reassuring,” she said. “I also see more law enforcement around. I feel very comfortable. I’ve had friends come down (to the Loop) from West County with us and they also feel very comfortable. “
Hyman also still believes a dialogue that raises consciousness across populations and not just based on Loop issues is vital for finding common ground for diverse groups of people.
Amid tightened security and public concerns fueled by frantic media reports indicating violence could erupt again, business owners and patrons on both sides of the Delmar Loop accepted the challenges of giving area teens, from all backgrounds, alternative activities.
University City Mayor Shelley Welsch was already working on this issue when the trouble broke out this spring. The mayor formed the Taskforce On Seniors and Youth in October of 2010 in hopes of developing ways to address the needs of these two groups. According to the University City website, this taskforce goal is to ensure “that the City of University City is focusing enough energy and funding on two important constituent populations in our community — seniors and youth.”
The University City Public Library became involved through a program called Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility and Compassion. This brought together area youth and seniors in ways designed to emphasize the importance of community, civility and compassion in daily lives. Programming included a collaborative art show, as well as readings, board games and activities designed to stimulate cross-generational reflection, discussion and civic engagement.
“U. City Library’s Building Common Ground Program series has provided several enriching opportunities for the youth in our community,” said Kathleen Gallagher, a reference librarian there. “We are especially excited about our October Service Fair.” The Service Fair linked both young people and older adults to new ways to get involved and make a difference around St. Louis. UCPL hosted County Older Resident Programs, the Epilepsy Foundation, U City Adult Education, NAMI St. Louis, Alive Inc., Gateway Greening, World Pediatric Project, CASA, Eugene Field House & St. Louis Toy Museum, as well as U City Make a Difference Day.”
The library will submit a detailed assessment and evaluation of its programs to the American Library Association, according to Gallagher. This process will help both American Library Association and the University City Library with program planning. The library will not repeat the Common Ground program.
Gallagher said the American Library Association, “will be providing funding to libraries for other initiatives which share the goal of bringing people together to learn and enhance community connections.”
In looking at how the summer progressed, University City Police Chief Charles Adams said he feels confident that things are going well regarding public safety.
“Our observations are that the Loop remains well attended by all kinds of people,” said Adams. “There has been no up-tick in violence, and we’ve had a very nice summer. There has been nothing happening that would keep people from coming to the Loop. Overall there has not been anything that has makes us feel nervous. We’ve seen nice attendance and we’ve had no major issues.”
Adams said that working on this regional issue has been a community effort among local governments, police departments, citizens and business owners. “Everyone has been looking for activities for people to do other than hanging out on the street,” he said. Adams also noted that Joe Edwards and other Loop area business owners have been instrumental in assisting the police in watching over both sides of the Loop.