My Favorite Revitalization Story: The Rebirth Of Old North

My view is that no other single category of activity is more important to sustainable development than revitalization. When done properly, it’s great for residents old and new, great for cities, and great for the environment.

One would be hard put to find a better example than what has been going on in the Old North neighborhood of St. Louis, a once-thriving community that went through massive decline. As I wrote last year on my NRDC blog, Old North is being brought back in a thoughtful, inclusive, diverse, grassrootsy sort of way, but with some terrific organizational support from the Old North Restoration Group and financial investment from the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, among a bevy of supporters.

I learned about Old North from John Burse, an architect with the Mackey Mitchell firm in St. Louis, which features sustainable design in its practice. After we met briefly at the AIA annual meeting last year, John got in touch and told me about how neighborhood revitalization in Old North is contributing overall to a better regional environment through reestablishing density in a disinvested area and combining a traditional walkable community, affordability, and historic preservation. The three projects in the neighborhood that John has been involved with represent a combined $52 million effort over the course of the last 8 years.

As John reports, “If you consider that Old North, once a neighborhood of 40,000, dropped to a low point of about 2,000, these projects represent a considerable shot in the arm. The work we have undertaken is geared towards making this place ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable.”

Last week, I came across a new batch of photos and a very nice short video on the neighborhood (all posted here), and was able to follow up on what I wrote last year. Please check them out.

In addition, I am now learning about another, similar story about Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Both stories are rich with the kind of possibility that makes one proud to be in this field.

Find more of my writing on this topic at

Kaid Benfield is director for sustainable communities and smart growth at The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. He has his own blog on land development and community issues and enjoys contributing here, too, since there is so much common ground.


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