ESLARP East St. Louis Action Research Project
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Pilot Project for Identification of Dilapidated Structures in Edgemont Neighborhood of City of East St. Louis using GIS

Report submitted for the partial fulfillment 
of the requirements of UP419


Professor Zorica Budic 
Department of Urban and Regional Planning


Nupur Mohan
Department of Landscape Architecture

Sandeep Kumar
Department of Urban and Regional Planning

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
April 20th, 1995


City of East St. Louis in St. Clair county of Illinois is one of the few cities where the problems are different from other American cities. In a time when there is hardly any land available in most cities, this place has no shortage of land. In fact, there are too many neighborhoods that have abandoned, vacant and overgrown lots. According to latest statistics, at least 1200 residential sites are in derelict condition and possibly 2,000 properties in need of cleaning up. In last 20 years, the city has also experienced a 470 unit increase in vacant housing representing a 22.4% increase.

All over the city one can see signs of arson - burnt buildings, heaps of debris and the like. Besides creating visual anarchy, the situation as it stands not only perpetrates sense of insecurity and unsafe environment, but also encourages crime. Many abandoned and partly burnt properties have been found to be the centers of illegal activities in the past, and they continue to be so.

The city now realizes that to bring about any sense of safety and welfare in the community, it will have to devise a plan for the demolition of derelict properties. The initial fund available for the plan is $800,000 which means that the activity will have to be prioritized so that it may be carried out in a logical and meaningful way without exacerbating the current problems. Recent demolition have been carried out in a haphazard fashion which created havoc in the community rather than alleviating the vexing problem.


The purpose of this exercise is to devise a prototype analysis method to formulate a city wide demolition plan for dilapidated structures using GIS software Arc/Info as the analysis tool.

Before presenting analysis and recommendations, a brief history of the city and edgemont is being provided for the purposes of information to the reader.

Brief history of East St. Louis

The city of East St. Louis lies on the east bank of the Mississippi river across from the city of St. Louis, Missouri. Its present condition gives no indication of what this city was like a few decades ago.

The economic future of East St. Louis looked rather good in 1950s. There was a strong and diversified manufacturing base producing good jobs, high incomes, and solid tax revenues for the city. This economic base supported a vibrant downtown which was the clear economic center of St. Clair County. Solid employment, bolstered by a high rate of unionization, placed East St. Louis' median income levels above that of the State of Illinois and minimized poverty within its borders.

The declining importance of rail-based transport for shipping and travel, however, hurt the city's railroad industry, which was historically its largest employer. The development of refrigerated railroad cars and trucks gave ranchers the ability to slaughter cattle on the range instead of shipping them to regional meat-packing centers like East St. Louis. This effectively undercut the city's second largest employment sector. Job losses in these two sectors affected other service sectors too, resulting in more business closings, layoffs and the abandonment of downtown businesses reduced the city's revenues at a time when social service needs were on the rise, causing the city to increase property taxes in order to fill dwindling city coffers.

These events also coincided with an increase of African American workers seeking employment in a city with a long history of racial tension. The result of the influx of African Americans in the 1960's and 70's was 'white flight' to the suburbs by many long time residents.

The situation as its stands now, is very grim, but there is a glimmer of hope for the city. The East St. Louis Action Research Plan initiated by the University of Illinois, is beginning to make a change to the community. The city has also received some federal funding for some clean-up programs, one of which is the plan for demolishing dilapidated houses.

Identification of Pilot Study Area

This exercise serves as a pilot study of Edgemont neighborhood for devising a methodology which could later be used for carrying out the demolition plan on a city-wide scale. Before moving further, it will be imperative to describe the characteristics of the area of study which is typical of any other neighborhoods of the city.


Edgemont is located at the eastern most part of the city surrounded by 89th and 78th streets in east and west respectively and stretching all the way from northern to southern city limits(refer to map 1). This community is not a unique neighborhood but is representative of the history of the city. It has seen a major shift in its population; what used to be a primarily white neighborhood till 1970 (99%), now has 96% African-Americans making up its population. It also has the same problems such as poverty, unemployment, abundance of vacant houses that the rest of the city faces. The most dramatic change in housing over the past 20 years has been the increase in the number of vacant housing units-an increase of 137.3%. In 1990, the number of vacant units stood at 121 or almost 10% of all units.

Methodology & Analysis

The methodology applied here is to carry out analysis at various levels of neighborhoods taking both social and physical data into consideration. Through the work of Master’s students in Department of Urban and Regional Planning - Damon Smith and Andy Alarcon, physical inventory at parcel level of this neighborhood was procured. The data had information about housing and site conditions, landuse, evidence of fire, occupancy and building material. Information about the social makeup of the area was extracted from census data at blockgroup level which included number of houses, income, poverty level and housing rent and market value. However, lack of availability of digital maps and data compelled us to digitize map with subblock as the smallest unit. The physical inventory data was aggregated and brought up to subblock level and was attached to the subblocks. Since block 4 and 5 do not lie within the limits of Edgemont, it was assumed that population density, housing per households and poverty in the population are uniformly distributed.

Due to availability of data at two different levels - census data at blockgroup and physical data at subblock, the analysis for this project was carried out at three stages.

  1. Subblock level
  2. Blockgroup level
  3. Subblock level

In the first stage, subblocks were identified over the entire neighborhood of Edgemont where there were dilapidated structures and evidences of fire as well. This was done with the final aim of selecting one Block group where the demolition activities would begin and a number of other Block Groups where demolition would be carried out with the availability of funds.

The criteria for the selection of the Block Groups for the three phases of the Demolition Plan were as follows:

For each of the Block Groups, statistics were carried out to determine the sum of dilapidated houses and houses with fire damage. Values of density, poverty level, ratio of housing units and households were calculated for each of the block groups.

To be able to arrive at a Block Group that would get high priority for carrying out the demolition, all the factors listed above were taken into consideration. A weighting system was followed to assign relative values to all the factors. The values to the different factors have been assigned on the basis of our judgment and assessment of the current situation.

The following equation was used to determine the relative values for each of the block groups:

0.7 * pop/area + 0.7 * pov/pop + 0.6 * hu/hh + 1.0 * sum_dilap + 0.9 * sum_fire = demolish
The highest value of ‘demolish’ corresponding to a block group indicated that group is in dire need of demolition. Here the block group #3 was identified for the first stage of demolition followed by 2 and 5.

After identifying the first blockgroup for demolition, next step of analysis focused on subblocks to pick out the one from where the demolition would begin. At this level of analysis, following factors were taken into account:

The following equation was used to determine the relative values for each of the subblock:

1 * dilapidated + 0.9 * fire + 0.8 * Uboarded + 0.4 * unatten + 0.5 * vacantsite + 0.5 * transportation = finaldemolish

The calculation done was based on weightage given to each of these above six factors. According to our judgment, no. of dilapidated and burnt structures was thought to be the most important ones followed by occupancy, site condition and landuse.


Following are the facts along with recommendations that came out of the above analysis:

  1. There are 17 subblocks which have dilapidated and burnt structures throughout the neighborhood. It is suggested that the scheme should focus on these structures first. (refer to map 2)

  2. Blockgroup 3 satisfies all our criteria for choosing the demolition area. It is the area from where the demolition scheme should be initiated followed by blockgroup 2 and 5. (refer to map 3)

  3. Subblock 3271 is found to be the most appropriate for demolition. (refer to map 5)

  4. Further analysis is required to find out the structures suitable for repair and rehabilitation.

  5. Variables and their weightage system used here should be changed and their effects on the final decision should be noted.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Document author(s) : Sandeep Kumar, Nupur Mohan
HTML by : Abhijeet Chavan
Last modified: April 28, 1995


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