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


Olivette Park Action Revitalization Plan

Environmental Improvement Prescriptions

Introduction

Vacant land and abandoned buildings that contain large amounts of trash, landscape, and construction decrease the environmental quality of Olivette Park. These structures and lots threaten the air quality, contaminate the soil, and act as a breeding ground for rodents and other vermin. Dilapidated buildings pose a threat to adjacent, occupied buildings, as well as to children who may find them an attractive place to play. These conditions also raise the cost of homeownership by making insurance difficult or impossible to get. Finally, unsightly conditions seriously detract from the aesthetic quality of the neighborhood, often discouraging responsible stewardship of the urban environment. Aesthetic and environmental improvements are important to enhancing the quality of life in Olivette Park given the numerous historical and cultural resources in the neighborhood, as well as the strong sense of community.

The projects proposed by the Environmental Improvement Committee are designed to mitigate threats to neighborhood health and safety and improve the aesthetic quality of the neighborhood. These improvement programs address a number of neighborhood weaknesses including: maintaining unattended property, removing dilapidated and dangerous buildings, replacing deteriorating infrastructure and improving housing affordability. Successful completion of these projects will make available land more suitable for development, enhancing the quality of the building stock and building community involvement.

Project One:

Lot clean-up projects for vacant lots, abandoned buildings and occupied structures.

Description

Lot clean-ups are a common project for neighborhood organizations in East St. Louis. These projects require little funding, are generally easy to implement, and produce high payoffs relative to costs. The major activities involve identifying lots to be cleaned, gaining necessary permission from property owners, and gathering the people and materials to do the clean-up.

Rationale

Garbage-strewn lots present an immediate health and safety threat to the neighborhood, at the same time they detract from the aesthetic quality of the community. Because these lot clean-up projects can mobilize many neighborhood volunteers and produce visible outcomes, they are excellent opportunities for building the neighborhood association's membership.

Activities

1. Choose clean-up site(s)

The Environmental Improvement Committee should choose a number of possible lots that could be cleaned on a specific weekend and present those options to the neighborhood association. The neighborhood association should vote on a final site at the monthly meeting. Selection criteria to consider include: the amount of trash, debris and overgrowth on the lot, its potential of being cleaned by residents in one weekend, the visibility of the site, and the neighborhood association's ability to maintain the lot after the initial clean-up.

2. Identify the owner

The next step after choosing the lots is to identify the owners and send them a letter requesting permission to clean their lots. Parcel ownership information for properties identified with sanitation code violations is available in Appendix D of The Olivette Park Neighborhood Databook. If the lot needs cleaning, but does not appear on that list, proceed by calling the St. Clair County Treasurer's Office (277.6600) and giving them the addresses of the properties to be cleaned. The staff at the treasurer's office will answer up to three ownership questions over the telephone. If more than three addresses are being cleaned, a volunteer must go to the Treasurer's Office in person (10 Public Square, Belleville) and look the addresses up on the computer. If no address can be identified, the parcel number for the property must be used in place of the address to get the ownership information. This requires a Sidwell[[ordfeminine]] or other tax map with parcel number identifiers.

3. Request permission to the clean the lot

When the owner(s) have been identified, send them a written request asking for permission to enter their property and clean it. Follow the letter with a phone call if the owner has not responded in a timely manner. Written permission to enter the property should be obtained before the clean up occurs. If the owner denies permission or cannot be reached, contact Diane Thompson at Land of Lincoln Legal Services. If the property is violating the sanitation code, the owner could face charges under the ordinance. Land of Lincoln has offered ongoing assistance in code enforcement to all members of the neighborhood association.

4. Arrange for garbage pick-up after the clean-up

Secure the cooperation of the Department of Public Works to pick up the garbage from the curb after the clean-up. Contact Director Jesse Walker in writing and inform him of where the refuse will be and when it should be picked up. Make sure to keep landscape waste (plant material) and regular garbage separate, and inform Public Works that this will be done. You may also want to inform Police Chief, Isadore Chambers and the Sanitation Code Officer Bruce Stennis of your activities.

5. Recruit and organize a volunteer work crew

Depending on the number, size and condition of the lots to be cleaned, between 10 and 25 volunteers will be needed. Begin by encouraging all OPNA members to participate and to bring a friend or neighbor. Flier churches and other institutions in the vicinity of the clean-up site, and encourage local school children to participate. If time permits, visit residents in the vicinity and personally invite them to get involved. The neighborhood association and the University of Illinois cleaned a large lot at 15th and Belmont Streets with 10 people, however it took the entire day and more could have been done with more volunteers.

6. Determine material needs and request donations by participants

The committee should assemble a supply list before the clean-up. Some required resources are tools and safety equipment. Useful yard work tools include rakes, hoes, shovels, a small saw and an ax. Gloves and eye protection are recommended to reduce the chance of injury. The committee should encourage volunteers to bring tools such as hoes, rakes and shovels with them to reduce or eliminate equipment rental costs. Requests should be made to residents living near the clean-up site to lend their equipment even if they are unable to volunteer their time.

7. Confirm date of trash pick-up with the Public Works Department

Call to Jesse Walker the day of the event or visit in person the day of the clean-up to remind him of the place and date for trash pick-up.

Timeline

Two clean-up events were completed in the fall of 1995 and the spring of 1996 with the help of the East St. Louis Action Research Project. The clean-ups focused on four vacant parcels, a neighborhood garden, the Boy's Club and The Katherine Dunham Dynamic Museum. Generally, four to six weeks for planning and promotion of the event is required for a good volunteer participation.

Costs

If the Department of Public Works refuses to haul the trash, a dumpster will need to be rented for disposal. The Winstanley Industry Park Neighborhood Organization (WIPNO) rented a large dumpster for a weekend for $250. If additional money can be secured and the size of the project warrants, some power equipment can make the job easier. Before renting tools, make sure there are volunteers capable of and comfortable with running the equipment. Useful power tools include: a chainsaw, a brush-mower and a chipper/shredder for mulching large landscape items like tree branches.

Funding

If no dumpster or power equipment is needed, the small amount of funding (less than $25) required can be covered by the neighborhood association's budget. If these other items are required, fundraising will be necessary. The best prospect for funding is CDBG. However, the neighborhood association should consider applying to the Illinois and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for funds to complete a number of clean-ups. Assuming 3 lots can be cleaned in a weekend and the cost of tools and trash removal is approximately $500 per weekend, a grant of $5,000 could cover the cost of cleaning 30 lots.

There are an additional 149 lots identified in the physical condition survey that have sanitation violations and therefore may meet the criteria for neighborhood clean-ups. An ambitious schedule of 10 clean-up weekends over the next 12 to 18 months would improve the condition of about 1/3 of these parcels. However, the condition of some of those properties is so severe that entering them without the proper equipment and precautions may pose a threat to the health and safety of volunteers.

The neighborhood association should leave the most severe lots to the city's

Demolition and Public Works departments.

Resources

Clean-up materials that cannot be donated by volunteers, can be rented from several local rental shops including A-1 Rental in Collinsville (345.6050).

For assistance with ownership information, contact Land of Lincoln Legal Services (271.9140).

Project Two:

Hold a large meeting with key city officials to discuss ways to improve demolition service.

Description

The lack of consistent and prioritized demolition and code enforcement is a serious problem facing the neighborhood and the city. Improvements in those services will aid the implementation of several other projects in this plan. The demolition program discussed in the housing chapter identifies, among other things, 10 derelict structures held in trusteeship by St. Clair County. The program suggested in this section details a strategy for convincing the city to adopt a prioritized system for demolishing the 10 identified derelict structures.

Rationale

There are improvements in both infrastructure and municipal services that the neighborhood association cannot and should not be expected to provide. Successful improvements in city services achieved through neighborhood association action will both improve living conditions in the neighborhood and provide the neighborhood association with a sense of its own power, likely leading to increased membership. Furthermore, increased interaction and discussions with important government representatives will increase the efficacy of other projects the association pursues that require partnerships between government agencies, neighborhood institutions and private interests.

Activities

1. Prepare a case

Members of the Environmental Improvement Committee and the Housing Committee should hold several joint meetings to discuss all relevant information, review the demolition proposal, and prepare a presentation for a City Council meeting. The materials that the East St. Louis Community Action Network has prepared on this issue should also be consulted. A summary of that information is included in The Olivette Park Databook. Additional information can be obtained by contacting Carolyn Fuller, community organizer for ESL CAN.

2. Arrange to be on the City Council agenda

When the group is comfortable with their proposal, arrange to be on the city council agenda. Make sure to set a date that allows plenty of time to organize and recruit other neighborhood residents to attend the meeting. It is best to target the presentation during a week when the Council's agenda contains little other pressing business or major decisions. This will allow the presentation to take center stage and be given the time it deserves. On the other hand, make sure there is enough going on that night that the council has quorum.

3. Recruit other residents to attend the meeting in support of the proposal

Reach out to residents to ensure there will be a large group in attendance. Council members rightfully equate people with votes, the more that show up the more seriously the council will consider your recommendations. Given the importance of this issue, try to make personal contact with as many residents as possible. At the very least, visit all the residents on the blocks containing the 10 derelict structures. Also encourage neighborhood religious and social service institutions to get involved.

4. Rehearse the case

Decide who in the group will speak prior to the meeting and rehearse the presentation. Try to workout responses to potential objections and answers to any questions during the rehearsal.

5. Present your case to Council

The night of the meeting arrive early and get a feel for the room. If possible send some volunteers a week previous to the meeting to gain an understanding of how the council operates and the different roles of each representative. Stay focused on the objectives, and gain some commitment from the council. Try to set up a follow-up meeting with the chairs of the Public Works and Public Safety committees. Also arrange meetings with the Building Department and Public Works to present your concerns.

Timeline

Because the city already has funds for demolition, this initiative should be taken up before October, 1996. The planning and preparation required to ensure a successful outcome will require six to eight weeks complete. In addition the members involved in planning the presentation will need to monitor the progress of any action agreed to by the council. It is likely that demolition will take two to three months to commence after an agreement is reached.

Costs

The costs of this project are really minimal. The committee may need to spend between $25 and $50 for copies of recruitment materials such as fliers and brochures. Someone in the committee may have access to a copy machine and be willing to do the copies for free.

Program funding

The neighborhood association budget should be sufficient to cover the copying costs.

Resources

Ms. Carolyn Fuller

East St. Louis Community Action Network

8787 State St.

618.872.9130

Project Three:

A major clean-up and fix-up of "Sunken Park" (at the intersection of Summit, Pennsylvania and Washington Place).

Description

In the 1920 plan for East St. Louis by Harland Bartholomew, Sunken Park was described as "an excellent treatment of a diagonal street intersection."[1] The central location of Sunken Park, as well as its proximity to Miles Davis and A.M. Jackson schools, makes it a good site for a neighborhood improvement project. The play equipment in the park was replaced this year by the Park District with CDBG funds. Remaining repairs and improvements can be accomplished with a modest budget, provided there is strong volunteer participation. When the project is undertaken, it should be well promoted, especially among children. The goal is not only to make the park look better, but also to increase its use as a central community space.

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Rationale

In the resident survey, residents cited a lack of recreational space as one of the most needed amenities. Open space improvements will provide safe and enjoyable places for children to play as well as for adults to gather in. Park improvements will also enhance the aesthetic quality of the neighborhood. Those that participate in the fix-up may also feel a sense of ownership over the park and provide on-going maintenance.

Activities

1. Inventory needed park improvements

The current condition of the park should be assessed through an inspection of the lot condition, equipment condition and landscaping needs.

2. Prepare a design for park improvements

Enlist the assistance of the East St. Louis Neighborhood Technical Assistance Center and the East St. Louis Action Research Project in designing appropriate improvements for the park. Use the inspection conducted by the committee as the focal point of the design. Include children in the design phase of the project. This could be done by hanging a piece of butcher block paper on a wall for children to draw what their ideal playground would be. Then allow the children time to explain their drawings in relation to Sunken Park. As a major beneficiary of improvements, they will be more likely to take advantage of them if they have a say in what the improvements will be.

3. Contact the Park District for assistance

Enlist the support of the East St. Louis Park District by showing them the improvement designs and the number of volunteers that can be assembled. Sunken Park is owned by the Park District, and their approval must be secured before improvements can begin. The district has a modest annual budget of about $200,000. The committee should still request some form of assistance from the Park District in the form of funding, equipment, materials or labor.

4. Organize and promote a park improvement day

The most essential part of this activity is assembling a volunteer work crew. The entire neighborhood should be invited to participate through fliers, press releases in the East St. Louis Monitor, and pulpit announcements. Make a special effort to reach out to children through the local schools and various youth programs. Also invite the congregations of neighborhood churches. Make sure to identify any special skills--such as carpentry or masonry--that are required, and commit volunteers who are willing to provide those skills. Depending on the final plans, between 15 and 40 volunteers will be required to complete the project.

5. Solicit donations

Contact nurseries and green-houses in the region and ask them to donate plant and flower materials for the project. ESLARP has received generous donations in the past from several area nurseries including Kara Meadows (314.894.7661) and Crab Apple Grove (314.846.4021). Confirm any assistance that the Park District has promised.

6. Create a plan to ensure ongoing maintenance.

The Environmental Improvement Committee should establish a core of volunteers committed to regular maintenance of Sunken Park. For several reasons, including a tight budget, the Park District does not spend enough time on maintenance activities. As with park improvements, neighborhood youth should be encouraged to participate in regular maintenance activities.

Timeline

Expect the planning of park improvements and gaining Park District approval to take between six and eight weeks. When plans are close to being finalized, begin outreach for volunteers, an activity that will require at least four weeks. During this time, donations should be requested for materials and supplies needed for the project.

Costs

The major resource required for this project is volunteer labor. A substantial amount of plant material will likely be required as well. The park lacks sizable annual beds and would benefit from new trees and shrubbery as well. Several nurseries should be contacted about donating those materials. If tree planting is required, some heavy equipment will be required to complete the task, including a back-hoe or Bobcat. The costs of renting such equipment is >>>>>>>>>>>. Finally the printing of promotional materials will require $20 to $40, unless someone can make copies for free.

Funding

CDBG has provided funding for park projects in the past, and has recently spent money for Sunken Park. If major financial resources for equipment or supplies are required, CDBG should be asked for support. Heavy equipment needs could be supplied by the Park District or the Department of Public Works.

Project Four:

Sidewalk repair and improvement demonstration program.

Description

According to the infrastructure condition survey, there are a substantial number of missing or partial sidewalk sections in the neighborhood. The main problems are large sections of missing sidewalks and equally large areas where walks are so overgrown with plant materials as to appear missing and hence not serve their purpose. Furthermore, sidewalk condition was rated poor or totally inadequate by over 63% of residents surveyed in November. This project will combine action by the Public Works Department to repair or replace sidewalks panels that are badly damaged, with resident action to resurrect covered sections and maintain new and existing sidewalks.

It is logical to target the first phase of sidewalk improvements to areas with high pedestrian traffic, and where pedestrian safety is a concern. Based on the sidewalk condition survey, the best choice for a demonstration project is near Hughes Quinn-Rock Junior High and Miles Davis Elementary School. The target streets around Hughes Quinn-Rock are 9th Street between Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Ohio Street between 7th and 9th Streets. According to the infrastructure survey, those sidewalks will require near total replacement. The target streets around Miles Davis are 15th Street from St. Clair to Summit, and Summit Avenue from Veronica to 16th Street. These sidewalks will first need to be uncovered by neighborhood volunteers to assess the true repair and replacement needs.

Rationale

Good sidewalks are important to safe pedestrian movement. Furthermore, well attended infrastructure, including sidewalks, improve the attractiveness of the neighborhood for residents as well as for patrons of local merchants.

Activities

1. Verify current sidewalk conditions

The Environmental Improvement Committee should begin by verifying the results of the infrastructure for the target blocks listed above. This requires walking each of the blocks targeted for improvement and recording the condition of the sidewalks and the amount of debris covering them. Photographing the conditions will make discussions with CDBG and Public Works easier.

2. Produce an improvement proposal

Develop a brief proposal for CDBG and the Department of Public Works describing in detail the condition of the sidewalks in question and recommend specific improvements. Also provide the city with cost estimates of repair and replacement. Estimates based on the results of the infrastructure survey are presented in "resources required" below. Be sure to emphasize the work the neighborhood association will do to uncover buried sidewalks and bring them back into usable condition.

3. Present the proposal

Organize a meeting with the Department of Public Works and the Community Development Block Grant office to present the proposal for improvements. Make sure a large number of neighborhood association members attend the meeting to demonstrate commitment to the project. Present your plan as the most logical system for sidewalk replacement, and stress the support of neighborhood residents. Also remind them of the time investment already made in organizing your proposal, and your own commitment to improving those sections that do not require replacement or major repair. Use the photos of existing conditions and photos of past clean-ups (such as College Avenue on April 27, 1996) to demonstrate the problem and the neighborhood's commitment to action.

4. Organize a "sidewalk resurrection day"

Recruit local residents to work together to uncover overgrown sections identified by the Environmental Improvement Committee. Past experience in this activity suggests that a 200 foot long block will take between six and eight people a full day to uncover and remove the debris. Make special efforts to get residents whose front yards abut the sidewalk to get involved.

5. Ensure ongoing maintenance.

When clean-ups are complete, encourage residents bordering the walks to agree to maintain them. If they were involved in the clean-up, it is more likely that they will maintain them.

Timeline

Verifying current conditions will require a half day's work by two or three volunteers, as well as a camera and film. Preparing the proposal for CDBG and Public Works will require approximately two weeks of work by one or two volunteers. Based on past experience, the actual process of unearthing sidewalks around Miles Davis School will require several weekends of hard work by neighborhood volunteers. City sponsored replacement of sidewalks will take several months to complete.

Costs

Unearthing sidewalk sections buried in plant debris requires few resources other than hard work by volunteers. Replacing sidewalk sections and panels will require substantial resources from CDBG and the Department of Public Works. The table below estimates these costs based on three-foot wide sidewalk panels for all replacements. It is assumed that all panels on 9th Street and Ohio will require replacement as they are in poor or deteriorated conditions. The blocks around Miles Davis school are in fair condition, but the sidewalks are only partially present. Therefore, it is assumed that 1/4 of the panels will require replacement.

Program funding

CDBG should fund replacement costs associated with the initiative. According to the East St. Louis Financial Advisory Authority, CDBG is slated to spend approximately $181,000 on infrastructure improvements in Olivette Park in 1996. This project combined with infrastructure improvements proposed for the same time period in the economic development chapter total about $135,000.

Project Five:

Development of a summer youth environmental education and employment program.

Description

This program is designed to use the neighborhood as an environmental laboratory and work site for neighborhood high school students. The environmental problems in Olivette Park (as well as the rest of the city) provide an opportunity for students to learn basic principles of environmental science and ecology. ESL CAN will be submitting a proposal to develop an environmental education program to the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Urban Resources Partnership program in May, 1996. The ESL CAN proposal will provide an eight-week summer job program for city high school students and pay them $5 per hour for 20 hours of work per week. The program will have four major learning and application units lasting two weeks each: basic environmental science, environmental survey techniques, program planning, and field work in environmental mitigation. The neighborhood association should watch this program closely and build off its success in the coming years.

Rationale

Successfully implemented, this program would simultaneously achieve many of the youth, education, employment, and environmental improvement objectives of this plan. Applied learning may increase students interest and achievement in school, provide them with job training and income, and improve environmental conditions in the neighborhood.

Program activities

1. Encourage youth participation in the ESL CAN environmental academy

Assuming the ESL CAN project is a funded and implemented, the neighborhood association should recommend five to 10 students from the neighborhood to participate in the program the first year.

2. Incorporate the program into the proposed curriculum at Hughes Quinn

OPNA should explore the possibility of incorporating a similar program into the regular school year at Hughes Quinn junior high. The program should be a component of the second phase of the "Schools in the Community/Community in the Schools" curriculum proposed in the cultural resources initiative chapter of this plan..

3. Expand the program district-wide

To explore a year-round program, the neighborhood association should join forces with the Curriculum Board that piloted the program at Hughes Quinn to study the costs and benefits of introducing a youth environmental academy district-wide. Members of ESL CAN, State Community College and regional universities should also be represented on the Curriculum Board in this phase of implementation of the "Community in the Schools/Schools in the Community" curriculum.

Timeline

Given the size of the proposed program and the number of agencies involved it will take a least a year and a half to design a program and secure the necessary funding. Once funding has been appropriated, an additional six to nine months will be required to prepare materials and instructors for the program.

Costs

The cost of running the program for one school year at Hughes Quinn junior high is likely to approach $100,000. This would include the summer salaries for ten youth who successfully complete the preparatory course work during the school year. A teacher's salary for the school year will also have to be figured into the costs. If the same teacher supervises the students over the summer, a salary will also have to be negotiated.

Program funding

The most likely lead funding agency will be the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Urban Resources Partnership program. Other potential funding agencies include the East St. Louis Community Fund, District #189, United Way and the United Church of Christ Environmental Justice Program.



Document author(s): Angie Morgan, Eric Stoller
HTML by: Abhijeet Chavan
Last modified: June 26, 1996


Olivette Park Action Revitalization Plan

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