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


Olivette Park Action Revitalization Plan

Choice of Research Methods

Choice of Research Methods

Many East St. Louis residents are quick to point out that their city has been "studied to death." Too often, planners used the city and its residents to complete their research, but provided nothing in return for people's time and input. Neighborhood data and condition findings were not shared and reviewed with residents, and neighborhood leaders were not consulted about implementation strategies. Subsequently, these plans sat on the shelf, and residents became skeptical of most planning efforts. To combat this problem, the Olivette Park planning team followed a participatory action research planning model, striving to plan with rather than for the residents of Olivette Park. This model produced positive results in past neighborhood planning efforts conducted with the University of Illinois' East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP), including the Emerson Park, Winstanley/Industry Park, Lansdowne, and Edgemont neighborhoods. The participatory action research method promotes a cooperative approach to neighborhood improvement in Olivette Park by involving neighborhood residents in all steps of the planning process. Neighborhood residents were involved as co-planners, co-designers, and co-investigators. This method helped to ensure that the final plan would truly reflect the neighborhood's needs and desires, and that residents would have a stake in its implementation.

At the beginning of the project, a meeting was called at which neighborhood residents and community leaders reviewed, critiqued and confirmed the overall research design and participatory planning process developed by the University of Illinois planning team. Throughout the planning process, residents and community leaders were encouraged to participate in training sessions, utilize this information during fieldwork, and provide feedback about the data findings. The efforts of all those involved in this 10-month project were organized around six major research strategies described in the following section.

Description of Research Methods

The lack of a municpal planning department made field work activities imperative to collecting needed data and information. The planning team collected information through six major activities including: a windshield survey, archival research, a review of census information, an inventory of physical conditions of the neighborhood, a compilation of resident and institutional leaders perceptions through personal interviews, and a day-long Olivette Park Neighborhood Summit. The use of multiple methods also increased the confidence level of the findings. Each activity verified the results from the last activity. The findings from each of those activities are provided in full in the companion volume to this report, The Olivette Park Databook. The data considered vital for gaining a clear understanding of neighborhood conditions are included in the analysis chapter of this report. Below is a brief description of the six research methods used in data collection activities.

Windshield Survey

As newcomers to the Olivette Park neighborhood, the planning team conducted a "windshield survey" of the neighborhood in early August. This exercise allowed the team to quickly gather an initial assessment of some of the physical neighborhood conditions. The team spent one day driving up and down each street in Olivette Park and recording each observation with a tape recorder, and in some cases, with a camera. The type, number, and current condition of housing, public spaces, community facilities, churches, vacant lots, abandoned structures, and commercial facilities were recorded. A preliminary list of business, social service, and religious institutions was also generated during this survey. This list was then used to invite all of the institutions in the neighborhood to participate in the planning process. While gathering this first data set, the planning team also met some residents and discussed the planning effort being initiated in Olivette Park.

Archival Research

Some existing data, information and documents were available for review prior to and during the planning process. To gain a historical understanding of East St. Louis, the group reviewed the Harland Bartholomew City Plan for East St. Louis, Illinois, prepared in 1920. The planning team also carefully examined information provided by the Olivette Park Local Development Corporation (OPLDC) and past municipal planning efforts. The OPLDC shared information about their proposal for a cultural district plan and a community school. The East St. Louis Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Community application, the Community Development Block Grant Department quarterly reports, and the Community Housing Affordability Strategy report all provided additional insight about municipal priorities and programs. Finally, the review of past neighborhood planning efforts provided information about other East St. Louis neighborhoods and useful models for the Olivette Park planning project.

The sharing of information that occurred between various organizations and individuals was instrumental in the early stages of the planning process. The references and citations for those documents are provided in the bibliography.

U.S. Census Data

In order to gain an understanding of population, education, income, employment, and housing patterns in Olivette Park, 40 census statistics were collected for the neighborhood, the City of East St. Louis, and St. Clair County. To capture historic trends in these areas, data were collected for 1970, 1980, and 1990. In addition to the neighborhood, city and county level data, a fourth, derived study area, entitled "County minus City" allowed for comparison of inner-city neighborhoods with those in the surrounding county.

Because of limitations on data availability at the block-group level, all census statistics were collected at the tract level. Census tract 5006 mirrors the borders of the neighborhood with the exception of the southwest border, where the census tract ends at North 9th Street, but the neighborhood boundary stands at Collinsville Avenue (see figure___). This tract is identical for the three decades observed. Because population trends are especially important in East St. Louis, the total population statistic has both the tract total and the sum of the neighborhood's block-groups included.

Graphic: Map of Census Tract 5006

Physical Condition Data

Due to the lack of a municipal planning department in East St. Louis, a limited amount of physical condition data about the city and its individual neighborhoods exists. Such information is essential when creating a responsible development plan. Therefore, one of the primary goals of the Olivette Park project was to collect accurate physical condition data about the neighborhood. The physical condition data were collected in two parts: the land use, building condition, and site condition data were collected in September of 1995, and infrastructure condition data were collected in March of 1996. A separate survey of sanitation code violations was conducted by the East St. Louis Community Action Network in November of 1995.

For the first data collection set, 16 teams of University of Illinois students and Olivette Park residents were assigned five to six block sections of the neighborhood. Using a Sidwell map as a guide, each team surveyed every parcel of land for 15 variables, including building occupancy, building materials, building condition, building size, fire evidence, site condition, sanitation code violation, and land use. The information for each parcel was entered on a separate machine readable form, which were later scanned into a computer file and tabulated. In all, 1700 parcels were surveyed in a two-day period. A sample survey form is provided in The Olivette Park Databook

For the second data collection set, two students surveyed street condition, sidewalk condition, and curb condition on a block by block basis. These conditions were color-coded on to a map of the neighborhood, and all missing infrastructure was noted as well.

The Olivette Park Neighborhood Association also participated in an illegal dumping and abandoned building survey conducted by the East St. Louis Community Action Network (ESL CAN). Olivette Park was one of twelve neighborhoods surveyed for sanitation code violations. A team of three students surveyed the neighborhood on a block by block basis and photographed each violation they found. The results from the survey of Olivette Park and city-wide can be found in the appendix of The Olivette Park Databook.

Resident, Business, and Social Service Interviews

The success of a neighborhood revitalization plan is dependent upon the participation and input from a broad cross-section of neighborhood residents, business owners, and social service providers. Therefore, one of the major goals of the Olivette Park project was to accurately reflect the concerns of residents in the plan. To accomplish this, 20 teams of University of Illinois students spent two days in November interviewing people in the neighborhood.

For the resident interviews, the students were sent out in teams of two in 15 zones of the neighborhood. They knocked on every door and asked the resident if he or she would complete a short survey about the Olivette Park neighborhood. If residents were receptive to the invitation, the students then proceeded to interview with the residents. The surveys lasted between 20 minutes to one hour, and a total of 90 residents were interviewed.

A second set of teams conducted pre-arranged social service and business interviews. Two weeks in advance of the interviews, a letter was mailed to 65 business owners, church leaders, and social service providers in the neighborhood. Through follow-up phone calls, a total of 20 interviews were arranged. These interviews lasted between 30 and 90 minutes.

The resident, social service, and business interviews were used to identify the issues of greatest concern to both residents and leaders. The survey instruments were designed with a core set of questions that were asked of all three groups. These questions consisted of rating a variety of services and physical conditions of the neighborhood, and asked residents to assess the strengths and problems in the neighborhood.

The 1996 Olivette Park Neighborhood Summit

On February 10, 1996 more than 70 residents, business leaders, social service providers, pastors, and community leaders shared their ideas and hopes for improving the quality of life in Olivette Park at the Olivette Park Neighborhood Summit. The summit provided residents with a forum to verify the preliminary analysis of current neighborhood conditions, get grassroots input at the beginning of the program development phase of the project, and formulate a five-year action plan for the neighborhood. "This was a chance for people to get involved and renew their hope for the city, and in particular for Olivette Park," said Mamie Bolden, president of the Olivette Park Neighborhood Association. The Olivette Park Neighborhood Association, in cooperation with the City of East St. Louis, the Olivette Park Local Development Corporation, and the University of Illinois hosted the event at the Grand Marais Conference Center at Frank Holton State Park . The event began at 9 a.m. and lasted until about 4 p.m..

During the morning session, participants confirmed the strengths and weaknesses of the neighborhood, established an overall development goal and adopted six program objectives: housing, crime prevention, economic development, youth, cultural resources, and environmental improvement. After lunch, participants broke into small groups in these six areas to focus on formulating a five-year action neighborhood improvement plan. Participants brainstormed for about an hour to develop specific projects and programs, solicited feedback from community development specialists on those ideas, and then prioritized the programs and projects into immediate, short-term, and long-term actions. At the end of the day, each group presented a five-year action plan to all summit participants.

The six program objective groups that began at the summit became working committees of the Olivette Park Neighborhood Association. The specific programs and ideas outlined in each of those committees formed the basis of the neighborhood improvement plan. Several follow-up activities were conducted at the monthly Olivette Park Neighborhood Association meetings with the six committees in March and April to ensure that the necessary planning activities began and proper interest was maintained in each improvement area. Several of the committees united their efforts to implement two immediate action projects in the neighborhood. The committees spent the month of March and the first few weeks in April planning a neighborhood clean up and an open house at the Katherine Dunham Dynamic Museum. The environmental improvement committee led by Ms. Marvareen Shannon and the cultural resources committee led by Ms. Minola Brown organized both events for the weekend of April 25-27, 1996. The University of Illinois helped publicize the events by distributing fliers in the neighborhood and contacting the local media. Both events were well organized by the committees and were a great success.



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


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