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

LA 437/465 Fall 1994

East St. Louis: Growing with Trees

A proposal for social, environmental, and economic revitalization of East St. Louis by means of an arboriculture-based industry.


The city and citizens of East St. Louis have weathered difficult socio-economic times during the past few decades. Mismanagement of city revenue as well as air, water, and soil pollution have left the city in an unstable situation. These factors, coupled with increasing unemployment, have created a need in East St. Louis for an immediate city master plan. Such a plan needs to identify these pressing problems, propose alternative solutions for which change can be made, and suggest strategies for how such proposals could be implemented. This paper addresses a strategy for change by means of an arboriculture-based industry in East St. Louis.

In order for any proposal of revitalization to be successful, it should satisfy three principle criteria: 1). Make productive use of the abandoned lots throughout the city, 2). Take advantage of the available workforce, and 3). Satisfy the local demands- cultural, market, and environmental. The abundance of vacant, abandoned, and under-used land in the city offers the potential for a large network of spaces in which to plant trees. A portion of each of these areas could be planted for harvest while the remaining land is planted with trees for a future urban forest. A paper-based industry could be located in East St. Louis to process the harvested trees into products such as paper, cardboard, and pulp. A wide range of employment opportunities are involved in the tree planting, harvesting, and processing associated with such a labor-intensive industry. In addition, fast-growing trees like Willow, Birch, Aspen, and Cottonwood could help to improve soil quality on many sites, allowing for replanting later with urban forest species such as Maple, Oak, Ash, and Hackberry. Furthermore, evergreen species suitable for sale as Christmas trees, such as pine, spruce, and fir could be another opportunity for revenue.

Essential to this tree-planting proposal is the cleanup, "recycling", and beautification of the city. At present, the streets, neighborhoods, and open spaces within East St. Louis are littered with delapidated structures, garbage, and environmental hazards. Rather than viewing such conditions as problems, this proposal utilizes them as opportunities for catalyst of revitalization. The initial step would involve the cleanup of unmaintained lots and structures. The materials from which could be recycled in an effort to reuse the resources rather than contributing further to landfill problems. Building materials such as brick, concrete, wood, and steel can all be reused and/ or recycled for other uses such as cinder blocks, paving material, pulp, and composite metals. Wood from dead trees and overgrown areas can also be processed or "recycled" for use as wood products, biomass and other energy sources, and soil amendments (Geiger). Unique to this proposal, is the opportunity to make productive use of potentially hazardous land areas such as waste disposal sites, contaminated soils, and even landfills. By planting fast growing trees on such areas, three benefits are achieved. First, an immediate improvement can made in the visual quality of the site by the addition of vegetation. Second, it is possible that remediation of the soil might occur by recurrent planting and harvesting. Finally, harvested trees would be processed for use as fenceposts, cardboard, chipboard, pulp, and other lower- quality paper and wood products. (Dobson and Moffat, 1993).

The locations for planting would be divided into areas of harvest and non-harvest. Areas most likely to be excluded from harvest planting include the current parks and woodland preserves. All other available land would be consider potential locations of harest plantings. A critical design process by a qualified multi-disciplinary firm, in cooperation with community and city organizations, is required to determine exactly which areas this would include. As an example, alternative sections of street tree plantings could be harvested. A network of open spaces grown with a wide variety of tree species could provide a link between neighborhoods. This network should also connect with the riverfront land near the Mississippi River. Such as system could be designed in a way which capitalizes on the economics of any future riverfront development without segmenting the East St. Louis community. Portions of this tree-space network would be harvested, others would not. In addition, the open land alongside the major highways and interstates bordering East St. Louis could be planted in order to improve visual qualities of the city as travelers drive by the city. Portions of these could be harvest selectively in order to maintain visual quality while maximizing harvest area. A distinction between wet or dry species should also be made according to wet and flood-prone regions within the city. In addition, the natural habitat of the species could influence location of plantings. The following is a list of native species compiled by the United States Army Corps of Engineers during an environmental assessment project for East St. Louis (USArmyCE).

Peach-leaved Willow
Sandbar willow
Black willow
Black walnut
Winged elm
American elm
Slippery elm
White mulberry
Red mulberry

In addition to these species, a mix of Maples, Oaks, and Ash could provide the foundation for future parks and urban forest. It should be noted however, that the most likely candidates for hardwood tree production would be those fast growing trees such as the Cottonwoods, Willows, and even Aspens. Evergreen species for Christmas tree farming is another possiblity. Exerimentation into the best species would have to be done to maximize profit (Weicherding). Critical to this proposal is land acquisition. In order for East St. Louis to benefit, any economic revitalization must attempt to generate revenue which stays in the city. Hence, the land bordering the abandoned railroads, wharehouses, and industries must be purchased by the city before a successful harvesting program can be implemented. City ownership insures proper maintenence and supervision of the land. Planted areas, therfore, could be managed in order to provide future recreation areas with amenities such as parks, water-bodies, wildlife refuges, or prairie restorations.

In addition to the direct economic benefit of tree production, such an urban arboriculture program also aids in the reduction of air-born pollutants common to urban environments. Some of these include; carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen flouride and silicon tetraflouride, ozone, methane, nitrous oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons (USDA). Energy reduction via appropriate micro-climate plantings is another possible benefit of the program.

A master plan is needed in order to integrate all aspects of such an arboriculture program. The pure economic benefits relating to the production and sale of trees, whether it be Christmas tree or trees for low-quality wood and paper products, is relatively straightforward. However, the potential coordination of the program with waste cleanup, recycling, landfill supervision, pollutant reduction, open-space recreation, and even tourism is difficult. Yet, the potential remains for the city of East St. Louis to begin a path of economic, social, and environmental revitalization. The urban arboriculture plan provides a framework for this while improving the image of the city for its residents.


Vacant and Abandoned Land
Photo Simulation
Landfill Before
Landfill After
Delapidated Structures

Campbell, Gene E. The Economics of Short-rotation Intensive Culture (SRIC) in Illinois and the Central States. Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 1988.
Clark, James R. and Kjelgren, Roger K. "Environmental Factors Affecting Urban Tree Growth." Proceedings of the Fourth Urban Forestry Conference, St. Louis, MO. 1989.
Dobson, M.C. and Moffat, A.J. The Potential for Woodland Establishment on Landfill Sites. The Forestry Authority Research Division, Dept. of the Environment. United Kingdom, 1993.
Geiger, James R. Utilizing Urban Tree Debris-- Today and in the Future. California Dept. of Forestry. Sacramento, California. (1981?)
Kollin, Cheryl. "Estimating the Life Cycle Costs of an Urban Forest." Proceedings of the Sixth National Urban Forest Conference. American Forests, Washington, D.C. 1993?
Topos 3. Trinitat Intersection, Barcelona.
United States Army Corps of Engineers. East St. Louis: Environmental Inventory and Assessment. St. Louis District, 1974.
United States Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service. Benefits of Urban Trees. R8-FR 17 U.S.D.A. , April 1990.
Weicherding, Pat. Professor of Forestry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Interview, Fall 1994.

Document author(s) :
HTML by :
Last modified:

LA 437/465 Fall 1994

East St. Louis Action Research Project
Refer to the ESLARP mailing address on the ESLARP home page