Emerson Park Neighborhood Revitalization Plan

[ Contents ]


The Emerson Park 1999 Neighborhood Revitalization Plan is a strategic plan for addressing the most pressing issues and challenges facing the neighborhood over the next five years. For the past year, residents of Emerson Park, East St. Louis community leaders, and University of Illinois students, staff, and faculty have worked intensely on the completion of this plan. The model followed is a highly collaborative planning process that puts residents and community organizations in the driving seat to the future stabilization of their neighborhood. The University of Illinois acted as technical assistants in the process; collecting data, interviewing residents, and listening to the vision that the citizens of Emerson Park hold. The programs outlined in this summary report were generated from ideas provided by residents and it is only with their dedication and time that they will ever be implemented. The success of this plan hinges on the residents’ involvement in the programs, the City of East St. Louis’ support, the support of the Plan Commission and City Council and the continued growth and development of East St. Louis.


I. Past Plans for Emerson Park

In 1990, a relationship that now spans nearly a decade was born. The Emerson Park Development Corporation (EPDC) and the University of Illinois’ East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP) in the creation of a revitalization plan for the neighborhood. The 1991 Neighborhood Improvement Plan was a detailed strategy that featured 53 major activities aimed at meeting the neighborhood’s goal of halting the severe emigration of businesses and residents and improving the quality of life in Emerson Park for all residents. Significant progress has been made over the last eight years towards completing over twenty of the plan’s main program activities. Emerson Park has prospered over the years partially because of the implementation of these activities. The more visible accomplishments include:

II. Planning in Emerson Park Today

    1. Rationale for a New Plan

The 1991 Plan is now outdated as a result of the positive changes occurring in Emerson Park. The expansion of the Metro Link to 15th Street and Baugh Avenue is estimated to bring in over 3,000 commuters each day – many of whom have never been to Emerson Park. The effort of Community Development Consultants is placing beautiful, affordable new housing into the residential core of the neighborhood. Project grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Urban Resource Partnership enable Emerson Park to clear lots and create parks and gardens in place of glass and tires. Hundreds of volunteers from across the Midwest have developed four new single family homes in the center of the neighborhood through the Neighborhood Faith Based Family Housing Program and plan to build twenty more in the coming years. Grants provided by the Community Development Block Grant Office make the small home improvement projects possible. The East St. Louis Public Housing Authority is in the process of replacing problem public housing with 34 units of townhouse and garden style units. Finally, the $25 million, 201-units of new mixed income housing being developed near the MetroLink by McCormack Baron & Associates, is the largest single housing investment the City has seen in nearly two decades. None of this would have been possible without the dedication, hard work, vision and planning of the residents of Emerson Park and the continued support of the City of East St. Louis.

In an effort to plan effectively for future development in Emerson Park, the University of Illinois and EPDC embarked once again on a highly participatory planning process. This approach involves as many residents and community leaders as possible and collects extensive data on all social and physical characteristics of the neighborhood. The highly participatory approach to planning in Emerson Park is what has made planning in Emerson Park a success. It is founded on the fundamental premise that neighborhood planning cannot be done without the neighborhood. For we have clearly seen that imposing plans on neighborhoods who have not driven the process, often fail and further alienate the community.

B. Components of the Plan

The Emerson Park 1999 Neighborhood Revitalization Plan includes an overall development goal, six target area objectives, and over thirty-five strategies for achieving the residents’ vision for the future of the neighborhood. Each strategy includes a rationale, a recommended implementation year, detailed action steps with evaluative criteria, participating organizations, a projected budget, and a list of possible funding sources. The strategies find their credibility and foundation in the following data:

All data was collected by University of Illinois students, staff, faculty, or residents of Emerson Park. The data can be found in text, table, and map format in the second half of the planning document, the Emerson Park Data Book. The Data Book is also available online at [/durp/UP378-S98/index.html].

III. Strengths and Weakness of Emerson Park

The Emerson Park 1999 Neighborhood Revitalization Plan is driven on the strengths and weaknesses of the neighborhood. These were identified through analysis of all of the data in the Emerson Park Data Book. From all the sources, ten strengths and ten weaknesses were repeatedly identified as being the heart and soul of Emerson Park. These issues are listed below and provided in-full, with photographs in the Data Book.

A. Neighborhood Strengths

  1. Location and access to jobs and services.
  2. Strong sense of community.
  3. Improved municipal service.
  4. Availability of neighborhood-based social services.
  5. Presence of numerous religious institutions.
  6. New housing investment.
  7. Availability of reasonably priced, publicly controlled land for redevelopment.
  8. Presence of neighborhood-oriented businesses.
  9. Availability of buildings for rehabilitation.
  10. Presence of an effective community development corporation (EPDC).

B. Neighborhood Weaknesses

  1. Population loss.
  2. Extensive housing deterioration.
  3. Weak municipal housing demolition program.
  4. Drug related crime and prostitution.
  5. Lack of municipal investment in street and infrastructure maintenance and repair.
  6. Lack of living wage jobs.
  7. Limited neighborhood-based retail.
  8. Lack of animal control.
  9. Lack of activities for infants/toddlers/pre-schoolers/teenagers/senior citizens.
  10. High priced utilities.

IV. Development Goal and Program Objectives

During several formal and informal meetings, residents crafted and recrafted a development goal and program objectives. These elements form the organizational structure of the Plan.

A. Development Goal

Emerson Park in East St. Louis, Illinois has a rich social history and a real commitment to neighborhood improvement. In the twenty-first century, Emerson Park will strive to become a flexible community and stable residential area, attractive to families at various income levels. This can be realized through the implementation of an aggressive economic and social development program emphasizing economic development, new and rehabilitated housing, a strong neighborhood retail base, youth programs, pubic safety, community organizing and enhanced municipal services. This can be successfully achieved by building strong partnerships between local residents, private institutions such as local banks and business proprietors, and public entities such as the CDBG Office, the Greater East St. Louis Enterprise Communities Office, the Plan Commission and City Council.

B. Target Program Areas and Objectives

Economic Development

Expand employment and business opportunities for local residents.

Housing Improvement

Encourage reinvestment and expand affordable housing options for renters and home-owners.

Crime Prevention

Reduce the incidence of drugs, violent crime and prostitution, while improving community-police relations.

Human Services

Respond to the unmet needs of youth and their families and empower all residents.

Zoning, Land Use and Municipal Infrastructure Improvements

Creation of a distinct land use pattern that facilitates growth in housing and retail uses and improves the quality of local infrastructure.

Community Organizing

Empower and involve more residents in the Emerson Park Development Corporation and strengthen the sense of pride and community in the area.

V. Strategies for Meeting Objectives

Each meeting with the neighborhood group was devoted to brainstorming on one or two program areas and the strategies to meet each of the neighborhood’s objectives. The plan includes programs for implementation over the five-year life of the Revitalization Plan. Each of these programs are identified below with a brief description. A full program description includes a rationale, detailed action steps, participating organizations, possible funding sources, and an itemized budget.

1. Economic Development

Job Directory and Employment Newsletter

Develop a log of available jobs and job descriptions in the metro area. The log will be available to local residents at the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House. Supplement the directory with a newsletter offering information on employment training programs and job types in the area. Send directory out to all residents, hold job fairs, and encourage local business owners to give priority hiring to residents of Emerson Park.

Jobs through Lot Clean-Up

Employ local residents through a city contract to conduct vacant lot maintenance and beautification projects. Phase 2 involves training and employing local youth in the program, utilizing JTPA.

Vendor Opportunity Program at the Metro Link

Establish vendors or businesses, owned and operated by Emerson park residents, at the 15th Street Metro Link station. Program involves pad acquisition, training, and business development.

Promoting Retail Investment Program

Assist existing and new businesses in locating funds and technical assistance for expansion and building repairs or upgrades, as well as providing facilitation for cooperative advertising.

  1. Housing Improvement

Home Ownership / Home Improvement Seminar

Organize a one-day event to provide information on securing low-interest mortgages, home improvement loans, and conducting interior/exterior painting, dry wall repair, major appliance maintenance, landscaping, etc. Representatives will be on hand from local banks, from the Neighborhood Based Family Housing Program, and from other developers working in East St. Louis.

Demolition Program

A recent land use survey found 78 vacant structures that should be inspected for demolition. This program documents the dangers to health and safety posed by derelict structures, involves the adjacent land owners, and pressures local and county government and private landowners to demolish these neighborhood threats.

Low Cost Home Improvements

This program divides Emerson Park into concentric zones surrounding Lessie Bates. Each year 5 to 6 homes in need of improvements get rehab grants of up to $25,000 each in that year’s zone.

Rehabilitate Abandoned Housing

This program expands Emerson Park’s HOME program to rehab 10 – 15 dilapidated, but structurally sound homes and uses UI Architecture students for technical design assistance. A recent land use survey found 54 vacant structures that should be inspected for rehab potential.

Market Emerson Park

With all the new development headed into Emerson Park, it is a neighborhood objective to attract new residents from a variety of income levels and backgrounds. This aggressive marketing campaign would advertise Emerson Park’s new housing and its transportation improvements.

In-fill New Single and Multi-Family

Develop "in-fill" housing within the neighborhood’s existing nine block residential core through the Neighborhood Based Family Housing Program and Community Development Consultants.

3. Crime Prevention

"Smoke-Out" Drug and Crime Corners

The "Smoke-Out" Drug and Crime Corners program identifies problem areas, brings them to the attention of law enforcement, shows criminals that their behavior is not welcome, and brings residents together to stop crime.

Formal Neighborhood Watch Program

The Neighborhood Watch program is a proven success story in communities nation-wide. Several Illinois communities have significantly decreased crime after implementing Neighborhood Watch programs. The program empowers residents, giving them a real sense of control over their community. Neighborhood Watch also instills a real sense of unity between residents, as they work together to keep their streets safe.

Expand the "Red-Letter" Drug Enforcement Program to Include Prostitution

This program expands the "red-letter" program to include prostitution sites and also seeks to expand resident involvement in the program. Prostitution is repeatedly identified as a major threat to Emerson Park, particularly along 9th Street and Exchange Avenue. This expanded program will allow residents to inform law enforcement of buildings and streets that they suspect are home to prostitution.

Crime Prevention through Infrastructure Maintenance and Code Violation Abatement

This program creates a Code Enforcement Task Force of residents and local youth that would make monthly rounds of the neighborhood, in search of code and public safety violations. Each problem would be recorded on a form with a detailed description and a photo would be taken of the site. These violations would then be reported to the East St. Louis Police Department and the Department of Regulatory Affairs. With the assistance of the police department and city and county officials, the process for correcting these violations should be expedited.

New Neighbor Orientation Program

This program seeks to orient newcomers to the neighborhood, teach them about it’s history, introduce them to the local retail, the Metro Link, and other areas of interest, educate them about local crime prevention techniques and home safety, as well as introduce them to the Emerson Park Development Corporation.

Police Sub-Station

This program creates a local police office in Emerson Park. The sub-station would allow for local police occupation, more community interaction between law enforcement and residents, and serve as a resource for obtaining information on crime prevention. Possible locations include 9th & Exchange, Central City Homes, and 15th Street.


This program will advertise the hotlines that are available for residents to anonymously report suspicious criminal activity. Information about the hotline could be spread through local neighborhood canvassing, at monthly EPDC meetings and via reminder magnets given to every household.

4. Human Services

Early Childhood Development Program

This program addresses the most critical years in a child’s development, the first three, by providing prenatal and postnatal care to parents, comprehensive social services and transitional programs such as Head Start, day care and proper schooling.

Successful in School and Ready for Work

This program expands the hours of operation and the level of services in the Youth in Action Program at Lessie Bates Neighborhood House. Also, EPDC will coordinate with the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys and Girls Club to provide additional children and youth services.

Increasing Health and Safety of Children and their Families

This program develops a Comprehensive Individual and Family Support Program to provide case management, advocacy, and support services to all residents in the neighborhood as the new "single point of entry" for accessing needed health care and human services. The program also develops a new Emerson Park Family Development Center to provide space for expanding the agency’s Day Care Services to both existing and new Emerson Park residents.

Parents Working

This program expands the Illinois Job Advantage Program and the Illinois Earnfare Program to assist residents, both youth and adults, in obtaining and maintaining employment. Also, a local business to provide transportation to residents accessing jobs would be developed.

Youth Advisory Board

This program assembles a forum of local youth who represent the interests of Emerson Park’s most precious resource. The group would work in collaboration with EPDC. The program includes component areas for recruitment, training, and group development.

Community Carnival

This program will establish an annual community-wide celebration to be held in Cannaday Park each August. The Carnival will serve to provide an opportunity to publicly recognize community achievements and raise awareness for community programs.

Urban Agriculture

This program utilizes the long-time experience of local residents in agricultural production, pairs them with creative youth and uses available land to grow and sell fresh food products at the Farmers Market.

Charter School at Cannaday School

Residents say that a weakness of the neighborhood is the lack of quality education close by. This program would rehabilitate or replace Cannaday School as a high-quality neighborhood charter school, following the "new vision" model of community schooling. It is possible for the school to alternatively be reopened as a public institution within East St. Louis School District 189.

Conflict Resolution Classes

This program would pair with Lessie Bates "Safe Haven" program to provide opportunities for youth to learn how to deal with stress, tension, and conflict, non-violently.

Christmas Cheer

The holiday season can be a lonely time for many residents, both young and old. This program will distribute gifts and dinner for underprivileged youth and senior citizens.

Back to School

This program will start the school year off right with a community picnic and school supply distribution / swap.

5. Zoning, Land Use and Municipal Infrastructure Improvements

New Zoning for Emerson Park

This new zoning proposal eliminates locally undesirable land uses, reduces the number of incompatible land uses, re-allocates land based upon current and future housing demand, integrates housing types and creates commercial and manufacturing districts. The proposal will go before the Plan Commission and City Council for formal adoption.

Sewer Repairs

Residents repeatedly site flooding as a threat to neighborhood health. Many parts of the sewer system are 100 years old. A major sewer repair at 13th and Exchange is critical. In total, residents have identified nine spots that are notorious for having standing water days after it rains.

Tree Lined Right of Ways

This program plants, prunes and/or replaces the trees in the right-of-ways that have either been removed, died or become diseased over the years. It will remove and replace 20 diseased or dead trees, prune 50 trees and plant 185 trees. The project is being funded by a grant from the Urban Resources Partnership program.

Lighting Emerson Park

Sixty percent of residents claim that street lighting is inadequate in Emerson Park. This program addresses the improvement of streetlights in order to improve pedestrian and motor traffic and enhance safety in the neighborhood. Land use surveys and resident interviews sighted 20 locations that would benefit from streetlights. Cannaday Park is also in need of lighting improvements.

HELP Streets and Sidewalks

The missing and deteriorated infrastructure in the neighborhood has an undeniable impact on the appearance of Emerson Park and the quality of life. Many residents state that improvements to infrastructure are more important than planned development projects. The Land Use survey in the Revitalization Plan identifies all the streets, sidewalks, curbs, and gutters in need of repair or replacement.

Parson’s Field Restore

Parson’s Field is long overdue for restoration and revitalization. Through this program, Parson’s Field will be restored into the beautiful open space it once was. This open space is part of the Parson’s Project new housing development.

6. Community Organizing

Expand EPDC Board

Although many residents regularly attend meetings, a central effort to recruit more board members dedicated to community improvement is needed. A variety of residents should be recruited, both long-time and new residents as part of the New Neighbor Orientation Program.

Training Leaders

This program would include 1-hour training programs once every two months during the regularly scheduled EDPC meeting. Training would be provided on civic leadership, community organizing, and project development.

Community Events

Community fun-days, barbecues, picnics, and block parties should be scheduled two to three times per year. Residents expressed great interest in coming together with their neighbors and having fun! These events are volunteer organized.

Training Organizers

This program provides formal training opportunities to local residents. Several regional organizations offer training in leadership, organizing, non-profit management, and civic participation to ESL organizations. This program would connect interested residents with these opportunities.

VI. The Next Five Years

A. How the Plan Works

The neighborhood stressed repeatedly that this plan must be realistic, usable, and easily updateable. The plan is realistic because it speaks to exactly what neighborhood residents, the EPDC board, and East St. Louis institutional leaders desire for the future of Emerson Park. It is also realistic in that it builds on the current efforts of the neighborhood and expands these efforts to include programs that are realizable in the next five years. As one resident pointed out at a neighborhood meeting, many of the programs already in place are working extremely well and that over the next five years these programs can be strengthened to reach more people and to secure more resources.

The plan is usable in that it is well organized, provides a rationale for implementation and has detailed action steps. The plan can be distributed to local residents, community leaders, and funders by section or in its entirety, as each one can stand-alone. Also, so many plans today use extensive Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data maps to depict social and physical characteristic of an area. These maps are often unusable to organizations that can not see the data source and don’t have access to the GIS program. To rectify this problem, the plan has tried to include as many data sets in table format in the appendix as possible. For example, the plan includes a map that color codes blocks based on their street conditions. If the neighborhood needed to know specifically how many linear feet of sidewalk are in "poor" condition they could not do this from the map. The data set lists every block in Emerson Park with its corresponding street, sidewalk and curb conditions.

Planning documents are dynamic in nature, they change and develop as conditions in the neighborhood evolve and social and economic forces beyond the neighborhood’s control impact Emerson Park. It is important that the Emerson Park Plan be a living document that EPDC can alter as changes need to made – these small scale changes should not require a new plan. In order to make the plan easily updateable, all text, graphic and data files will be shared between the University of Illinois and the EPDC via the World Wide Web and a copy of the actual computer files. The bound, beautiful and often mysterious planning document will not die when it leaves the printer.

B. Recommendations for EPDC

During the Revitalization Plan’s planning process, residents collaborated in addressing the strengths and weaknesses of their community by creating a strategic plan. It is this collaboration and organizing that will make the implementation of this very important plan possible. The next five years are critical to the improvement of the area. Expansion of current organizing efforts, as well as the creation of new neighborhood-based organizations is extremely important in the implementation process of the revitalization plan. Recruitment of residents for community-wide improvement projects is of utmost importance at this time. As residents become more involved, their interest and stake in the community will increase. Only then will the Emerson Park neighborhood realize its goals and objectives. The Emerson Park Development Corporation will benefit from strengthening its partnerships with the East St. Louis Action Research Project, Bi-State Development Agency, the Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiatives, McCormack Baron & Associates, Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, Community Development Consultants, the East St. Louis Public Housing Authority, the East St. Louis Community Action Network, the Community Development Block Grant Operations Corporation, and the many other private and public entities that have joined EPDC in their efforts.

The Emerson Park 1999 Neighborhood Revitalization Plan is organized so that residents can pick up a section, and then as a neighborhood organization work through the action steps necessary to implement that program. Each strategy has a projected budget with possible funding sources and a list of organizations, local and regional, that can serve as resources for the organization. The action steps are written at a high level of detail to facilitate implementation. During implementation it is likely that data will be needed to support local actions. All the physical, social, and economic data is available in the Data Book. The implementation of the programs outlined above will require a great deal of grant writing to secure necessary funding. It is the planning team’s intention that each program description can be written directly into a grant application.

Document author(s) : Cathy Klump
Last modified: 23 September 1999, Deanna Koenigs