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Helping With Kinloch's Cleanup

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal's column.

Over the weekend, I helped residents and volunteers during Kinloch’s city-wide cleanup. The city is the oldest African-American community in the state of Missouri and was once home to a vibrant and flourishing black community.

However, the city of Kinloch has been neglected for decades and has lost more than 75 percent of its population over the years. The city has very few resources and relies heavily on the work of residents and volunteers working to rehabilitate the area. Congressman Russ Carnahan also volunteered, and I was delighted to see him spend some time with residents in my district.

Area businesses, religious leaders and several St. Louis County residents from multiple municipalities attended the cleanup as volunteers on Saturday. I would like to give a special thanks to Charlie Dooley for providing special resources for this event.

This part of St. Louis County has a lot of history and we need to remember the fact that we are all connected. It is a shame to see how people have little regard for the environment by illegally dumping. I saw heaps of debris – used appliances, old tires, plastic bottles, used furniture and abandoned houses, businesses and vehicles. When you visit Kinloch, it feels like a rural community, but it is surrounded by suburbs. Most of the town has been demolished for an aborted airport expansion, which has left a sour taste in the mouths of residents and visitors. The community almost feels like a ghost town, but it is not; there are churches and families who live and work there and call Kinloch home.

What happened in Kinloch is a cautionary tale. About 30 years ago when the City of St. Louis began buying up property in the area to expand the airport, the Kinloch community lost dozens of private homes, citizens and taxpayers. The ramifications of this buyout are still being felt today. The social and economic effects to the community have been devastating and have heavily contributed to the city’s present dilemma. It was not long after the buyout that crime and violence rose in the city, followed by corruption. 

A few years ago, the City of St. Louis, Kinloch and neighboring communities reached an agreement on a multi-million dollar redevelopment plan for an area of land on the eastern edge of the airport. The idea was to develop office, retail and industrial space and create thousands of jobs, with the tax revenue to be shared among the municipalities. Construction began in 2006 in neighboring communities, but little has been done in Kinloch, which is disappointing to me and thousands of others who care about the city.

The restoration efforts will take a long time, but I am proud the city and its residents are taking control of their situation. Through hard work and perseverance, and a little help from volunteers and elected officials, I believe the city can reclaim its place as a valuable and historic neighborhood in our great state. Families in Kinloch need to be treated the same as families in any other municipality in St. Louis County. If we can help Kinloch rebuild, it will most certainly benefit the rest of the area, but cleaning up is only the first step...a step that will take a long time.

"Located just outside of St. Louis, Kinloch was once a community locked off from the rest of the area by natural and man-made barriers. In spite of a lack of financial resources, it once provided its residents with a school district, city hall, post office, business district, and recreational facilities. Residents will recognize Dunbar Elementary, the oldest school for blacks in St. Louis County, Holy Angels, the oldest continuing black parish in the St. Louis Archdiocese, as well as former residents Congresswoman Maxine Waters and political activist Dick Gregory. Eventually, due to insufficient revenue, this once thriving community fell into decline, and is now struggling to keep its small town values and ideals alive." - John Wright Sr., Kinloch: Missouri's First Black City

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