Friday, June 13, 2008

Q/A with John Burse

What, in particular, is of interest to you at the Greening the Heartland Conference? Any particular workshops, symposia or speakers catching your eye right now?

Whenever you attend these conferences you have to do everything you can to take advantage of the opportunity to connect with, learn from, and be inspired by like-minded individuals and organization. There are topics across a number of the tracks that are of great interest to me professionally and personally and I see myself being drawn to a lot rof them – so it’s going to make managing time difficult to say the least.

Professionally my work spans both higher education and corporate markets and so it’s of great importance to me to learn from the presenters in these tracks as they represent my clients’ peers. This knowledge better prepares me to serve my clients with a broader and enriched understanding of what’s out there – you have to stay caught up. And of course my involvement with Old North St Louis draws me to the communities track.

In addition to attending presentations, and making a presentation, our firm, Mackey Mitchell Architects will also have a booth, where we will be featuring an effort to revitalize a park in Old North. Each attendee will have a card with some paper flowers. By stopping by to visit and sticking a flower onto our booth display, our firm will donate a total of up to $10,000 to plant shade trees for the park – so this is networking for a good cause. Please stop by to visit.

Of course, you have your own presentation, Neighborhood Transformation: Old North St. Louis and the Crown Village Developments. Tell us about what you plan to incorporate in that discussion.

Our discussion will be an informative overview about what’s been going in Old North over the last few years, the role community revitalization plays in making our region more sustainable, and a sense of the financial wizardry that has gone into reversing years of disinvestment and development inertia. We’ll talk in broad brush terms about the planning principles that have informed the work underway and what we hope to accomplish in the near future. We hope the message is clear – it’s not just the buildings we design but their relationship to one another that helps enhance sustainability.

Each of our 3 speakers has played very unique roles in what’s going on in Old North. Sean Thomas, Executive Director of the Old North Restoration Group comes more from the community development side, David Dodson, Regional Housing Community Development Alliance has a deep understanding of the financing tools that have helped spark the work underway in Old North, and my passion is of course planning and design. So I’m hoping within our 40 minutes we will have something for everyone.

For people outside the region, what would you tell them about the developments in Old North St. Louis over the past two, five, or 10 years?

I think when one considers the work of community revitalization one has to consider the principles of what’s behind the work and the energy and commitment of those behind it. Old North’s story of community revitalization is really one of transformation. The plot reads as the classic disinvested inner city neighborhood in which demolition over a few decades has exacted an incredible toll on its physical fabric and yet is a place which endures, has vitality, and a strong will and desire to grow. The work that has gone on in Old North is at a tremendous variety of scales done by a small and committed group of individuals. The driving force in Old North is grass roots based energy which is palpable and I can’t say enough about the level of determination. The principles which have fueled the work are at the heart of what it means to be socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable community.

How has the neighborhood's image changed within the St. Louis region in that timeframe? What particular pieces of the development puzzle drove that impression in positive ways?

I think the work and efforts we and our partners have had underway have earned some incredible press and recognition. In my heart, I think people are really hungry for a positive story, and whether you’re looking at any individual project or the whole chorus of activity, I think one can’t help but be impressed.

To hit one project and say, that’s the key piece that makes it all possible, is really hard to do. We see the world as being an inherently connected set of pieces. The things you are doing today will open the door to even greater things tomorrow. For example, last weekend was the first week of the second year of our neighborhood farmers market – just to touch on this – last years effort was tough, but we learned lessons from it, fined tuned the venture, and brought on more skills and talents and had an incredible first day. As that event grows, right in the shadow of our 14th Street Mall revitalization project, Crown Square, and more people come into the neighborhood and see what’s going on, doors will be opened to even greater possibilities, and a new story will be told.

What are the best places to learn about ONSL online?

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