McRee Town neighborhood
May 16, 2004:
While wandering north after a trip to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, I was startled to pass under I-55 and discover an
entire neighborhood undergoing what appeared to be wholesale demolition. Naturally I stopped to
snap some photographs.
Several square blocks were being affected, and numerous houses and apartments were coming down at one time. It had all
the hallmarks of old-style "urban renewal", which was two lies for the price of one: it meant
the total obliteration of a neighborhood and its replacement with something that wasn't particularly urban.
I have long assumed that we as a society have gotten smarter than that.
Appalled, I began photographing, cruising up and down the streets, periodically jumping out of the car
to get a better shot.
The neighborhood has not been completely vacated, as I discovered when a young man appeared
in the doorway of this apartment building.
At the same time, two other guys who had noticed me earlier appeared around this corner.
Apartment Boy exhorted them to "Get 'im!" in relation to me.
They threw a few rocks in my direction as their buddy egged them on;
fortunately I was far enough away that the projectiles were landing before
they got to me. I calmly but quickly retreated to the car.
I paused the car for more shots a block or two away, and another guy on a bike followed me for a
couple of blocks. He clearly wanted my attention, but when the
guys on the last block are throwing rocks at me, my tolerance for social interaction tends to drop rapidly.
I headed onwards to other parts of town.
I was a bit stunned by what I'd just seen. What the heck was going on??
Turns out I'd stumbled into the death-throes of McRee Town,
a notorious sector of poverty and decay on the city's south side. The demolition was part of
a rejuvenation plan backed by the neighboring Missouri Botanical Gardens...and hotly contested by
local residents and activists across the city.