High school reunions implore us to look back. I recently celebrated one since graduating from Webster Groves High School many decades ago.
I played tour guide to a returning classmate and she remarked about how beautiful Webster was, with lusher, bigger trees and the number of exquisite restaurants that now populate the business districts.
We visited Blackburn Park, updated and full of kids playing on a sunny Saturday. The sculpture park at Kirkham and Gore, Barbre Park, and the Great Rivers Greenway paved bike trail were all appreciated as impressive additions. We visited Tuxedo Park STL Bed and Breakfast, an old stone church lovingly restored into a charming bed-and-breakfast. I imagine our dear neighbors to the west in Kirkwood, when hosting reunion folks in town visiting 63122 feel proud of their area. After all, we both live in two of the “Lucky ZIP Codes” of the St. Louis area.
Following the reunion weekend, I took “Bob’s Tour,” a guided bus trip with 30 people to the “Unlucky ZIP Codes,” those in St. Louis City surrounding Sumner High School. It made me wonder how the Sumner High School reunions are perceived by their alumni. The area is so dramatically different it will take your breath away.
There is no private investment restoring historic buildings into elegant bed-and-breakfasts, or upscale restaurants. We stopped in parks where no children played. No infrastructure spending was evident. The neighborhoods surrounding Sumner High School were filled with vacant lots and buildings falling down that are left to decay. It was a sobering experience.
Our guide, Bob Hansman, is a white man who grew up in Affton. He has one foot in both the white and black worlds, having served for 20 years in the projects doing art workshops with children, all while teaching as a professor of architecture at Washington University. He knows and loves the people of the Sumner High School area; the two neighborhoods called The Ville.
Bob shared his feelings about viewing the crumbling neighborhood: “Every demolished building, to me, represents a demolished life.”
His tours reveal “the complexities of St. Louis, uncovering the racial, socio-cultural and political context of St. Louis city and county ... showing the present and explaining the past in each place, and gradually drawing a larger picture that connects across time and space.”
I highly recommend Bob’s tour for all of us in Webster Groves, Kirkwood, and the rest of the “Lucky ZIP codes.” Awareness is the first step to progress.
To book one of Bob’s tours, visit www.gephardtinstitute.wustl.edu/for-faculty-and-staff/st-louis-community-tours.