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North St. Louis residents cheer building demolitions on Saturday

North St. Louis residents cheer building demolitions on Saturday

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ST. LOUIS — Neighborhood residents cheered the visible signs of progress made in a patch of north St. Louis Saturday, where demolition crews toppled long-vacant houses while volunteers picked up trash and beautified nearby blocks.

The work done near the intersection of Warne and West Florissant avenues, a few blocks north of Fairground Park, marked the latest round of the Clean Sweep initiative, led by the local chapter of the nonprofit Urban League. The events, held in different city neighborhoods, focus on demolishing dilapidated homes and clearing overgrown lots in the hope of stabilizing surrounding blocks and setting the table for potential redevelopment.

Clean Sweep enlists help from a long list of partners, including the city, construction and demolition companies, and volunteers. Dozens of volunteers turned out for Saturday’s event, according to some of those who lent a hand.

Work had wrapped up by midafternoon, but a few volunteers were still there after the dust had settled, staring across Warne at an altered landscape.

Where three vacant homes had stood just hours before, there were now clear lots with freshly disturbed dirt and a pile of lingering debris. Those who call the area home said it was a welcome change from the previous backdrop — the houses had long been havens for crimes involving guns, drugs and more, residents said.

“You don’t have to worry about so much crime anymore, hopefully,” said Regina Edwards-Lee, a 61-year-old resident who lives in a house next to one of Saturday’s demolition sites. “It seems great. I love it.”

“We’ve been asking for the help,” added Jennifer Chandler, a 58-year-old who lives on a nearby block and who also volunteered Saturday. “We just like to see the improvement. Anything for the better is good.”

They said the buildings knocked down on Saturday had been vacant for decades. One other house on the block was also slated for demolition, which they have been told is supposed to happen in the next week or two.

“We look forward to them coming back to do what they say they’re going to do,” said Chandler.

Edwards-Lee said her dog, Luna, would also welcome the change and the added space that it brings to her domain.

City officials said at a separate Clean Sweep event in June that St. Louis has more than 24,000 vacant lots and buildings, overall.

The future that awaits Saturday’s newly cleared blocks is a blank slate, for now.

Edwards-Lee hopes to eventually take ownership of the property adjacent to her home through a city program that makes lots available to neighbors who maintain them. She said she’s already been mowing the yard next door, long before Saturday’s demolition.

“I did that anyway, before they tore the house down,” she said.

While she praised the sudden burst of change that Saturday brought, it came with one regret — that her father wasn’t there to witness it. He’d lived in her house for more than 50 years before dying of the coronavirus last year, she said.

“I wish he’d have been here to see it,” said Edwards-Lee, “because he’d been waiting for this to happen.”

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