Is City Hall threatening to cut back public transportation routes in your city? Or threatening a historic building? Young activists in St. Louis have found creative ways to express their opposition.
The City of St. Louis is quickly becoming known as an epicenter of creative urban activism. In recent months, the St. Louis urbanist community has pulled off several quirky events to bring attention in unconventional ways to important issues facing our city.
Last November, a group of St. Louis activists organized a “MetroLink Prom,” in which a convivial gathering of revelers danced the night away on our light-rail trains as they zipped through the city. Donning colorful boutonierres and gaudy prom dresses circa 1987, the dazzling crowd transformed an otherwise ordinary commuter ride into Sixteen Candles On Rails. The message: transit is not just necessary, it’s FUN!
On Valentine’s Day, a group of passionate city dwellers held a “Love-In” to express our affection for a mid-century modern hotel that is currently threatened by the wrecking ball (the San Luis Apartments). Inspired by our love for the distinctive building, we gathered in front of it and recited cheesy poems, wrote love notes in sidewalk chalk and played love songs from a ghetto blaster. The afternoon culminated with a giant group hug around the building in an effort to increase awareness of its significance and to promote preservation rather than demolition. The event received a ton of local and even some national attention.
Coming up on May 9th, a number of urban activists are planning a “MetroBus Funeral” to lament the recent transit cuts that have effectively paralyzed the city since last month. Due to our transit agency’s significant budget shortfall, St. Louis and its suburbs have been plagued by drastic cuts in bus and train service. While many of the cuts may only be temporary, we come together as transit advocates to mourn our favorite dearly departed bus lines. Loved ones will share heartfelt eulogies and lay flowers on the now-disused bus shelters. Don’t forget to bring Kleenex.
In a city like St. Louis (or Cleveland or Detroit or Pittsburgh, etc), there is no shortage of worthy causes to champion. Finding creative ways to bring these issues to the forefront increases civic excitement and attracts media attention. To reinvigorate the spirit of our great cities, we must think outside the box and rally for progress with a spice of whimsy!
So there you have it. It really sounds like St. Louis is on to something. I know that also in Youngstown there is a group of urban activists that are very close, very fun people. I think these social connections are important in helping people stay engaged and exchanging ideas.