I’m a Missouri native, so St. Louis is in some ways a familiar city to me. Before I moved in to the Deaconess Anne House, I had already been up in the Arch, watched the Cardinals play at Busch Stadium, and strolled around Forest Park. However, much of St. Louis was – and still is – profoundly foreign to me. Neighborhoods that I am now relatively comfortable with, like Old North (where I live) and College Hill (where I work), I would never have dreamed setting foot in as a visitor.
The greatest gift of living in North St. Louis so far has been this new comfort with living and working in neighborhoods that, frankly, I would probably have been scared to spend too much time in otherwise. This is not to say that I feel totally at home in Old North, or that I am a completely “streetwise” person after just one month in the city. On the contrary, I have realized how oblivious I am to the realities of life in a poor urban neighborhood. But this realization has taught me more about how people like me (young, white, educated) are so often mistaken about poor urban neighborhoods. Yes, there is violence, crime, and drug abuse in these neighborhoods. Yes, there is blight, poverty, and stagnant local economies. But it would be foolish to assume that these realities tell the whole story of what it is like to live in a poor urban neighborhood. At the end of the day, the people who live here are much like people anywhere else – they work, they play, they worry about their children, they try to live with each other as best they can. I don’t want to romanticize my experience so far in Old North – as I wrote above, there are many, many issues that neighborhoods like Old North must solve, and indeed are working hard to solve. North St. Louis is neither a place to be pitied nor a place to be feared. It is a place where you can be challenged, and I hope it continues challenging me every day I live here.