Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A City on Display U.N. Delegation Pays Visit, Tribute to E. St. Louis

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A City on Display U.N. Delegation Pays Visit, Tribute to E. St. Louis

Article excerpt

A few blocks from St. Luke's African Methodist Episcopal Church in East St. Louis, there's a tumble-down red brick house with no windows and hundreds of pigeons.

White paint has peeled from the pillars of the once proud Victorian across the street. On some of the charred houses, the only roof is the bright blue sky.

Here, an 80-year-old woman lives without running water or heat; she carries water in by the bucket. There, a very thin child tosses a wave.

These are some of the sights, sounds and people that a few hundred international planners, architects and sociologists are seeing in East St. Louis this weekend.

That's not all. They're also seeing successes in battling poverty in neighborhoods and across the city - and that's why more than 300 visitors and a United Nations delegation have made a pilgrimage to this small but well-known city of 40,000 people.

More than 300 planners, community organizers, architects, sociologists and students from around the world have come to East St. Louis to help - and offer congratulations.

In announcing the conference, Kenneth M. Reardon, chairman of the Planners Network, the sponsor, said the group selected East St. Louis as the conference site not because of its problems, "but because of what's going right in East St. Louis."

Gabriel Camara, 65, spends his days at the Centro de Desarallo Communitario Juan Diego in Mexico City working to improve "the worst possible urban conditions." This weekend, this former Jesuit priest is attending the conference.

Camara spent Friday at St. Luke's in the Olivette Park neighborhood, meeting under the gigantic stained-glass windows with other planners and neighborhood residents.

Camara said, "The danger here is that there's a lack of hope" among some people. But many others are performing near-miracles. "This contrast is striking to me," Camara said. The city, he said, "could go either way."

He urged his colleagues to rethink development, and he warned them against grandiose visions and master plans and projects such as gambling casinos that don't help people with their everyday lives.

The conference drew about twice as many people as expected. One who came had been helping poor rural communities in El Salvador; some had studied in London and India. …

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