The Delmar Divide. One street in the City of St. Louis, Missouri, that serves as a symbol of the gulf between rich and poor, ostentatious affluence and abject poverty. South of Delmar there are mansions, gates and restricted access measures meant to keep non-residents out and lots of green spaces including Forest Park. North there are abandoned, burned out buildings, vacant lots and poverty.
When I first moved to St. Louis I wondered what had happened. Why does it look like a war zone to the north and almost a caricature of urban affluence to the south? In some ways, it’s a long story. In other ways, there is a short list of familiar excuses.
There are various efforts within St. Louis to bridge the divide, to change the dynamic that is the legacy of things like racial discrimination and “urban renewal”. One effort that, quite literally, caught my eye is the collaborative Delmar Sunflower + Project between Washington University and the City of St. Louis. These photographs were taken at a site on Delmar between Union Ave. and Kingshighway. I pass this site often and earlier this year noticed the transformation from vacant lots to fields of sunflowers. As the summer has progressed, I’ve enjoyed watching the sunflowers grow and bloom.
The site is cheerful now as opposed to something of an eyesore that I just drive by on my way from my apartment to church. And, while the project is primarily intended as a means of remediation, demonstrating the capacity of low maintenance crops like sunflowers and winter wheat to pull toxins like heavy metals out of contaminated urban areas, my first reaction to it was that it was beautiful.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder and nature will find a way to smile, even from an abandoned lot or cracked sidewalk- wildflowers and birds seem to be everywhere- it seems to me that growing up and living surrounded by an environment of decay has to affect people negatively. Place and space affect our well-being. What would happen, what will happen, as we awaken to this knowledge and beautify our urban landscapes?
Will change take more than planting a field of sunflowers? Sure. But…it’s a start.
For those interested in learning more about the Delmar Divide in St. Louis there is a BBC-produced short documentary called Crossing the Delmar Divide.
(© Karen Opp. All rights reserved.)