The Delmar Divide

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The Delmar Divide

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Dan Goeddel / Staff Photographer

St. Louis is a divided city, something that is not always apparent to the residents of Saint Louis University. The division becomes apparent, however, the farther north one travels.

North of Delmar Boulevard is an area marked by a deteriorating urban environment and stark economic disparity.

“If I were to describe it, there is a line drawn in the city based on things like race and housing opportunities,” Norman White, professor of sociology and criminal justice who has previously spoken on the environment in North City, said. “I don’t think of it as a divide, but more like an entrance to a third world, as it mirrors the outcomes and social ills you see in third world countries.”

According to White, North St. Louis is an example of the result of the “deindustrialization” of cities. Around the 1940s and 1950s, factories and other manufacturing companies began to move out of urban settings to more spacious rural and suburban area to accommodate for extra space needed for new technologies like assembly lines. Along with the factories went the jobs, which left fewer opportunities for employment within cities and contributed to the rise in poverty and economic disparity in cities.

Housing opportunities around this time also contributed to the divide that now exists in St. Louis and other American cities. Though policies that supported residential segregation were no longer viable by this time, there were still certain expectations in existence concerning which people could live where. The result of this was a division of communities built around certain statuses of class and race. These communities still exist and, in some ways, contribute to the continued segregation of cities.

“This sort of divide occurs in almost every city, but it is a very stark north-south divide in St. Louis,” White said. “This is the urban problem, and it has taken its toll.”

The disparity between North St. Louis and other areas of the city, commonly referred to as the “Delmar Divide,” has not gone unnoticed. In March 2012, BBC released a short documentary piece highlighting the division within the city, raising awareness of the issue beyond the limits of St. Louis.

The documentary, which pulled data from a study on urban segregation conducted by the Manhattan Institute, espoused facts such as the extreme difference in housing prices between North and South St. Louis, as well as the sharp divide in the places where certain minority groups live and average yearly income.

Given SLU’s location within the city, it is not easy to ignore the urban problems that exist around campus. The University has, however, fostered initiatives to work with the issues rather than overlook them.

White stated that the School of Public Health has been developing initiatives in North St. Louis to better address the health concerns that often arise in impoverished urban environments. He said that SLU’s strongest asset when dealing with the issues is the student body.

“[Students] come here because they believe we will help them become men and women for others,” White said. “The students involved in Alpha Phi Omega and OneWorld magazine, for example, they’re the kinds of students who get it.”

One student group that is working to bridge the gap between SLU and North St. Louis is SLUCORE. Since its formation four years ago, SLUCORE has partnered with four different service sites in North City at which its members commit to visit once a week for a year. Their sites include Angel Baked Cookies, a bakery that employs high school students, De La Salle Middle School, Northside Community Center and Missionaries of Charity, a site that hosts an after school program.

“While there are many service opportunities on campus, SLUCORE is very intentional about focusing our time, energy and commitment to an often overlooked and misunderstood area of the city,” said Maria Smith, a student coordinator of SLUCORE. “SLUCORE hopes to continue to strengthen our presence on campus and within the North St. Louis community.”

Despite efforts on the part of SLU to address urban poverty, White stated that the University still exhibits some shortcomings.

“We perpetuate this divide by building fences around vacant lots. We tell students in SLU101 not to go past the Fox Theater,’” White said. “We are a Jesuit university, but we don’t talk about the depths to which the problems we see are based in social inequality.”

According to White, the best way to improve SLU’s involvement in the urban community is to begin with an honest conversation about why these problems exist.

“We need to learn that service is best done by listening to what people need as opposed to going in and thinking we know best,” White said. “It will be required for SLU to honor the Jesuit mission, which puts honor into service. We need to create an environment where we can talk about the issues in a real way and provide support to those people who want to make a real change.”