Cleaning Up The Act / by Matthew Sims

Spring is here...finally!  Many of us will be not only cleaning up the insides of our homes, but we'll be outside working on our yards and engaging in other exterior maintenance projects.   Sounds exhausting, right?  And could be expensive.  I can't think of a way I want to spend my time less than repairing gutters and mowing lawns, but hey, it has to be done, right? 

If cleaning up outside sounds exhausting and monetarily taxing to you, try to imagine having to do that for a whole city.  Thankfully, we have organizations like Brightside St. Louis to help us.  In our recent episode on graffiti in the city, the team at Brightside graciously offered us an opportunity to come down to their location and learn more about what they do in response to vandalism.

It's important to their mission to understand why Brightside St. Louis is engaged in a constant beautification effort. And to do that, we need to rewind the clock and take a look at St. Louis forty-plus years ago. In 1976, a massive fire broke out downtown.  It began in the former location for Heyday Shoe at 2032 Locust.  Fires broke out as far away as three blocks.  In 1981 John Carpenter began directing the film Escape From New York.  Carpenter needed to show New York City as a post-apocalyptic criminal colony, but found that it would be too difficult to obtain permits for many iconic locations around the island.  St. Louis, on the other hand, was entirely eager to loan him time and space for his project.  From August to November of 1980, the city loaned him locations like St. Louis Union Station and the Fabulous Fox Theater, both prior to renovations.  

Yes, that is fun movie trivia, but telling as well.  Parts of St. Louis at the time could, with remarkably little set dressing and a few actors, be a stand-in for an apocalypse-ravaged fallen metropolis. Calling some parts of St. Louis "dirty" in the 1980s is an understatement.   Then-mayor Vincent Schoemehl had a survey of St. Louis residents conducted, asking what could be done to help make a difference in the city.  The response, in plain English, was "the city is dirty and needs a cleaning."  In 1982, Operation Brightside was founded to solve the problem.  (They've since rebranded to Brightside St. Louis.) 

You can't underestimate the importance of historical perspective.  If you are a recent transplant to St. Louis or didn't live here in the 1980s, it's easy to not know those sorts of facts.  (On a personal note, I've lived here since 1981 and didn't know about the Heyday Shoe fire until just recently.)  Brightside St. Louis always needs volunteers to help in their city-wide "cleaning and greening" mission.  But you can always make an effort in your own neighborhood to help keep things looking good.   Everything starts at home, right?

Thanks again to Mary Lou Green and Elysia Musumeci for inviting us down to talk.  If you want to know more about the production of Escape From New York, I recommend going here or reading this io9 article.  More about the 1976 fire, this St. Louis Post-Dispatch article is a great jump-off point.  

- Lucas