St. Louis seeks best ideas for vacant land

Sunday, November 4, 2012 | 3:36 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis has too many vacant lots and no solid plans for what to do with them, so City Hall and Washington University are teaming up for a contest aimed at enlisting the public's help in solving the dilemma.

The Sustainable Land Lab contest will hand over four vacant lots in north St. Louis for two years to those who come up with the best ideas to put them to productive use, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Organizers expect to hear from artists, designers, entrepreneurs, urban farmers and others.

City officials hope they will generate ideas that can be used throughout the city.

"This is not just an ideas competition," said Catherine Werner, sustainability director for the city. "We're looking for practical demonstrations on the sites, and hopefully things that can be replicated down the road in other places."

The St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority, which takes over real estate if taxes go unpaid, has nearly 10,000 properties in its inventory. Most of them are vacant land. Private owners possess thousands of other parcels.

There are some success stories. Some vacant land has become community gardens. Some get purchased by neighbors for use as side yards. Others are placed together for larger developments.

The Land Lab seeks to find more new ideas and find new life for the lots more quickly.

"I feel pretty strongly that we'll see lots of creative minds come out of the woodwork," said Phil Valko, director of sustainability at Washington University.

Organizers say the focus will be on ideas that are environmentally and economically sustainable as well as repeatable.

The two-year lease is designed to let the winners see how their projects evolve and how the market responds and to give curious people the chance to check it out, Werner said.

Initial proposals for one of six empty lots are due in December and will be narrowed in three rounds of presentations and judging. Up to four winners will be chosen in April. They'll get $5,000 in seed money in addition to the two-year lease.

Organizers hope to run similar competitions in other neighborhoods.

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