In 1959, the city-sanctioned demolition of St. Louis’ Mill Creek Valley neighborhood began, and the displacement of its 20,000 Black residents officially succeeded.
The neighborhood had existed for nearly 200 years. It hosted Josephine Baker, Scott Joplin, General William Tecumseh Sherman and Walt Whitman among others. It became one of the largest Black communities in the country with its own thriving businesses and more than 5,000 residential buildings. And it died with a city-wide bond vote allocating $10 million towards its destruction.
Commemorating what came before
In 2023, nearly 64 years after that destruction and displacement began, Centene Stadium, the home of MLS expansion side St. Louis CITY SC, will open on the same site. As a new community finds a home in a soccer-specific stadium, the community that preceded it won’t be ignored. In partnership with St. Louis’ trailway organization the Great River Greenway, Mill Creek Valley will be commemorated outside the stadium with an experiential art exhibit created by St. Louis native Damon Davis.
Eight pillars with embedded design elements of an hourglass frozen in the moment will remind the public of how time stopped for the people of Mill Creek Valley and the time needed to pause and show reverence for their histories. Along the Brickline Greenway trail leading from the installation to Harris-Stowe University, an HBCU located a mile away, additional pillars and signage will tell the story of Mill Creek Valley.
Additionally, the stadium’s southern side will be landscaped to show the exact plotline of the homes that stood on the stadium site. And the St. Louis CITY SC app will share information and resources about Mill Creek Valley and provide an interactive augmented reality experience visitors can use while visiting the art installation.
The idea for a piece commemorating the neighborhood began with the creation of the Brickline Greenway in 2017. The organization creating the project, Great Rivers Greenway, asked living residents of Mill Creek Valley to share their stories. Those stories and further understanding of the displacement of the people behind them led to Davis’ piece and a partnership with St. Louis CITY SC.
“As we began shaping out the Greenway and what the art was, we realized that the soccer stadium was in the footprint,” said Susan Trautman, CEO of Great Rivers Greenway. “We went to them and shared the concept and they have just been a fantastic partner from the very beginning. We’re facing some hard truths with what we did as a city. In fact, almost every city in the nation has done this, but we have chosen to tell the story within the Greenway and within the soccer stadium’s campus. So it is a way to sort of reckon with the past and then think about the future in terms of what we can do to make a city more livable, more inclusive and to address the inequities that have occurred over time.”
Uniting the community
Recognizing Mill Valley Creek offers a chance for St. Louis to acknowledge its history so that it can improve upon its present and future. The Great Rivers Greenway itself is working with an equitable economic development committee made up of local community experts to create guidelines that will hopefully keep the project beneficial for all of St. Louis’ citizens.
It also aligns with the mission of St. Louis CITY SC to use soccer as a cohesive force to bring the city together and improve the lives of its community.
“We talk about being a bridge in our region by creating sustainable and inclusive and accessible programming, working with our food vendors and showing a multicultural experience in a way that has never been done in St. Louis,” said Khalia Collier, vice-president of community relations for St. Louis CITY SC.
“We talk about working within our neighborhoods to elevate Black and brown businesses within the minority community that should be elevated and that are a part of our Downtown West district – identifying our nonprofit partners. We continue to build on our partnership with Harris-Stowe which is our only historically black college within the St Louis community, that's less than a mile from our stadium,” she added.
“These are all opportunities that we not only say, 'Hey, here's this opportunity to experience the game, but here are the opportunities of talent development.' We're talking about front office roles, as we're looking at opportunities to really be able to introduce the game to the Black and brown community in a way it hasn't been done because it hasn't been accessible. I think what we are is a conduit and a unifier within the community. That's this new spirit that people are incredibly excited about.”