“Slum Beautiful”: St. Louis Is Only Part of the Story

July 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

This past week The Daily Mail featured a photo essay by St. Louis photographer Demond Meek entitled “Slum Beautiful” in which the artist chronicled some of the city’s abandoned buildings and crumbling lots. In the article, “City of Ghosts,” Meek told the Daily Mail, “I wanted to focus on the buildings that were once considered beautiful or treasures- a few that could be fixed up with a little bit of love.”

“Slum beautiful.” The name is nearly synonymous with “ruin porn.” As such, a few other St. Louis residents have cast a critical eye on the portrait of St. Louis painted by this artist. One such person is Michael Allen, Architectural Historian and Director of the Preservation Research Office.
“The real story, underreported even locally, is that people do care about these buildings,” explains Allen in a response article posted on the Preservation Resource Office Blog. He goes on to clarify that many of the buildings referenced in “Slum Beautiful” are not forgotten properties left to rot but instead are either in the process of or are currently available for rehab. What’s more, one of the homes is still occupied. “I wonder whether the residents of that house have seen the essay and what they would make of being included in an international chronicle of the ravages of abandonment. Whoever they are, their presence is keeping that building off of the list of endangered north side homes.”
While Meek’s photos do portray a face-value assessment for some St. Louis homes, as Allen notes, this assessment may not accurately portray the full story hidden within their brick walls and boarded-up windows.
“Behind some of the buildings in this weekend’s articles are people who care about the future of the buildings depicted. Their stories would add some complexity to the supposed ruins, and some sense of moral urgency. Perhaps readers in London can afford to sublimate the gaze upon vacant St. Louis buildings, but St. Louisans cannot — and, largely, do not.”
Emily Thenhaus is the St. Louis organizer for MSCS.

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