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Recreation, vacant lots, addiction are all health issues, aldermen declare

CITY HALL – Three seemingly very different city concerns – supervised recreation programs, improvement of vacant lots and the fight against drug addiction – are being given official status as health issues.

The Board of Aldermen passed on Friday measures that put all three in that category.

One resolution said that the city should expand supervised recreation programs in parks. It said participation in physical and mental activities is important to the health of young people and the whole community.

Nineteenth Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis noted that the city had worked in the past with the St. Louis Public Schools to participate in such summer programs.

“We need to go back to that,” Davis said. “Until we have full cooperation from every entity, it’s not going to work.”

Also, the board approved a resolution emphasizing the importance of improving the appearance of vacant lots.

“[We] recognize that the number of vacant and neglected lots in the City negatively impact the health and wellbeing of residents, and that the vast majority of [vacant properties] are owned by the City,” the resolution said. “[The] City owes a duty to its residents and taxpayers to regularly remove trash and debris from these lots, and to mow and otherwise maintain them as a part of its services to residents.” 

That resolution cited an article in The Journal of American Medicine about a study in Philadelphia that stated that the “greening” of vacant and neglected urban land could improve mental health. The improvements in Philadelphia were simple ones: picking up trash, planting grass and a few trees, and maintaining the property on a monthly basis.   

Aldermen approved a third resolution introduced by 18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd that said addiction to prescription and illicit drugs is a public safety issue and not a criminal justice issue. In trying to cut crime, the city should fund addiction treatment and prevention programs, the resolution said.  

“For many of us, it’s clear that the war on drugs is a failure,” 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan said. “It’s a war on poor folks. It’s not working. We’re at the point where a lot of people are considering whether the war on drugs is doing more harm to society than the drugs are doing.”

Also, Narayan introduced a resolution condemning recent hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The board’s Public Safety Committee will consider the matter before aldermen vote on it. It’s co-sponsored by all aldermen.

The resolution says the city is united in denouncing all sentiment against Asians and Pacific Islanders. It condemns all forms of racism and calls on those in law enforcement to take action against those committing hate crimes against this group.   

In another item, a bill introduced on Friday calls for an election on a change in the city charter to require the Board of Estimate and Apportionment to hear public comment on matters it is considering before members can vote on it. Sixteenth Ward Alderman Tom Oldenburg is the sponsor.

The estimate board, made up of the mayor, the comptroller and the president of the Board of Aldermen, is the chief financial decision maker in city government. In its meetings now the board doesn’t take public comment.

The comment requirement wouldn’t apply to discussion on the board’s own proceedings. The board could vote on an item at the same meeting it takes comment on it. 

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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