By Catherine Werner,Sustainability Director for the City of St. Louis 

Neighborhoods are the soul of the City of St. Louis. They shape and define the City. They drive opportunity and offer community participation at an approachable scale.  Each of the City’s 79 neighborhoods is unique.  Nobody will confuse The Hill with The Ville. And while there are commonalities among neighborhoods – whether it’s the arts in Cherokee and Grand Center, or cyclists in The Grove and Downtown Loft District – these things often look and feel different in different parts of the City. What is much more constant is the strength and energy found within neighborhood groups. People are the soul of the City’s neighborhoods.

The Mayor’s Office is launching a Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative to help neighborhoods become more sustainable – in whatever way that looks for that particular neighborhood. The City of St. Louis has just developed its first Sustainability Plan ( It is much more than a plan about environmental issues – although those concepts feature prominently throughout the plan. The City’s way of looking at sustainability is one that focuses on people and their prosperity. Sustainability in the City is about striving to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being — the overall quality of life — of those who live, work, learn, and play in the City. There are thousands of ideas and ways to do that listed in the Sustainability Plan. Some ideas will be more appropriate for an organization to undertake, others by a business, or city government, itself.

Among the many ideas in the City’s Sustainability Plan are some that would work well in neighborhoods.  The Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative will make it easier for local groups to achieve greater sustainability at the neighborhood scale. No two neighborhoods are likely to define sustainability in exactly the same way. We hope that each neighborhood will decide what sustainability looks like for itself.  For example, one neighborhood group may decide that sustainability looks like a community where people can easily walk places. This neighborhood may want to focus on enhancing its sidewalks, street lighting, ADA ramps and crosswalks, planted areas to slow traffic, or painted intersection murals, with the intention of creating a safer pedestrian environment.  Another neighborhood may feel that aesthetics and beautification are what sustainability looks like for them. They may be interested in learning how to identify which street trees are the best fit for their area, and where there are opportunities to add parklets or native flowers.

The Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative is about to become even more useful to neighborhood groups. In January, the City of St. Louis was awarded a matching grant to foster a relationship between local funders and the City’s Sustainability Director.  The national grant was matched by a group of generous local funders who are dedicated to community improvement.  One of the matching grant deliverables – the creation of a Sustainable Neighborhood Toolkit – should be of great interest to community organizations.  The Toolkit will be made up of three parts: (1) information, (2) resources, and (3) funding. The first two components of the Sustainable Neighborhood Toolkit will be available as a printable document, as well as a searchable web-based tool.  It will feature background materials and references, photos, examples, and a compilation of resources, such as local initiatives and programmatic assistance.  The Sustainable Neighborhood Toolkit is in development now, and will be available by Fall 2013.

To help neighborhoods implement sustainability ideas, the City is holding a Sustainable Neighborhood Small Grant Competition in May-June 2013. Seven winning projects will be awarded a $5,000 Sustainable Neighborhood Small Grant for implementation of their sustainability project.  In early November (tentative) the winning small grant projects will be featured at a Sustainability Showcase celebration held in conjunction with the Mayor’s Sustainability Summit III :: implement. 

Information about the Sustainable Neighborhood Small Grant Competition is now available (  There are plenty of resources available to help groups that are thinking of applying.  There will be a final informational help session on May 16th, from 6-7 p.m. at the Central Library (downtown).  Questions about the small grant competition should be directed to   Applications are due June 15th, and project implementation must be completed between July 1-October 31, 2013.   


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri- St. Louis.