Best Of 2015

Best Use of a Former Car Lot: Franz Park Community Garden

Doesn’t look much like a used-car lot now, does it?
Something's happening in downtown Maplewood. Once a dystopia of pawn shops, Florida repo car lots and antiquated office-equipment clutter, the city's stretch of Manchester Road now boasts posh restaurants, Mexican tiendas, a good dive bar and coffee shops, as well as a seedling nursery (where a body shop once stood) and, on the northeast corner of McCausland and Manchester avenues, one delightfully overgrown patch of green. The Franz Park Community Garden was previously another depressing lineup of bad-credit-no-credit clunkers, and it could easily have turned into an even more depressing CVS. Instead, for six years, the garden — part of the Gateway Greening initiative — has flourished. Plots of purple bell peppers, sweet potatoes and sunflowers stand tall; wild, native blossoms surge around a yield sign; and tiger lilies and wildflowers spill out over the sidewalks. It's like the plants are taking over the neighborhood with a "Big Yellow Taxi" in reverse: unpaving the parking lots and putting up paradise where you'd least expect it. 6947 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis, 63143. 314-588-9600,