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Friday, November 2, 2012

Wash. U., City Team Up For Vacant Land "Ideas Competition"

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2012 at 12:30 PM

This could be yours (for two years) with the right idea. - ST. LOUIS PATINA

There's a new ideas competition afoot in St. Louis; but win this one and you might get yourself a sort of highly coveted vacant lot.

The latest--Sustainable Land Lab competition, which is being funded by Wash. U. and city hall -- asks creative types to dream up sustainability-related projects for vacant lots around St. Louis. The winners, to be announced in April, will win lots of their very own (for a two year lease) to put their projects into practice.

The kickoff event happens tonight at the Contemporary Arts Museum at 6 p.m. Here's what you need to know: free admission, cash bar and food trucks.

St. Louis has seen a surge in these "ideas competitions" in the last year. Ideas competitions are intellectual exercises that bring teams together to troubleshoot problems, usually just for the sake of public dialogue.

Good Ideas for Cities -- sponsored by the LA-based publication interested in urban renewal -- filled the auditorium at CAM earlier this year, and in 2011 creatives brainstormed novel uses for the Pruitt-Igoe site, as an alternative to Paul McKee's oft-stalled large-scale development there.

In the same vein, a series of short lectures about innovative projects around St. Louis -- Pecha Kucha, hosted by local historian and gadfly Michael Allen -- has found a wide audience for its monthly events.

The details of the Land Lab Competition will be formally announced tonight, but you can check out a brief here on Wash. U.'s Sustainable Cities website.

Winners will get a two-year lease of a vacant lot and $5,000 seed funding to implement project. Six project sites to choose from. Up to four awards will be granted.

The lots will be awarded from the city's massive inventory of reclaimed property, under the Land Reutilization Authority -- the nation's first city-run land bank. The LRA owns roughly 11,000 parcels of real estate (reclaimed from people who defaulted on property taxes and such). About 7,000 are vacant lots. According to the Post-Dispatch, mowing and maintaining all that land costs the city roughly $2.7 million a year.

St. Louis programmer extraordinaire Walker Hamilton worked some computer magic this summer to create a map of LRA-owned properties. Or you can use the city's somewhat crappy search engine to eye your prize.

One thing worth noting: While we're thrilled to hear about the competition and the generous grant for winners, anyone interested in getting their hands on some LRA land can do so for $1 a year. Under the "LRA Garden Lease" program, the city will rent out its vacant lots to those willing to create community gardens or other non-permanent projects for the neighborhood ($5 gets you a five-year lease). Additional funding can be obtained through the nonprofit Gateway Greening.

The city is known to be stingy about selling their land, but they'll loan it to you for next to nothing.

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