February 25, 2013

Transforming Vacant Land

Usually, food on trains is nothing to brag about. A quick Google search showed that Amtrak actually has a chicken menu item called “Choo-choo Chewies.” They say it tastes like chicken. I hope they are correct.

Eating inside a cargo container sounds even less appealing than Choo-choo Chewies. (Unless it means I get to hang out with the Boxcar Children.)

As difficult as it may be to believe, there is a new project in Saint Louis that could make dining in cargo trendy and charming. Washington University in St. Louis and the City of Saint Louis named Bistro Box, “a small business incubator that transforms surplus cargo containers into a compact restaurant and culinary destination,” as one of the finalists in Washington University’s Sustainable Land Lab competition.

The Sustainable Land Lab competition invites teams to design innovative projects that transform vacant lots into assets. The City of Saint Louis owns more than 8,000 vacant lots that are just sitting there, deteriorating and underutilized. Show-Me Institute policy analysts have offered suggestions in the past about how the city can work to get more of those lots back into productive use. The Sustainable Land Lab competition is a great method to put these vacant parcels in the spotlight, and proves that innovators and entrepreneurs have exciting ideas to utilize this vacant land.

This is the first year of the competition. I hope that it will be successful in transforming vacant land and will shift the way Saint Louis treats that land. The best outcome of this project is that it would not only help improve blighted areas of the city, but encourage others to take on similar projects. Revitalization lies in the hands of eager residents who care about the community. In the past, the Saint Louis Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) has not been willing to allow development to occur organically, preferring to hold land for development that the agency chooses. But the government cannot predict what will be the best use of the land (remember Pruitt-Igoe?), nor will it come up with the most creative solutions.

Anything — including eating train-track chicken in an abandoned cargo container — is preferable to the city holding the land for decades.

A project of the


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