ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis organization is turning eyesore empty lots into the nucleus of neighborhoods.
Pocketparks was started earlier this year after Samantha Lee Smugala got fed up with seeing so many unused empty lots in the city's neighborhoods. So far, the nonprofit organization has used a portion of a $30,000 grant from ReCAST St. Louis to begin working on four projects.
"The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of vacancies and give a beautiful active recreational area to the community," Smugala said.
Pocketparks brings neighbors to the empty lots with food, fun and games. While there, they weigh in on what they would like to see in place of the empty lot and other ways to improve the neighborhood.
"This space is the space we share together,” Smugala said of the empty lot in the 5900 block of Clemens Ave. in St. Louis' West End neighborhood. “I think it's important that we have beautifully-built environments to enjoy"
The environments can be anything from a new home, a park, greenspace or a community garden.
"We are trying to improve our community, and this is one way to get people out and engaged," said neighbor Lisa Potts, who is also the vice president of a newly-created Community Improvement District.
"The things people want are beautification, safety, home improvement loans and things like that," Potts said. "We will be able to raise our own taxes to be able to provide funding."
Pocketparks do more than just build a meeting ground, they also deter crime.
"The criminals are in places they think people don't care about or not paying attention," Potts said. "That's why they are attracted to the vacant lots (and) vacant buildings."