Pro / Con: NGA Facility

December 8, 2017

Globe reporters debate the location of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which recently recommended St. Louis as a site for their new facility.

Pro: NGA Facility

Robert Cardillo, the director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, recently recommended St. Louis as a site for their new facility. The 99 acre site will cost around 1.75 billion dollars to build, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is a combination of an intelligence agency and a combat support agency. They collect geospatial intelligence, which is information about human activity and geographical information on Earth, they then use that data to assist the government and national security.

City leaders have said this will spark the economic revival in St. Louis, providing 3100 jobs for the NGA and 5200 construction jobs.

The only negative to this decision is that houses need to be destroyed or moved in order to make way for this massive facility.

St. Louis has a history of moving people from their homes into urban housing projects that are not well maintained and lead to poverty and crime such as the Pruitt Igoe facility. The NGA is aware of this history and does not want to repeat the same mistakes made in the past. The NGA is providing many options for residents in the area, including real-estate agents that will provide individual support for residents moving, along with financial reimbursement, and physically moving houses to different locations.

81-year-old Charlestta Taylor was devastated when she heard that her home was going to be demolished to make way for the new facility. She and the city agreed to physically move her house to a new location. They put the two and a half story brick building on wheels and moved it to a new address about seven tenths of a mile across town. The NGA and St. Louis is providing residents with up to three times the value of their house, allowing each person to choose where they are relocated to, and providing them with financial aid. “It was not about trying to push people out and make them uncomfortable to relocate. We want them to continue with their life,” said Otis Williams, the director of the economic development agency.

According to the St Louis Dispatch, the city also promised every homeowner that they would be willing to move any house in the NGA facility area to a new location, but Charlesetta Taylor is the only one to take them up on this offer so far.

Although the thought of moving and/or demolishing these houses is hard to stomach, the majority of the houses being moved are vacant and uninhabited. Those who live there are being helped and relocated to wherever they want.

This facility provides high income specialty jobs to the area and influences other companies, such as T-Rex, who funds entrepreneurs and startup companies. Cortex, a graphics information company, is moving their facility from New York to St. Louis to work with the NGA and take advantage of the new jobs coming into the area.

The NGA hires specialty jobs such as engineers and analysts, which influences other tech facilities and government agencies to navigate towards St. Louis.

Recently the NGA hosted an open house event to instill community connections. They spoke to Gateway Middle School students and local community members, promising that a sizable percentage of contracting will go to minority-owned businesses and that the facility will build up the community with increased jobs, security, and access to regional/federal agencies. They also said they are looking to St. Louis youth for new jobs in their facilities.

The NGA is taking great care to make sure that this move is not a repeat of the Pruitt-Igoe facility by providing individual support and financial aid. They are also making strides to improve the community and St. Louis as a whole. Although we have to make sacrifices for the facility, through the NGA St. Louis can become one of the premier tech cities of The Modern

Con: NGA Facility

By embracing the NGA project, St. Louis continues to exhibit its historical tendency of developing in impoverished neighborhoods.

The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency‘s (or NGA) construction of a future western headquarter in north St. Louis has dangerous implications.

The site will affect mainly the St. Louis Place neighborhood, where hundreds of buildings are being destroyed and residents moved.

The St. Louis Place neighborhood harbors a rich history that offers insight into social changes within St. Louis throughout the past two centuries. Originally inhabited by first and second-generation immigrants, mainly German, Irish, Italian or Polish, the community underwent a profound demographic change after World War II. White residents began fleeing the inner cities in droves, and St. Louis Place became primarily inhabited by African-Americans. Through the ‘70’s, St. Louis Place thrived and left a legacy of beauty and historical significance in St. Louis. The construction of the new NGA facility in North St. Louis threatens a remarkable cornerstone that remains a testament to the complex narrative that is this city’s history.

St. Louis Place not only houses rich history, but the community contains beautiful works of architecture. Notably, the James Clemens Mansion, built by the uncle of Mark Twain, stands not only as a stunning landmark but also champions a connection between the city and Mark Twain. Along St. Louis Avenue, stately houses that predate the twentieth century prove that this city remembers and acknowledges its past. The construction of the new NGA endangers these buildings that are integral to St. Louis’s identity.

Not only has the new NGA facility destroyed parts of St. Louis history, the construction also has displaced residents of the neighborhood. The destruction of homes to make way for the new $1.7 billion facility forced families out of their communities. While at a final annual block party in the St. Louis Place neighborhood, Janet Bradley expressed sorrow for leaving the neighbors she had developed such a close bond too. She told St. Louis Public Radio, “Once you’ve been together this long, you’re no longer friends. You’re really family.” Others at the party were in tears and heartbroken. The creation of the NGA facility has destroyed communal bonds and displaced over 100 residents already.

Finally, the construction of the NGA site has disturbing parallels to Pruitt-Igoe. Built in the 1950’s for middle-class and poor white and black residents, the Pruitt-Igoe building complex was meant to become the paragon of public housing. Instead, Pruitt-Igoe festered in murder, rape, and drugs as white residents quickly fled the complex. Ultimately the Pruitt-Igoe buildings were destroyed.

Sylvester Brown Jr., a formal metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said, “Oddly, in my role as a community activist today, I use the erection and destruction of Pruitt-Igoe as an ominous warning of what can happen when rich and influential people decide poor people can be discarded, displaced or delegated to other neighborhoods-all in the lofty name of ‘development.’”

In the award-winning documentary, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, the last line is, “The City will change but in ways different than before. The next time the City changes, remember Pruitt-Igoe.” Pruitt-Igoe is widely regarded as a disastrous urban renewal failure, and any parallels between the construction of this new NGA site and Pruitt-Igoe should be seriously considered.

While it boasts thousands of new jobs for St. Louis residents, the construction of the new NGA site in the St. Louis Place neighborhood threatens the history of the city that should instead be treasured. The arrival of the new facility should be looked critically and addressed with caution.

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