village and common fields

I have devoted a lot of research toward understanding the JNEM and Pruitt-Igoe sites individually – but what is the relationship between them?

"The Common Fields of St Louis and her Neighbors" (source: St Louis as Fortified Town, James B Musick)

In its early history, St. Louis was laid out as a village surrounded by commons and common fields.  The common fields were divided into long plots and farmed by the villagers.  The boundaries of these plots influenced the later placement of roads – so it is possible to approximate the location of JNEM and Pruitt-Igoe, despite the river’s changing course.

JNEM, of course, is located on the site of the former village.  Pruitt-Igoe is located in the former “Prairie of St. Louis Common Field.”  This establishes a historical connection between the two sites, preexisting the development of North St. Louis.

Because the common fields were located where grasslands already existed, and the village was located on a forested limestone bluff, the two sites also represent two different native plant communities, corresponding with different site conditions.  Pruitt-Igoe likely had a deep layer of rich top soil, supporting grass species and making it a prime site for agricultural use..  JNEM likely had a thin layer of rocky top soil over the limestone bluffs.

Of course, human activity changed these sites substantially.  Over the course of the city’s development, the limestone bluffs on which the village was constructed were quarried for building supplies or carted away to improve access to the river.  Later, the construction of JNEM imported vast quantities of fill dirt to the site.  The earthworks might recall the limestone bluffs formally–but functionally the site operates differently, with deep soils that hold moisture, rather than the sharp drainage one would expect on a bluff.

Construction and demolition at Pruitt-Igoe left soils strewn with concrete rubble – debris was left on the ground, and piled into the building foundations.  This might create areas of thin soils and sharp drainage, as opposed to the thick soils that once existed.  Some areas of the site are covered in tall grasses, but other areas are now forested.

How can a plant palette reveal these past plant communities, respond to current conditions, and heighten differences between the two sites — while still establishing a connection?


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