St. Louis claims success with longer rec hours, downtown teen zone to curb teen chaos
The City of St. Louis says a dedicated downtown space for teenagers has helped reduce chaos and disorder in the neighborhood.
Mayor Tishaura Jones established the teen zone, and extended hours at two city-owned recreation centers, on June 24 after a shooting at a party downtown left one teen dead and 11 others injured. Since then, about 100 teens a week have gone to the zone, located on Chestnut Street between 8th and 9th streets.
“We weren’t going to solve this problem in a month,” said Wil Pinkney, director of the Office of Violence Prevention. “First and foremost, it was, ‘We have kids downtown, there's nothing for kids to do, there's no place. Let's create that space.’ I think we have done what we set out to do.”
The city does not have specific measures like police calls for service they are using to determine whether the teen zone is a success, but officials said there has been a drop in the number of violent incidents downtown.
Dan Pistor, a downtown resident for 16 years and the chair of the safety committee for the neighborhood association, said the weekends have felt calmer. But, he said, his neighbors would also like to see more enforcement.
“I know, a lot of downtown residents would like to see enforcement for some of the parents that bring their kids downtown or drop their kids off,” he said. “They’d like to see the curfews enforced.”
Pistor is also criticizing the city for promoting an Aug. 5 event that drew as many as 400 teens to the zone, calling it counterproductive. The city said in a press release distributed Thursday that the downtown teen zone would be “on break” this coming Saturday but did not explain why.
In addition to dedicating space for teens who make their way downtown, the city also kept two recreation centers — Dunn-Marquette in the Dutchtown neighborhood and Wohl in Kingsway West — open until 10 p.m. for kids between 10 and 15 years old, and 1 a.m. for teens 16 and older. It was designed to give people living in those neighborhoods a safe place to go.
“I talked to one young man who, you know, he said, ‘I really don't leave the house,’” Pinkney said. “And the question was, well, if you could, would you? And he said, ‘Yes.’”
Keyonta Valentine, 17, was among a half-dozen teens and adults shooting hoops on a recent Saturday night.
“It feels a lot safer. You’ve got the security guards and stuff like that,” he said. “You can’t bring your weapon.”
The rec centers were more popular with younger teens, Pinkney said. He acknowledged that the city needed to find additional partners to develop programming for an older population, or those who may not want to play sports.
Arah Anderson, a Dutchtown resident and member of the Violence Prevention Commission, said she had seen a wide variety of groups take advantage of the extended hours at Dunn-Marquette.
The first week, she said, teenagers came in with their younger siblings. Early July brought storms and a blistering heat wave that drove entire families to seek refuge at a place with air conditioning. A few weeks ago, teens experiencing homelessness began coming in as well.
“We thought it was just going to be for teenagers, but the problem that we’re dealing with, the violence, it’s got to be a community thing,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to take care of the whole family.”
The extended recreation hours will last through the end of August. Pinkney said the city is looking to get additional funding and partnerships to continue them occasionally through the winter months.