Tale of two streets in Ferguson

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FERGUSON, MO — West Florissant Avenue runs parallel to South Florissant Road, separated only by a few blocks. But the division runs much deeper. The two thoroughfares tell the story of two cities in one, of the gulf between class and race.

Some white residents told me they lived in a bubble: They own homes off South Florissant Road, eat in restaurants there and rarely venture into the streets that were familiar to Michael Brown, the black teenager who was shot and killed by white police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9.

Black residents who live in the patchwork of homes and apartments off West Florissant Avenue sounded a similar note. They, too, lived detached from other parts of Ferguson.

On Monday, I walked both these Ferguson streets that have been unwittingly thrust into the news. I wanted to get a sense of the place, the people and the mood before a grand jury decides whether to indict Wilson. I also wanted to capture the contrast.

South Florissant went through a revival, though signs of a city in decline still exist in the form of shuttered storefronts. There’s an upscale wine bar, bicycle shop, a brew house and a plaza for concerts. It’s walkable — hence the district’s name, Citywalk — and quaint. It’s a huge source of pride for Ferguson.

But after Brown’s death, business owners on South Florissant have suffered. Not as much as those on West Florissant Avenue, but they have lost money and are now fearful of what might happen after a grand jury decision is made public.

West Florissant Avenue

West Florissant intersects with Canfield Drive, where Michael Brown was killed. A memorial was erected where his body lay on the street for four hours.

West Florissant has been declining for many years, a victim of white flight from the area. The St. Louis Great Streets Initiative was already looking into revamping West Florissant’s commercial area and said in a study that it was not pedestrian-friendly or diverse.

Unlike South Florissant Road, there are no upscale restaurants here. There’s a McDonald’s and Chinese fast food. There’s also a barbecue place that was very badly hit because of its location next to the QuikTrip gas station, which became ground zero for violent protests and was burned down.

Police armed with tear gas confronted protesters on West Florissant in August. In the weeks since, many businesses had removed the plywood boards covering their doors and windows, but now they are back up again in expectation of more unrest.

One place that has never been boarded up is the Ferguson Burger Bar & More. Owner Charles Davis puts his faith in God and in the community. He is confident he — and West Florissant Avenue — will be OK.

By Moni Basu


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