by Michael R. Allen
Preservation Research Office is proud to be one of the sponsors for this year’s Next American Vanguard Conference, which comes to our town October 11 and 12. Created and supported by Next American City, Next American Vanguard is a fellowship program that gathers emerging young leaders in various fields such as urban planning, entrepreneurship, community development, transportation, sustainability, design, art and media.
I am a Next American Vanguard alum, having been part of the 2010 “class” that met in that eastern outpost of solidly red brick neighborhoods, Philadelphia. In two days, we spent time taking in talks from the city’s experts in public policy, touring urban farms, abandoned waterfront sites and innovative small businesses, and learning about — and from — each other. Getting into conversations with peer practitioners from other disciplines and cities, I felt like my work in St. Louis was connected to a national movement to make our cities better. I also learned about my work — that it was something different to an education reform advocate from Los Angeles than to a City Councilman in Portland, Maine. Since 2010, the people I met at Next American Vanguard have shared ideas and articles, given me places to stay, connected me to colleagues in my field and provided advice.
While in St. Louis, Vanguard attendees will see what this city is doing right, and wrong. They will visit neighborhoods, the City Museum, the Regional Arts Commission and a downtown rooftop loft. They will hear from Mayor Francis Slay, from vanguard alums, Amos Harris, Richard Baron and Joe Edwards. Yet most of all they will find each other, peers who will invigorate their work with new perspectives. St. Louis is lucky to be the scene for the conversation at Next American Vanguard.
Who knows — maybe the city will shine brightly enough that a Vanguard or two will end up living here in the next few years. Maybe some people will leave us with a new idea or a potent, useful critique. At the very least, everyone will return to their cities knowing that St. Louis definitely is part of the national discussion on the future of American cities.