Leadership in action: Calming traffic, building community

  • Published: Thursday, June 2, 2022

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – At a community movie night in the West End neighborhood in St. Louis, Lisa Potts was alarmed at how many cars were speeding and running stop signs along Hamilton Avenue, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare.

“I remember thinking that we definitely needed a traffic-calming initiative on this street because otherwise someone is going to get run over for sure!” said Potts, a West End resident for 20 years.

The idea evolved into “Drive Like Your Children Live Here,” Potts’ final project for the Neighborhood Leadership Academy. A collaboration between the University of Missouri-St. Louis and MU Extension, NLA is a leadership training program that culminates with each participant developing a community improvement project for their neighborhood.

Potts patiently built partnerships. She enlisted Trailnet, a St. Louis-based organization, for a pop-up demonstration of possible traffic-calming options such as curb bump outs, protected bike lanes and street art at intersections. She formed a traffic-calming task force that worked with the local neighborhood association to make sure businesses and residents on surrounding streets had input. She gained the support of St. Louis Alderwoman Shameem Clark-Hubbard, who connected Potts with the St. Louis Street Department and Scott Ogilvie of the city’s Complete Streets program.

Community partners, including neighbor and fellow NLA graduate Tonnie Smith, secured a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Art Initiative, which funds efforts to incorporate art into roadway design, making streets more welcoming and increasing the visibility of pedestrian spaces. Students with St. Louis ArtWorks, a community nonprofit, created designs for placement at four key intersections. Washington University graduate students helped with the technical aspects of positioning and sizing the designs. ArtWorks students presented 12 options at a community meeting; residents voted for the top four designs.

“What I love so much about Lisa’s vision is that she rooted it in the community’s strengths,” said Claire Rippel, education director for MU Extension’s community development program and director of Creating Whole Communities at UMSL. “She incorporated the voices of all her neighbors. So many residents felt included and invested, and that’s the sign of a truly successful NLA community project.”

“We got bright and colorful designs inspired by love of community,” Potts said. “The hope is to get people to slow down to admire the work, which is also the overall objective — to help calm traffic.”

After nearly two years of work on this street safety project, Potts stood on Hamilton Avenue one Saturday this spring watching youths and mentors work to transform the intersections.

“I hope it’s contagious – that when people see the success of this community project, it will spur other ideas to use the same process to combat illegal dumping or turn a vacant lot into a pocket park,” she said. “That’s what the Neighborhood Leadership Academy class taught me. If you want to build community within your neighborhood, if you want your neighborhood to improve, you’ve got to be the change.”

NLA is a program of Creating Whole Communities, a partnership between University of Missouri–St. Louis, MU Extension and neighborhoods in the St. Louis region. NLA provides in-depth and multifaceted leadership training that emphasizes community building principles and strategies, project planning, organizational leadership and management practices and personal leadership skills.

NLA began in St. Louis in 2002 and is now offered statewide, with online and local cohort options available. For more information, visit muext.us/NLA2022 or contact Claire Rippel at [email protected].


"Drive Like Your Children Live Here"


St. Louis ArtWorks youths, with help from Washington University graduate students, created colorful designs to paint on four Hamilton Avenue intersections.

Longtime St. Louis West End resident Lisa Potts decided to do something about the reckless driving in her neighborhood. For her Neighborhood Leadership Academy final project, Potts partnered with the city, nonprofits and residents to design traffic-calming measures along Hamilton Avenue.

St. Louis ArtWorks youths and Washington University grad students paint one of four West End intersections as part of a traffic-calming project.

Writer: Katherine Foran

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