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Friday, October 31, 2008

In Memoriam: the Olympia at 3863 West Pine/200 N. Vandeventer

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, constructed in 1926.

The Olympia apartment building fell victim, as many nearby structures did, to SLU "campusization".

It suffered from that mentality that a college campus, whether urban, suburban, or rural, must offer students a bucolic retreat from urban life.

SLU demolished it in 1993.

Here is the site today.

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At least the parking lot that replaced it is well obscured. Right?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Good News/Bad News Round-up

> Downtown St. Louis Business reports that the southwest corner of 14th and Washington may soon see some actual construction. It's a glassy contemporary building. Though it's built across several old lots, it's still more to neighborhood scale than the cancelled Skyhouse development. Plus, it's nice to see what looked like a useless demo (the old Ehrlich's Cleaner's building) actually be vindicated.

This is Good News!

> The St. Louis Preservation Board approved the demolitions of two structures on the 900 block of Locust Street--for a turnabout for the proposed Indigo Hotel. The city's Preservation Board (repeat that to yourself) allows a developer to demolish two urban buildings in the city's central business district. What decade is this? Our CBD is too tattered, too anti-urban already to be allowing for further demolitions, especially for such an autocentric land "use". This is all around bad planning.

This is Bad News!

> Word is, on the Urban St. Louis forums, that the old industrial building near the Kingshighway Viaduct on Dagget Street in the Hill is threatened with demolition for a new mixed use development. One of the forum members claims the plans, which are to be made public tonight, reflect a development that would be beneficial to the neighborhood. I just hope they'll save the facade of the structure.

I have to Abstain on the Good/Bad declaration until I see the plans.

> Metro's next extension will be from Clayton to Westport. While I think that their priorities should be with the Northside-Southside line, I understand that St. Louis County will be voting on Proposition M next week, and they need to demonstrate a commitment to transit in the County. Any expanded rail service to the region--especially if better planned than the Cross County extension in terms of station design and pedestrian friendliness--is a benefit to the region as a whole.

This is Good News!

That's all for now. I may append later.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One of the last remaining historic buildings on Cass Avenue is gone

Demolished on May 5, 2008 for $15,000.

The city was decent enough to take a picture of the new vacant lot on September 9, 2008:

Annually, the number of demolitions in neighborhoods like Jeff Vanderlou is simply staggering. So are the costs to demolish.

Each year, Jeff Vanderlou becomes more like parkland owned by the LRA (and, of course, Blairmont) than the dense urban neighborhood it once was.

Did the jokes-for-candy Halloween ritual start in St. Louis?


I asked someone here in New Orleans if she had her joke prepared for trick-or-treating.

She replied with a blank stare.

Then I found out: it just may be a St. Louis-created ritual!

It looks like Des Moines does it too, but is it possible that this is a St. Louis original?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In Memoriam III: 2620 and 2622 Arsenal

A nice duo of buildings was destroyed for Millennium's proposed Fleur-de-Lis at Benton Park development (for parking, if I recall correctly). The status for this project has recently changed from "Dead" to "Possible", rebranded as the Hydraulic Brick Lofts. The Urban St. Louis forum thread has more details.

Even so, wouldn't it have been nice to leave these buildings standing? Surely a site plan could have been devised for either development that would have respected these structures? If not, can't we just make sure we don't demolish anything until we're ready to build?

2622 Arsenal

Demolished March 2005
Cost: $10,500.00

2620 Arsenal

Demolished March 2005
Cost: $12,500.00

The site now:

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Couldn't their execution have been stayed? This is what $23,000 buys?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Memoriam II: 2915 Minnesota

According to the St. Louis Community Information Network site, 2915 Minnesota--the rare flounder house--was demo'd on October 2, 2008.

Here's a picture of it pre-demolition:

The trees out front of the former flounder house in this Google Streetview capture now obfuscate a vacant lot.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Memoriam: Cherokee Street

2622 Cherokee St. (at Texas)

Demolished 4/14/06.

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Why do I post this today? I'm going to search the city's website for recently demolished buildings to visually assess the impact of the building's absence on the surrounding neighborhood. This particular demolition threatened an intact business district and blockface, removing perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle, the corner.

To search for yourself, proceed to the City of St. Louis Community Information Network - City Data.

A neighborhood history, briefly

Kosciusko once was a neighborhood that might have made Morgan Quitno blush.

See for yourself in this piece that made the 19th Century New York Times:

(By the way, Lesperance Street was a street that only ran through the old Kosciusko neighborhood. It still exists today, though I'm not sure that it's publicly accessibly anymore (or that's it's even marked as Lesperance anymore).)

St. Louis has been earning bad press from crime for centuries now.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A historic day in St. Louis

Today's rally for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in St. Louis underneath the Arch. I have to admit: this photo nearly gave me chills. For once, I felt like the Arch Grounds were a vital public space, a veritable D.C. Washington Monument Reflecting Pool.

On some political blog I was reading, someone even noted a great irony: that Obama rallied about 100,000 supporters (yes--that's the largest rally so far in this country!) in front of the courthouse where Dred Scott, in 1857, was deemed not a citizen of the United States due to his African ancestry. What a triumph for the bygone soul of Mr. Scott!

The photo is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story "Huge crowd hears Obama".

Just look at that crowd!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Surprise! I agree with Ecology of Absence on the McPheeters Warehouse demolitions, but...

I disagree on one major point. Click here to read Michael Allen's poignant analysis and criticism of the demise of a once important portion of the industrial north riverfront.

Michael Allen says this:

I have pushed off writing further on the now-demolished McPheeters warehouses on Lewis Street just because doing so seemed fruitless. After all, there is no way to return the important lost buildings, and little point in aggressively emphasizing the obvious -- that the demolition of the warehouses was probably city government's biggest preservation failure of 2008.

Well, of course I object to this statement. It's a lot of what I do on this blog, why it's called "dotage"--I long for the city in the vintage photographs I post on the site. I long for the buildings condemned to demolition to remain a part of the cityscape--just as they did when this city functioned as a city. I long for a city government, a populace that values its history and heritage and takes action to bolster that history and heritage.

But we don't have that.

Historic preservation is inherently backward-looking. That's not an attack on the field. It's a recognition that the goals of preservation are illuminated by the decisions--good and bad--that have been made in the past.

What is the context of the neighborhood that remains in 2008? What has been lost at this prominent corner? Do the residents of the neighborhood know there used to be a magnificent theater where that unsightly parking lot is today? Do they know that the demolition of Mill Creek Valley and Gaslight Square forever tore the physical link St. Louis had with so much of its culture, so much of its heritage? Do they know that that industrial neighborhood they drive by everyday on the riverfront (Kosciusko) used to be a thriving Creole neighborhood not unlike Soulard?

St. Louis's historic buildings contain the code to rebuilding a dense, prosperous urban area that is walkable and scaled to the human, not the god's eye of the planner or the politician.

Dwelling on their loss, their squandering, is not merely whining, nor useless. It's a necessity. Future generations need to know that St. Louis was born as New Orleans and will die as Youngstown, Ohio if we do not make an effort to plug the bleed.

Protecting threatened resources that are still present is, of course, the priority of preservation. So is securing the future of stable resources, so that they may continue to enjoy that stability. But we need more people to dote on senseless loss, to complain about it, to wonder why our leaders and why our fellow citizens don't care enough to see a city so great act like one.

There is no way to bring back a wonderful and needlessly lost building. But there is, no doubt, a lesson in each felled building that requires dwelling upon. There's a fading context of urbanity in St. Louis, they say. How much longer do we wish to peer at photographs and consume the texts of our failures without changing the picture, turning the page altogether?

The Ivanhoe Business District should not be struggling

In the most recent issue of St. Louis Magazine, the editors whittled the innumerable restaurant pool in St. Louis down to the best 35. But the issue contained a farewell to departed restaurants as of late: of course, Balaban’s was featured. Can’t forget Busch’s Grove, either. KoKo, formerly of 3257 Ivanhoe, was on the list as well. The editors noted (I don’t have the magazine in front of me right now, and it’s not online) that a new restaurant would be filling the space, but that the site was perhaps “cursed”, having turned over multiple times in the span of a couple years. It turns out that this new restaurant is Bistro Toi, an Asian and Pan-European restaurant, to use its own descriptors on its web site.

(Take a tour of the Ivanhoe Business District below, from Google Streetview):

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Some wonder if an upscale or even mid-priced restaurant can make it in the Ivanhoe Business District after KoKo failed. But I say: why not? The Ivanhoe district has all the ingredients for success as an urban business district.

The district, located on Ivanhoe between Arsenal and Fyler, is very walkable. It is also very drivable, since Interstate 44 is right around the corner. There’s also a bus line that serves the area, and a fairly nearby Metrolink station in Shrewsbury.

Crime is not a major issue in the neighborhood.

Parking, while not as easy as pulling into one of a couple thousand spaces in front of a big box shopping center, is still relatively easy and plentiful.

The surrounding population is, for the most part, middle class.

Here are some stats from the city’s website about the area around Ivanhoe (specifically, from the corner of Scanlan and Ivanhoe). The numbers are derived from the 2000 Census.

½ Mile Radius:

Population: 3,751
Average Household Income (1999 dollars): $51,282
Pct. of households earning over $60,000: 37.7%
Pct. of households earning over $100,000: 9.2%
Pct. of residents with at least “Some College” education: 45.1%

1 Mile Radius:
Population: 17,881
Average Household Income (1999 dollars): $43,169
Pct. of households earning over $60,000: 24.3%
Pct. of households earning over $100,000: 4.9%
Pct. of residents with at least “Some College” education: 44.2%

While this is totally unempirical, let’s look at a control area: one with a lot of successful businesses, restaurants or retail: South Grand (at Connecticut).

½ Mile Radius:
Population: 8,567
Average Household Income (1999 dollars): $37,876
Pct. of households earning over $60,000: 17.7%
Pct. of households earning over $100,000: 5.3%
Pct. of residents with at least “Some College” education: 33.5%

1 Mile Radius:
Population: 38,706
Average Household Income (1999 dollars): $35,397
Pct. of households earning over $60,000: 15.7%
Pct. of households earning over $100,000: 4.7%
Pct. of residents with at least “Some College” education: 32.5%

Now, you might argue that South Grand draws from a much larger area than Ivanhoe, and so it is less reliant on its nearby demographics. But that’s the whole reason I’m astounded at Ivanhoe not being one of the city’s most occupied business districts. It is in perhaps the most stable neighborhood of any district. Sure, it’s not a hotbed of pedestrian activity, and it’s not all that dense, but clearly there is a concentration of middle class residents that do their shopping/dining somewhere. Why did they not support KoKo? Why is Ivanhoe off most St. Louis residents’ radars?

Is St. Louis simply lacking in local entrepreneurs? Or is it that loyalty to malls and other more autocentric shopping/dining ventures convinces a potential small business owner not to even try it out? With the failure of the St. Louis Marketplace on Manchester (though reasons for that may not be entirely its own doing), I would hope that residents would demand more small-scale, local shopping and dining options. But time and time again, we opt to build Loughborough Commons and Southtown Centers at our prominent intersections. Ultimately, no matter how occupied these shopping centers remain, no matter how well they’re maintained, no matter what desired corporate tenants they attract, they’re ultimately damaging to a walkable, human scale business district like Ivanhoe.

For no reason other than that these corporate stores are familiar and convenient, the shopping centers win out over the small business districts. And yet, it’s the South Grand, the Morganford, the Macklind, the Manchester, the Ivory Triangle, the Euclid that truly defines the character of our city.

Why should a restaurant on Ivanhoe fail? It can’t be about the money. There’s enough aggregate income in the area for an upscale restaurant. It simply has to be that those with the money drive to more car-friendly and visible and well-known areas. Ivanhoe isn’t cursed, as St. Louis Magazine says. It’s just one of the many blacklisted old school business districts that are struggling to compete with stale, inferior, less interesting chain stores and restaurants. These types of placeless places have an edge because we allow them to. Not enough St. Louisans “go out of their way” to support local businesses. Not enough of them realize that investing dollars into your local economy—as opposed to sending them to the corporate headquarters of, say, Qdoba, wherever that may be—means investing in the place you live. Even if you spend more dollars at a local place than you might at a chain, more of your money is going to local employees and is funding local services. The “local multiplier” is huge and is not advertised enough. It's funny that Republicans and Democrats alike don't want to rely on foreign oil, and want to create energy locally, but they can't make the same connection with their retail/restaurant dollars. Invest in the place you live!

For these reasons, Ivanhoe shouldn’t be struggling.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Notable because it is so typical"

This Federal style house (transitioning to Greek Revival) at 3811 Kosciusko in the Marine Villa neighborhood is somewhat rare in the St. Louis of today. Yes, it's still there (and appears occupied!).

But the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) architects and engineers had this to say of the property, circa 1940.

Survey number HABS MO-1172
Building/structure dates: 1857 initial construction
Building/structure dates: 1859 subsequent work
Significance: This 2-1/2 story, brick house, built in 1857 and 1859, is typical of the upper middle class homes of the day; notable because it is so typical.

Emphasis mine.

If only it were still true.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Preservation Board Agenda for October

It's that time again--Preservation Board agenda time. Typically, I navigate to the website and almost immediately cringe. Usually, there's an item or two in a stable neighborhood (Lafayette Square or Soulard, to name two instances), which, before opening their individual reports, I assume that they're either new construction or rehabilitations--not demolitions.

Then I see the various North Side neighborhoods and fear the worst. Is it another church sacking historic resources for a parking lot? Is it a non-profit who wants to tear down a block face to provide new affordable housing? Is it an alderman weary of complaints about a particularly troublesome vacant house in a rundown neighborhood? Regardless, I figure another tooth will be punched out, and the overall smile will suffer.

So I opened this latest agenda, and, shockingly, no demolitions were immediately apparent. (For some reason, this month's agenda does not allow you to click each property and see a PDF file. Maybe they just haven't put the reports up yet?).

In fact, there seems to be some good news.

National Register nominations make me very happy. Sure, they don't protect a neighborhood from demolitions directly, but they do offer tax incentives and a(n often) coveted "historic" label that can be used to market a neighborhood to buyers. This month, there appear to be two districts being considered: Marine Villa and the Sts. Mary and Joseph Parish Historic District" at 6304 Minnesota.

Streetview of Marine Villa - 20xx Chippewa Streetscape:

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Streetview of Sts. Mary and Joseph:

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There are also two single-structure nominations: the Cheshire Inn and Lodge (partly in Clayton) and the Railway Exchange Building, a.k.a. Famous Barr Building a.k.a. Macy's.

That's all excellent.

But some major demolitions did slip in there: sneakily, they're hiding underneath the item on the "Restoration of the Board of Education Building...".

Downtown St. Louis Business blog has already covered the impending demolition of two handsome, historic, human scale buildings that are increasingly rare in downtown St. Louis (they're on Locust Street). And he hit all the points I was going to, including this gratingly obvious one: these buildings should not be felled for a turnabout. Remember the Ambassador Building anyone? It is unconscionable to allow such a needless autocentric use to take out two usable, rehab-friendly historic structures that could actually be incorporated into the proposed hotel anyway. DTSTL Biz also points out that no one's sure how much another downtown hotel is even needed.

Should we really be tearing down anything historic in a downtown whose resurgence has been almost solely based on its remaining historic stock of buildings? I say no, and so does Brian at the DTSTL Business blog.

This one's worthy of an email/call combo to Alderperson Phyllis Young of the Seventh Ward. Please contact her to express your disapproval of the needless demolition of two historic buildings downtown for a turnaround/cab stand.

National Register nominations = good.

Demolition of National Register eligible buildings = bad.

Simple as that. Right?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Is this facade "improvement"?

On the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) website, there's a facade improvement program that I've never heard of. I'm unsure whether or not it's still active.

There are also three examples of "before and after" shots that are meant to display the efficacy of the program.

Two seem just fine.

4601 Pope



and 813 Skinker:



Both are those are fine, restrained examples. You don't need to slap foundation and eyeliner on a natural beauty.

But what about this example?

5001 Gravois @ Morganford



I grew up about three blocks from this site. Even though I was fairly young, I remember talk in the neighborhood about how transformative this facade improvement was. To be sure, it was very exciting to have a florist in the neighborhood, and especially one as classy as Russell Florist. But my concern is with the buildings themselves, especially the one angled towards Gravois (the one on the left in the pictures). This looks to me like a more restrained 1960s remuddling of an early 20th Century storefront.

Facade improvements are much needed in Bevo, along both Morganford and Gravois. The old storefronts need greater window space to create an active business district. Beyond facades, the sidewalks need to be replaced. New lighting would certainly help. New neighborhood banners--with recognition of the Bosnian presence--would go a long way as well. There need to be more frequent trash cans and benches--you know, the basics. And, if at all possible, there needs to be a way to slow down traffic on both streets.

Perhaps a traffic circle at Delor/Morganford/Gravois and my now-stale suggestion of a median along Gravois?

These improvements would be transformative.

I'm just not sure this facade improvement at 5001 Gravois was truly that. We should be emphasizing the historic details of these buildings, not covering them up.

I wonder if there was some better reason they tackled the buildings in this light than simple corner-cutting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Restaurants, coffee shops, you name it--they should have bike racks! Dutchtown's Urban Eats, (3301 Meramec, 63118) which is officially at the top of my list of places to try the next time I'm in town.

Here is a picture of their bike rack:

They're also hosts to numerous neighborhood and community events.

One even dealt with bicycles--the "Blessing of the Bicycles" in front of the glorious St. Anthony's church on Meramec. Check their website out for more info.

I've had the pleasure of having tried another bike-friendly establishment: Cafe Ventana (3919 West Pine, 63108), which not only has a row of bike-shaped bike racks, but also a striped "bike lane" in its parking lot.

These two restaurants are leading the pack, St. Louis. You need to catch up.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Kosciusko: one survivor?

The Kosciusko neighborhood, today, is a maze of private, industrial streets. There were no residents in the "neighborhood" according to the 2000 census.

I'm often surprised that there's so little in the way of historical record of the old Kosciusko neighborhood, the one that was razed at some point (1960s?) during the urban renewal craze. If you're delving through St. Louis's extensive history of renewal, you'll hear a lot about Mill Creek Valley and various public housing sites (DeSoto-Carr), but very little on Kosciusko.

Doug over at Random Affairs did unearth this gem about the Kosciusko redevelopment (along with Mill Creek Valley). The only real specifics the article mentions are frightening: 71 blocks of red brick homes were demolished for an industrial park. Ouch.

But I've never been able to find a picture of the old Kosciusko neighborhood. I'm assuming that it was akin to the eastern end of Mill Creek Valley--mostly late Federal style two and three story buildings, a couple Creole-influenced apartments, and some Greek Revivals. This had to be a very early St. Louis neighborhood.

I had thought the entire neighborhood was cleared away. Certainly, though, the structure below has to have been a part of the original Kosciusko. Take a look:

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It's located on the 100 block of Victor. Click the "see larger map" link to view the context of the area.

The house looks Creole. It, in fact, reminds me of a rundown version of a French Quarter structure in New Orleans.

Did this home survive the Kosciusko urban renewal?

The St. Louis Community Information is not too helpful on this matter. The parcel on which the home sits is combined with the adjacent industrial property. The earliest construction date for the six structures on the site is 1899. Click here for the STL CIN info.

That building does not look turn-of-the-century to me.


What would I tear down?

In a blog dedicated to preservation, this seems an odd question.

Shouldn't such a question be predicated on the assumption that, if something is going to be torn down, something better should replace it?

Well, of course. And relax. I was just reading Skyscraperpage and saw a topic titled "Tear it Down!". It's a list of buildings that certain cities' residents (mostly Chicagoans) would like to see torn down.

Almost without fail, the buildings to be torn down are of the Modern (1935 to 1970) or Postmodern (1970-1995) movements.

What's interesting to me is that there are many self-avowed "urbanists" who would readily tear down any mid-century modern building that is not quite "urban" in their books. If it has a small parking lot in front, is not quite as intimate as the older, classical-style building across the street, or, especially, if its own construction involved tearing down a handsome historic building, it's on the urbanist chopping block.

But there is definitely something to be said of a city that embraces its architectural flux--especially one like St. Louis that has suffered too much loss to pretend it's a fully preserved period piece.

I think an Urban St. Louis forum discussion on the old Rodeway Inn (pictured below) says it best. From forum member Framer:

These kind of Mid-Century buildings are crucial to any successful urban fabric. They not only add variety, but they convey a sense of history, that a city is an evolving organism.

You can't always slap down the Jane Jacobs standards on cities that have witnessed so much change and dilution of their old urban fabric. I am of the opinion that the more autocentric mid-century architecture is generally superior to post-Postmodern construction that attempts to return to urban form. Why? At mid-century modernism's best, it applies creative materials, theretofore unseen forms, interesting site plans, and presents a window into a culture still inspired to bring change. Most structures built after the modern period (meaning, after 1970) are only valuable in a kitschy sense.

But even these Postmodern and post-Postmodern structures probably deserve their spot on the soil. As the above quote espoused, cities are always evolving and catering to new economic, social, and cultural norms.

Despite my statement of support for these architectural movements that are reviled by urbanists, there are some St. Louis buildings I could see myself let go. Numerous parking garages and gas stations would make the list (not the least of which would be the Busch Stadium garages just mentioned in a previous post). Anything on the list would be there because of a gross disrespect to context and detrimental effect to a streetscape/blockface.

I would say my two least favorite buildings in the city should go--those just north of the Civil Courts building on the east side of Tucker--but they provide the correct massing for such a wide boulevard.

So, if I had to choose just one, it would have to be:

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(I couldn't resist)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Beautiful Greek Revival in Carondelet - for sale!

Click here to view the listing.

Remember my post about the threat to St. Louis's Greek Revivals? Well, you better snap this one up before the city finds an excuse to tear this down!

What a great building!

Visitation Park: a microcosm of the condition of St. Louis

Decayed, but slowly resurgent.

Fractured, yet still beautiful.

The Visitation Park neighborhood was so-named because of the school and religious institution that used to anchor Cabanne and Belt Avenues, from 1892 to 1962.

Viewing the picture below, it's hard to believe that anyone would have allowed this building to be demolished. It was a breathtaking landmark--a status that probably did it in in the 1960s, considering the costs of rehabilitation and the uncertainty of a "changing" neighborhood.

KETC has done a wonderful history of the park (now known as Ivory Perry Park) and the neighborhood around it in their "Living St. Louis" series. You may access it here.

I cannot help but hold a grudge against Visitation Academy, who abandoned Visitation Park for the pastures of Ballas and Highway 40 in the 1960s. Their predictable move only further harmed the neighborhood they claimed was "too dangerous for their girls to walk to" (See the Living St. Louis video above for that quote).

Now no one can walk to their campus!

For that reason, Visitation Park is a microcosm of the city of St. Louis as a whole. In a city always a victim of urbanophobia, an indifferent citizenry simply threw up their hands in a climate of racial change and federal incentives to head out west. "Sure, let's move this community anchor to a place that is community-less," they must have said. No, not aloud, but in a mere thoughtless acquiescence, as if paralyzed in a river current.

Is auto-ownership next to Godliness? Is a visit from Jesus more likely if you locate your House of God along a major interstate?

My W.W.J.D. radar is beeping at the thought that He just might have remained with the dwindling neighborhood where He was needed most. And, with any luck, he would not have been embarrassed by the magnificent, even ostentatious chateau.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A quote from our fair Mayor re: biking

I don’t have the kind of daily schedule that would let me bike to work. But, if the weather stays this nice a while longer, you might find me along the River Des Peres Trail on a Saturday morning soon. I’ll have a helmet on.

From yesterday's blog post.

Personally, I'd like to see him rearrange his schedule to include biking to city hall. It's a major boost for cyclists and urbanists when your city's figurehead bucks the personal automobile in transporting him or herself.

The very act screams, "I am the mayor of an urban area. And I am one of you."

Is that thinking too much into it?

Portland, Oregon's mayor-elect rides his bike to City Hall.

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