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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My first original photography!

Hope everyone is having a splendid holiday season!

Thanks to my haul on Christmas day, I am now a happy digital camera owner.

Accordingly, I have snapped photos of the South Side all week!

If you want to check out my first work, which actually predated my own camera (I borrowed it from my sister), check out this Skyscraperpage thread.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Here's an in-post poll.

Where did you do most of your shopping for gifts?

Free-form Answers welcome.

What percentage of your gifts did you purchase within the city of St. Louis?

What was your "mall count" in the shopping season?

Did you make it a point to support local businesses this holiday season? If so, which businesses did you patronize? Which did you find was the best shopping experience?

Spill all the beans about your holiday experience here. Please.

...and Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A spate of National Register listings is a good thing for St. Louis

A map of St. Louis historic districts, minus recent additions (mentioned below).

The Landmarks Association of St. Louis and a couple private citizens have been working hard as of late to list more of St. Louis's historic vernacular architecture on the federal registry of historic buildings and districts: the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Register is important in St. Louis because, although it does not protect a building from demolition, it does open structures up to the state of Missouri's generous 25 percent investment tax credit.

In October of 2008, the Preservation Board considered the addition of a portion of the Marine Villa neighborhood to the National Register. Marine Villa is a wonderful reflection of St. Louis architecture, with its stock dating from the 1870s in early examples all the way up to the modern period (1960s). Red brick, Creole structures meet little modern bungalows in an odd but (in my opinion) somewhat cohesive building mix. While Marine Villa is in dire need of some tree planting, streetscape improvements, and better connections to the riverfront given its riparian nomenclature, a National Register district within the neighborhood might spur historic rehabs--the first step to an improved neighborhood.

Earlier in the year, the Preservation Board looked at the St. Cecilia Historic District (S. Grand (W), Delor (N), Virginia(E), Bates (S)). It includes 30 city blocks in south St. Louis. St. Cecelia is an excellent representative of St. Louis's early 20th Century late streetcar suburbs.

On this month's Preservation Board agenda, not one, but two districts are proposed. First, the "Liggett and Meyers Historic District", which is the portion of McRee Town that has not been demolished (west of Thurman, south of Park, east of Vandeventer, and north of Lafayette). Ecology of Absence has already discussed this addition (see "Folsom Avenue Blues"), which is the effort of the Garden District Commission, which had the other half of the neighborhood obliterated.

The other district is even larger--the Grand-Bates Historic Suburb District. Click the link to see the exact boundaries. A rough summation is that this district will take in several blocks to the southeast of Grand and Bates, partially from Grand to I-55. This district includes the impressive, tree-lined boulevard of Bellerive.

It was not long ago (2005) that the Gravois-Jefferson Historic Streetcar Suburb District was added to the National Register. Consuming nearly all of the Benton Park West neighborhood, much of Gravois Park, and parts of Dutchtown South, the district is St. Louis's largest in size and in number of contributing buildings. It is important because, with all of these recent additions to the Register, most of pre-1920 south St. Louis can now boast of historic district status--which raises property values and offers rehabilitation incentives all at once.

It's more than a shame that the original city of St. Louis has been mowed over multiple times: that old, compact Creole section hugging the river; the later manufacturing district that gave way to the Arch. It's also a shame that some of the earliest "suburban" outgrowths are also gone--Kosciusko, Mill Creek Valley, DeSoto-Carr, southern Old North St. Louis; most of LaSalle Park and Bohemian Hill; all the neighborhoods ringing downtown.

Even so, it's heartening to see that scrubby Dutch south St. Louis is recognized as historic. Fifty years from now, bungalows once taken for granted will appear all the more historic resources. A National Register listing for such properties certainly won't do any harm.

This is good news to break up the usual dour news as of late.

Friday, December 19, 2008

St. Louis goes ALL OUT with Stimulus Package Requests!

Check out the Stimulus Package request for St. Louis. (Officially titled, the U.S. Conference of Mayors MainStreet Economic Recovery Survey).

It contains $2.4 BILLION worth of streetscape improvements, transit improvements, airport, etc.


On the list:

  • $900,000,000 for Northside/Southside Metrolink expansion!
  • $3.0 million for City Hall Exterior cleaning/renovation
  • $1.3 million for Old North streetscape improvements
  • $4.0 million for Morganford (Arsenal to Chippewa) streetscape improvements
  • $35.0 million for "Fixed Lane Trolley Development--Serving "Loop"/Washington University"
  • $1.4 million for Historic Water Tower Renovations
And so much more!

How much that's on this list could possibly be approved? (By the way, the list contains the number of jobs the project is expected to create.)

Exciting to even see it all in print! I mean...nearly every streetscape would be rehauled!

Check it out for yourself.

UPDATE: St. Louis's request may be the nation's largest amount! I'll keep investigating.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My next project: Mapping SLU's demolition derby in Midtown for the past few decades

Wish me luck.

It's going to be a lot of work.

But I was inspired by this saddening piece of news (and I'm not overly pleased by SLU's proposed demolition of Laclede Street for new student housing, either. There are other viable sites. Try Olive Street west of Spring. It's vacant, large, and waiting for redevelopment. Or build taller, rather than wider, adjacent to, but sparing, Laclede Street).

Another mansion to be lost; a context, already faded, wiped away forever.

What will be the model to rebuild by? I shudder to think.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The New I-64 may border on scandal.

We taxpayers have spent millions.

The media nearly gave us heart attacks last year, predicting that the closure of the western portion of the "New I-64" project was an effective "Sorry, We're Closed" sign for the whole region.

And, after all of that, this is what we got?

I guess I should have looked at the plans more closely; I didn't realize it was merely a highway widening project. What a waste of money: turning old Highway 40, whose bridges actually had some character, whose roadway is actually historic, into the Page Avenue extension!

I truly thought that thoughtful design would go into new bridges; that clover intersections would be going on a "road diet" and give up right-of-way for future development.

I think that it's a scandal, in 2008, to be widening roads, for this much money and energy wasted, without consideration to non-motorized regional transit--no parallel project to expand light rail--just another widened road. It's our portly roads that ensure an ease of access in and out of the city that have proven so stifling to attempts to bring retail (and residents) back into the City of St. Louis.

This is a waste.

And it further christens the automobile, far and away, as the unrivaled king of transportation in the St. Louis region, especially after the failure of Proposition M, which would have plugged a Metro budget leak into the hundreds of millions. Instead, we as taxpayers have allowed those hundreds of millions to be shifted to car users, for the umpteenth time in St. Louis history.

I think it's a scandal. And I and other urbanists have dropped the ball; we should have acted sooner. Might it be early enough to intervene in the eastern section?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Amazing renovation on California at Cherokee

I am officially jealous of the mofo who gets to live in this stunningly rehabbed unit, right off of St. Louis's most urban and diverse and interesting commercial spine.

It's 3409 California. Here's the Craigslist posting.

Pre-Renovation Google Streetview Capture.

View Larger Map

Friday, December 12, 2008

Filling in a (Donut) Hole on Old Route 66

I knew something didn't look right.

I truly do remember this sign from when I was a child. Why did they ever take it down? At any rate, it's back up, thanks to an intriguing Restore Route 66 grant from the state of Missouri. Kudos to remembering our autocentric history alongside our more urban history.

You can thank the Lindenwood Neighbor's December 2008 issue for this sweet bit of news. It's published quarterly by the Lindenwood Neighborhood Association. Check it out.

Shop St. Louis City!

While we're celebrating Highway Closure Month, the City (specifically, St. Louis Development Corp.) has decided to try and capture some of the retail sales pie from wayward motorists taking confusing exits into strange urban street grids for the first time in their lives.

The result is wonderful!

Shop St. Louis City!

It's a practical guide for shoppers, focusing exclusively on the city. The majority of the listings are local businesses.

Please use this guide to assist you in your holiday shopping.

Thanks SLDC!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"The New I-64"--A.K.A. Highway 40--a Freeway without a Future?

Is Highway Forty a member of the not-so-elite Freeways without Futures?

Not yet--but, on the dawn of the closure of Kingshighway to I-170, it should be.

Those who know St. Louis know that I-170--the Innerbelt--is a rough demarcation between urban St. Louis and suburban St. Louis (some say Lindbergh Boulevard instead).

Now that the western half of the former Daniel Boone Expressway has been completed (Spoede to I-170), we should really give a last minute look into the eastern half, which is simply not the same.

The western half of the New I-64 Project was a suburban, commuter interstate and nothing else.

Check out an aerial of the road network:

View Larger Map

It's clearly not an urban area.

Now check out the eastern half that is slated for closure in days:

View Larger Map

Notice anything?

Did the 1,300 acre regional park and neighborhood asset known as Forest Park enter your mind? How about the generally urban street grid that surrounds the interstate?

So, let's get this straight. We're spending millions of bucks to repave a highway, put up some sound walls, and knock down a couple bridges? Why not up the ante and urbanize I-64 from I-170 to Kingshighway, if not all the way into downtown? Yes, I am borrowing here from Steve Patterson's visionary post calling for the removal of St. Louis's superfluous interstates, to be replaced by something along the lines of Forest Park Avenues (ex: the stretch from Kingshighway to Market St., not the Parkway portion, which is a true expressway). It just makes sense. Congress renewed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA, pronounced ice-tea). ISTEA allows funding to transform historic road corridors into pedestrian-friendly, landscaped, functional corridors. It allows for bike lanes, street lamps, sidewalks...everything.

The public has well gotten used to life without 40; the addiction to whizzing on and off this central artery is past the withdrawal stage. Why reintroduce the habit of overly convenient and anti-pedestrian highways in urban areas? With the money earmarked for rebuilding, we should construct something that honors the urban locales that have been affected by the endless buzz of traffic for decades.

I can think of one argument against the urban boulevard transformation for I-64 (other than that it'll slow some commutes). It doesn't truly solve the root problem of I-64/Highway 40.

THE FREAKING HIGHWAY SLICED THROUGH FOREST PARK!!! The Dogtown neighborhoods--Kings Oak, Cheltenham, Clayton-Tamm, Hi-Pointe--have been cut off from one of the region's greatest assets for so long. Due to the presence of the interstate, pedestrian entry to the park from the south is funneled into a couple roads, when the whole south side of the park should be so attractive as to be a prime address in St. Louis. The reality is that, if you live, say, here:

View Larger Map have an unnecessarly long trek to the Tamm overpass, the nearest park entrance. Or you could walk across the Oakland overpass, past the nightmarish I-64 Clayton Avenue exit/Skinker intersection, and thence into the park. Not. Pedestrian. Friendly.

Autocentricism has destroyed a vital connection between park and neighborhoods. The result is a "suburbanized" park in the process. Many people who live less than a mile south of the park will nevertheless drive to get to it.

I envision a buried Interstate 64. Forest Park could then be restored to its original footprint, which includes the section presently south of the interstate that some might assume was simply federal right-of-way from the start and not part of the park itself. The south side of Forest Park, then, could enjoy the brisk, urbane aesthetic of the Skinker and Lindell sides. Unfortunately, this might mean the need to remove the Hampton exit altogether, with Zoo and Jewel Box and Muny goers subjected to the Skinker or Kingshighway exits. The buried portion would extend for at least the length of Forest Park, if not farther.

Again, why spend public monies on recreating something that may not have a long term future as an asset to the city? I-64 may be a freeway without a future; burying it would reduce its obstruction of the jewel of the St. Louis park system from the deserving residents just south of the future construction zone.

In the meantime, scroll down City Park Avenue in New Orleans to observe an interstate-free, vital connection between a 1,300 acre park and an urban neighborhood (yes--they're just about the same size!). [It's New Orleans' City Park.]

View Larger Map

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hyde Park Master Plan...and speaking of trees...

I warned you all about my busy week. Still, I feel compelled to apologize for this blog's sparsity.

Accordingly, since the City of St. Louis website is so unfriendly and doesn't do a good job advertising its content, I found this Hyde Park Master Plan worth a click (it's for the Park itself, not the neighborhood). All the necessary elements are to be found: creating a better entryway and gathering space right off of Salisbury, renovating the old fishing pond in the northwest corner; planting new trees, ridding of sick/dead ones...

While we're on that topic, does anyone know why the city has chopped down several trees in the median on River des Peres Blvd.? My mother called me today to ask me why, figuring I'd know. She said it looks like a murder scene: there's been a tremendous loss to the beauty of this stretch. If it's true, it's very unfortunate to hear. Can anyone confirm?

I expect it's because some of the trees are really close to the roadbed and just don't agree with wayward and speeding drunk drivers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A brief, but enjoyable trip back to St. Louis

I took the train in on Wednesday, leaving at 1:45 p.m. from New Orleans. I arrived in Carbondale, Illinois at 3 a.m. on Thursday morning.

I left at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. So, when I say brief, I mean brief.

That doesn't mean I can be kept from urban/small business exploration in my short time.

Here are some random observations and experiences--

  • I went, finally, to Local Harvest Cafe for some breakfast. I ordered a pretty basic eggs and bacon type sandwich, but felt good about it since they support local farmers with everything on their menu. Oh yeah, and it was yummy! I'll have to return for lunch the next time I'm in town. Decor-wise, I was totally impressed. It's everything a cafe should be. Intimate, cozy, inviting...the tin ceilings were amazing and I loved the artwork (which paid homage to the building's historical commercial tenant (heating and cooling, I believe?)).

  • The city looked extraordinary clean in most parts. Keep up the good work not littering, guys.

  • I took my mom, aunt, and older brother to Murdoch Perk for some coffee because we were in that neighborhood doing some shopping (Nature's Aglow, people, I told you it was a wonderful place for gifts!). Let me just tell you upfront: I had the best hummus that I've ever had in my life at Murdoch Perk. Go NOW if you want creamy, somewhat spicy, delicious hummus, along with warm, soft, ever so slightly crisp pitas. Yummy.

  • I went to the Wedge on Bates and Virginia. It's a nice space and it's got good pizza. I didn't check the upstairs out, but it looked like they had a pretty good business for being so new. My mother loved the pizza so much she ordered one to go for later.

  • I also checked out Sasha's on Shaw, the new wine bar. The long storefront literally glows from the street with all of the lighting in the place. Like many wine bars, it's a perfect place to go if you want to both have some drinks and some conversation (no overly loud soundtrack in the background). The place is essentially split into two halves--one is non-smoking too! I'm actually not a wine person, and so opted for a vodka drink, which was excellent. It looks like their menu includes pizzas and light fare to accompany the wine. There's also a beautiful garden in the front of the building with outdoor seating. Just a word of advice: if you go, don't try to pry the front gate open to get in the place! The entrance is located at the southwest corner of the building! Overall, I was totally impressed. The place brings a wonderful vibe to Shaw.

That's all for now. It's finals week, and I have a 15-20 page paper, a presentation, and a final all due by Tuesday. Wish me luck!

Monday, December 1, 2008

I am thankful for...

It's a bit late, I know, to be spouting off uplifting Thanksgiving messages.

But I am thankful for strip retail centers with rear parking.

That is why the new retail center at Chippewa and Lindenwood (west of Hampton Avenue) just doesn't bother me. Sure, it likely won't house any local retail (UrbanSTL forumers report that it's a future AT&T store-Qdoba combo).

But, walk, drive, bike, scoot, or Metro by this somewhat autocentric portion of Chippewa and take a look at the effects of placing parking in the rear. The squat, one-story, sparely designed commercial building becomes something of an urban building, despite the odds.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of, well, anything from my brief return to St. Louis for the holiday. Regardless, check it out for yourself. It's truly a St. Louis first. (On a sidenote, I wonder how the residents along Lindenwood feel about visible surface parking from their front yards. Even though the parking technically faces the alley, some street trees or shrubbery should be planted to make this less visually disruptive to the quaintness of the adjacent residential neighborhood).

By the way, this blog will probably be pretty scant in posting until Tuesday, Dec. 9th--my final class of this long, long, difficult, time-consuming semester.

Nevertheless, I will have more on my return home later for you.

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