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Saturday, February 28, 2009

What would shoppers at Chesterfield Commons change about St. Louis? posed this question: We know you love St. Louis, but what would you change about it?

For some reason, they stalked shoppers at Chesterfield Commons to elicit answers.

I don't know if it was careful editing or there were good sales going on, but negative responses were no where to be found (minus one lady griping about traffic)!

Watch the video here.

Streetscape Plan for Vandeventer/Southwest

It's great to see neighborhood organizations taking such a proactive role in physical planning. In this case, the Southwest Garden Neighborhood Association has prepared this document, a streetscape plan for Vandeventer and Southwest Avenues which apparently has gotten funding in the proposed St. Louis Area infrastructure stimulus package.

Here is a preview:

From Miscellaneous Items

I love to see rain gardens included. They're a great way for the city to beautify itself and to mitigate urban runoff at the same time!

(Thanks go to Michael for alerting me to this plan.)

EDIT: Thanks go to Lana for making me realize I linked to the document that was downloaded to my desktop. Link should be fixed!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Old vs. New on the River Bluffs

Check out the St. Louis Altenheim building, pre-demolition in the 1970s (Source: KETC's Living St. Louis Series). It was located on the 5400 block of South Broadway in the River Bluff area fronting the Mississippi River.

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

And you're likely familiar with its modernistic replacement, which is not terrible, but is a far cry from the original. Can you image witnessing the demolition of that landmark as recent as 1970?

From Miscellaneous Items

What used to be inside Fox Park?

From Miscellaneous Items

From the above Google Earth historic aerial (dating to 1996), one can see what looks to be residential or commercial buildings on the southeast corner of Fox Park (California and Victor).

Anyone know what these buildings were? Photos?

The Fox Park Master Plan mentioned that some buildings were cleared in 2000. Speaking of the Master Plan, it's a more than worthy document and a great vision for a small urban park. Check it out here.

UPDATE: The city's records show that a retail building (or two?) was wrecked in November of 2000 under an emergency demolition permit. I wonder what it was...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dotage Turns One! Happy Birthday!

It was a year ago today that I began Dotage to document my advanced stage of home-sickness (and sickness of my home's planning and preservation blunders).

Read my first post here.

Thank you to all my readers and to all of the people who have encouraged me to continue blogging! Thanks go to St. Louis for being so bloggable!

Oh, and, please, leave your birthday wishes in the comments below! Each comment truly is a gift to me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Mardi Gras?

This is from an STL commenter (yes, I know, not usually the source of any quotable wisdom) re: the St. Louis Mardi Gras:

As a veteran of 25 New Orleans Mardi Gras I was appalled and disgusted by the cheap and poorly run event I saw here last Saturday.

In New Orleans corporate sponsorship of a parade or float is not allowed. This parade was a gross commercial for everything.

It was horrible. What a joke!

The crowd was young and dumb and the area I was was a river of urine because there was nowhere near enough toilets. Disgusting.

The only police I saw were inept and more worried about getting their shoes dirty with urine than policing the event.

The bands were horrible (a Prince cover band? Who is booking this schlock?)

Mardi Gras Inc. is a total failure and every business owner hates them and thinks they are a joke.

This is classic St. Louis. Take a great idea, #####ize and constrict it in to an utter failure.

I guess my only defense is that the Soulard Mardi Gras isn't a two-hundred year old tradition as it is in New Orleans. Plus, tourism isn't as integral and such an obvious component of the St. Louis economy as it is in New Orleans. Thus, many residents of Soulard offer a cold reception to the revelers. Soulard is much more of a residential neighborhood in character (even though the smaller, denser French Quarter is home to about 4,000 residents; Soulard, about 3,100 as of 2000). And it seems to me that the St. Louis Mardi Gras has been outsourced to Mardi Gras, Inc. and is no longer a true neighborhood event anyway.

I have to strongly agree with the corporate ownership criticism. If the event can't make money without corporate sponsorship, then there is a disease of civic malaise in St. Louis--or simply no will to carry on the Mardi Gras tradition.

St. Louis is a French and Spanish Creole-founded city like New Orleans. Soulard's pint-sized square blocks and Creole architecture link it physically and culturally to New Orleans. I've always been proud to claim that St. Louis has reclaimed its New Orleans heritage with this large event, inflating the celebration to the second largest in the country after N.O. itself.

But Mardi Gras as it is should likely be retooled. It should be stripped of all corporate sponsorship and made into a more authentic event. I would love to see St. Louisans get into the culture of Mardi Gras as much as New Orleans--that is, having residents from across the metro planning floats, organizing balls, designing costumes, plotting new krewes and parades almost as soon as Ash Wednesday hits. If that's not possible, then maybe the event could just fizzle. Of course, it is a big economic boom to St. Louis. I just wish we could step it up and handle it without the help of Lumiere Place and Beggin' Strips.

Here's to hoping the rumored renegade non-corporate Mardi Gras does start up and does provide something of an alternative to a bloated block party with beads.

[Note of caution: living in New Orleans makes you something of a Mardi Gras snob, as evidenced by the comments of the STL commenter at the beginning of the post].

EDIT: Must have missed this! The unofficial Mardi Gras, complete with non-corporate parade, will roll through Carondelet tonight! How fitting--St. Louis's other prominent French/Spanish Creole neighborhood.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Transform Missouri...via Transit!

Governor Jay Nixon has wisely set up a website (Transform Missouri) where Missourians can submit recommendations as to where stimulus dollars should go.

Please, take some time out and let Governor Nixon know that putting all of this taxpayer money into new road building is simply unacceptable. Tell him that:

# St. Clair County, IL fully funds its Metro operations under a service contract funded from both local sales tax and funding from the State of Illinois. In 2008, Metro received more than $27 million from the St. Clair County Transit District.
# In contrast, the State of Missouri contributes $1.4 million per year to Metro. If the State of Missouri used the State of Illinois ratio to population, they would provide $150 million annually to Metro.


Also mention that new roads only funnel investment away from already existing infrastructure. Take a look at I-70 through St. Charles County, or the Page extension: these new road and road expansion projects only suck residents and retail away from existing sites and fuel growth on the exurban fringe. This shifting of resources is bad for everyone in the state of Missouri except for the few residents who enjoy the new infrastructure.

Let Governor Nixon know that a first-class city needs first-class transit!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Scenes from the San Luis Love-In

Only a week too late, see my photos from the San Luis Love-In on Valentine's last Saturday. Click the picture below to check out the album.

From San Luis Love-In: Feb 14, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Chippewa Square" shopping center: It doesn't look atrocious!

From Pictures

Source: Loop Net

It's amazing what a rear-facing parking lot can do for these one-story commercial buildings. Ideally, of course, this would be a two-story mixed use building, but if we're going to continue to build these commercial-only buildings, let's screen the parking like this example.

(By the way, yes I already posted on this; I found the pic online and thought it worth reiterating. And, you're right, there is a side lot, which isn't ideal. Still, admit that you're surprised this building wasn't placed thirty feet back with front parking.)

Have St. Louis County's western reaches warmed to transit?

See the St. Louis Beacon's article: "West County talks to Metro about contracting for bus service".

The title says it all.

Might this spur a re-vote sometime in the near future to actually fund transit in the St. Louis region?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Map Room: Benton Park

I had such a wonderful time in St. Louis last weekend. Post San Luis Love-In, I was already pumped about the future of St. Louis as a place where people care and feel connected to the wider city.

Then I visited the Map Room in the Benton Park neighborhood. It's located at 1901 Withnell (at Lemp)--just a block or so south of the famous Gus' Pretzels and the Benton Park Cafe.

From Map Room

This is the front of the building. Note the 1960s remuddling to the storefront, which probably once featured amply open windows rather than these small, boxy ones. Actually, though, I think it gives the storefront more character and distinction. I'm happy the owner decided to keep them.

Hands down, this is my favorite coffee shop in the city, and perhaps my favorite local/independent business period.

The furniture is delightfully mismatched, yet cozy and cohesive. Yes, maps adorn the room in varying fashions (a St. Louis City map rests on the counter when you order). There's an outdoor patio that is bound to be popular in better weather. There's even a bubble machine outside.

I met the owner, Michele Floyd, who told me that the bubble machine represents a sort of reverse-broken windows theory.

She says, "Who would want to sell drugs when you've got bubbles blowing all around you?"

She plans to program the space seasonally to raise awareness about other cultures. The Map Room will rotate music and art depending on the culture being spotlighted. Poetry readings and live music may be in the future as well.

There's a large menu of both coffee and liquor (and some combinations of the two). If you're looking for food, you may have to try elsewhere in Benton Park--unless, of course, you're planning a picnic in Benton or Cherokee Park (across the street), since the Map Room prepares Picnic Baskets with various meats and cheeses.

The space is beautiful, inviting, and totally unique to St. Louis. This type of business is what will attract creative people looking for urban living amenities to St. Louis.

Please stop by the Map Room as soon and as often as possible for what is bound to be a Benton Park classic for years to come.

From Map Room

An interior shot. Sorry for the blurriness.

Trust me: this place does not stink!

From Map Room

Monday, February 16, 2009

San Luis Love-In was a big success! Also, my conversation with the Archdiocese.

By now, you've heard the numbers (over 75 attendees!), seen the pictures, and read a bit of reflections on this past weekend's (specifically, this Valentine's Day's) Love-In for the threatened San Luis Apartments on Lindell.

What a wonderful event. It was excellent to finally meet some of the finest of the St. Louis blogosphere as well as non-blogging urbanists and preservationists.

For those that missed it:

I arrived around 11:30 a.m. at the northeast corner of Taylor and Lindell. It was chilly then, but I figured the sun would eventually rear its head and cast light on the wacky, stark white, compound-fracture pillars of the San Luis. It never did.

Still, the event could be described as nothing if not sunny, warm, and upbeat. Smiles abounded as "positive" signs declared this was no protest, but, indeed, a Love-In.

"I Love this Building!" (Replete with an arrow pointing towards it).

"I Love this Building More Than a Lot!" (Get it?)

"San Luis - You're sooo dreamy!"

There was even a homemade sign for Friends of the San Luis that looked alarmingly professional. The event was capped off by a reading of two statements of support by some groups that (I have a growing suspicion) do not even exist: the Great Rivers Blacktop Alliance and the North American Human Building Love Alliance. See the video here. Jeff Vines' love poem to the San Luis was a coupleted-classic, bound to be included in any future volume of preservationist poetry. The Post-Dispatch even quoted Vines' melodic recitation in one of its two (!) articles:

"If you're too lazy to walk, then move out to Wentzville, and keep your hands off of our Hotel Deville.

This building is cool — we won't let it fall. She's our Cinderella, and she'll be at the ball!"

The cops showed up--five officers, by my count--to usher us off the diminutive San Luis lawn--but not before the group present was able to hug the building to express our love! (Again, see the photos).

As far as counter protest, there was bound to be some. Overall, though, by my observation, most curious motorists and pedestrian passers-by found it ridiculous that the building would be wrecked for a surface parking lot--in the Central West End. Still, Lindell Terrace--itself a modern work of architecture not univerally loved--allowed for a balconied bullying of the lovers down below. "Tear it Down. San Luis = Eyesore", they, a group of four or so, wrote (and yelled).

But it was no matter on the street level. Despite the fact that the peaceful group was supervised by several police offers for a good duration of the time; despite a chill that seemed only to worsen into the later afternoon; despite the aforementioned sunlessness that cast an icy gloominess over an otherwise heatedly romantic event; and despite the high rise low blows from the counter-protest; the spirit of love could not be conquered. This was an event that changed St. Louis.

That sounds a bit hyperbolic--but a lot of residents came out to support a building that much of the general public is either indifferent towards or is openly spiteful of. Most Love-In attendees were not residents of the Central West End; those that were lived blocks away. This Love-In was a statement of a wider vision for the City of St. Louis, one where institutions and developers see that any action of the built environment should include its citizens, who are also its stewards and admirers. We are stakeholders, no matter where in the city we live, and we deserve a voice in proclaiming the direction of our city's future. That was clear.

In fact, I was able to speak to a communications director of the Archdiocese of St. Louis on this very topic(I am working on getting a name), to whom I foolishly tried handing a flier advertising the intended fate of the San Luis Apartments. She then flashed me her badge as a sign of disapproval.

But, as I was about to walk away, I yelled back "So, you want a parking lot on that site?"

She approached me and we began speaking. We probably spoke for over 20 minutes in all.

Some of her points: she's a preservationist at heart, too, but doesn't think the building is reworkable. She described the "bones of the building" as rotting. She says the Archdiocese has contacted numerous architects and developers about purchasing and renovating the building. She says all of them have presented much too costly a redevelopment scenario. The Archdiocese would rather have the "unworkable", "dreary" building torn down for a surface parking lot that will be "green". She remarked that the site's rendering was unfair, because the surface lot would not look so desolate. There will be two rows of trees. She claimed that this would help to create a campus.

She says the parking is sorely needed and the lack of it has forced Rosati-Kain to consider moving more than once. Their girls, she said, are forced to park five or more blocks away and walk to school.

Don't worry: I had responses to all of these points.

Regarding the cost of redevelopment, I told her that the building is National Register eligible and is already in a local historic district. This would allow it a 45 percent investment tax credit. Already down the street, the Bel-Air is being converted into the Hotel Indigo using such credits--and it's a mid-century modern, too.

Regarding the green-ness of the proposed surface lot, I told her this: I liked the idea of anything new being constructed or deconstructed to be done in a green manner. However, this surface lot was inherently un-green; the massive San Luis would be reduced to rubble bound for a landfill. Re-use is green, I told her. Plus, planting trees should be the minimum requirement, not the maximum amenity, of any new development.

Regarding the aesthetics of the parking lot, I told her that trees fronting Lindell simply weren't enough. Urbanists and preservationists would like to see this building, which has the perfect massing, scale, and architectural bravado for its context of Lindell Boulevard, be appreciated by future generations and would like the "walking urbanism" that a renovated San Luis would encourage. The new lot would once again, as it way too often the case in St. Louis history, reward motorists with convenient parking opportunities and would erode the life that should be taking place on the sidewalk, having spilled out from impressive buildings like the San Luis.

She asked me what my solution would be, then, if the Archdiocese were forced to keep the building up (which I reminded her, presently has more parking spaces built in to it than the proposed surface lot will have!) and the parking problems persisted. I told her that my concern as a planner with regard to parking convenience is for the elderly and disabled, primarily. These groups do demand and should get convenient and safe access to the Cathedral. However, the Euclid-Lindell garage is rarely at capacity (only on weekends is it full), and a parking-sharing program with a shuttle for the elderly/disabled would be the perfect solution. Surprisingly, she did not counter this--not even to say that it was presumptuous for me to assume the Archdiocese should provide its own shuttle.

She then seemed worried that the "protestors" at the Love-In were being antagonistic toward the Archdiocese. One attendee donned religious garb that she interpreted as ill-placed mockery and mean-spiritedness. She recognized that there were three camps of people in this debate: the first wanted to save the building at all costs; the second wanted to merely ensure urbanism for the corner of Lindell and Taylor (in other words, the anti-surface lot contingent); and the third was a group that just opposed the Catholic Church for the hell of it. I informed her that the group present was solidly in the first two camps. St. Louisans were used to being excluded from planning processes that only ended up harming the quality of life and vitality of their city, I said. Any sort of negativity could only be attributed to a citizenry that is fed up with ignorance, secrecy, bait-and-switch moves, patronization, deceit, and generally poor end product in planning and politics.

I also told her how important it is that we not damage the historic streetscape of Lindell and reduce its context as a boulevard of St. Louis's greatest architectural showcase. We flipped around and looked at all of the building eras represented: the ruddy Romanesque mansion across the street, probably from the 1890s; the swanky 1910s and 1920s Neoclassical mid-rise apartment buildings; the Cathedral itself; the Art Deco Chase Park Plaza complex; the San Luis and Lindell Terrace Buildings; 1980s Condos; 4545 Lindell's contemporary design, etc. A surface lot can simply not honor this tradition, and San Luis is arguably the best representative of the boldness of late 1950s/early 1960s modernism on the whole stretch. We should look to the irony of buildings like the San Luis, constructed during a mindset of a rigid belief in linear forward progress, and see that progress is still our goal but our path is different. Demolition should be totally off the table.

We had a very calm and cordial interaction despite our vastly differing views regarding the fate of the San Luis. I have a feeling that the Archdiocese may sit down with the group and have a more open discussion regarding urbanistic and preservation concerns if we continue to keep this bridge open. I will try to contact her again. I thank her for hearing my points and hope that she will consider some of my comments and suggestions.

After our conservation, I regrouped with the brave 20 or so who fought an unrelenting chill. Most of us walked down to Companions Bakery (because there is simply NO parking in the CWE ;) ), hoping for some warm soup and the ability to again feel our toes as we walk. Wait--having been one of two people there that left New Orleans when it was 70 degrees--perhaps these complaints are unique to me.

Regardless, the Love-In was a momentous event for St. Louis preservation, urbanism, development, and politics. I know everyone that participated enjoyed and will return to further this cause, since it is far from over. Please stay in touch with the group at the No Parking Lot on Lindell! website.

I will be posting my own photographs soon. And I haven't even gotten to the rest of what turned out to be a wonderful weekend in St. Louis. My review of new local/independent businesses is next!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Preservation/Urbanism Updates

First and foremost is Saturday's Valentine's Day Love-In for the threatened San Luis Apartments/DeVille Motor Hotel. The event is very important for the future of St. Louis historic preservation, sound planning, general citizen activism, and for modern architecture. A prolonged clash between an institution that has had unchecked power to alter the built environment (see, St. Aloysius in the Hill) and doesn't contribute to the property tax rolls, one the one hand, and the empowered citizens of St. Louis, on the other, will work in favor of the latter group.

For more information, see the No Parking Lot on Lindell! blog, put together by the Friends of the San Luis.

Secondly, an Urban STL forumer has posted the link to yet another attempt to cap the country's most generous historic preservation tax credit--a development incentive that has simply smashed all expectations, spurred thousands development and restorations across the state, and that has created jobs and more money than was invested in the process.

Please, heed the advice at the bottom of the thread and contact every relevant public official, from your alderman and Missouri House rep on up to the Governor!

In the meantime, I am working on getting out of New Orleans for the weekend to come up to St. Louis for the Love-In! Hopefully, I will see you all there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Orleans' ongoing Master Planning process may recommend decommissioning its main interstate, I-10.

This Times-Picayune article sums up some of the Master Plan's visions and goals. Here is a snippet on transportation:

Encouraging rapid-transit bus routes to eastern New Orleans, the West Bank and other underserved areas, adding hundreds of miles of bike routes and supporting efforts to replace the limited-access expressway that cuts through the heart of the city with a normal street or boulevard. Interstate 10 traffic traveling through the city would use I-610. Dixon said eliminating the expressway would provide a disincentive to living in the suburbs and emphasize that preserving the city's neighborhoods is more important than shorter commute times.

View Larger Map

Essentially, the entire Interstate 10 Loop would be demolished, reconnecting long cut-off neighborhoods.

Can you imagine St. Louis outlining such a goal in a Master Plan? Or even participating in a Master Plan process to begin with? Or voting to give that Master Plan the force of law (which voters did in November of 2008 in Orleans Parish)?

Interstate 55 in St. Louis could be rebuilt as an at-grade boulevard, with three driving lanes on each side, and a central median for the North-South Metro expansion. The leftover former right-of-way could be given over to Transit Oriented Development and to reconnect the portions of South St. Louis bisected by the insensitive, meandering course of I-55.

St. Louisans should start imagining more often.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mayor Slay Comments on Blairmont! New mixed-use community?

On developer Paul McKee’s Blairmont project, which is buying up hundreds of properties in north St. Louis with plans to build a new mixed-use community: Slay said he supports the effort, but that McKee would have to go through the same city approval process as anyone else. He welcomed McKee’s private investment and big plans. “What Paul McKee is doing is he’s putting his own money in, completely at risk. … He’s buying up properties that, in the vast majority of cases, no one else wanted. This is a real opportunity for an area that has been starving for private investment for a long, long time.”



A new mixed-use community? Does the Post-Dispatch know something the public doesn't? Sure there's been speculation of a "Winghaven East," but with the downturn in the economy, I thought everyone was now expecting a huge industrial park a la Northpark.

And Mayor Slay: how hypocritical! You talk of your progress in getting problem property owners prosecuted (see Toby Weiss's commentary on those dubious claims), yet you're supportive of a (still secretive) development that has skirted almost all nuisance ordinances on the books! Yikes. Residents of St. Louis deserve some dialog in these "big" projects.

At least we know exactly where Mayor Slay stands now. Should help me (and others) in the voting process come March 3, 2009.

Kudos to the Post-Dispatch for making Slay speak on Blairmont!

EDIT: Might I add that the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit renders the statement that McKee's finances are "completely at risk" a little ridiculous.

Southampton (SoHa) chugs along despite the economy.

I love pouring through neighborhood newsletters. They're the perfect way to find out the news that's too small-scale to make it to the Post-Dispatch, or even to many local blogs, yet also the news that's important to that specific neighborhood.

The January 2009 Southampton Neighborhood News contains this piece on a couple new businesses opening (opened?) in the growing Macklind Business District:

We’re pleased to announce that two new businesses are opening along Macklind Avenue. This time in the building across from Tom Bess Automotive. Be sure to stop in to welcome them to the neighborhood when you walk by.

After working in commercial photography for the May Company, Joe Nuelle is opening his own studio, Nuelle Photography at 4917 Macklind. Asked why he chose Macklind Avenue, Joe says, “I live in the neighborhood and can see how that strip is growing. It’s great to see all of the neighborhood support of the independent businesses and I hope to be a part of that. I love to see successful businesses that are not chain franchises.” Keep Joe in mind when you need family photos, a nice picture of your home or publicity photos.

Legal advice and assistance is now only a walk away. Southampton resident Peter Van Leunen and his law partner James Eason are opening Eason & Van Leunen, LLC, a general practice law firm at 4915 Macklind. Peter explains that they will handle civil and criminal matters. Both look forward to providing the community with excellent legal services. Please contact them at 481-4646 if you are in need of their services.

Also opening on Macklind Avenue with offices, classroom and performance space in the
Southampton Presbyterian Church is the Academy and Performing Arts Center slated to open the last week of January. Please see the accompanying article on page three. Registration for classes is now open.

Two observations: I am always happy to hear someone speak directly to the issue of supporting local and independent businesses; and it's also great to see a neighborhood promote walking so much! [see the bolded sections]

Friday, February 6, 2009

SPOTTED!: Steve Patterson on his beloved Honda Metropolitan Scooter?

View Larger Map

Steve, is that you, at Washington and Grand?

(Credit goes to Michael Powers for this find.)

Michael Powers also confirmed from the owner of City Diner on South Grand that in front of the storefront where Steve's scooter is awaiting its green light, City Diner's second location is coming soon!

SLU says "Be Urban"...Really?

Check out this promotional video for St. Louis University. Click on "Be Urban" to see what I'm talking about.

It's nice to see SLU try to market their urban location; the brief shots of downtown, Midtown, and Central West End were nice and did pique my interest as a lover of cities.

But I am a little bothered by their emphasis on the amount of greenery they have, since, of course, a lot of respectable and even beautiful urban buildings came down to produce that coveted "green space".

I can only imagine the Midtown of the era between 1970 and 1995. I'm sure it was a dark place, with ever increasing vacancy and crime. Pruitt-Igoe, not too far away, had failed; the notion of "progress" as a linear flight of stairs was dying, and a whole generation of rapid suburbanization seemed to, once and for all, render struggling urban neighborhoods obsolete.

Yet SLU has torn so much of that vilified built environment down that it's difficult to describe them as products of their time--especially because their ongoing attempts to buy up all of Midtown/Grand Center and hold a monopoly over dining, entertainment, and boarding options is a terrific threat to urbanism today. Their grafting of historic buildings here and there shows the carelessness and arrogance of an amateur painter blotting out the details of a masterwork to produce a desired "cleaner" or more organized vision.

While I realize that SLU must try to increase enrollment, and thinks that this is the best strategy ("we have greenspace--lots of it--in the heart of the city!"), truly they have only held this neighborhood back and kept it from connecting the east-west spine of Downtown-Midtown-Central West End. I suppose the greater question, to me, is where are the city residents who care? I realize that the neighborhood has been drained of its non-SLU residential units long ago. Why do the citizens of St. Louis never get to dictate, at least in part, what their built environment looks like? The keys to the city are in the hands of megadevelopers and huge landowners that are not at all accountable to the citizens of St. Louis.

McKee. SLU. The Catholic Church. You name it: they own this city and have the right to do what they want with it because they receive little, if any, protest. It's time for a wider vision of St. Louis, one that sees SLU's closure of Josephine Baker Street and demolition of the Livery Stable for a surface parking lot as an affront to the City of St. Louis, not just to the Locust Business District and to Midtown.

SLU, please, follow your own advice: Be Urban!

Help develop a master plan to guide future developments. But don't dominate the process.

Encourage, do not shun, small entrepreneurs and investors from revitalizing what is left of the small- and mid-scale historic core of the neighborhood.

Do not demolish buildings for parking lots. If the campus is truly connected to those surrounding neighborhoods as was shown on the video, there is no need for a car at all, right?

Look to Olive Street between Spring and Vandeventer for future student housing, if the demand is there. Consult an architect to do so--no more historicist crap with faux-patinaed roofs.

In an urban neighborhood, an overabundance of green space with no defined street walls causes a vacuous effect that is unsettling to the average urban dweller. Create intelligent green spaces that will be well used and enjoyed. Surrender dead zones to urbanization.

Personally, I would reopen Spring as a through-street. The corner of Spring and Laclede could then be restored, its urban buildings replaced. Even the clock tower area could be reconfigured to allow urban buildings to flank the circle.

Enough from me, though. What did you think of the video? It's nice to hear and see SLU say the words "Be Urban"; I just want them to learn what "urban" really is. Because, to me, urban is not a mere ability to see tall buildings rising from endless expanse of empty parkland from your window. Urban is a function of density, activity, visual complexity (not coherence, necessarily), walkability, et cetera--all things that Midtown is presently lacking.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Before and After in St. Louis Place

2002 City Aerial - St. Louis Place

2008 City Aerial - St. Louis Place

If you scroll through these images quickly, you can see the effects of Paul McKee and Blairmont. A couple dozen buildings disappear in this six year span.

(Put them in the same position on a PowerPoint file to get the best visual effect. Scroll back and forth and watch the neighborhood disintegrate, looking worse despite the obvious difference in seasons.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vote "Green" for St. Louis Mayor? The Green Party "Gets It" Re: Transit

While I am skeptical about the ability of any Green Party candidate to get in to office--much less successfully run it--I have to say that Green Party mayoral candidate Elston McCowan's platform intrigues me, especially as it relates to transit.

Here are some tidbits and my comments:

Cities across America, from Boston to Seattle and Miami to Minneapolis-St. Paul have developed or are developing creative ways of reducing their dependence on the automobile, a major cause of both air pollution and global warming, while making their communities healthier and more livable. It is past time that St. Louis join them. It is the goal of a Green administration to see that this happens.

Wonderful. Our next mayor, no matter who s/he is, must realize that St. Louis is falling well behind on the transit curve and that there are real benefits to subsidizing transit (to the environment).

Though Francis Slay advocated using public money to pay for a private stadium and for tax give-aways he could not find money to increase train and bus routes.

While this comment is excessively snarky for a campaign website (in my opinion), it does ask an important question: why, as a city, can we not find ways to finance public transit but we can discuss foregoing tax dollars for private developers of suburban retail centers?

The Slay administration has stood by while St. Louis’ transportation system has become embarrassingly outdated. Highway 64/40 is being rebuilt with no plans for bus lanes or “high occupancy vehicle” (HOV) lanes reserved for cars with three or more occupants. A Green mayor would actively work to ensure that every highway and thoroughfare in the St. Louis area has bus and HOV lanes.

This was a total no-brainer. Rebuild a highway with more lanes and new sound walls? For hundreds of millions? And with the need to sacrifice several homes along the right-of-way in Richmond Heights? The "New I-64" is a net loss to the region's quality of life. Adding HOV lanes would have been a small gesture towards sustainability.

Businesses are hurt by requiring more parking spaces than are necessary. The Slay administration has done nothing to reduce the vast areas dedicated to parking spaces and parking lots. Excessive parking spaces are dangerous for bicycles, interfere with commerce by increasing the walking distance between
shops, and degrade the attractiveness of neighborhoods.

Current rules require businesses to have 1 parking space for every 3 people in the occupancy permit. The Green Party would change this to 1 parking space for every 5 people immediately and 1 parking space for every 9 people in two years.

Wow! Are we in Portland, Oregon or St. Louis, Missouri? It is exciting to think that any potential leader of St. Louis would include this in his/her platform. St. Louis sorely needs parking reform if it is to retain its urban character.

Car-free zones

Improved mass transit and traffic light preemption will let St. Louisans get to work faster by public transportation than by driving cars. This will lead to more people using buses and trains. If St. Louisans could also get to neighborhood schools, shopping and recreation areas by foot and bicycle, the City could design car-free zones with no parking spaces for privately owned cars [but with parking for emergency, disabled, construction, delivery and shared vehicles].

The Green Party advocates the development of car-free, high-density, mixed residential/commercial areas. In these areas, citizens could do most of their shopping in their community and use mass transit for most of their remaining
trips. This should be promoted by developing demonstration neighborhoods which are (1) adjacent to mass transit routes, and (2) require commercial space to be set aside for neighborhood shops such as grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, laundromats and barber shops. An essential part of such communities is that they have a vehicle sharing or renting program for the few trips when a car, truck or mini-van is truly needed. All such developments should dedicate at least 30% of homes for low income families.

Again, an impressive vision. However, I do not believe the demand for this type of development is foreseeable for St. Louis at this time. There's a reason the folks up in Old North are retrofitting North 14th Street into a through street after an ill-fated attempt to "mall" it.

I encourage you to read the entire platform, both for transit and all other areas that McCowan highlights. There are some truly progressive ideas contained within them. But transit really stuck out. Safe bicycle lanes, expanded Metrolink, safe streets for pedestrians, reduced parking mandates, "green" vehicles for city employees, etc....all of these ideas should be discussed. They author a welcome dialog in a city that rarely speaks to matters of supporting and sustaining urbanism.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ballpark Village in St. Louis: A "Branded City"

Check out this Mediaweek article on "Branded Cities".
The article stops short of a full-fledged definition of these branded cities, which are a type of retail development. Here is the paragraph that most closely sums them up.

It’s easy to see why branded cities—places where people either work, live or play—are catching on. They are self-contained urban centers where signs aren’t just viewed for a few seconds from a car window—or maybe a few minutes, if someone is on foot. The interactive element provides an added attraction: “If you create an environment where people engage in media, it changes the dynamic,” says Adam Bleibtreu, CEO of The Retail Media Company, which is responsible for the design and advertising strategy of El Portál. “If you give people the opportunity to effect their environment, they talk about it; they come there more frequently; they stay longer.”

So, essentially, they're outdoor plazas with mixed uses that incorporate large screens and signage for public media opportunities. For example, people could descend on the space for a game tournament, or to watch a large television event like the Superbowl, all while being able to stroll through an urban shopping center of sorts.

The article mentions Victory Plaza in Dallas, a mixed-use "branded city" development that is adjacent to American Airlines Center (where the Stars and Mavericks play).

Photo Courtesy of Dallas News

Says the article of Victory Plaza's programming:

Special pre-game and postgame concerts and parties in the plaza draw traffic from the arena, typically ranging from 20,000 to 35,000 people, according to Clark Dunklin, a partner in the out-of-home agency Big Media, which sells ad avails for the complex.

For more information on Victory Park in Dallas, see their website.

While I recently spoke on this blog about avoiding forced "branding" of new urban development, such a concept might seem possible for the portion of Ballpark Village immediately adjacent to the stadium. Surely, of course, these areas are likely to be noticeably empty without an event, but good planning could ensure that the retail uses at street level mandate a wider use of the space than just large scale events.

Above all, I do not want Ballpark Village to turn into a rushed development that crams boxy office towers into a small space on an artificial time frame. This will only prove detrimental to the idea of developing this important piece of downtown real estate into a valuable contributor to a revitalized and connected cityscape.

Monday, February 2, 2009

My position on smoking in St. Louis City

Reading the enormously long list of comments over at Urban Review regarding a potential public smoking ban in the City, I was inspired to sound off.

There are many on the pro-smoking side of the issue that claim that the health risks associated with secondhand smoke are overblown (no pun intended).

I say: who cares?

Surely, the basis of any legislation banning smoking in the City would be precisely that angle: public health. But is it not true that, say, if I made so much as a threatening gesture at you, that could be classified as battery? Anything we do that affects another deserves consideration--and yes, perhaps regulation.

Whether or not I'm going to develop cancer from a brief exposure to secondhand smoke should be immaterial. Personally speaking, I went to smoke-ridden places in St. Louis all the time when I lived there, and still do when I return. There are a lot of good times to be had at places that are very smoke-friendly and ill-ventilated. The point is that I, and many others, suffer from an inability to breathe, dine, or simply relax around cigarette smoke. Just after it was reported that St. Louis is the worst place for the asthma-afflicted (yours truly being among those ranks), pro-smoking folks should realize that it's sometimes less about the chronic effects of secondhand smoke than the immediate--an inability to breathe.

Again, within the Urban Review comments on the particular topic, I hear a resounding response to this latter point: go somewhere else. Another more compelling point is that a local business owner should have the right to dictate what goes on in his or her own building. Of course, the former argument could be invalidated on the sheer arrogance of it. It's sort of a stretch, but telling a nonsmoking asthmatic who suffers because of others' smoking but wants to actually enjoy his/her city's nightlife just to go somewhere where smoking is prohibited is sort of like telling a wheelchair-bound individual to just go where the ramps are. Perhaps the real issue is what class of people should be protected--those who have taken up a habit that affects others nearby or those who suffer from these persons' habits.

Besides, there is simply a rational viewpoint in this matter, in my opinion. Smoking should never be allowed around food, at the very least. And what is so wrong with having to step outside to smoke a cigarette?

Here in New Orleans--of all places--a public smoking ban was passed on the grounds of public health. However, it only affects establishments that derive at least 60 percent of their sales income from food--therefore, smoking in bars is still allowed. Many St. Louis restaurants are already smoke-free or smoke-segregated, so this is not a huge issue.

My take on this argument is that smoking could be considered a form of battery. I am not interested in the mutual accusations of conspiracy theories among pro-smoking and anti-smoking interest groups. I'm interested in being able to go out and breathe simultaneously!

All that said, a smoking ban would be ineffectual if not statewide. Even a City-County ban might simply encourage "tavern sprawl", where patrons retreat to Jefferson and St. Charles Counties for their smoke-and-drink combo. With public smoking nixed on both sides of the Mississippi River, unhappy smokers will likely get used to the days of taking their cigs outside and reminiscing about the good old days when smokers were free.

Am I wrong?

District-ification in downtown St. Louis

It's tempting for planners and even plain ol' citizens to approach urban development with the idea that, whatever the development is, it must immediately have an identity.

And so, our city brought us Laclede's Landing, the remnant of the city's warehousing district, revived as a "nightlife district".

Downtown Now! brought us an Old Post Office District. Some refer to most of the "63101" ZIP as the "Central Business District". Some call the area around the Convention Center as the Convention Center District. Now, we have the Loft District on Washington. We almost had the Bottle District, near the Convention Center. We're trying to build a district in disguise--Ballpark Village. And Chouteau's Landing will be downtown's unspoken "Arts District". The Civic Center is yet another district--a product of the City Beautiful movement of the turn-of-the-century that called for grand public buildings to be arrayed along wide boulevards, awing all passers-by (Civil Courts, City Hall, the Municipal Courts Building, all along or near Market Street).

Some of these "districts" have more merit than others. Those that do have found an identity over time. This is precisely how urban areas work: a wedge is developed and, hopefully, absorbed into the urban fabric over time, becoming part of its story.

We need not force a story at the very outset, though. The district-ification of St. Louis leaves it a choppy, disconnected grouping of intentionally single-use districts.

As I've said many times before, Ballpark Village, Chouteau's Landing, and the Chouteau Lake and Greenway (as well as any Arch-Riverfront development) provide a unique opportunity to reconnect a severely tattered built environment. One of the problems of large, private redevelopment schemes is that they are not accountable to the public and, more importantly, developers rarely know how to develop at the macro-scale, and even less often do they work with other developers on completely "separate" projects.

It is my hope that a combination of citizen vigilance and city-led efforts (Planning and Urban Design Agency, anyone?) will mold these proposed "districts" into an organic whole that will reconnect and benefit the city. Identities of each project might become clouded (God forbid someone enjoy a pre-game snack in Chouteau's Landing rather than Ballpark Village OR enjoy an art gallery in BPV)--but this is good. This is what cities are. Developers don't define and give identity to the built environment--rather, it's a mixture of things for which the chief ingredient is time.

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