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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Amberg Park

Amberg Park, located in the newly minted Dutchtown West neighborhood, is a wonderfully-sized urban park (2.76 acres).

It is large enough to be appreciated as an open, green space. Yet it's also small enough that one can see to its urban edges at nearly all sides.

Its edges are better than most St. Louis parks, too.

From Dutchtown

On the northwest and southwest corners of the park, there is retail frontage. While the Express Lane Market on the southwest corner (Gustine and Keokuk) has generated some controversy among neighborhood residents, the presence of these retail spaces could really transform this neighborhood park into a truly urban amenity.

Urbanist author Jane Jacobs once said of neighborhood parks that their life came from their surroundings and the people who use them; parks themselves could not confer vitality. In so many St. Louis neighborhoods, parks were developed solely for the purpose of providing their residents with an "oasis" in the middle of an urban environment. The parks themselves are often flanked only by residential structures. Without active edges along the park (meaning, places where people shop, work, play, and live), they're rarely used continuously. They can actually then become forbidding, empty places--unfortunate gaps in the urban fabric--despite their inherent beauty.

However, since St. Louis has tumbled in its population, and has planned for decades for the car and not the pedestrian, many neighborhoods are no longer dense enough or walked often enough to truly support these parks. When commercial uses exist adjacent to a park (think, the southwest corner of Gravois Park; the northeast corner of Fountain Park, etc.), they're usually either abandoned or have been converted to residential use.

I see potential in Amberg Park, however. Its residents are mobilized to clean up the park and make it safer for its users. It's got a series of somewhat dense apartments lining its edges, especially to the west, where an impressive twin set of multi-family Tudor building provides a pleasing visual symmetry and anchor. It's also got two commercial spaces that could be used someday to enliven the green space they overlook.

I welcome the Dutchtown West neighborhood's vigilance and dedication to make their neighborhood a better and safer place to live. It's (by my unempirical observation) one of the densest and most diverse (read: urban) places to live in the city. It's also just a short walk or bus ride away from the South Grand Business District. I hope that the Dutchtown West neighbors can take this "right-sized" park and show the rest of St. Louis how great small scale urban parks can be. They are truly a rarity in the city.


MattHurst said...

I used to live within a block of the park, and can attest to the regular foot traffic. The market there is fine, and the store owners are good people. Kind of sad to see the phone booth requested to move - I needed it one night when I locked my keys (and cell phone) in my house.
Sure there is a litter problem, but I can say that is a promising sign that people are using the park. Someone should organize a baseball or kickball team there, since no one ever used the baseball diamond that I saw any of the 2 years I lived there.

Great neighborhood (with a few caveats I will leave to myself).

STLgasm said...

Great post. St. Louis has all the bones to be a vibrant, cohesive city. I just returned from New York, and my sister's neighborhood in Brooklyn is the most complete urban environment any city dweller could hope for. I couldn't help but feel a sense of loss (and hope) for St. Louis's underappreciated assets.

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