Search This Blog (A.K.A. "I Dote On...")

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Forest Park's Biggest Flaw - Now Never to Be Corrected?

Often called the "jewel" of St. Louis (certainly of its park system), Forest Park is a difficult space to critique in its entirety. With its variety of attractions, cultural institutions, beautiful vistas, running and biking paths, golf courses, and more, it definitely causes a moment of pause to reflect: thank the heavens the County-secessionists kept this 1,200 acre wonderment within city limits upon drawing the boundaries in 1876.

(Okay, I could complain a bit here. Other large municipal parks have cut down on paved roads and turned the park into more of an urban, pedestrian-friendly destination. And, as St. Louis Urban Workshop notes on his blog, Forest Park could definitely feature more spaces in which to simply hang out and people watch.)

To me, the biggest flaw of Forest Park is a somewhat disappointing connection to nearby neighborhoods. On each side, there's an issue.

On the west (Skinker Boulevard), you have an overly wide road that does carry a high volume of traffic. It's noisy, difficult to cross during the day, and somewhat uninviting, though a tree canopy helps a bit. Regardless, this edge of the park appears the most active and therefore enticing. It's no doubt bolstered by the presence of Washington University at its doorstep and all of its students/faculty.

On the north (Lindell), there are beautiful, stately homes, but I have never seen much activity flow out of these single-family manses. I always wonder if this portion of Lindell had developed as Pershing (formerly Berling) did, with all of its mid-rises, what Forest Park's northern edge might be like. It would have been wonderful to be able to sit at a sidewalk cafe patio and stare into the park, urbanely surrounded by an attractive turn-of-the-century skyline. Don't get me wrong, the present homes are splendid; my feelings toward them are not exactly ambivalent. I just wonder how they could be employed to make Forest Park's northern edge even better. I'm excited by the possibility of the proposed Delmar Loop Streetcar continuing eastward from DeBaliviere on Lindell and into the Central West End. In New Orleans, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar carts tourists and locals alike who, cameras in hand, enjoy gawking at inconceivable wealth and their historic mansions. Could St. Louis have its own version of this pleasant, tourist-friendly transit ride? I think so.

A St. Charles Avenue streetcar passes in front of one of the many mansions on the famous street. Source.

The east side of Forest Park (Kingshighway) is an interesting case. Just to the northeast sits one of St. Louis's mostly densely-walked neighborhoods and just to the east is the well-trafficked Medical District. You would think the east side of Forest Park would be filled with sauntering pedestrians. Yet, when you look at the topography, you see why. There are definite grade issues with the eastern side of the park, which slopes significantly downward from the Kingshighway elevation. Plus, the Metrolink railroad tracks slice off a portion of Forest Park, dividing the two sections from pedestrian access.

Of all of the neighborhood connectivity issues with Forest Park, the south side of the park (Oakland/I-64) is the worst. Why? Because there's an interstate highway blocking the following from walking to and directly enjoying their park with ease and without a car: Forest Park Southeast neighborhood (ironic, right?), St. Louis University High School, the Science Center, Compton-Drew, St. Louis Community College's Forest Park campus, the King's Oak and Cheltenham neighborhoods, the old Arena site's Highlands development, Forest Park Hospital, the Dogtown neighborhoods, Turtle Park, and points west. I cannot help but think that the south side of the park would usurp the title from the west for most active if Oakland, rather than I-64, were the point of crossing into the park (as it once was).

So when I read the following Post-Dispatch headline I was disappointed:

Highway 40 project head to lead Forest Park group

All urbanists should be frustrated that the Missouri Department of Transportation thought it worthwhile to rebuild several miles of I-64 almost exactly as it was to the tune of $535 million. Sure there are now soundwalls and somewhat less egregiously land-wasteful interchanges. Great. But if there were one section of the interstate that should not have been rebuilt as it was, it was the stretch that fronts Forest Park! Yet now, Lesley Hoffarth, manager of that woebegotten "New I-64" project, will head Forest Park Forever, the advocacy group and ersatz management of the park. 

It astounds me that there was such a fight to rescue Hudlin Park (a portion of the park stranded by both a re-routing of Kingshighway and the construction of I-64) when the "New I-64" project was a real chance to take back a huge chunk of the park.

With the money spent adding even more highway lanes to a region that simply doesn't need them, I-64 could have been tunneled, reconnecting Forest Park to its southern neighbors and institutions.

Now, I don't know Lesley Hoffarth, and she may be more urban-minded than I'm aware. But any head of Forest Park Forever, a group that has done great work strengthening and improving the innards of the park, should know that its edges are important too.

The greatest improvement that could come to Forest Park would be the removal of I-64, at least visually, from the southern end of Forest Park.

Not that I think this concept ever held much weight in an autocentric region, but I worry now that this "radical" idea may now never get airtime. At any rate, the finishing touches are adorning the rebuilt stretch from I-170 to Kingshighway. Many would call it more than wasteful to suggest that this freshly redone section now be covered up.

But I say, the sooner the better. We need not live in the shadows of bad planning simply to justify the costs of a worthless effort.


Matt Kastner said...

I agree that it is a shame, but if I had to pick one park to better integrate into its surrounds, it would be the Arch grounds. There is a t least agreement that something must be done there, so rather than emphasize the missed opportunity (though can we admit, unrealistic hope) of Forest Park, at least some attention is being paid to the larger issue of park access.

Matt M. said...

That's actually a really good point. Maybe with a reconnected Archgrounds and clearly observable success, we'll begin having these discussions around Forest Park too.

miguelito said...

I'm not coming to class this eve.
Going with HONO folks to Olive Garden
group trip
I can pick you up after

Fashion STL Style!

Fashion STL Style!
St. Louis Gives You the Shirt Off of Its Own Back!

Next American City

Next American City
Your Go-To Source for Urban Affairs

Join the StreetsBlog Network!

Join the StreetsBlog Network!
Your Source for Livable Streets

Trust in Rust!

Trust in Rust!
News from the Rustbelt

Dotage St. Louis -- Blogging the St. Louis Built Environment Since 2008

Topics: Historic Preservation, Politics and Government, Development, Architecture, Urban Planning, Urban Design, Local Business, Crime and Safety, Neighborhoods, and Anything Else Relating to Making St. Louis a Better City!