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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Be Confident, St. Louis

Do me a favor. Caption this photograph, provided by urblogger Mark Groth:

Did you say something along the lines of "Compton Hill Reservoir - A South St. Louis Landmark"?

A contributor to the Atlas of American Architecture (2009), which features the Gateway Arch on its cover, summed up the most romantic of our famous water towers with the following statement.

"Few American communities are as adventuresome and self-confident as St. Louis. Its Compton Heights Water Tower is one of several municipal fantasies in this visually marvelous city."

Wow. If our city fathers built our city so adventurously and confidently (the Bevo Mill is featured in the book as well), why can't we be more confident in what we've inherited? While some us are more than proud of this city, the majority suffers from the misguided notion that St. Louis is somehow not as good as other places. It may not be the trendiest, smartest, slimmest, greenest, or other such superlatives. But it's wholly unique. And interesting. And accessible (affordable!)! Shouldn't that matter most when we assess the lot of our fair city?

I think we found our feel-good tagline! St. Louis: A Visually Marvelous City.

Someone agrees with the unnamed editor of the Atlas referenced above--the Los Angeles Times.  Their travel writers called St. Louis one of the most underrated destinations in the world in 2009! (Scroll to #25 on the slideshow on that link). Somehow I missed that one.

I think the lesson here, St. Louis, is: be confident. We have a lot to be proud of. Spread the word.


STLgasm said...

Here's John Gunther's take on St. Louis' personality from his 1940s book of American travels - "Inside USA"...

"What makes cities differ? What makes one somnolent and another gay; what makes one as raw and effervescent as another is sober and sophisticated? Age; geography and history; contrasting types of settlement; relation to the hinterland; demographic variations; also factors mysterious and unanswerable. Kansas City and St. Louis, though in the same state and only separated by a few hundred miles, differ as drastically as any two great cities in the nation.

KANSAS CITY (population 634,093 metropolitan area; city limits 399,178) is, or was, a wild buckaroo town, a great railhead for the cattle trade, and "the meanest, most lawless" city in the United States. Among adjectives I have heard for it are compact, dynamic, and obscene. It is also one of the friendliest cities I have been in. Above all it is full of restlessness and bounce.

ST. LOUIS (population 1,367,977 metropolitan area; 816,048 city limits) is much bigger, calmer, more seasoned, with a wealth more deeply entrenched; it gives a sense of civilization like that of Cincinnati, grave and mature. St. Louis was founded by the French, but coloring it strongly is a very large German-descended population. Also it has intimate Deep South colorations, whereas Kansas City is almost purely western. The emphasis in Kansas City is on raw materials; that of St. Louis on manufacturing and finance. Kansas City faces west; St. Louis faces east and south. One reason why the latter didn't have the cattle market is that the Ozarks cut off the range. Kansas City is essentially Protestant; St. Louis essentially Catholic... Kansas City is full of boosters and go-getters; St. Louis, with a certain stagnancy, isn't so self-conscious or aggressive--except about its baseball teams when they are winning."

On St. Louis, specifically:

"St. Louis, a real metropolis-- once it was the third city in the nation, and even today it is eighth-- has a quality rare in America: tolerance. It is a great town for civil liberties, and the intellectual climate is practically all that a civilized person can ask. The city is 13 per cent Negro; yet there are no race riots, and the Negro problem is nowhere near the preoccupation that it is in Kansas City. It is 50 per cent Catholic, but several local Catholics collaborated closely with the PAC during the last presidential campaign. St. Louis is the town where Communists speak on Twelfth Street with police protection, and where the liberal press insists that Gerald L.K. Smith has a perfect right to hold a mass meeting."

Anonymous said...

there needs to be a way to plaster accolades like this all over the city and county - billboards, TV ads, giant banners on sides of buildings and parking garages, etc. STL-isans who don't like STL don't like it because it's not NYC. i bet if people were aware that big shots from trendy cities admire STL they would start to show a little pride.

Matt M. said...

Great quotes, 'Gasm.

I think what caught me so much about this one was that it was written about our city so recently--2009!

Yes, we've still got visual dazzle, and some architects in Minneapolis agree!

Matt M. said...

Agreed Adam! We're thinking of a viral campaign to spread stickers around the city that read: St. Louis Rocks Your Face; St. Louis - Nothing Impossible; City of a Thousand Sights...etc.

A civic shot in the arm on everyday objects!

Unknown said...

Coming from the west coast, St Louis is nothing like what I expected. The building and architecture are different from anything west and have a uniqueness not found on the east. When I used to visit my girlfriend, I thought the water tower in this post was one of the coolest looking things I've ever seen at night.

Anonymous said...

i really do like "St. Lou Is: Visually Marvelous!"

a viral campaign sounds like a great idea so long as it isn't construed as vandalism. i can imagine the more conservative, property oriented citizens might get all grumbly about it (imagine that).

i'd also like to see BIG stickers though - demonstrations of pride by some of the city's flagship organizations like AB, Wash U, SLU, BJC, UMSL, BoA, Pinnacle, Edward Jones, etc. and some of the blank walls downtown could use giant banners similar to the Roberts Tower banner.

alas, i'm not going to be able to contribute much to the viral campaign from charlottesville. (it couldn't hurt to put STL stickers all over campus though.) i do, however, wear one of my five STL-Style shirts multiple times per week!

Anonymous said...

I visit St Louis on occasion and have always enjoyed it. The problem, in my opinion, is that no one on the east coast, and I assume the west and gulf coasts, know anything about Forest Park, Soulard, Lafayette Square, CWE, Delmar Loop, Mo Botanical Gardens, and they usually think WashU is in Seattle. They know the Arch and the Cardinals.

You need publicity for sure, but I don't think the "Cleveland Rocks!" style is what you want. That attracts dopes. You need a movie or TV show that uses those neighborhoods above as a backdrop to a compelling story. It just needs to be known that the city is St Louis - nothing like "Isn't this great! Isn't this visually stunning!" needs to be said. Let it speak for itself, sink into the sub-conscience of thoughtful people. That's what confident cities do. All just my opinion of course. The fact that some LA-based pubs have given you positive notice is a nice start.

Whatever you do, good luck. I look forward to my next visit.

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