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Monday, March 29, 2010

What Does a "Real City" Look Like?

As promised in the previous post: let's get to what constitutes a "real city".

The background for this question comes from this Craigslist apartment ad on Cherokee Street (yeah...I might have been looking...).

Unique and spacious open loft in the fast growing Cherokee street arts district. Easily walk to an array of interesting shops and restaurants including APOP Records, The Archive, The Mud House, The Stable, Foam, O'Malleys, Off Broadway and Firecracker Press. The area is also known for a great selection of authentic Mexican restaurants and grocers, eclectic clothing and antiques. Probably the only Street in St. Louis that actually feels like a real city and can provide your every need without having to drive.

The emphasis is mine.

A litany of questions comes to my mind. What does the author mean by "real city"? Is it simply a function of being able to walk to satisfy all of your needs? If that's the definition of the term, do you agree or disagree that Cherokee Street is among the only spots in the city that fit this term? Or is "realness" also associated with diversity of ethnicity and income?

I'm sure the poster of this apartment advertisement is just doing a little up-selling of the Cherokee District and intended no harm to our fair city. But I still balk at language that dismisses other parts of the city as less "real" simply because they're not quite as active at all hours of the day or because they don't have certain types of businesses. Many people live a car-free or car-lite lifestyle in the Central West End, Skinker-DeBaliviere, DeBaliviere Place, Forest Park Southeast, and South Grand, too (not to mention places in the city where people can't afford vehicles and walk/take transit most of the time).

I would rephrase the ad to say: "Cherokee Street is the city's most creative, diverse, exciting, and collaborative street..." or something to that effect. I don't think that's too much of a stretch. But many parts of the city are still "real" to me without some of the energy of Cherokee Street. What are your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

I hate comments like that especially considering St. Louis is one of the most urban cities in the country. Of course were not Chicago, New York, or San Fransisco, but we are a lot more urban than Atlanta, Houston, and Charlotte. It just makes my bones chill when I hear people say that.

Carrie Nenonen said...

Thanks for the blog link! Glad to meet another local "brickhugger", and am happy to reciprocate.=)

Per the ad... ridiculous. I agree that downtown St. Louis may have a few kinks in the transportation and downtown resources somewhat limiting the capabilities as a working city, but we have one of the oldest, most well-established metros in the Midwest?!

Mark Groth said...

I don't mind a little "up-selling". People are proud of their neighborhoods in this city, sometime to a fault. I don't read anything negative in this description of Cherokee (between Jefferson and Gravois). Walk through there at several different times of the day/night. It really does feel different than anywhere else in the city. I dream of more latin/hispanic residents in this town, and this is one of the few places where you can feel their influence (St. Cecilia's is another). When it boils down to it, we're all city people that live in real city places. Ellendale, Holly Hills, North Pointe or the Ville are all just as "real". Just maybe not the Bohemian definition of "real" that I believe the writer is trying to convey.

Matt M. said...

Anonymous -
I was a little offput by the language as well, which is why I did the post. I wonder how much subtle putdowns reinforce St. Louis's civic inferiority complex. That said, I don't think the writer was necessarily intending this.

Carrie -

No problem! Thanks for visiting!


I basically agree with everything you said. I think you're right that the writer of the phrase here is referring to a "real city" as a bohemian place where you don't need a car to live. I was just interested to see how this discussion would play out given that people across the city do have strong attachments to their (presumably) "real" neighborhoods and commercial districts.

STLgasm said...

It irks me when people in St. Louis pit neighborhood vs. neighborhood. There's a pervading "reverse snobbery" (for lack of a better term) among many South City residents against neighborhoods like the CWE and The Loop which I've never understood. We as a city should be proud of ALL our wonderful neighborhoods, and embrace their differences and qualities. After all, the CWE and The Loop do a lot to improve the overall outsiders' view of St. Louis, and ultimately creates more interest in less-polished neighborhoods such as Cherokee, Forest Park Southeast, Marine Villa, Old North, etc. We as a city need to work like a team instead of perpetuating the petty, provincial "my hood is better than yours" crap. I own a business on Cherokee and I live in the Central West End, and I love them both BECAUSE they are different!

Doug Duckworth said...

While I love Cherokee Street, it needs more neighborhood-oriented services. The "Cherokee street arts district" really does not provide the daily needs of its citizens. To say we are one of the most urban cities would be a stretch. We were designed with streetcars, yet now are an auto-centric City. Unfortunately, I don't think we can really say the opposite for much of St. Louis City. While I like St. Louis a lot, people need to have a more realistic view of its condition and direction.

Alissa said...

Douglas, we've had the same sorts of discussions on other blogs, but what do you think Cherokee is lacking specifically? I'm genuinely curious to see what people think is lacking, since there are some of us in the neighborhood working to address that right now.

And as a Cherokee resident, I can honestly say that this is the one place in STL where I've felt most at home.


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