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

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lafayette Square, St. Louis / Jackson Square, New Orleans

One of my favorite new-ish blogs in St. Louis is St. Louis Elsewhere, which presents ideas for St. Louis based on the author's observations while living and traveling across the country and globe.

While I have heard it said that "St. Louis is its own animal" and "you can't just import ideas from elsewhere," I mostly disagree with this statement. Great cities don't insulate themselves from great ideas simply because all local conditions are not at complete parity with the source of the innovation in question. On the flip side, I'm not saying that just because one idea works somewhere--such as New York City's recent closure of portions of Time Square to automobiles--that it will work somewhere else just the same (imagine trying to transform South Kingshighway into Times Square!). We do need to be judicious in floating new ideas and attempt to tailor them to St. Louis's realities.

Here's a relatively noncontroversial suggestion: let's try to emulate New Orleans' Jackson Square with our own Lafayette Square.

Jackson Square in New Orleans is a truly unique place in this country. It's the city's original public square, platted by its French founders in 1718. The famous St. Louis Cathedral flanks the square, which is a gated and lushly landscaped public park with a statue of Andrew Jackson inside. Jackson Square is truly the center of the city, located inside the French Quarter, and invites throngs of people daily.

 Jackson Square with the St. Louis Cathedral at center. Source.

This is less true with Lafayette Square in St. Louis. Lafayette Park was a set-aside from the once sprawling St. Louis Commons, once considered far outside the developed city. Therefore, Lafayette Square was intended to be a rural respite from an expanding city, not the center of the action like Jackson Square, which retains that function to this day. Still, as we know, times have changed since the mid-19th century, and Lafayette Square is a central St. Louis neighborhood known to have a somewhat regional draw--like Jackson Square.

Even so, I find Lafayette Park to be a little too quiet on the average day. One of the Midwest's most breathtaking neighborhoods--Lafayette Square--deserves more admirers.

One way Jackson Square invites people in is through art. Artists rent a segment of the fence surrounding Jackson Square and tourists and locals alike peruse the offerings around the square. This seems like a wonderful idea for at least a portion of the much larger Lafayette Square!

Here's what I mean:

Here, Jackson Square's peripheral fence is covered in art. During high tourist season, the whole square is surrounded by art. Source.

Imagine a segment of Lafayette Square covered in art every weekend, creating a new draw to the neighborhood and a new use for the park. Lafayette Park's fence is not nearly as tall, but I think the fence could still support a few smaller pieces. I know Lafayette Park has featured painters and artists before, but I could see a weekly or at least monthly event from April-October being very popular.

I think people would flock to an "art market" at Lafayette Park. Just look at the views! Source.

Perhaps establishing Lafayette Park as a go-to source for local art would inspire some of the neighborhood's remaining commercial spaces to fill up with galleries that would only complement the weekly/monthly art market.

I'm not saying that Lafayette Square can or should be Jackson Square in New Orleans; only that the art display is a great use of the park gate and its beautiful surroundings. It's a great way to activate the park and its surroundings.

11 comments:

Jason M. Stokes said...

I love the idea. I do think, however, that my neighbors here in Lafayette Square would complain about traffic and parking, as ever.

That shouldn't be a barrier to something like this. Come check out the Square on house tour day - you'll see something much like this.

Adam said...

seems like there's already a surplus of farmers' markets though, and soulard's right next door. it would have to be something distinctive.

Matt M. said...

^ Not a farmer's market at all. An art market--100% artists.

Mr. Wind said...

Hey Matty

Do you really want the foot traffic through a quiet neighborhood like Laf. Squ.? Could you even generate it if you wanted to? I think Laf. Squ. should take its cues (indeed it seems to have already) from Gramcery Park in NYC. Keep it posh, quiet, private, etc.

If do think a Jackson Square type thing would work in the greenspace east of the old courthouse or Lucas Gardens. I'm also a big fan of what they do in Paris on the left bank along the Seine, where street vendors and artists have their tasteful little locker type boxes/spaces that they can rent out to display their stuff and store it when they're not open for biz.

It's Andrew, btw. Hello!

Matt M. said...

^ Hey Andrew!

Yeah, I'd want the foot traffic. I used to live in Lafayette Square (on Dolman Street) and I'd always lament how there were not enough people to take in how gorgeous the neighborhood is. As it'd be a programmed event, the deleterious effects of a traffic jam/pedestrian jam would be minimal. I'm sure the businesses on Park would appreciate the event as well!

Daron said...

I'm honored by your subject format. You're free to guest publish on my blog any time.

There are many many places I've never been, especially in the US.

Ryan said...

I love Jackson Square and like this idea a lot, but I don't see why it needs to be at Lafayette Square in particular. Jackson Square works because it's in the middle of the French Quarter--tons of people are there already for a variety of reasons, the vendors are a relatively minor draw. It's a big commerce center, with tons of hotels and shops and restaurants for locals and tourists, while Lafayette Square is mostly residential--and seems to be doing fine, so the addition of foot traffic seems mostly unnecessary for neighborhood stability. Are there other locations in the city where such art fairs/vendors might do well, or where everyone would like more traffic? One of the places I'd like to see more activity would be Grand Center. There's the small pocket park off Grand (across from the Fox and the Baptist church) that could handle a small number of artists. There's also several other patches of underutilized green space that might be available around Grandel Square. Grand Center might even be able to get a special deal with the city to avoid the big hassle about street vendors limits. Maybe start with a Grand Center-sponsored open house one weekend a month for local artists, then go from there? Somewhere on the Gateway Mall might be another option.

Matt M. said...

I do like the idea of Grand Center--another sensible location for such a market. And I'm such a fan of the park you're referencing--Strauss Park--that I was going to dedicate a post to it soon.

Still, Lafayette Park and its surrounding homes constitute one of the most picturesque environments in the city. I could see a whole cadre of painters taking on the Painted Ladies en plein air. I suggested it because I think it could make an "active" neighborhood "vibrant".

But I like your suggestion as well.

Doug Duckworth said...

I love this idea but I believe that many residents would object due to parking and automobile traffic. They built Truman Parkway in order to guard themselves from their neighbors. We have this issue in many neighborhoods. Some people in TGS were upset with Kickball in the park partially due to parking concerns. No doubt this would be a boon to the neighborhood, and it would be ideally placed in the urban square near the fountain -- which I believe does not have enough use to justify it's high cost.

Doug Duckworth said...

I love this idea but I believe that many residents would object due to parking and automobile traffic. They built Truman Parkway in order to guard themselves from their neighbors. We have this issue in many neighborhoods. Some people in TGS were upset with Kickball in the park partially due to parking concerns. No doubt this would be a boon to the neighborhood, and it would be ideally placed in the urban square near the fountain -- which I believe does not have enough use to justify it's high cost.

MikaelM95 said...

I live in Lafayette Square and I love it...if you've seen the movie, "The Heiress" it is very reminiscent of what was the original "Washington Square" in New York. The Christmas house tour is next Sunday, December 11. If you're in St. Louis then stop by I assure you that you won't be disappointed. Then stop by Park Ave Coffee House for a nice hot latte to take the chill off.
http://lafayettesqr.com/Events/Tour/default.aspx

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!