Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rethinking the Arch

Yesterday's post highlighting "Unique St. Louis" included the idea of how we like our changes to happen more incrementally.

City leaders have put on the table a proposal for a potentially very significant incremental change to downtown St. Louis-the idea of placing sizable areas of the Arch grounds under local control.

Mayor Slay and Senator Danforth are working together to advance the effort to improve our riverfront, and they are convinced that local control over sections of the Arch grounds is an essential element of any major riverfront development plan.

They haven't announced any specific development strategies yet, however, the long-standing effort to better link the Arch grounds to the rest of downtown is a major component of the overall vision.

Historically, any intrusion onto the Arch grounds has been strictly verboten by federal authorities. The Arch is a National Park in downtown St. Louis and any changes to the status of a National Park require congressional approval. So, in order for our local effort to happen, we will have to build a pro-local control coalition all the way up to the halls of Congress. Senator McCaskill has already indicated her support.

Times change. Priorities change. Saarinen's original plan for Arch did include more active uses. Imagine the Arch more like the Eifel Tower, as a centerpoint of our community, rather than being set aside as a passive memorial.

Do you think strengthening the linkage between the Arch and downtown St. Louis might diminish its significance as a national landmark? Or would it be increased?


Anonymous said...

Talk about a negative local attitude...just read some of these comments.

Anonymous said...

Local control doesn't have to mean control exclusively by the City of St. Louis.

There could be a regional commission established to manage the area.

Michael said...

Its always been funny to me that when I start waxing poetic about the many great features of St Louis many of my friends back on the East Coast cough a bit and say "yeah, but that arch, what's that all about? What's it do?" Many of these same folks are well-traveled enough to have gazed with wonder at the Eiffel Tower, never questioning its purpose.

Making St Louis (to outside observers) about more than just the Arch requires the Arch to be not a piece of art hanging out on the outside edge of a slowly redeveloping city center but to thrust our main attraction to the center of civic life by surrounding it with the city, and, in the process, bringing the river back to its rightful place in city life. The Arch shouldn't just be a destination for tourists, it should be a frequent reminder of the historic, present, and potential future greatness of this city to those who live here as well as to those who visit. The Arch can't be all that, though, if it exists just as a tourist attraction. It needs to be a backdrop to our rich city life by bringing the city to the Arch.

We're a city founded because of the Mississippi and we could well be a city revitalized through the Mississippi if only we could get around the idea of the sacredness of any little bit of green space in "downtown".

I'm sure we could find a few unused city blocks to bulldoze and replace with green space if that really is all that's holding back such a visionary project as the one described by Mayor Slay and Sen. Danforth.

GMichaud said...

The arch grounds are underutilized to be sure. I just wonder if Mayor Sly exhibits the leadership necessary to improve the situation.
Remember it is flawed leadership that created the disconnect between the arch grounds and the rest of the city in the first place.
Architect Steven Holl suggested that the arch should have been built into the existing city, arising from the city grid. That would have been an interesting solution.
In any case there is land south of the arch that is undeveloped, maybe some success there might encourage support for any new development on the arch grounds.
I would also like to point out the sculpture garden that I guess will be built in the Gateway Mall is a average solution at best. The process in arriving at the solution was not public and had no other public input other than a showing for those who agreed with the plan.
As I said, I question whether there is the leadership necessary to do a proper job on the arch grounds. The track record does not indicate that to be the case. And the lack of a process that includes public input pretty well makes turning over land to city control a doubtful venture.

Rick Bonasch said...


When the Mayor and Senator Danforth announced their ideas about the Arch grounds, one of the first things they said was that any effort involving local control would require the formation of a broad-based coalition of support.

For any plan to get off the ground, it will take a huge community building effort. For a city structured around multiple checks and balances, this seems like the tailor made initiative.

While some are already staking out their positions, I think we should give this effort a chance. Let's see what's possible when we work together.

GMichaud said...

Rick, I would love to give it a chance, but again I am frustrated by what I see are often second rate development projects.
That, along with the exclusion of any dialog makes it difficult to believe things will be different now.
It would be great to have confidence in the process, but I see many other cities that do a much better job of creating an urban framework so that citizens can understand the goals of city government.
I previously noted San Francisco and it's eight things that make a great neighborhood as a good example of a way to relate to citizens and generate confidence in the process.
In St. Louis there a lack of any urban framework to speak of, other than vague zoning and land use codes that apparently don't give developers much direction, nor protect the urban fabric in any form.
The result is a city, while progressing, merely a shell of what it could be.
The city is leaving corporate and tourism and even local dollars on the table by this neglect.
I mean there isn't even an art supply store in the city.
Your efforts at bridge building are commendable and often fruitful, although I think many citizens feel deceived at this point in time.

One suggestion that might work is to stage an architectural competition. The Arch was a competition and it turned out well. A competition might create confidence in the populace that there would be healthy debate about the urban solution and alleviate fears that the project would simply be handed off to some favored developer insider.
There is no doubt the arch grounds are cut off from the central city and are underutilized.
A major new connection with downtown and the river would warrant the efforts and contributions of the best minds in the world.
The Gateway Mall should be included in the competition to pull together diverse elements of downtown.
A new plan such as this, with debate to get the citizens of St. Louis excited and the even attract considerable attention nationally would make it hard for Congress to deny a request for parkland.

Anonymous said...

St. Louis leadership concludes that the Arch grounds need local control and that the Connector "is dominated by the sounds and smells of the vehicle traffic... pedestrians are required to cross three lanes,... high curbs, lack of ADA ramps, narrow sidewalks and low safety rails"

Danforth is "embarrased" by these conditions? Tell me what area (besides where these wise men live) in StL/County doesn't fit that description?

The Foundation report concludes that to be fully funded, "the aggregate cost [is] $418 million... the Mayor's vision of a distinctive world-class destination and activity center is not feasible. The Foundation is disappointed..."