Monday, December 22, 2008

Eating the elephant

There's an old saying, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

On Saturday, we took the first bite, and we discussed ways of continuing the feast. And a huge feast it will be.

That feast is the task of restoring connections between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront. The tasks are huge.

Over the past ten years, downtown has made tremendous progress. The elephant in the room, to borrow another cliche, is the rotten connectivity conditions between the Arch, downtown, and the riverfront.

On Saturday, a group of people met in downtown St. Louis to consider forming an organization dedicated to working together on this issue. Detailed coverage of the meeting is reported in the Beacon.

Here at STL Rising, we've been advocating ideas including the reworking of the depressed and elevated lanes into a new Memorial Drive/grand urban street. On Saturday, we didn't discuss specific plans, but rather approaches on how to proceed. How to start working through the elephant.

There was talk about starting small, to test things out, and help get people comfortable with the idea of change. The first possibility is to close from one to three blocks of Memorial Drive, creating immediate, permanent pedestrian access between the Old Court House and the Arch grounds.

The group also agreed to continue working together. If you want to learn more about how to get involved, please contact me at rbonasch@sbcglobal.net. The list of individuals is growing, and is now nearly 50 strong.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Organizational Meeting for Arch/Downtown/Riverfront Connections Citizens Group

Date and Time: Saturday, December 20, 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Location: Landmarks Association of St. Louis, 911 Washington Avenue, Suite #170

AGENDA

1. Welcome and introductions
2. Discussion of possible formation of a volunteer citizens group to promote improved connections between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront
3. Possible roles and structure
4. Preliminary discussion of goals
5. Next steps

This will be a very preliminary meeting to introduce interested parties and explore the level of interest in the idea of starting a new organization around the issue of improving connections between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront.

If there is sufficient interest, future meetings will be set to establish goals, priorities, and structure going forward.

If you plan to attend, please rsvp to rbonasch@sbcglobal.net. If you cannot attend this Saturday, but would like to have your name added to the list of interested parties, please also send us a note to the same email address. We will add you to the list and notify you of future meetings. Thanks.

Foreclosure Help

Channel 9 KETC TV in St. Louis is helping households in the St. Louis area facing possible foreclosure by providing information through their website and programming.

A lof of detailed information about where and how to get help is available here:

KETC foreclosure assistance web portal

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The "Depressed Lanes" Need a New Name



For decades, St. Louisans have referred to the section of interstate between the Old Court House and the Arch grounds as the "depressed lanes". While the lanes are below grade, somehow, the term just doesn't communicate the present reality.

Let's call them what they really are: a trench.

While some men in the picture above are smiling, most of what goes on in trenches is pretty awful. Trenches are among the worst of man's environments.

Face it - we have a dirty, smelly, ugly trench running through the heart of our downtown, right alongside one of the most beautiful landmarks ever constructed. A trench! How stark a contrast, how completely ironic, and how damaging to our city's image!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The 70 Connection


Here's a view of how downtown will look after the installation of the new Mississippi River Bridge. Upon completion, there will be four bridges entering the heart of downtown: the Poplar Street Bridge, the Eads Bridge, the Dr. Martin Luther King Bridge, and the new Mississippi River Bridge.

The outer two bridges, the PSB and the new MRB, will be interstate highway throughways (serving Interstates 40/64, 44, 55, and 70). The inner two bridges, the Eads and MLK, connect directly to downtown streets. The picture above shows how the new MRB, to be located about one half mile north of the Edward Jones Dome, has the effect of "stretching" downtown to the north.

Imagine the area between the four bridges connected via a new Memorial Drive. In the picture, you can see how I-70 and the elevated lanes now cut through downtown. The elevated lanes are especially noticeable. Think how the feel of downtown changes if those are replaced with a surface level boulevard. Consider the development potential for lands along this boulevard. It could be our "Miracle Mile".

Some have questioned the feasibility of constructing a new Memorial Drive prior to completion of the new MRB. With or without a new Memorial Drive, reconnecting I-70 from it's old alignment to the new bridge is going to create disruptions. The project is similar to the reworking of the I-64/I-170 interchange.

Part of the task for advocates of a new Memorial Drive is to show how these connections can happen with minimal disruptions to downtown and interstate traffic. Preliminary estimates from highway contractors place the timeframe for building a new Memorial Drive at about one year, or about the same as the completion of one leg of the new I-64.

During the construction period, as in the case of the 64 rebuild, alternative routes would need to be established, including directing traffic onto Interstates 64, 55, 44 and downtown streets.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Calling On the "29th Ward"

With around 350,000 residents, the population of the city of St. Louis makes up less than 20% of the region's 2.5 million.

President-Elect Obama is making a big move with his plans for national infrastructure improvements, prioritizing roads, bridges, and schools. Over the weekend, he used the expression "use it or lose it" when it comes to taking action on this opportunity. The program is being described as the largest federal infrastructure project since the 1950s.

Meanwhile, work on the new Mississippi River Bridge project is well underway. Greg Horn, project manager for the new bridge, said soil testing under the river has found solid bedrock on which to anchor the new bridge. He's predicting the start of construction in the next 18 months.

So how will the St. Louis region respond to Obama's challenge to invest in new infrastructure? What will be our region's top priorities? With a regional mandate, improvements around the Arch grounds might make the cut. For that to happen, we need a large contingent of non-city residents to support the Arch improvement project.

So, if you're a resident of Illinois, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, or other parts of our region, what you say about efforts to improve the connection between downtown, the riverfront, and the Arch grounds will make a difference. You really carry the most weight. The city needs your support in this endeavor.

The city of St. Louis is made up of 28 aldermanic wards. Meanwhile, regional citizens, residents of what I like to call our "29th Ward", will be key in determining the outcome of this process.

Friday, December 05, 2008

For A Friday...

Theater of the Bizarre

I could write today about the bizarre dream I had last night about a privately run swimming pool in nearby St. Louis County. In the dream, as a condition to gain pool membership, applicants must go to "Tommy Bahama's" restaurant (where 200 pound roasted turkeys sit uneaten on four foot plates), and tear in half three sandwiches. Once you've torn in half the sandwiches, they put a trophy on the wall with your name on it, entitling you to join the pool.

But instead, equally bizarre, another idea dawned on me. In thinking about all the hard work it is going to take to build a coalition of good people in support of a development effort to connect downtown, the Arch and riverfront, I thought about how public opposition might push back.

Here this coalition gets created, develops professional presentations and structure, and goes on the road to make the case for the plan. People start taking notice. Audiences are had with news agencies and community leaders. The idea starts gaining traction.

Fearing a change in their driving routines, drivers from all around the region start getting nervous about the possibility of losing their freedom to speed through downtown via the depressed lanes. They come from out of the woodwork, carrying signs and showing up in angry mobs at meetings. They are demanding nothing be done to change the interstate or add one-minute to their commutes. These people are as ferocious as a mother bear separated from her cubs.

Maybe getting permission to join a private pool by tearing in half sandwiches is more likely than reworking an ugly interstate highway cutting off downtown from the Arch and riverfront?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Arch, Riverfront, DT Advocates Need to Organize

With momentum building around the concept of reestablishing downtown, the riverfront, and the Arch grounds as the focal point of the urban core of St. Louis, it is time for supporters of such an effort to organize into a formal association or coalition in order to give community voice and energy to the cause.

At present, there is no such entity. There have been lots of meetings, and good ideas offered, but there is no organizational structure in place to drive this process forward. A well organized group, made up of a diverse, talented, and committed group of individuals, could make a major impact on this effort.

A good place to start would be to call on the individuals attending last night's Landmarks Arch charrette. There was no sign up sheet, but the attendees were all good candidates to move this project forward. If you are interested in joining such an effort, please email me at rbonasch@sbcglobal.net and we will add your name to the list of interested supporters.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Accident(s) Waiting to Happen

Critics of STL Rising will often point out that we here are too positive, optimistic and even pollyanna about St. Louis. We accept the criticism. In order to offer a little balance to our usual total homer stance when it comes to things St. Louis, today we draw attention to a very unsafe traffic condition on the city's streets.

Westbound drivers on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, headed towards Vandeventer, are easily confused by the street layout and stoplight locations in that area. A dangerous intersection exists just east of the main north/south Vandeventer intersection at Dr. Martin Luther King and "North Vandeventer", a spur-like short street located at most 100-150 feet east of the main north/south Vandenventer alignment.

The problem is, both intersections have stoplights, and at times, the main Vandeventer light is green while the much less visible "Vandeventer spur" light is red. More than once I have been riding in westbound cars on Dr. King which inadvertently missed the Vandeventer spur redlight, instead seeing the green lights at the main Vandeventer intersection. Had cars been crossing MLK on the Vandeventer spur at the same time, serious collisions might have resulted.

The problem is easily fixed. By abandoning the short block of North Vandeventer, and dedicating the vacated street right of way to the adjoining property owners, the intersection would be eliminated, while adding more land to the city's tax base.

All traffic would then be directed to the main Vandeventer and Dr. Martin Luther King intersection, no more confusion for drivers, possibly some lives saved, injuries avoided, and property protected.

Monday, December 01, 2008

New Links

Thanks to a tip from a Washington University graduate student in architecture, we are happy to add the following permanent links to the site:

Freeways Without Futures

Removing Freeways - Restoring Cities: The Movement Has Begun

The Highways to Boulevards Initiative

America's Institute for (Insert Name Here)

With the Danforth Foundation continuing its pursuit of a major new downtown attraction at the Arch grounds, STL Rising has a suggestion to add to the conversation. Given the ongoing redevelopment of the City of St. Louis - and the industrial midwest - what about establishing a national institute for community renewal, and headquartering the project right here in St. Louis?

When it comes to community redevelopment, St. Louis is a national leader. In the Arch, we have one of the most dramatic redevelopment projects ever. And while St. Louis is a pioneer in the area of redevelopment, we still have a lot of work to do. The institute could become a working center to promote the best in redevelopment practices, with St. Louis serving as both host city and implementation practitioner.

One possible location for the institute is the Bottle District site on the north side of downtown. If I-70 were removed through downtown (another ongoing renewal program - and emerging best practice), the Bottle District site offers unobstructed views of the Arch - possibly from multiple floors of a new dramatic, "green" building. Imagine conference rooms with windows facing downtown and the Arch.

Thinking outside of the box...literally...perhaps the project could be an expansion of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and tie in with the Danforth Foundation's plans? This way, the new attraction proposed by Danforth would not alter the landscape of the current Memorial, yet would still be an intergral part of the national park. The park would be crossing I-70 (or perhaps a new Memorial Drive) into downtown!

Such a facility would have natural ties to business, government, and academia. Local universities and national corporations would have much in common with the institute's mission. For government, smart redevelopment is an ongoing challenge and national priority. The institute would provide an important public purpose and service.

The site connects to downtown, the riverfront and Metrolink, giving it excellent locational advantages. Architecturally, such a facility would be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the creative reuse of an abandoned industrial site.

As an institute for community renewal, the facility would have long term significance, since we will always be looking for new and better ways for solving the challenges of community redevelopment.

There would be opportunties to explore social issues, community design approaches, legal and organizational models, and historic preservation and green building techniques.

Imagine entering St. Louis from the north side of downtown. Somwhere around Cass Avenue, I-70 gracefully transitions into a major urban boulevard, with the skyline of downtown in the background. As you approach downtown, one of the first buildings you see is a beautiful, modern institute, built of steel and glass, home of America's "Institute of _________". What a welcome center that would be!

First off, the center needs a good name...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Trading Interstates for Better Downtowns

Great article here. It's a growing trend.

Looking around the country, it would be hard to find a better candidate for such a project than our situation in front of the Arch.

On the other hand, few subjects raise so much heated controversy. If you've ever worked on traffic issues, you've heard it before: "Do what you want - just don't mess with my commute!"

Online Petition For Retired Chief

Invites supporters to add their names.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jazzy Cops Downtown?


People talk about street vendors, sidewalk cafes, and trolleys to enliven downtown.

How about some flashy, traffic directing police officers during rush hour?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Arch Improvements As A Federal Public Works Initiative?

Back in the days of the Great Depression, strategies to turn around our ailing economy included completing major public works projects such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, and Mount Rushmore. The idea was to strengthen the nation's infrastructure and create jobs.

The program worked, and the Obama administration is thinking about bringing back the approach. What about targeting the Arch and downtown St. Louis infrastructure improvements for one of these initiatives?

As a national symbol and a national park, the Arch is a worthy project. It suffers from dilapidated and outmoded infrastructure and improvements there leverage ongoing efforts to strengthen an American city.

Missouri Senator and Obama supporter Claire McCaskill is suggesting public works projects as a way to stimulate the economy. The Arch is in her home state. From a timing standpoint, we could work to complete the Arch project during President Obama's first term.

Arch improvements are already in the planning process. The National Park Service is leading the effort. Funding is always one of the challenges. Is this a case of need and opportunity meeting just at the right time?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

STL Literature and Artistry Week, Continued


Here's another St. Louis themed book, just released, well worth your consideration. It contains wonderful watercolors of famous St. Louis scenes, both past and present. I read the book this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the artwork and historical information. From the publisher's website:

In St. Louis in Watercolor, renowned artist Marilynne Bradley presents rich, breathtaking scenes of architecturally significant places, past and present. Accompanied by concise and intriguing histories, Bradley's renderings illuminate buildings like Brookings Hall, City Hall, and the Old Post Office--all designed after world-famous structures. The book also depicts originals that define St. Louis, including the Gateway Arch and Forest Park's Jewel Box.

More than just current sites are featured. Lost treasures (the Buder and Title Guaranty buildings) as well as failed attractions (Spanish Pavilion and Santa Maria) appear with background stories. Bradley captures the essence of these and other places, as the Foreword, by preservation historian Esley Hamilton, and Introduction, by local historian Johnny Rabbitt, set them in context. A rare combination of gorgeous illustration and fascinating history, St. Louis in Watercolor is a must-have for art and architecture enthusiasts alike.


About the Author:

Marilynne Bradley's watercolors are recognized in museum exhibitions and national juried competitions. They appear in corporate collections around the world.

The author is knowledgeable about St. Louis history and architecture. The book is published by Reedy Press, an independent St. Louis-based publisher specializing in books on St. Louis and local neighborhood histories.

To arrange promotional events with the author, please contact the publisher's representative on (314) 956-9800 for additional information.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Sales To Assist Community Group

Amy Fontinelle, author, photographer, and blogger at Seeing St. Louis, is publishing a book entitled "Disappearing St. Louis". The book provides beautiful photography of St. Louis architecture with hopes of encouraging its preservation.

Ms. Fontinelle created the book to bring greater awareness to the issues faced by the city in the hopes of bringing greater support to help solve them. She has pledged to donate all profits from the sale of her book to the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group.

More info available here.

Short List Twitter

I was slow to the blog scene, and am certain will never get to the twitter thing. Besides there being no way people would be interested in following my every move, I never want to be trying to operate one of those tiny keyboard, blackberry things...so in the category of appropos of nothing, here's a quick shortlist from a long weekend away from the keyboard...

Had a brother visit this weekend from California. Picked him up at the airport on Metrolink, which he thought was great, then spent a few days together getting around and seeing some of the places that make this place great. Started at Blueberry Hill (exiting the Delmar Metro station), then Broadway Oyster Bar, Iron Barley, Fast Eddies, a couple of Macklind Avenue spots, raking leaves into the street (me - not him), St. Louis Bread Company, and the Old Court House. By the end, he was thinking how a St. Louis lifestyle could suit him just fine. The sense of neighborhood and community we have here is a thing you can't package.

Over at Ecology of Absence, Michael Allen notes that there around 30 "half flounder" buildings left in the City of St. Louis. I wonder if the old part of the Broadway Oyster Bar (the eastern half) counts toward that total? Based on Michael's description, it sounds like one of the type, dating to the 1850-60s. Whether or not it's a legit half flounder, the place has great food, service, atmosphere, and music.

If you're in the market for furniture, check out the ground floor of Macy's at Northwest Plaza. The prices are amazing (about 1/3 retail), and there's a neighborhood guy who works side deals for same day home delivery, even on Sundays. Well worth the trip.

Had a message in my in-box from a new startup urban magazine called "Knot". They were looking for "categories" describing St. Louis. Got any suggestions? Post them here and the writers at "Knot" might work them into a future article.

From over at Urban Review St. Louis, there's news of a charrette being held tonight in downtown St. Louis to discuss the future of Lucas Park. Thanks to Steve Patterson for the tip, and for setting me straight on how many "r's" and how many "t's" there are in the word "charrette".

Got a thought about what to do at the Arch? It's a topic that interests architects and planners, but for the most part, the general public has taken little notice. Ideas run the gamut (that is spelled correctly), but a consensus for the future of the Arch seems nowhere in sight. A hundred divergent views results in what?

Since we made that trip to the furniture department at Macy's, we now have available a twin sized Serta Perfect Sleeper mattress and box spring, with steel frame and a Cardinal red head board, all in excellent condition. Interested? No reasonable offer refused. Email me at rbonasch@sbcglobal.net for more info.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Land Is Your Land...

...this land is my land...You know how the rest of the song goes. It's a patriotic number about America and all her beauty. We sang it as a little children in school. Back in those days, there was a lot of singing in schools, and more public singing in general. Not so much any more.

When we moved to St. Louis, one of the most striking things for us was the amount of public singing here, often at sporting events. Being among thousands of people singing either the national anthem at a Cardinals game or the name of a Blackhawk goaltender in mock affection, is a pretty cool thing.

What is happening with the Arch is going to take a similar level of community spirit. For the Arch effort to succeed, St. Louisans need to rally around it. We're not there yet. Most people don't have the Arch planning project on their radar screens. And if they're aware of it, many want to see things left alone. That's not a surprise. St. Louisans are famously resistent to change. Change the Arch? Well, that brings people off the sidelines.

We can build on this interest. When it comes to the Arch, people across the region have a sense of ownership. It's the symbol of St. Louis. From Wentzville to Belleville, there's a connection. And beyond personal connnections, there are legal ties as well.

The Arch is a national park. It's a National Historic Landmark. It's owned by the National Park Service - that's you and me. It's located in the City of St. Louis, in the State of Missouri. It has a federal highway running through it, though the NPS owns the land under the highway. The Corps of Engineers manages the Mississippi. And it's been the subject of numerous plans and design studies. There are as many ideas about what to do with the Arch as their are planning firms, universities, and special interest groups.

With so many different perspectives, it's easy to do nothing. Yet most people acknowledge some things could change. Improving access generates little controversy. How to do it? Then you'll get differing views.

What we need is regional buy-in. The National Park Service and the Danforth Foundation have started the process. There have been a number of meetings and design concepts presented. However, given the way people feel about the Arch, will current efforts lead to a regional mandate for the plan?

The planning process needs to build toward a regional consensus. With consensus, the project has the greatest opportunity for success. This process can be a powerful exercise in building civic energy and community pride, connecting the region. (Hmmm, ideas for logos are starting to come to mind. The Arch, connecting the region, in a community development process...)

We are headed toward a design competition. How the designs will be judged remains to be seen. The design competition needs to result in a decision which is embraced by the greater St. Louis community. How should that happen? From a top down or grass roots approach? Some of both?

From the administrative file on the original development of the Arch:

"The memorial was not simply to be a huge shaft of stone, a statue of Thomas Jefferson, or a monumental structure that people would visit only once or twice and then revisit only when showing a stranger the city's sights, the paper said.

Instead, the area must be made an integral part of the community's life, and revive the adjacent downtown area in terms of beauty and vigor."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vacant Beauty

STL Rising seldom writes on vacant or abandoned sites, but this weekend's Arch and riverfront planning charette brought into stark focus vacancy where our city should be it's best - downtown, facing the Arch.

The Mansion House complex was built near the time of Arch construction, back in the mid-1960s. It's a three tower complex, with each tower now under separate management. One serves as a hotel and the other two as apartment buildings, Gentry's Landing and Mansion House. Within the complex there are a number of related service buildings, some for retail, others for office or community space.

The charette was held in one of the community/office spaces, a 3 or 4 story building directly facing the Arch and riverfront. With good reason, the building was generously loaned to the AIA for the charette by the owners of Mansion House. If future improvements happen around the Arch, it can only mean good things for downtown property owners. They are "deep stakeholders" in this effort.

Owners of this building should be concerned. According to charette organizers, the building has not had a tenant for over 21 years. Knocking on the door of 50, I know personally how the years can add up pretty fast. In this building, the bathrooms and elevators no longer work. Nonetheless, to the casual observer (given that most people see it through a windshield at upwards of 50 miles an hour) the building still looks pretty good. There could have been no more ideal setting for this charette.

This building not only offers commanding views of the Arch and grounds, but also a panoramic view of the highway barrier dividing downtown from the riverfront, Arch, and Laclede's Landing. Counting shoulders, traffic lanes, raised concrete barriers and viaduct walls, the expanse between downtown's front row of buildings and the Arch and riverfront uses is equal to about 16 traffic lanes.

For the charette, the students were divided into seven teams. Each team had architecture, art and traffic engineering students represented. Based on the diversity of presentations, the teams were given broad latitude in developing their ideas.

One team followed closely Professor Krieger's "Mind the Gap" principle, prioritizing the edges of the Arch grounds, connecting them to their neighboring uses. On the north side, they proposed replacing the underground garage with a dramatic new use, with a wall of steel and glass facing the Eads Bridge and Laclede's Landing. It could possibly house a new museum or other major attraction, drawing visitors from the Laclede's Landing, Lumiere Casino, and Washington Avenue areas.

Along the southern edge, where concrete pillars support the Poplar Street Bridge and its ramp connections to Interstate 70, Memorial Drive, and Interstate 44, they proposed a concrete garden, to green the area and soften the transition to Chouteau's Landing.

On the western edge, where the Arch faces downtown, they proposed reworking Interstate 70, the depressed lanes, and Memorial Drive. They recommended removing the interstate, filling in the depressed lanes, and creating a new, local circulation system. They envision a trolley loop connecting with downtown, new retail uses and sidewalk cafes facing the Arch, and a cobblestone road, remembering back to the original days of the St. Louis riverfront. What would such an improvement mean for the vacant Mansion House building?

One team suggested multiple bridges connecting downtown across the interstate and Memorial Drive. These bridges would provide varying view angles of the Arch. Another team made the analogy that while Forest Park is the "back yard" of St. Louis, the Arch is the front yard, suggesting that the region place equal priority to improving its front yard as its back yard. Recent improvements to Forest Park have transformed Forest Park into a regional jewel. The price tag for the Forest Park improvement effort was about $50 million.

(Note: a commentor notes the actual cost of Forest Park improvements was $102.6 million. That's a better number, giving more headroom for thinking big in terms of possible Arch/riverfront improvements.)

The students presented a wide range of ideas about how to improve the Arch and riverfront. Restoring connectivity was a theme throughout their presentations. Results of their work will be made available to the public on a blog in the near future.

Our new president-elect has stated that among his plans to rebuild our economy will be the prioritization of public works projects. Professor Krieger stated that one of the requirements of a successful waterfront revitalization program is support through a regional mandate. Michael Allen at Ecology of Absence makes the case that President-elect Obama may be one of the most urban friendly presidents in 50 years.

Another blogger writes about St. Louis as "Confluence City". Are we possibly at a crossroads where our region, our national agenda, and efforts to revitalize the connections between downtown and the river can be leveraged into a regional development agenda?

With so much potential and focus on our riverfront, the Arch, the national effort to restore the economy, and our city's overall ongoing renewal, think of the case we might make for this effort as a demonstration project on various local and national priorities. That's a case statement waiting to be written.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Keynote Speaker Challenges Arch Planners

For those wondering whether the design charette for the future of the Arch and riverfront in downtown St. Louis would be a “think big” effort, based on last night’s keynote presentation, they should be encouraged.

Alex Krieger, professor or architecture at Harvard University, and principal in the firm Chan, Krieger, and Sieniewicz, opened the design charette with an hour long presentation highlighting dramatic riverfront transformation projects from around the world. Chan Krieger has been directly involved with a number of these.

Krieger showed slides of current and planned projects where underutilized waterfront areas are being restored as beautiful and vibrant centers of activity. His practice has developed a number of principles to guide the redevelopment of waterfront areas. He challenged the participants in this weekend's Arch/riverfront design charette to consider these principles as they develop their design concepts.

Chan Krieger's ten principles of waterfront planning are as follows:

1. Waterfronts change over time. They can evolve from old industrial, to recreation, to desirable neighborhood.
2. The aura of a city resides along the waterfront.
3. People have a natural instinct to preserve and reinvent waterfronts. Those that reinvent have been more successful than those trying to preserve.
4. Mind the gaps (places that separate the city from the waterfront, like our depressed lanes or blockages from obsolete structures).
5. Downtown waterfront revitalization is the best antidote to generic development.
6. Successful urban waterfronts must be a desirable place to live.
7. The public demands access to the water.
8. The appeal of landside developments are intrinsically linked to the appeal of the waterfront.
9. Prioritize the role of perpendicular corridors, such as city streets, connecting to the waterfront.
10. Waterfronts are the umbilical chords which connect people to nature.

Krieger noted that in St. Louis, our challenge is three-fold. Not only is our waterfront a challenge, but the “lawn” (Arch grounds) is too wide, and the first couple of blocks of our downtown next to the Arch/riverfront are not appealing. Krieger is challenging designers to look beyond the limits of the immediate riverfront and Arch grounds.

Krieger noted that waterfront revitalization projects have the opportunity to be "catalytic, watershed" projects. He gave examples of many projects opening up new areas for residential, recreational, and commercial development.

The most dramatic images Krieger presented were of waterfront revitalization efforts in Seoul, Shanghai, Dallas, Boston, New Orleans, and Montreal. The efforts in these cities provide examples of the possible. Kreiger noted that a regional mandate is required for a successful, long range waterfront revitalization effort.

Shanghai Before:



Shanghai After:



Krieger is thinking big. Applying the prinicples laid out last night, St. Louis should be looking far beyond the four corners of the Arch grounds, and thinking how to reposition it's riverfront from Chouteau's Landing north to the new Mississippi River Bridge, incorporating trails, perpendicular connections to the city street grid, and multiple points of interest and human activity. Krieger's visions are long term, connecting multiple generations.

With the old power station north of downtown, LaClede's Landing, the Arch site, and emerging Chouteau's Landing neighborhood, St. Louis has the physical assets. Our challenge is how will we use them.

The public is invited to attend parts of this weekend's charette. Tonight at 6:30 pm, Steinberg Auditorium on the Washington University campus, there is a panel discussion with local experts discussing the history and future of the Arch and riverfront. This Sunday, from noon - 4 pm at the Mansion House, participants in the charette will present their concepts for the future of the Arch, downtown, and riverfront.

Some examples from Chan Krieger's riverfront planning work:

Trinity River in Dallas

Anacostia Waterfront in Washington, DC

Pittsburgh, PA

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Time for light rail expansion in STL City?

With Metro suffering voting setbacks in St. Charles County and now St. Louis County, maybe people in St. Louis City should start exploring ways to extend rail service within the city limits?

If routes travelled twin loops through main corridors north, south and central, we could get every city resident within a mile or so of a train stop. Everyone could be within walking distance, connecting all parts of the city.

Are there other places in the US with recently installed light rail systems that primarily focus on serving the urban core of the region? I don't know. What I do know is that as a convert to riding light rail, I'd sure like a system that could get me all over town.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Arch Design Charette November 6 - 9 at Mansion House

Students from across the midwest will be participating this week in a design charette for the future of the Arch site. The public is invited to attend this Sunday from noon - 4:00 pm.

Details available here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Advice on How to Spend $3.92 Billion

"Stabilizing Neighborhoods by Addressing Abandoned and Foreclosed Properties"

Good read published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The article addresses many of the concerns faced by neighborhood development advocates in the St. Louis region.

Helping Build the Grass Roots

In this election season, there's lots of talk of getting out the vote: organizing people, and working the grass roots. But what about the other grass roots? The ones under our feet? It's always a good time to be thinking about how to empower them.

Halloween on our block is a great tradition. We close the street with a block party permit; lots of people decorate their houses; and, we get over 200 kids through for trick or treating. One of our neighbors, a young couple with young kids, is raising the bar in terms of yard care.

Before Halloween, he raked all his leaves and swept the sidewalk. So, maybe in an expression of a little positive peer pressure, three or four of us immediate neighbors all followed suit. Well, okay, I didn't sweep the sidewalk.

Afterwards, I walked over to compliment him on how nice his yard looked. His lawn is perfect, which is quite a feat on our block. We have one of those tree canopied blocks. A neighborhood lady some sixty years ago went around and made sure every house had a street tree. So now, we enjoy great shade, but, it's hard to grow a nice lawn under all that shade.

Somehow, a few neighbors still manage. This fall, our new neighbor with the great lawn, had his lawn aerated with a gas powered aerator. He overseeded and fertilized; and, this week, his lawn is growing and bright green. It's a thing of beauty. Wouldn't it be great if every lawn on this shady street was so nice? How could we make that happen? Apply block science.

We do lots of things on our block as neighbors. There's a block captain; we have a block wide email loop; we have a block party; kids play together; adults socialize, we share ladders and other tools; and, have a great Halloween. We look out for one another. All of these things improve the quality of life. So, just maybe, working together, we could green up everyone's lawn?

Home Depot rents aerators. Our lawns are not big, so in about 20 minutes, we could knock out a lawn. At a rate of 3 per hour, with the 50 or so houses on the block, in one weekend, we'd have the job done. Aerator's rent for about $80 a day. For the weekend, that works out to less than $5 per house on our block.

We'd need to line up workers, with shifts and that. But think about it. Group aerating, group fertilizing, group seeding, watering across property lines, covering for the elderly or physically challenged, we could make it work. We could have the best lawns in the city. This is a project that we could do! This is a project we should do!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baseball gods shone through the pouring rain


I'm rooting for the Phillies to win this World Series. I remember, as a boy, watching Philly games with my grandfather, in the small family room/bedroom, located just behind the living-room-converted-into-a-neighborhood confectionary, in their suburban Philadelphia, South Jersey home. During games, when someone came in the store, a bell would ring, and he or I would go out to wait on the customers.

Most of the time, we would sell a few pieces of penny candy to neighborhood kids. You could get a lot of candy for ten or fifteen cents. Grandma, grandpa and their store were beloved institutions in their neighborhood for well over over fifty years. It was a treat for me to work in the store on the trips we would make to visit from California every few years. With sales complete, grandpa and I would resume watching the game.

I like the National League and can't stand the DH rule. Tampa Bay is a good, young team. They will have more chances, and they're not through in this Series yet. If Philly does win, Tampa Bay will be back, and with an exciting, young team, maybe they'll draw more than a few thousand fans per regular season game.

The Phillies on the other hand are one of baseball's most storied franchises. With only one championship in their 125 year history, their futility is as bad as the Cubs. Up in the series 3 games to 1, the Phillies are one win away from their second world championship. But this has been a strange World Series, made stranger by the events Monday night. With rain threatening to end the game, it would have been bad for baseball and marred a Phillies championship. A small miracle was needed to right the situation.

The officiating in this series has been awful. In Game One, there was the "no balk" call. In Game Four there was the the "Strike Three, You Walk" call. And then in the first inning of Game Five, the home plate umpire was squeezing the strike zone on Rays' pitcher, leading to a walk and two first inning runs, giving Philadelphia a lead. Then the rain came, and the umpires made their worst decision of the Series yet - they let the teams play.

Radar showed Philly socked in for hours of rain, but the game continued, with field conditions deteriorating. By the fourth inning, things had really gotten bad, with large puddles covering the infield, and the groundscrew having to repair the mound between every half inning. The umpires should have called the players off the field, raining out the game, but instead, they allowed the game to continue. The Rays failed to score in their half of the fifth inning, making this an "official game". If the umpires were to call the game now, the Phillies would have won the game by rain.

At this point in the contest, my loyalty changed. I was no longer thinking of the fair weather fans in Florida, but rather the players on the field and all they had worked for to get to this point in their careers. Now I am rooting for the Rays to tie the game. A rain shortened game is no way for a World Series to be decided. The game continued.

Philadelphia batted in the bottom of the fifth, and did not score. Now the rain is really coming down, and the Rays are batting in the top of the 6th. Down in the series three games to one, if they were to lose this game, there would be "no tomorrow". On a grounder the Philly shorstop could not handle, a speedy Rays player makes first base. Then he gingerly steals second, careful not to slip and fall in the mud on the way. Now with two out, and a runner on second, playing in a driving rain, the Rays have a chance to tie the game.

The Rays batter lifts a line drive over the shortstop's outstretched glove into shallow left field. The runner is rounding third, trying to score. There would be a play at the plate. The throw is slightly up the first base line, the runner slides around the tag, and scores the tying run. The third out is recorded, and the umpires instruct the grounds crew to cover the infield with the tarp.

Under normal rules, in a rain shortened game, the score reverts to the previous inning, and the Phillies would have been declared the winner. However, in this case, in a new rule just recently adopted, the game was suspended. The game will be resumed in the bottom of the 6th inning, tied at 2-2.

Some locals aren't happy about the way things turned out, and I agree with them that Bud Selig is a lousy commissioner. His handling of the steroid scandal in baseball has been atrocius. Nonetheless, ending the World Series because of rain is not how a championship should be decided. With the resumption of play, possibly tonight, the game will be decided as it should be - on the field.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Arch Plans for Memorial Drive and the Depressed Lanes


UPDATE:

The content of this post has been updated to reflect clarifications about the Arch design process as described at the Platform editorial page of STL Today.

The original STL Rising post discussed language in the National Park Service's "Alternative 5 - Park in the City". In Alternative 5, there is reference to rerouting Memorial Drive, and in its place developing urban plazas. With the new sculpture park on the Gateway Mall, the plaza on the north side of the Old Post Office, and the Arch itself, downtown already has significant areas dedicated to plazas and open space.

Hence, the idea of developing more urban plazas and open space downtown is a rallying point for opposition among urbanists. Many downtown advocates are calling for increased density in the form of more residential, employment, and retail uses.

STL Rising has been an advocate for exploring the potential of vacating the depressed lanes in front of the Arch and improving Memorial Drive as a grand urban street. The west side of a new Memorial Drive might be an area to provide sidewalk cafes and storefront space with views of the Arch.

At STL Today's Platform blog, the National Park Service provides clarification regarding design options possible under the proposed design competition for the future of the Arch.

The Platform is reporting that according to official statements released by the National Park Service, vacating the I-70 depressed lanes and rebuilding Memorial Drive are possible alternatives for consideration in the design competition.

To read the full Platform editorial click here.

Thanks to the Platform for helping to clarify this issue.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Day Old Arch Plan Draws Fire

National Park Service retirees oppose preliminary Arch plans.

And so it begins. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) is concerned about changes to the Arch site. Their press release also raises questions about possible private management.

However, in reading the NPS preferred alternative, the opposite appears to be the case. Rather than narrowing the alternatives, by their selection, the Park Service appears to be broadening the planning framework, seeking additional public input and engaging a wide open design competition.

Nothing is out or in at this point. Better connectivity and expanded programming seem to be the main goals. How it happens is far from decided. Given the strong feelings people have for the Arch, getting any change approved will take a lot of work.

I'm happy to read that the retired Park Service employees do like the idea of improving access. Here's what the press release says:

"CNPSR officials said they have no concern with minor changes that are consistent with the original look and feel of the National Historic Site. One possible change would be to improve connections with the surrounding community, including the addition of covered crossings over Interstate 55."

They like the lid idea, but I wonder if any of them have heard about the idea of replacing the depressed lanes with a new Memorial Drive?

Leaf talk

With fall upon us, leaves are dropping all over St. Louis. Note to seasonal yard display enthusiasts: those fallen leaves make your scary Halloween decorations look more authentic!

So the other day, two ladies were taking an exercise walk down the hall and they were talking about leaf pickup around St. Louis.

The first lady mentioned how in Kirkwood, residents have to put their leaves into a specific type of bag for pickup. Everyone has to use the same, government approved leaf bags. She said Kirkwood is very particular about this.

The second lady mentioned how in Wildwood, they let you use the kind of bags they sell at Home Depot. She was thankful for that.

And they both were amazed, and not totally convinced, that in the City of St. Louis, all you have to do is rake your leaves into the street, and the city picks them up.

Thank you and yes, I can attest, this is absolutely true. Those giant leaf sucking trucks are indeed an amazing and welcome sight!

Planning for the future of the Arch and downtown

Preferred alternative for Arch seeks program expansion, better downtown connections

"Preliminary Alternative 3 - Program Expansion" is the National Park Service's preferred alternative for the General Management Plan for the Arch. Highlights of the Alternative 3 include the possibility of expanded programming at the Arch and increasing the connectivity between the downtown, Laclede's Landing, and Chouteau's Landing neighborhood.

An open design competition will be held to determine the best solution to accomplishing the priorities set out in the preferred alternative. The area targeted for the design competition is bounded by Memorial Drive, Washington Avenue, Poplar Street, Luther Ely Smith Square (the small park between the Old Court House and Memorial Drive), and the north and south reflecting ponds on the Arch ground.

By selecting Alternative 3 as the preferred alternative, the National Park Service has created flexibility in the planning process. A wide range of possibilities exist, and will ultimately be decided through a(n) (international) design competition. Given the stature of the Arch, we can expect the best designers from around the world to enter the competition.

The Arch is beautiful geometry, as is the overall Jefferson National Memorial site. Likewise, the Old Courthouse has beautiful lines. The planning process for its future has been taken in a new, exciting direction, with the National Park Service inviting participation from the best minds on earth to rethink the future of the Arch for the next 50-100 years.

The Arch site is located at the original settlement of St. Louis. The city expanded from this site. Given the opportunity to rethink the way the Arch connects to downtown, should St. Louis match this opportunity to think about the way the city connects to the riverfront? Is their a synergy possible at this once in a lifetime planning process for our downtown and riverfront?

By selecting Alternative 3 as the preferred alternative, the National Park Service appears to be seeking a broader perspective in the planning approach for the future of the Arch and the adjacent downtown area. That is a very encouraging sign.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Preferred Alternative" for Arch Grounds Announced

The General Management Plan "Preferred Alternative" for the future of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was released online today.

Click here to view the results.

The document sets the stage for the planning process moving forward, including future programming and improving connections between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Award winning waterfront roadway design - Memorial Drive next?

The South Lakeshore Drive project in Chicago won a Federal Highway Administration "Award of Excellence" for balancing a variety of community priorities with a beautiful, neighborhood enhancing, scenic road project, capable of carrying 100,000 cars per day.

Chicago's Lakeshore Drive 2002/2003 Rebuild - Comparable to Memorial Drive?

The $162 MM, 6-mile project, runs from Chicago's 22nd Street near the McCormick Place Convention Center south to 67th Street.

Traffic volumes through this section of Lakeshore Drive range from 110,000 cars per day on the north end to 24,000 cars per day on south end. Lakeshore Drive is built as an eight lane boulevard.

By comparison, Memorial Drive and the I-70 depressed and elevated lanes combined carry approximately 90,000 cars per day through downtown St. Louis.

The six mile rebuild of Lakeshore Drive cost $162,000,000, or about $27,000,000 per mile. The section of the depressed and elevated lanes of I-70 for possible replacement with a new Memorial Drive runs about one mile - from the Poplar Street Bridge on the south to Cole on the north.

The considerations of the two situations are similar - improving waterfront/cultural/recreational access, civic beautification, maintaining traffic flow and enhancing pedestrian access.

Chicago developed a landscaped boulevard to enhance its waterfront area. St. Louis has the same opportunity.

Hidden Valley: Luxury Homesites or Ski Resort?


There's a showdown unfolding in the upscale West County suburb of Wildwood. The owner of the Hidden Valley ski area is threatening to close down the resort if he is unable to work out some issue with local government.

I'm not familiar with all the facts of the case, but from news reports, the owner doesn't like something going on in Wildwood, whether its high taxes or other local regulation, so he's talking about shutting the resort down altogether.

I've never skied at Hidden Valley, and have heard mixed reviews of the place. So one time, I checked it out, just to see it in person. The ski area is in the middle of a high priced housing development, more like a private golf and country club than a ski resort. In fact, during the summers, Hidden Valley is a golf course.

The homes around Hidden Valley must approach a million dollars in sales prices. They are large, estate-styled homes, with large wooded lots and lots of stone and brick. Narrow roads lead through the development, until you reach the entrance to the ski area. The ski area feels authentic, with a cozy lodge, and lots of people bundled up in ski wear. From inside the lodge, you don't feel like you're in St. Louis at all. A ski lodge in St. Louis? Yes, indeed.

But maybe not much longer? Wildwood officials do not want the popular attraction to close, so it appears the owner has some room for negotiation with the city. However, if Wildwood offers an incentive to Hidden Valley, will other Wildwood businesses seek the same assistance?

The owner has another option. The land under Hidden Valley is valuable. Presumably the site could be developed with more luxury homes. Luxury homes or a local ski resort? If you're a West County resident, which is you're preference?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Protecting housing in foreclosure

While national headlines report on bank rescues, people at the local level are dealing firsthand with the aftermath of foreclosure.

In some places, once the former owner moves out, the property is stripped of all valuables, especially copper gutters, downspouts, plumbing and wiring. In no time, the lender's security in the loan, the house, loses a huge percentage of its value.

Given the challenges of managing and maintaining vacant houses, maybe lenders would be better off allowing former owners to stay in their houses? This could be worked out on a lease/purchase or straight rental basis. The lender becomes landlord; the former owner becomes tenant, and pays rent instead of a mortgage payment.

Maybe it's a starting point for compromise? Foreclosed homeowners need a place to live. Vacant buildings are problematic. Rental income to the bank is better than zero income from a vacant house. And protecting the house from being stripped is better for the neighborhood.

Friday fare

In the "commerce imitates life" department, there was a strange sight this morning at Starbuck's downtown. Some of you may have seen the TV commercial where a worker in a sandwich shop orders a sandwich for delivery from one of their competitors. He meets the delivery person at the front door, feigns surprise, pays the driver and then has the sandwiched dropped on the side of the store.

In a similar vein, this morning at the corner Starbuck's, behind me in line stood a man wearing a crisp, black, corporate oxford dress shirt, emblazoned with the logo, "Seattle's Best Coffee". Their coffee is sold across the street. Maybe he was there to borrow some filters?

Back outside, walking down Olive past Macy's, lying on the sidewalk in front of one of the store's main entrances, I see a fresh copy of the Wall Street Journal. It looked like a home delivery, but instead was on a downtown sidewalk, in front of high rise department store. Okay, so maybe I'm a little strange, but these sorts of things make me wonder.

On the one hand, I guess it makes perfect sense that someone working in the store has a subscription to the WSJ. However, on the other hand, I'm a little surprised that not one person had simply bent down and picked the paper up off the sidewalk. The store doesn't open till around 10. The paper just sits there, with hundreds of people walking by, for a few hours in the morning. I'd say that's pretty cool.

We St. Louisans are an honest bunch! Or maybe no one reads the paper anymore?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fright Night

St. Louis is one of the most haunted regions in the country. We have more haunted house attractions than anywhere, and since we're over 200 years old, there are plenty of historic cemeteries around to add to the mystique. We do Halloween right.

In keeping with scary things, last night I had a sort of strange nightmare. I dreamt that I was checking into a potential new office. It was all clean and bright, with lots of fake laminated wood furniture, ceiling tiles and flourescent lighting. It reminded me of the kinds of places people worked all through the 1980s.

Then it occurred to me: this office was located out away somewhere, so the only way to get to it was to drive. No Metrolink option and getting there by bus would take forever. Panic setting in.

In real life, we've downsized our personal auto inventory to one car. Whenever possible, I ride Metrolink. It's much cheaper than driving - and more relaxing. Plus, being a one car household, we save money on gas, oil changes, insurance, repairs and maintenance. Another plus: we only take up one parking space on the street.

So here I am, back in the dream, looking at the potted plant sitting on the receptionist's fake wood, laminate desk. The floors are carpeted in a low nap, neutral beige tone, and there are a couple of nondescript prints hanging on the wall. There are no people in the room. Just outside the door, there's a parking lot, with everyone's cars parked in a row by the sidewalk.

That's when I woke up. What a relief!!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Suburban Journal Subscriptions

Starting in November, home delivery of the Suburban Journal will require a subscription. The once a week newspaper (twice if you count the mostly ad-based weekend version), will be offered at $19.99 for a one-year subscription.

We will be subscribing. The Journal is an excellent source of neighborhood news. Unforturnately, as a cost cutting measure, over this past year, the Journal has ceased delivery to some areas of St. Louis City and County.

Will the new subscription only option make delivery available again to these formerly served areas? Yes, according to the Journal's customer service department.

To subscribe, please call 1-888-755-2879.

STL City - One Call Customer Service

Calls for service in the city of St. Louis are streamlined to the CSB - Citizen's Service Bureau. This morning, I phoned the City Street Department to report a missing street sign at a busy north city intersection. The Street Department phone system automatically transferred the call to the CSB.

At CSB, the service request was noted, service number assigned, and deadline for response scheduled for attention by the appropriate city department. The telephone number for the street department is 647-3111. For the Citizen's Service Bureau, dial 622-4800.

Great staycation opportunity?

With the economy in less that great shape, more folks are looking for ways to enjoy their home town. Thanks to Confluence City, here's info on an upcoming guitar project in town. Aspiring guitarists, take note, the St. Louis Symphony has put out a call for your services the week of November 10:

Glenn Branca guitar symphony

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

City Policy Regarding Near Northside Development

Much has been written in the blogs about unannounced development activity pending for the near north side. To date, there has been little information forthcoming about possible project(s).

Over at the St. Louis Patina blog, there is information posted about the city's approach to redevelopment of the area. It is a positive update.

New Dutchtown Neighborhood Group Rising?

Picked up this item in the comments section at Urban Review. There was also an item about this effort in the October 1 edition of the Suburban Journal.

Dutchtown is a large area in South City. It has formal boundaries, but many locals extend the area even beyond it's official boundaries. A new group is trying to establish itself. It's in the western part of Dutchtown, west of S. Grand, in the area of Resurrection church.

The site references a name: Dutchtown Amberg. At the site, the group's full name is "Dutchtown West Neighborhood - Amberg Park Neighborhood. They are open to suggestions for different names. Amberg Park is a smallish city park in the 25th ward, near Gustine and Dunnica.

Over the years, we've attended many youth baseball games there. The park is small and at the time could have benefitted from some volunteer TLC. Maybe a new neighhborhood group will mean good things for Amberg Park?

The area around the park is built up with beautiful 1920s-vintage smaller brick homes, 2, 4-and-up multi-family buildings, generally well maintained, with multiples colors of brick and lots of terra cotta ornamentation.

The area would seem a natural addition to the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood's stock of owner occupied and income producing properties would be assisted in their preservation if historic tax credits were available.

The startup neighborhood group is advertising a meeting tonight, 7:00 PM, October 7, in the basement of Resurrection Church, 3880 Meramec.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Yin, Meet Yang!


One of the most unsightly features of our downtown are the old, 1960s-vintage, elevated sections of interstate highway. One section lines the southern edge of downtown (alongside the new ballpark and Sheraton hotel). The other separates Laclede's Landing and the north riverfront area from the north side of downtown. These hulking structures block sunlight, surface access, and obstruct views.

One of the ideas we've looked at is how downtown, the Arch grounds, the riverfront and Laclede's Landing could all become better connected. The connectivity issue is a major question under consideration in the ongoing National Park Service planning for the future of the Arch site. To improve these connections, one idea is to build a three block lid over the I-70 depressed lanes. The estimated cost of the lid project is north of $100,000,000.

An alterntative approach to improve connectivity is the idea of replacing Interstate 70 from the Poplar Street Bridge north to the new I-70 Mississippi River Bridge with a new Memorial Drive. This concept involves filling in the I-70 depressed lanes in front of the Arch and removing the elevated lanes between Laclede's Landing and the north side of downtown. That requires heavy construction - demolishing the elevated lanes and filling in the depressed lanes.

Question...if demolishing the elevated section of I-70, we need a place to haul away the debris. Second...to fill the depressed lanes we need a source of good, clean, fill. Is there a possible marriage here?

What if the debris from the demolition of the elevated section of Interstate 70 could be used to fill in the depressed lanes? What would that do to the cost of the proposed rebuilding of Memorial Drive?

Having an immediate source of fill right next to a fill site, and having a place to use debris from demolition right next to a demolition site means major cost savings. This is a cost saving opportunity seldom seen. Usually projects pay high costs to import fill or haul away debris. In this case, we reuse all rubble from demolition right on site.

Could the case be made that not only is the New Memorial Drive alternative the most affordable way to reconnect downtown, the riverfront, and the Arch, but also the greenest?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Forced onto the grid

St. Louis is blessed with a wonderful historic street grid. It gives us huge capacity for carrying traffic. Instead of having only one main route to get from here to there, the grid gives drivers infinite route choices.

Unfortunately, most drivers are so stuck in their routines, they never stray from their familiar traffic routes. As a result, there can be traffic jams on one street, while just a block over, traffic is moving smoothly. The closure of the Hampton Bridge over Highway 40 is forcing drivers out of their routines - and onto the grid.

So far, the experience is working out great. On weekends, traffic on Hampton would back up a mile with drivers attempting to access Forest Park. Now with the bridge closed, Hampton is flowing freely. Isn't that something? Drivers are being forced to use the nine other entrances to Forest Park.

Last week on the news, they interviewed a person from Wellston with an amazing story. He said he walked to work from his home in Wellston to his job in South City. That's an amazing story by itself, but what was even more amazing was the rest of his story.

He told the reporter that with the Hampton Bridge closed, he'd have a problem now walking to his job in South City. I couldn't believe me ears. I can understand drivers getting stuck in a rut with their preferred routes, but pedestrians? Unreal.

I'm thinking, "what about the Tamm Bridge?" All this Wellston walker has to do is cross at Tamm. From Wellston, it would be a short cut compared to Hampton anyway. After the interview, I wonder if the reporter showed him the bridge over 40 just a couple blocks west of Hampton...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cardinal Care/Ballpark Village Time Capsule Opportunity?

The hole at Ballpark Village is no more. New development is coming soon. But there's still time to celebrate the end of downtown's biggest vacant lot. Let's have a party and raise some money for a good cause while we're at it!

From stories I've heard, when the Arch was built, school kids around St. Louis were invited to put their names in a time capsule placed under the Arch during construction. Why not do something similar at Ballpark Village?

While the hole's been filled, there's still time to sink a time capsule at the site. For a $1 or so, folks from across the region could register their names and a sentiment message (say 60 characters or less), to be added to a time capsule to be buried underground at Ballpark Village. All proceeds could go to benefit the work of Cardinal Care, the St. Louis Cardinal's charitable foundation.

For a little extra, you could get a commemorative, numbered and authenticated, "Ballpark Village Time Capsule Certificate". For a few dollars more, you could have your certificate personalized by a favorite Cardinal player or team owner.

Then, up at street level, above the sunken time capsule, mounted on a pedestal, somewhere in the middle of Ballpark Village there could be a plaque, a point of interest for Ballpark Village visitors for years to come. The plaque could describe how in the year 2008, St. Louisans from across the region, came together to commemorate the building of Busch Stadium II, Ballpark Village, the revitalization of downtown St. Louis, and the tradition of Cardinal baseball, all while raising funds to support the good work of Cardinal Care.

The plaque could be designed to cover a hidden access to the time capsule, which could be opened again in the year 2082, on the 200th anniversary of the St. Louis Cardinals. Adults of today would be long gone, but some kids would still remember the placing of the capsule.

The plaque of the time capsule could also highlight the 2009 St. Louis All Star game season.

To get things started, a local bank could set up a trust account to hold funds. Fundraising could start at any time, and run all the way through to the end of the 2009 season. This way, there'd be plenty of time to organize and raise money. No need to rush to a quick deadline. By allowing more time, more people could get involved.

Cardinal Care could partner with other groups by allowing joint fundraising efforts. Say a scout group wanted to raise money. They could tie in with the time capsule project and raise money for both efforts. Either split the proceeds, or charge $2 per entry with a $1 going to the scouts and a $1 to Cardinal Care.

Another nice aspect of this concept is the way it takes the BV project and leverages it into a much larger community effort which we can remember for years to come. It gets people involved and supports good stuff. Everybody wins. With a year to sign folks up and collect money, a lot could be raised.

How do we get an idea like this going? Call the Cardinal Care people, right? Let's do and see what happens.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Here Than Memorial Drive?

That's what these guys are saying.

150 Years Later - STL to Regain Authority Over Police Department?

St. Louis has a lot of great history. We live with it all around us. One part of our history though, the loss of local control over our own police department, is an outdated arrangement whose time may finally be coming to an end. Change can be painful, and this change may bring some serious pain in terms of heavy financial cost.

For well over one hundred years, city taxpayers have been footing the bills of the St. Louis police department, without having control of the department. The police have resisted any changes to the system, a holdover dating back to when martial law was declared by the governor during Civil War times.

More and more city residents are crying foul over the long antiquated situation. Some call it taxation without representation. Elected officials in Jefferson City control the city's police department, while city voters have no vote in electing most of these officials.

The ongoing investigation into the practices of a private company hired by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to tow cars is rekindling interest in returning local control over the city police. The ongoing investigation reported in the Post Dispatch describes stories of vulnerable individuals being victimized by the towing company.

There may be hundreds of victims. Now, at the call of Governor Blunt, the State of Missouri is auditing the police department. $700,000 is owed to the city by the towing company, and through the ongoing investigations, involving the Missouri Auditor, the FBI, and the IRS, more wrongdoing may come to light.

As a city resident, it is my hope that the victims of this scandal are compensated at the state level. City taxpayers should not be called upon to foot the legal bills for an agency over which they have no control.

Local leaders, including Mayor Slay, have long called for local control over the SLMPD. Unfortunately, the issue has always died in the state legislature. With the current problems facing the police department, leaders in Jefferson City might be ready for a change.

We need to restore confidence in the St. Louis police department. Thanks to the Post Dispatch for investigating and reporting on this story. As a community, we need to move forward together to get to the bottom of this situation, and then make the necessary changes to improve public safety and protect the rights of all residents, visitors, businesses, and people working in the city of St. Louis.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

(Head knock!) The Reason Traffic Changes Don't Cause Gridlock...

The best analogy is the policeman dispersing citizens at a crime scene or car accident..."Move along citizens, there's nothing to see here..move along." Everybody is forced to leave the scene and go another way.

They don't keep coming to the same place causing congestion, rather they go a different way and disperse. They are forced into a new routine.

People fear the change, but they cope with it. We're not sheep; we have a brain. The Hampton bridge closure over Highway 40 is the next the big test of how we cope with traffic changes. If that closure works with minimal disturbance, the new Memorial Drive idea is a brave leader away from at least a second look.

To date, there's been no clear data uncovered officially analyzing the traffic feasibility of vacating the depressed lanes in front of the Arch and replacing them with a new Memorial Drive; and, from the best we can tell, there's been no data developed stating the option won't work either. The alternative has simply never been analyzed. The default position has always been that St. Louis will live with the depressed lanes for all of our lifetimes.

STL Rising is on the lookout for any information from completed traffic studies, especially related to the new I-70 Mississippi River bridge crossing, which might shows projected traffic volumes through the depressed lanes once the new bridge is complete.

If you know of the existence of such a traffic study, we would like to hear from you. Please comment below or contact via email rbonasch@sbcglobal.net.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Arch Planning Marches On...

Second newsletter released

Public comments summarized

National PARKing Day

There's a tiny oasis of green today at the corner of 6th and Olive. Instead of finding Carlo the hot dog vendor's minivan in its usual space, the architects of HOK have taken over two parking spaces.

They've installed an umbrella, turf, miniature golf, and parked a dead BMW facing the wrong direction. All of this to raise the question, should we be devoting so much of our public realm to storing cars? National PARKing Day started in San Francisco and is now a nationwide campaign.

STL Can Change - Hampton Bridge Closing

Traffic patterns get implanted in our DNA. Visitors to Forest Park take Hampton Avenue. So much so that on weekends, when the weather is nice, cars get backed up a mile away on the exit ramps of I-44, trying to get to northbound Hampton and up to the park.

So Monday, when MoDOT closes the Hampton Bridge over Interstate 64, STL drivers are going to be forced to change their driving habits...again. They'll need to find new ways to get to Forest Park without their customary Hampton Avenue access. Gloom and doom on the horizon? Or another Highway 40 closure non-event?

In St. Louis, we're getting experienced at dealing with major changes to our established traffic patterns. So far, we've handled them well. Impacts have been less than the dire predictions. People are discovering alternate routes. They're finding the street grid.

Dogtown and the Tamm Street/Turtle Park overpass stand adjacent to the Hampton bridge. Will Dogtown be flooded with lost drivers searching for a new way to enter Forest Park?

Or will drivers divert into a thousand alternate routes, from all sides of the park, and will St. Louis absorb another lifestyle change with grace and little disruption? Maybe drivers will discover that by making a few additional turns along the way, they will shorten their wait in traffic by a half hour or more?

Look for drivers to use Clayton Road, Laclede Station, Vandeventer, Kingsighway and Forest Park Parkway as alternates to Hampton Avenue. STL Rising prediction: We will fare far better than most people expect.

STL Rising: To Do List - Point of View Restaurant

Walking to the 8th and Pine Metro station, you might pass a little sign mounted on the corner of the Laclede Gas Building inviting you to a restaurant way up on the building's 30th floor. It's called "Point of View" and serves up spectacular 360 degree views of downtown and beyond.

Don't know anything about the food. Didn't even know the place existed till yesterday. But loving the opportunity to soak in long views of STL, a visit to this place gets added to the to-do list.

Little bird says it's a production of Patty Long, operator of the 9th Street Abbey.

Hours: T-F 11-2 PM. Telephone 421-5941.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fortune Told?

Monday night we ate at the "Steak and Rice" Chinese restaurant in Kirkwood, corner of Kirkwood Road and Big Bend. STL Rising recommended. It's one of the few places where they serve A-B products with a chilled pilsner glass.

At the end of the meal, the server delivered the customary round of fortune cookies and the bill. My cookie had a somewhat ominous message: "Your luck is about to change". Never paying much mind to fortunes, I didn't think a whole lot of it.

Today, walking outside for some fresh air, I jingled the change in my pocket. One of the coins had a different feel. I pulled it out, and sure enough, it was different. It felt cleaner. It was a silver dime from 1964, the last year they minted silver dimes.

It's been at least ten years since I've found a silver dime in circulation. According to some websites, silver dimes run about 1 per thousand in circulation, but I doubt that number.

Silver dimes have a distinct color and feel. They're not as shiny as the copper/nickel clad issue, and they don't have that greasy feel nickel coins do. Most people quickly recognize them and nab them out of circulation. They're almost impossible to find any more. Mine came out of this morning's change drawer at the 6th and Olive Starbuck's.

At today's prices, the melt value of a silver dime is $.84. From a collector's standpoint, it's worth between $1 and $8, depending on condition. Finding a silver dime in your loose change a change in luck, or, as a commenter puts it, "luck in change"? Either way, I'll take it.

A New Memorial Drive for 1/3 the Cost of Lid or Less?

In the middle of a bad economy with federal earmarks on the chopping block, it's not a good time to be talking about how to finance significant public infrastructure projects. Nonetheless, let's be positive that our economy will improve in the months or quarters to come, and that we will move forward on regional infrastructure priorities.

Part of the task of promoting any development plan is to make the case based on financial feasibility. Beautiful drawings without a financing strategy are not worth much. It will be critical for supporters of any plan to improve access to the Arch and riverfront to figure out how to pay for it.

However, we have some information to work with. We know the cost of the Highway 64 rebuild is $420,000,000 in construction and $535,000,000 total. It's eleven miles, with 25 bridges, including rebuilding the 170 interchange.

The projected cost of the Lid over the depressed lanes is about $80-90 million in construction, plus another $20 million to endow a maintainance fund. Total cost in the $100-120 million range.

However, there's another cost to the Lid option. Keeping the depressed lanes open involves the long term maintenance of the viaduct/channel. We know the difficulty and expense of these situations - just consider the Gravois and Chippewa viaducts in South City. They are the source of regular "Towntalk" complaints.

As viaducts age, their maintenance gets more expensive. Would the Lid rebuild the walls of the depressed lanes? Based on information available to date, long term maintenance of the depressed lanes appears to be outside the scope of the Lid budget.

Second, the elevated lanes of I-70 past Laclede's Landing are due for seismic retrofitting. These are also high cost efforts. Building a new Memorial Drive could save both depressed lane maintenance costs as well as seismic retrofitting of the elevated sectios of I-70.

At less than one tenth the cost of Highway 64 expansion, the new Memorial Drive could come in under $40,000,000, or about a 1/3 the Lid option.

From a fiscal perspective, is the new Memorial Drive a potential less is more opportunity?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tower Tours?



The father of our former neighbor is a retired steeplejack. Steeplejacks are the most specialized of carpenters - they are the ones who climb skinny ladders and scaffolding to build and repair the tall steeples on old city churches. So when he'd come over to our neighbors house to do odd jobs and basic maintenance, it was easy sailing for him compared to his year's working alone at the top of a tall, narrow steeple. The views he had of our neighborhoods was something seen by few.

Thinking of those heights made me wonder if any of the churches around town offer tours of their bell towers? Some of them are so narrow they are only accessible by a ladder. However, others look big enough to have staircases to the top.

Climbing to the top of a church bell tower would afford wonderful views of the surrounding neighborhood and church grounds. If churches could arrange one or two days a month where they'd open the tower for guided tours, it would be a good way to promote the churches, the neighborhoods, and the architecture of the city.

A nominal fee benefitting the church could be charged, with volunteers from the church serving as docents for the tower visits. I'd pay $5-$10 to have a chance to visit these unique spaces. Call it urban exploring with an invitation. Anyone know if such tours are available? I'll call Our Lady of Sorrows on South Kingshighway later today to see if their Italinate tower (shown above) is ever open to the public. Check the comments later for an update...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

STL Rising - Fashion Report

As the war in Iraq entered its third and fourth years, downtown STL started to see more and more office workers dressing in styles reminiscent of the 1960s. Floral print dresses, halter tops, and other hippie-inspired styles were becoming popular again. Personally, I like this form of self-expression, and I like the way it reminded me of my teen years.

This morning, I spied a rather startling shift in downtown business attire. A man standing at the corner of 6th and Olive was wearing what can best be described as a zoot suit. Bold navy blue, his jacket, broad-shouldered, cut square and nearly down to the knees, served notice with crisp, white pin stripes. The dude, with a cigarette in his fingers, made a bold fashion statement.

Changing fashions often signal trends in society. Zoot suits reappearing on the street corners of downtown St. Louis? Any predictions about what this might mean for the next year or two?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Advance Word?

The NPS first draft report on the new management plan for the Arch was due out a month or so after the public meetings held at the end of June/first of July. It's been two months, so we should be seeing something any day. Any advance word on the findings?

Lots of people testified about the idea of rebuilding Memorial Drive as a proper connection between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront. It will be interesting to see how the idea is presented in the draft report.

Driving the route early this morning made me wonder about who would be against such a remaking of the area. Putting big rigs on a new Memorial Drive might be the biggest downside to the idea.

Or would it be an overblown concern? There is heavy truck traffic travelling on S. Broadway through Soulard, especially semis serving the brewery. Soulard survives pretty well.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

STL Rising - Good Eats!

One of the reasons St. Louis was chosen as a settlement was the great abundance of natural resources here. Our location on two major rivers, fertile area farmlands and forests put St. Louis right at the heart of the American breadbasket.

This time of year, look for locals to be harvesting nuts from trees in Tower Grove Park. Last night on KDHX, I heard a brief portion of Amanda Doyle's interview of someone discussing urban farming as a profession. I wonder how the urban farmers deal with the buried debris under the surface of so many vacant city lots?

Then yesterday, on a sidewalk in our neighborhood, a hawk had a rabbit trapped in its talons. Its wings had its prey completely surrounded. It was a wierd site, but something I'm surprised we don't see more often given the thousands of rabbits, squirrels, and mice which run around all over the city.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A More European Downtown?

In Europe, there are jumbotrons in public areas for watching sporting events. Large crowds gather to watch games.

In St. Louis, we're scheduled to get a giant big screen as a part of the plaza across from the Old Post Office.

If the plaza were complete and the TV operational today, would they broadcast tonight's Mizzou/Illinois game?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

STL Rising - Farm Report

The wet spring and summer gave farmers fits for early season planting. Predictions were that we'd see a low crop yield this year, adding to economic woes.

But the spring dried up enough for farmers to get a later start on corn planting, and the 2008 corn crop is looking like a record yield. Things may not be so rosy for the soy bean farmers.

An aquaintance of mine is a farmer in Southern Illinois. I asked him yesterday how things were looking for this year. He farms corn and soy beans.

He described the soy crop as "lots of bushy plants" but "few pods" and for the pods they have there are "few beans". So this doesn't sound like a weather problem. It sounds like a bee problem.

There is concern among scientists that the US is experiencing a serious reduction in the number of pollenating bees. In this busy world of presidential election cycles, global warming, war in the middle east, and a weak economy, maybe we should be thinking more about our friends, the tiny honey bee?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fountains part of a New Memorial Drive?

Grand entrances to cities often have important, civic features, like fountains. We've talked about creating a new Memorial Drive entrance to downtown as a way to fix the seam between the Arch/riverfront and the rest of downtown. Imagine if part of the design included roundabouts at key intersections, with beautiful fountains like the ones in Forest Park?

Thinking back to the comparison between a new Memorial Drive and Lakeshore Drive in Chicago, what is one of the main features people see when they arrive in downtown Chicago? It's that massive fountain in the park next to Lakeshore Drive.

The NPS is due to release its initial report on the update to the management plan for the Arch. It will be interesting to see how the Memorial Drive/depressed lanes/lid/better access issue is presented.

Opening to Little Fanfare

In case you missed it, it appears the multimodal transportation hub has finally opened in downtown St. Louis.

Signs for Greyhound and Amtrak went up on the superstructure yesterday, and for the past few days, more and more people have been seen inside the scaly looking, multi-color windowed building. I'm not an architecture critic. Suffice it to say to me the building looks cool, and it's in the perfect location.

The people inside looked like they're waiting for a train or bus connection, so let's hope the new hub is open for business. If you're interested in seeing the place, do a Metrolink layover at the Civic Center station, walk up the 20 or so foot grade and check it out.

Since it's home to Greyhound, does this mean the old Greyhound station at Cass and 12th on the near northside is closing? The old station, once a grand bank building, has potential for other use. Maybe we'll see it restored for an interesting future serving downtown and the near northside residents?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

One Good Thing about STL Urblogs?

Blog posts are interesting, but my favorite part is the reading the comments section. It's interesting to read the debate, and anonymous comments are cool.

Anonymous comments do annoy some people. I heard about some folks on the east coast getting so angry over anonymous comments at a political blog, they were thinking of suing to eliminate the ability to post anonymously. That's crazy! The next thing they'll try to do is get rid of "Town Talk." Reading the Journal would never be the same!

Anyhow, lately, I've noticed an increasing number of West Countians posting their comments about city life from places like Chesterfield and Des Peres. They weigh in over our architecture and redevelopment activities. They share the passion for the city and the neighborhoods.

They describe their situations as remaining only temporarily out in the suburbs and planning imminent moves to the City. Could it be that all the civic energy and sense of community they read about at blogs like Urban Review and EcoAbsence is drawing them in?

Is the opposite happening? Are there any blogs drawing people to the suburbs? The closest I can think of is the Mayor of Affton site, but we Southsiders sort of claim Affton. Sorry. Anything else?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Market Forces Hard At Work

Over at Kingshighway and Highway 40, hotel developer Drury is proposing a major new installation at the new Kingshighway and 40 interchange. The plan calls for two hotel towers, and would take out some existing buildings in the Forest Park Southeast National Register Historic District.

Drury presented his plan to neighborhood residents earlier this week. Some voices are concerned about the loss of historic buildings, while others are raising questions about traffic and other impacts of the project.

On the one hand, many will be thrilled to see major commercial development coming to the city. Others will oppose changes to the neighborhood. This promises to be an interesting development effort.

Drury started out the right way, presenting his plans to neighborhood residents first.

This can't be serious?

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post entitled "Classmates.com". Today there's a comment from classmates.com, thanking me for sharing the story.

Whoever posted it must have read the post, because they mentioned specific parts of the story from the post.

You don't think classmates.com crawls the web looking for such posts, just to give thumbs up replies in the comments sections, do you? That'd be way too wierd.

More likley some prankster local is just having a little fun with us hack posters. That's my bet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Multiplier Effect

There's a mock German expression that goes something like this, "Ve get ztoo soon alt, und ztoo late schmart". The older I get, the more true that saying rings.

This morning something else occured to me - the way there's a huge multiplier effect leading up to the results of daily life. Little is left to chance. Much more is the result of a lot of either good or bad choices adding up to major life outcomes.

Little mistakes add up to big problems. And doing the little things right adds up to big wins. A perfect microcosm of this we see on little league baseball fields.

A bloop hit lands over the shortstop's head. Instead of retrieving the ball and throwing it back to the pitcher, the shortstop tries to throw behind the runner for an out. Except the ball gets away from the first baseman and the runner advances to second. Then the first baseman, trying to throw out the runner, throws the ball into the outfield, and the runner scores.

One little mistake leads to another, and another, until, before you have time to think, the game is lost.

The opposite also holds true. Doing little things right leads to long term wins. I teach music lessons and see the results of consistent, manageable sized chucks of practicing. When a student practices just a few minutes a day, by the time the next lesson rolls around, there is improvement. And the student builds confidence.

Instead of playing a video game or watching TV, the student does 15 or 20 minutes of practice. They progress toward their goal of becoming a proficient musician. 20 minutes of TV watching or music practice? It's a choice. It's a small choice, but it's a choice. And the cumulative effect of all those small choices leads to a big win - success as a musician.

Consistently pull a few weeds in your yard each week or prune a tree or a bush, and over time, you have a beautiful yard. Not spend those extra 20 or 30 minutes a few times a month, and soon you'll have one of the worst yards on your block.

It's all about practice, not immediate results. It's about the road you're on and where it's taking you. The thing is, we choose a road without knowing where it's headed, and in making that choice, we shape our own future.