Friday, February 08, 2008

Making the case

This morning I rode Metrolink to work. The cost? $2. Cheaper by far than driving and paying to park. Along the way, we had a relaxing tour of the inner ring communities of St. Louis. Some of the stations are decorated with public art. The train was pretty full. For us, it was wonderful, and the train certainly improves the quality of life for the places it serves. On the other hand, public transit critics will say that the cost per rider mile is not justified and that public transit is not cost effective. I'm guessing those same critics are really torn over the public art.

Some experts predicted that Y2K and the Highway 40 shutdown would lead to near apocalyptic events. Not so much. They tried to make the case, but their case did not hold up. It turns out they were mostly incorrect.

Back on Metrolink, between Savvis and the Sheraton, we passed the nearly completed Multi-modal transit center. It's looking wonderful and will be another gem in our civic fabric. It links many forms of transportation, in the heart of our region. Access for visitors will be improved, as will their experiences arriving and departing. Compared to Amshack, we have made a light-year improvement. Yet Amtrack is a consistent financial drain and struggles each year to stay in business. Why spend the money? Every year the case must be remade to do so.

Last night tragic events unfolded in our neighboring community of Kirkwood. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Many of these people are known personally to us and our friends. Based on news reports, a man with a lot of serious problems snapped and went on a killing rampage. People are immediately trying to create a connection between his neighborhood and race background and his actions last night. Given the heavy debt and serious business problems he faced, that seems a more provable connection.

Over in Illinois, a plan to build a soccer stadium and surrounding supportive uses is being considered. University professors are citing academic data evidencing that these developments are not good investments. Town leaders and many area business interests support the project. The ongoing narrative sounds similar to the debate over the new Busch Stadium. Looking at the impact of Busch Stadium, what we know for certain is that when the Cardinals are in town, street life downtown skyrockets. When there is no game, activity is way off and some restaurants are closed.

Historic buildings sit vacant in city neighborhoods. We have lots of these buildings. Attracting investors to rehab them requires a case be made that redeveloping the buildings is a worthwhile pursuit. The case can be made over time. Our job is to develop the foundation and build the case for sustained progress. What are we doing today to make things better tomorrow? Are we doing the right things? What else should we be doing?

1 comment:

GMichaud said...

You cover so much ground, it makes it hard to respond, but I want to focus on the new multi-modal center. While it is a huge improvement over what is there now, it demonstrates what is a consistent weakness in urban planning.
A central station such as this in well developed cities would be surrounded by retail shops and a walking environment. Instead we have connections to other modes of transit,(except walking) and a few venues not far away. Other than that the area is a desolate waste land.
Planning for urban environments takes generational thinking and it is hard to all of a sudden establish new parameters when so much is already built, however I feel like much more could have been done with the project to extend its urbanism.

It seems to me that St. Louis never turns the corner on urban planning. St. Louis should be the most beautiful city in America, instead it is the city of missed opportunities.