Thursday, July 31, 2008


I just came across a new book which is being promoted with the following statement:

"Once a thriving metropolis on the banks of the Mississippi, St. Louis, Missouri, is now a ghostly landscape of vacant houses, boarded up storefronts, and abandoned factories".

Excuse me? Man, I've been through a good chunk of this city, and I have to say, that is one gross and inaccurate exaggeration. And I am the first to acknowledge, yes, there are rough blocks and places we have in definite need of help. I can take you there.

While you won't find this volume prominently displayed on a coffee table at the home office of STL Rising, nonetheless, I am looking forward to seeing a copy of it and even meeting the author. Better still, I'd like to give him a tour. Maybe he's coming this way on a book tour?


Brent Jones said...

He was at Left Bank back in May:

Anonymous said...

The book's intro/pub line also goes on to state: The Gateway City is, by any measure, one of the most depopulated, deindustrialized, and deeply segregated examples of American urban decay."

Look - I live in the city and absolutely love it, but East of Skinker stands as THE tragic example of urban mismanagement in America.

Anonymous said...

He gave several lectures in STL a couple months ago. I thought the negativity of the marketing was extreme, but I wonder how much of that is the publishing house (controversy sells!) and how much of it is the author? Based on his lectures, he seemed like he was a supporter of urban areas.

I'm patiently waiting for my copy to come into the library--I'm on a waiting list--at which point I'll be able to read it and come to a conclusion about how I feel about it.

jmilde said...

You should check out the maps he assembled at his U Iowa website:

Really interesting!

swilkeshapiro said...

Washington University in St. Louis Architecture professor Jacqueline Tatom was working on this type of analysis of St. Louis eight years ago (I had the privilege of helping her pull together the GIS analysis portion). She approached this deurbanization analysis from a less pejorative approach with the intent of publishing an academic paper.

Back when ArcView 3.1 was state of the art, we were using aerial photos and building footprints to examine patterns of deurbanization across St. Louis - trying to determine the vacancy "tipping point" where a block was perceived to be abandoned versus occupied. I headed up a team of grad students that examined the City block by block using a set of vacancy, ownership, and abandonment criteria. Some of her former students will probably remember a class project taking this research to a neighborhood level and documenting each building condition, ownership, and value. This data was entered into GIS to build a comprehensive picture of the physical abandonment (and the holdouts) of the neighborhood.

Jacqueline was a brilliant woman - unfortunately, cancer took her life several years ago before (to my knowledge) this ground-breaking urban research was completed and published.

I'll try to dig up whatever I can from this project.

Anonymous said...

Here's the problem with feeding the

Anonymous said...

Well, it is a ghostly landscape in some places.

So it's not like the writer isn't stating a true fact. He is.

Rick Bonasch said...

The concern I have with the information I've seen so far about the book is not the cool maps, but the general thrust of the message. It seems to be mostly retelling the story of our very well documented past, through the use of cool modern mapping capability.

St. Louis was in the center of fair housing efforts in the United States. St. Louis has a history of restrictive covenants. And St. Louis has a history of white flight and urban decay. All of that led to tremendous population loss, urban decay, and abandonment. (Que grainy, slow motion footage of Pruitt Igoe demolition here...)

Seeing the history mapped out via GIS is interesting. But what interests me more is how we are now using our history and GIS technology to help rebuild our city today.

One of the places cited in the book is Wagoner Place. Wagoner Place is on the edge of the Ville neighborhood in North City and is part the story of restrictive covenants, black settlement, and white flight in St. Louis.

Wagoner Place was just added to the National Register of Historic Places. Part of the basis of the nomination was the pattern of African American settlement in St. Louis and our history of restrictive covenants.

The new historic district brings resource potential in the form of historic rehabilitation tax credits to the effort rebuild St. Louis, piece by piece, and mapping efforts using GIS will no doubt be part of any redevelopment strategy.

We are moving forward, with an eye on the past, but our aim on what we can do now, together.

GMichaud said...

Well Rick, I hate to say it, despite the histrionics, the analysis is more true than we would like to admit. I didn't read the book, but I have watched the decline of St. Louis for decades.
The government is run for the benefit of a few, and in St. Louis that effect is even more pronounced. Of course they give themselves man of the year awards and architecture awards (such as Pruitt Igoe).
I'm at the point I don't give a shit any more, the crooks run America, being good is meaningless.

Anonymous said...

Sure there are islands of life and prosperity but on a larger scale the city has been in a serious decline for over 40 years. Denying reality will only make the problems worse and will delay identifying the underlying causes and potential solutions. The amount of destruction is much greater than the physical environment displays as families, their dreams and wealth were destroyed by gross mismanagement, particularly by elected officials. St Louis and the attitudes of its people show little reason for hope.

Rick Bonasch said...

Who's denying reality? This blog is about possibilites, not gloom and doom.

There's more than enough gloom, doom and naysaying to go around.

Improving St. Louis is about taking action and making a positive difference.
That depends on you and me not the "other guy".

GMichaud said...

I do think it is good to be positive. I also think there are positive things happening. But the problem is this guy would not have been able to write this book if there wasn't so much negative happening.
Except for isolated pockets, the wholesale destruction of the Northside continues. Paul McKee gets his own personal, multi million dollar tax credit from the state, corruption so blatant that these guys hardly attempt to hide it. (Where are the Feds?)
Urban planning and transportation are still so poorly done that it is almost breathtaking.
Progress on the Arch grounds is great, but there is no coordination into a whole and ballpark village and the sculpture park become still more more isolated planning efforts.
I see and hear many intelligent voices and people, yet no one seems to be listening. It seems that if St. Louis gets a decent project built it is heralded as a major breakthrough instead of the normal course of events.
Since urban planning methods are well known worldwide, one can only conclude that the so called "free market" (read corrupt markets) really determine the course of events.
The sad fact is that the book is probably correct in many ways. These problems are ongoing and reflected in the lack of true leadership; by the ongoing insider, old buddy system as demonstrated by the Paul McKee deal, and in the generally poor planning decisions that seem to be never ending.

The whole region, not just the city is a planning disaster. The blatant disregard for rational planning is catching up to St. Louis (and America). This even though we face the clear need to take totally different approaches towards energy, towrds city building and towards transportation.
Instead it is business as usual and you have MoDot proposing still more concrete in the form of truck only lanes.
This same style and lack of leadership that contributes to the ongoing decline of the city.
I want to cheer, but until I see the people served by the government rather than crooks like Paul McKee I'll hold my applause.

Rick Bonasch said...

I need to see the book, but from the maps available, it appears most of the info deals with white flight, restrictive covenants, and African American settlement patterns, followed by abandonment, depopulation and decay...

I want to see the book to see if the author offers some creative reinvestment ideas. The more of those we have to work with the better!