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?

Old St. Louis Rising

When redevelopment efforts take you into older parts of the city, we connect with the people who first lived in our neighborhoods.

A hundred twenty years ago, most of the city did not have sewer lines. Instead, many of the homes had a "privy" in the back yard. As property owners upgraded their properties with indoor plumbing and sewer connections, the old privies were abandoned. The sites of those old privies now are a treasure trove for searchers of St. Louis history.

Entering long vacant buildings or doing excavation work in the older parts of town can turn up many interesting lost items from the past. Old bottles, machine parts, photographs, maps and pottery shards are often found.

Holding a small bottle of "Dr. Pritchard's Medical Elixir" in your hands, uncovered through the redevelopment of an old city site, brings us back to 19th century St. Louis. It makes you wonder what life was like for families back in those days, before homes had indoor running water and city streets were dirt roads travelled by horse drawn carriages.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where "Earth First" Meets Southern Comfort

Louisville is working to become the midwest's intersection of arts, music, and activism. At least at the annual Forecastle Festival. Ever heard of it?

St. Louis is a sister city. Check out the list of links and sponsors. It's an interesting mix.

Weeding - Not Reading!

Growing up in Northern California, every summer we had to hack down the tinder dry grasses growing on the back hill of my parent's yard. It was miserable, hot work. It was one of the things I really hated doing. It seemed like whenever I wanted to play ball with friends or just hang out, my dad would have a list of chores for me to do. It never ended. Maybe now I'm turning into my old man? Our son probably thinks so...

Yesterday there was a comment raising concerns over the possible removal of some mature trees as part of plan to build a new South City baseball field in Wilmore Park. Now, growing trees in St. Louis is not a problem. I should know. The picture above is a shot of our back yard. This year, as part of our regular yard work, we had to pull out over 100 volunteer baby trees. They sprout like crazy. St. Louis is like living in a rainforest, especially this year. We have to fight back mother nature from taking over the yard.

So it's the waning days of summer and teenagers nowadays want to do the same stuff they've always wanted to do - have fun and sleep in. No problem there. But mother nature is relentless in her efforts to take over our yard. So with teen son now taller than me, I'm thinking it's fair for him to pitch in a little more on house work.

On top of the occasional house work demands, he's got a summer reading list for high school. He's required to read and report on between one and three books. Read and weed. That's what he's supposed to be doing. Besides everything on his to do list, which includes band pratices, hanging out with his friends, sleeping in, and whatever else comes up.

Being a teen, he needs pocket money for date nights, snow cones, etc, so I made him a little business proposal: weed this section of yard, and I'll pay you $20. Finish half, and you get $10, etc. But it's got to be done by Friday. So last night I asked him, "Have you started weeding yet?"

"Yeah, I finished one chapter".

"Not reading, weeding!"

"Uh, no." He hadn't. Not really a big surprise.

The good thing is, weeding here is pretty light work. With all the rain we get, the weeds come out pretty easy. Nonetheless, it's boring, lousy stuff, no matter what.

Too much? Not enough? What do you think? How many hours a week of chores are reasonable to expect out of a teenager? Do you push your kids to help out a lot around the house?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Everything Old is New Again!

USA Today is reporting that to remain competitive, suburbs are embracing urbanism.

However, in areas already suffering low walkability scores, it will take years to change current auto-dependent communities into pedestrian friendly areas.

The same story also reports that property values are dropping faster farther from the urban core.

Youth Ballfield Follow Up - This Won't Be Easy!

A couple of weeks ago, we attended an American Legion ballgame out in Washington, Missouri. The field is located in a city park, right next to a huge outdoor bandstand/pavillion.

Ballparks are gathering places for people to have a good time. They're a community space.

They allow for both active (playing) and passive (watching) use. They're fun and offer lots of creative design possibilities.

The city is blessed with abundant parkland. Our parks are filled with a variety of both active and passive uses.

There are golf courses, hiking trails, boating lakes and fishing lakes, rugby fields, playgrounds, rose gardens, zoos, museums, and much more.

Building a new ballpark in a city park would be a change from whatever is currently on the site, unless we improve an existing field, but then you're running into the whole field permit/musical chairs problem.

Building the ballfield in a mature park setting allows for massive trees to be part of the site plan.

I've found an area of passive use inside Wilmore Park where 4 or 5 large trees would need to be removed to build the new field, but once built, the ballpark would be surrounded by 60 foot tall trees. The field would have a historic feel from day one.

Whether to install lights; dealing with noise and parking; managing drainage, covering maintenance costs, allowing signage, hours of use, and many other management issues arise.

The initial cost for a first class facility would run close to a million dollars. The end product could be a source of community pride. Or the effort could turn into a source of tremendous frustration.

It's hard for some people to understand why anyone would oppose such a concept. It's hard for others to consider permitting any changes to something they love exactly the way it is now.

The people who don't want change are sort of like the people who have a grandfathered field permit: their interest is already in place. Treading on it in any way is an offense to them. When it comes to changing the status quo, a lady from South County summed it up this way: "you're going against the establishment".

The only way for something like this to really happen is for the community at large to perceive the plan as a net improvement over our current situation.

While a million dollar improvement might seem a no-brainer to some, to others, the idea is a non-starter.

Arch Connections

About a month ago, I wrote a post about connecting the Arch grounds, downtown, and the riverfront by rebuilding Memorial Drive. There's a lot of thinking going on right now about the future of the Arch and the riverfront. Improving access is one thing. Whether to change anything on the Arch grounds is something else altogether.

St. Louis is famous for arches. The Eads Bridge, old Busch Stadium, and the Gateway Arch are some of the most notable. Arches provide strength and connection. They bridge things. Yesterday's Platform suggested how the Arch site might become a center for advancement, a working connection to tomorrow. It's hard to summarize the idea in a few words.

Best to read the commentary here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

PD Sunday Highlights Historic Preservation

If you're interested in historic architecture and rehab, pick up a copy of this Sunday's Post Dispatch. The Post covered the issue from a number of interesting angles. Many names and faces familiar to the blog community were featured. Michael Allen, Thomas Crone, and Toby Weiss were all prominently mentioned.

One section was titled, "Would You Save This Building?" Many of the recent controversial demolitions and currently threatened buildings made the list. One that didn't was the old Parkmoor restaurant in Clayton. The Parkmoor's gone and a new Walgreen's is in its place.

The Parkmoor highlighted one of the tensions for lovers of old architecture. Buildings threatened with demolition are usually privately owned. When an owner is tired of operating an old building, or offered a high price to sell (read Walgreen's), the path toward the building's removal is often chosen by the owner. The community has little to say.

Personally, I only ate at the Parkmoor a couple of times, maybe once, but I always thought the building was an exceptionally cool looking building. Maybe if we'd all have spent more money there the building would've been saved? Or maybe Walgreen's could have put their store in the old Parkmoor space?

Another feature of the story was "urban exploring". Much urban exploring results in the photography of abandoned buildings. A photo session of the long abandoned Armour meat packing plant in East St. Louis was featured. The story drew attention to the inherent danger of entering abandoned buildings and the scary prospect of coming face to face with a vagrant or homeless person.

Anyone thinking of entering an abandoned building should be careful of the dangers. Encountering vagrants is only one possible threat. Collapsing floors, wild animals, dead things, disease, broken glass and all sorts of other unseemlies abound. These are dangerous places, indeed on the very edge of civilized society. Want to take a tour sometime?

One important aspect of the historic preservation narrative was little mentioned in the story: the role of community based development organizations. Maybe there will be a follow up? Community based organizations are largely responsible for driving local historic preservation efforts.

When I refer to "community based", I'm not speaking of the broader nonprofit sector, but rather those specific place-based organizations focused on a particular neighborhood, historic district, or municipal geography. There are lots of such local organizations in St. Louis carrying out the heavy lifting of historic preservation.

Groups such as the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee, the Old North St Louis Restoration Group, the Hyde Park Alliance, the Soulard Restoration Group, and the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation are just a few of the many neighborhood based organizations working to preserve St. Louis' rich architectural heritage.

If you share a passion for preserving historic buildings, connecting with a local group doing good work would be a good place to start.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The miniest of surveys

They say the longest journey begins with a single step. This morning I took a few teensy, weensy baby steps on what promises to be an interesting journey to a destination at this moment very much unknown.

There's a nascent effort underway to see about adding a varsity level youth baseball field somewhere in South City. No sites have been identified and the process is at the very beginning. The Journal has run a couple of articles on the issue over the past two months. One possible location is in Wilmore Park.

I've made a few preliminary phone calls to people on the issue. Today, I took the dog and we went down to Wilmore to walk the area and see about getting some feedback from park users.

I received feedback from an interesting cross section of park users: a couple of older women from South County walking their dogs, a city mom jogging with her dog and young daughter, a couple highly experienced in neighborhood affairs and city business, and a single women from the Lindenwood neighborhood walking for exercise. Here's their feedback about the very general idea of building a new baseball field at Wilmore.

The County ladies were generally against it. They cautioned that something like this is going against the establishment and the environment. They said the city teams should go to Clydesdale Park in South County near Grant's Farm.

The city mom with her daughter in the stroller turned out to have two young sons in elementary school. She lives in the St. Louis Hills Estates area. She was in favor of the concept, and also thought Francis Park should be considered.

The savvy city person was open to the idea, wanting more information on cost and maintenance responsibilities before forming a position.

And the single lady walking was very much in favor. She stated that the area being considered was generally very lightly used and that this would be something good for the park and city youth.

So all in all, that's pretty positive. Out of this completely unscientific sample, it turns out the only people strongly negative to the concept were from St. Louis County.

People are protective of what they have and uncomfortable with change. At the same time, most St. Louisans want to do right by kids and love baseball. It will be interesting to see what happens with this idea in the months to come.

On a related note, there's an effort underway to construct a new public high school football stadium in Fairground Park in North City. It's a similar situation: there's a lack of quality football fields for city school teams. Fairground Park is very historic. The field is proposed to built with private funds. Has anyone heard if this effort is still in the works? Football season is about to begin and it's been months since I've heard anything new on this project.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rock Reunions

Our high school-aged son plays guitar and drums in a local rock band. They've worked up to playing small venues around town and a couple of weeks ago played the Creepy Crawl near the Fox. The other guitarist in the band is from Fenton, and he had some of his relatives at the show, including a nice Aunt and Uncle we met for the first time. We're all there to support our young people as they venture out on stage in front of audiences.

One of the cool things about St. Louis is that it's very much like a small town. Bumping into friends and acquaintenances out in public is a common thing around here. Same goes for last night. Todd Rundgren was on tour performing at the Pageant (pictured above with bass player, Rachel Haden).

On the way inside, we bumped into the aunt and uncle of son's Fenton bandmate we met a couple weeks earlier at the Creepy Crawl. Turns out they're old Todd fans too. For the show, we brought young son and his girlfriend. Between the two of them, son had never been to the Pageant, and she had never heard of Todd Rundgren.

Opening up was a 3-piece local rock band named "Logos". Not much older than our son, the band has 2 eighteen year old guitar players and a 22 year old drummer. Son and his date thoroughly enjoyed these guys. They were straight forward, high energy rock and rollers. So even if they weren't to appreciate TR, they had a music snack with Logos. Not to worry. TR would not disappoint.

He opened the show with a shout out to Beatle Bob and then went into "Love in Action". Todd's new record is called "Arena" and it's all about guitar rock. Nothing subtle about it and not an acoustic guitar in sight. The band had four guitars, four part vocal harmony, and powered the house for two hours.

We were on the floor, ten feet from the stage. At sixty, Rundgren looks great. Hopefully he still has a few tours left. One of the cool things about last night's show was the way our fifteen year old son and his girlfriend could see the loyal fans attending the concert. Most of these these fans have followed Rundgren for 30 plus years. It's like a big family.

If your impression of TR is mostly based on "Bang The Drum All Day", "I Saw the Light", and "Hello It's Me", there's a whole world of music he's created far beyond those popular successes. It's worth some checking around. Lots of old videos are on the net.

This was the 6th or 7th time I've seen him perform, and except for losing a little in his voice, this show was no less enjoyable than any of the others. Given the years of enjoying his music, maybe even more.

It was back in high school in the 1970s when we started listening to Todd Rundgren. And it was one of our friends, a great guy named Victor, who got us all started listening to him. Victor was a good friend, and remembering back, my first guitar student. We went to a couple of Todd shows together and even started our own band named after one of Rundgren's lesser known songs. I still have the T-shirt. This was late-70s, San Francisco Bay Area.

After high school, we all went separate ways. Victor moved across the Bay to San Francisco and joined the City's growing gay community. We never saw him again, but heard he had died sometime around 1982 from AIDS. He was one of the early victims of the disease. Back then, there were pretty much no treatments for it. At last night's show we remembered Victor and know he would have loved to have been there with us. He was in spirit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

STL: A Best Kept Secret...Again

There's a very cool site on the internet: It ranks the country's 40 largest cities based on their walkability.

Unfortunately, since we're 52nd, St. Louis doesn't make the cut for comparison purposes. It's too bad too, because when you enter "St. Louis, MO", it scores downtown a 95 - "Walker's Paradise".

Many St. Louis neighborhoods rate very well. It's easy to compare yours. Just click on the site, enter your address, and a custom map is created built around your address, scoring your neighborhood's walkability.

Among the city's most walkable neighborhoods are Soulard, the Central West End, and South Grand. But check some others. You'll be surprised how well St. Louis neighborhoods score.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Complicated transformations

Getting through the remaking of the connection between the Arch grounds and riverfront will be a complicated transformation. Not only will reaching agreement on the overall plan be difficult, it will be an equal or greater challenge getting the many governmental agencies holding jurisdiction to sign off on each others' requirements.

The National Park Service controls the Arch grounds and lands under Memorial Drive and the depressed lanes, but the City of St. Louis and MODOT determine uses of local and state roadways.

The City Street Department and the Board of Aldermen decide the future of city streets, while the Federal Highway Administration is over the US highway system.

East West Gateway Coordinating Council serves as lead agency over transporation projects in the bi-state region.

Various citizen and community groups have their list of priorities and concerns. The city of St. Louis has a long list of civic responsibilities and adding the cost of rebuilding Memorial Drive isn't on the list.

Something this big only takes one interested party to block the process, while it will take countless organizations and individuals to buy in and say "yes" to make it happen. Given the level of difficulty involved in carrying out such an ambitious effort, maybe that explains why some consider the task "infeasible" or "undoable"?

Like the pragmatist saying goes: "don't let the great be the enemy of the good". Even if replacing the depressed lanes with a new Memorial Drive is the best long term plan, maybe we'd be better off lowering expectations to gain more cooperation?

How much effort is this concept worth? Better to spend the same time working to add a quality baseball field in South City so all teams there have a place to practice and play games?

Funny thing is, there are those thinking given neighborhood resistence, that's a near impossible task what's one to do?

Let's pursue both.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Here or there?

This morning, I was heading out the door the same time as the neighbor across the street. Referring to the hot and humid day ahead of us, he greeted me saying, "On days like these, don't you miss being in California?"

"Not really" I said. "This morning, there was a story on the news about a tiny flower on the endangered species list raising concerns about construction of the new Mississippi River Bridge."

We both laughed and the neighbor said, "Well, I guess we are in California!".

Getting things done is some states is harder than others. I remember many years working in the housing industry in California. The battle was always
on between home builders and environmentalists. And both sides agreed: there was a severe shortage of affordable housing. No matter. Rare plants and animals often stood in the way of producing affordable housing.

That doesn't happen very often here. Not that we don't have lots of wildlife. Really we have more. In abundance. Our year round moisture and hospitable growing environment support great habitats for plant and animal life. What we do have a lot of are native american artifacts, especially along our waterways, and indeed, some artifacts have been found in the path of the new bridge project.

My hunch only, but I'm betting the new bridge project stays pretty much on schedule, with mitigation plans for any rare plants and historic sites in place to allow the project to proceed as planned.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Keeping Rams in STL will be a tough challenge

Rumors are swirling that the Rams are for sale. In the face of this, the Rams stadium lease has an adjuster coming due that requires St. Louis to provide the Rams a facility in the top fifteen or twenty percent of NFL stadiums nationwide. If not, the Rams are free to leave town.

New stadiums are coming in at close to a billion dollars. We're a long way from the top 20 percent now. Is St. Louis ready to pay for a massive upgrade to the Ed or a new stadium altogether to keep the Rams? In our current economy, are people ready to fund a new stadium for NFL football with public money.

Meanwhile, the team's market value is supposedly close to a billion dollars. Combine a billion dollar sale of the team with a billion dollar new venue and there aren't many mid-sized markets in the US capable of raising that kind of money for football.

We lived through the Oakland Raiders departure to Los Angeles and eventual return to Oakland. It wouldn't surprise me to see Al Davis make another move for more money. Oakland California is losing the A's, and if Davis could make a billion dollars by moving the Raiders, that'd be pretty tempting.

It's hard to imagine that the Rams owners would see things much differently.

All Aboard Metrolink!

After work yesterday, I walked to the 8th and Pine Metrolink Station and rode down the escalator to the underground platform. There were hundreds of people waiting for the train.

The people that came down behind me were looking around in amazement. Ridership numbers for the third quarter 2008 compared to 2007 will probably show a 50+ percent increase.

Riding the trains gives you time to think and plan your next day, or week, or year. Low cost transportation and bonus time in your day! Now, that's a bargain.

Looking out the big windows yesterday, there were these huge, puffy clouds filling the sky above St. Louis. It was a perfect day for mid-July. Meteorologists were in their glory. Mild July weather is sort of like a 50-degree day in January. Yes, we have changeable weather!

So I'm riding the train and wondering about those big clouds. How much do they weigh? According to this article, alot. A whole, heckava lot. As much as forty million elephants for a really big one!

The other day was a very cloudy day. Clouds were hanging low in the sky and they were moving quickly. One cloud on the horizon was shaped just like a volcano. It was like a gray volcano set against a gray/white background. Yeah, so we don't have much for mountains and beaches in St. Louis, but we sure have some awesome skies, clouds, sunrises and sunsets.

The natural beauty of a midwestern sky stands up pretty well compared with any physical landscape. And through those giant Metrolink windows, you get a front row seat!

A kid might find an elephant-shaped cloud up in that sky. Speaking of kids, I am reminded of a little boy riding the train with his mom last week. They were sitting across from me, and I could hear their conversation.

He was about three, brown haired, and chatting the whole way. His nose was pressed up against those big windows and he was asking his mom nonstop questions. He reminded me of our son at that age. Tons of questions and a love of trains.

"Mom, this train goes downtown, right? And we don't want to go downtown, do we?" (Where does a three year old get that idea?)

"Oh sure we do. We go downtown for lots of things. Downtown is good"

"Oh, okay, mom. But is that a river?"

"Well, no, not really. It fills up when it rains. It's more like a big drainage ditch than a river."

"Oh, okay." Then we arrived at the station and the little boy and his mom walked hand and hand down the platform. She didn't want the little guy to drop over the side.

Which was completely the opposite of what I saw this morning. Pulling away from the UCity station, a little kid jumped from the station platform, down onto the railbed, ran across the tracks, presumably to climb up the other side.

Strange. Maybe he/she were looking for a short cut? Who knows? It's always something different. Like that time this lady was going on for fifteen minutes on her cell phone giving college "advice" (more like lecturing) to her daughter or niece or somebody.

Why people have such a personal conversations in front of total strangers is beyond me. Your stop is only a few minutes away!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Group Formed to Drive Arch Changes

A new organization, "Groundswell For Change", has been created to promote new changes for the Arch grounds. They have a quality website and long lists of names for both a steering committee and endorsements.

Channel 5 profiles the group in a story here

Groundswell For Change Endorsements:

AIA St. Louis
American Society of Landscape Architects
Associated General Contractors of America
Building & Construction Trades Council of St. Louis, AFL-CIO
Carpenter' District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity
Civic Progress
Downtown NOW!
Downtown St. Louis Partnership
Eastern Missouri Laborers' District Council
Greater St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Joint Letter - St. Louis County Executive, Chairman, Madison County Board, St. Charles County Executive, Chairman, St. Clair County Board
Landmarks Association of St. Louis
Metro Mayors of St. Louis
Missouri Growth Assocaition
Missouri Restaurant Association
RCGA, St. Louis
Regional Business Council
Resolution of Support for Revitalization of the Downtown St. Louis Riverfront
St. Louis Area Hotel Association
St. Louis Association of REALTORS
St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission
St. Louis County Municipal League

Groundswell For Change Steering Committee:

Ann Auer, Executive Vice President, Missouri Growth Association
Pat Bergauer, Executive Vice President, Missouri Restaurant Association
Vicki L. Boyer, Executive Director, St. Louis Area Hotel Association
Robert Bray, President, St. Louis Area Hotel Association
James Buford, President and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis
Hon. T.R. Carr, Mayor, Hazelwood; President, St. Louis County Municipal League
Larry Chapman, President, Missouri Growth Association
James A. Cloar, President and CEO, Downtown St. Louis Partnership
Dr. William H. Danforth, Chancellor Emeritus, Washington University; Danforth Foundation trustee
Dan Dierdorf, Chairman, St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission
Hon. Charlie Dooley, St. Louis County Executive
Hon. Alan Dunstan, Madison County Board Chairman
Gary Elliott, Business Manager, Eastern Missouri Laborers' District Council
Gerald T. Feldhaus, Executive Secretary Treasurer, Building and Construction Trades Council of St. Louis, AFL-CIO
David Fisher, Executive Director, The Great Rivers Greenway District
Richard C.D. Fleming, CEO and President, St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association
Cliff Franklin, President and CEO, FUSE
Brad D. Furfaro, President, St. Louis Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects
Denise Hasty, Vice President, Governmental Affairs Associated General Contractors of St. Louis
Tom Irwin, Executive Director, Civic Progress
Hon. Mark Kern, St. Clair County Board Chairman
Fred Kratky, CEO and Executive Vice President, St. Louis Association of Realtors
William J. Kuehling, Attorney
Rich LoRusso, President, Missouri Restaurant Association
Richard M. McClure, President, Civic Progress
Hon. Michael McMillan, License Collector, City of St. Louis
Terry Nelson, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Carpenters District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity
David Newburger, Attorney; St. Louis City Commissioner on the Disabled
Rudy Nickens, Executive Director, The Black Rep
Kathleen T. Osborn, Regional Business Council
Hon. Alvin Parks, Mayor, City of East St. Louis
Perri Pryor, Secretary Treasurer, Eastern Missouri Laborers' District Council
Kitty Ratcliffe, President, St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission
Hon. Lewis E. Reed, President, Board of Aldermen, City of St. Louis
Hon. Francis Slay, Mayor, City of St. Louis
Robert A. Soutier, President, Greater St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Max and Colleen Starkloff, Starkloff Disability Institute
Dr. Donald Suggs, President and Publisher, St. Louis American
Anthony ("Tony") Thompson, president and CEO, KWAME Building Group
Wendy Timm, Treasurer, Missouri Growth Association
Leonard P. Toenjes, President, Associated General Contractors of St. Louis
Hon. Gerry Welch, Mayor, Webster Groves; President, Metro Mayors of St. Louis, Inc.
Hon. Phyllis Young, Alderman, 7th Ward, City of St. Louis

There is a good FAQ section, with lots of information about the organization's vision. The vision describes creating a better connection to the Arch grounds through a lid across the depressed lanes at the Old Court House and the development of a major new institution on the Arch grounds to increase visitor interest in the Arch.

The FAQ estimates the cost of the 3-block Lid project at $106,800,000, which includes an $18,000,000 endowment fund for maintenance.

The Groundswell for Change website has a section devoted to "thinking big". In that section, the group highlights what is happening in other cities, including Louisville. Louisville's riverfront area is very similar to ours in St. Louis. In Louisville, plans required moving a highway and reconfiguration of the street grid to reconnect the waterfront with its downtown. What if a similar plan were considered in St. Louis?

To avoid "junking up the Arch grounds", key advisors to the Danforth Foundation, Walter Metcalf, Dr. Robert Archibald, and Dr. Peter Raven, recommended that an international competition, not unlike the one that led to the design of the Arch, be held to design the new cultural institution and other changes. The call for a design competition is joined by others in the pro-St. louis community seeking solutions to make transformational change at the Arch.

Momentum is building around the issues surrounding the improvement of the Arch and how best to connect the area to downtown.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Heads Up!

According to the Young Architects Forum St. Louis website, the National Park Service is expected to give preliminary feedback from this month's meetings regarding the future management and possible development of the Arch grounds. From the Young Architect's site we found this reference:

"The National Parks Service will issue a newsletter within the next 30 days that will outline in greater detail the identified potential management options for public review and comment."

This newsletter may provide the first official response to the idea of vacating the depressed and elevated lanes of I-70 adjoining the Arch grounds.

From the same Young Architects website, it appears the AIA is readying an official response on the Arch plan as well. Does anyone know if the AIA has a take on the issue of depressed lanes and Memorial Drive?

The St. Louis Chapter of the AIA could be the perfect group to sponsor a design competition for the future of Memorial Drive.

I'm with Steve...

When it comes to the St. Louis blogosphere, Steve Patterson with his Urban Review blog is pretty much the giant among the rest of us. Steve's readership dwarfs everone else's. When most of us post, maybe 100 people see it. Steve gets something like 30,000 unique visitors per month. Patterson is always getting recognized for the work in his blog.

Steve was one of the first to post on the idea of rebuilding Memorial Drive, and he's at it again. Steve is joining the chorus of voices calling for the vacation of the depressed and elevated lanes through downtown and their replacement with a new Memorial Drive. This is good. When Steve takes up an issue, it gets noticed.

For years now, there have been countless posts and comments in the blogs about various issues surrounding urban life and St. Louis. Is it possible that a growing base of support around the Memorial Drive issue, given voice through the blogs, may lead to a major public policy outcome in St. Louis?

The idea is out there. The challenge now is to give it life beyond the computer connected.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"Equals 42" Hits Nail on Head

In the 50th comment at a thread over at Urban Review St. Louis, the anonymous poster known as "Equals 42" makes the following comment regarding the idea of replacing the I-70 depressed lanes with a new Memorial Parkway:

"Jim (Zavist), I don’t believe we have to continue to direct North-South traffic down Memorial Drive (hopefully Parkway). If I-70 dumped off onto Broadway near the Dome and Casino, traffic would be directed down Broadway and 4th streets where it belongs as they are both large streets (ignore the loss of a lane at the Fed Reserve) and can handle traffic with appropriate speed restrictions (downtown should never be relegated to a shortcut). Memorial Parkway can serve as an additional route not directly connected to the Interstates. From the south, more of the same. Dump downtown traffic off at Broadway and 4th near Chouteau and it helps people get to the Chouteau Landing areas talked about forever.

People in St Louis are under the mistaken belief that they have traffic. They don’t. I lived 30 years in LA and SF. I travel for a living and regularly see Atlanta, Boston, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and DC traffic. Those cities have traffic to contend with on your daily commute. To claim that removing a small stretch of obsolete highway by the arch will seriously impact traffic downtown is simply not true based on my years of living and working downtown. Real traffic there happens seldom and is primarily for events such as the Rams and 4th of July fireworks. As the axiom goes, you don’t build a church for Easter mass, you build it to accommodate normal Sundays. On top of that, we’ve seen what little disruption there really is when they took out 64/40. Outrageous claims that everyone’s days would be ruined, businesses closed, etc were found to be just wrong. [They allowed everyone to take credit for the planning that “alleviated” the problem.]

At $5/gallon (I have to use premium) we should be reconsidering all our intracity highways and the state and fed should be requiring zoning changes which compress our sprawl into more manageable, denser urban areas better served by transit. That would constitute a portion of an effective energy policy. The upside could be a spurred recovery in depressed property prices in already developed cities which could help stem the “wealth loss” effect currently plaguing the consumer side of the economy."

Recentering St. Louis

For the past 50 years, St. Louis has been one of the most sprawling regions anywhere in the country. Statistics show that we have consumed land for development at a pace 7X the rate of our population growth.

The result of all of this sprawl has led to the shift of our geographic center to a point closer to 40 and 270 than downtown St. Louis. With the skyrocketing increase in the cost of fuel, among other cost of living increases, perhaps we are on the brink of a demographic pullback toward the heart of the region?

The Platform at STL Today features a family from DeSoto Missouri who was spending $800 per month on gasoline commuting back and forth from their home in DeSoto to their jobs in the city of St. Louis. They bought a home in the city to lower their expenses. The house payment on their city home is hundreds less than what they were paying in gasoline cost.

Riding Metrolink, we have another opportunity to conserve and reuse older sites within the urban core. Some plans are already in the works, some are completed, and others are possibilities waiting to be explored.

At Emerson Park in East St. Louis, hundreds of new affordable homes have been developed next to the Emerson Park Metrolink Station.

In Maplewood, between the Manchester and Sunnen Metrolink stations, plans are in the works to redevelop the 50+ acre Sunnen products site into a mixed use development.

In Clayton, someone help me out here, but it looks like the County's old jail sits right next to the Metrolink tracks, fronting on Brentwood Boulevard, near Shaw Park, and only a block or so from the Clayton Metrolink stop. The building definitely looks like an old jail, constructed with tall skinny windows and an exercise yard surrounded by 20 foot high, concrete walls. Are there plans for this site?

And maybe the best of all transit oriented development sites sits right in the heart of downtown St. Louis - next to the new Busch Stadium. The site waiting for a project, aka Ballpark Village, is right on top of a Metrolink station with convenient access to points throughout the region.

With people seeking alternatives to reduce dependency on the automobile, a return to the city and inner ring suburbs may be an unanticipated postive outcome toward strengthening the core of the St. Louis region. Affordable housing available in our urban core helps build momentum in that direction.

I'm curious about that old County jail site if that's indeed what it is. Any word on the future of that location?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"But where will the traffic go?"

One of the first reactions most people have when someone suggests removing an interstate or otherwise reducing traffic capacity is, "where will the traffic go"?

We learned with the I-64 project, that people make quick adjustments to changing traffic situations. Here is an article detailing potential benefits in changing/reducing traffic patterns and capacity.

There is evidence that such efforts can lead to community reinvestment, improving neighborhoods, and reducing sprawl.