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 "". Today there's a comment from, 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 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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A voice from the past, way back in the 7th grade, located me through my sister on We haven't corresponded in what, 40 years? Something like that. He moved to LA the summer before 8th grade, and we never heard from him again. He attended our 15 year high school reunion, and I attended the 20th, so we missed each other then.

We were close friends back in those days, so it was nice to hear from him. He was very curious how people from California could wind up in St. Louis. Here's what I told him...

A little more of the back story…

We’ve lived in St. Louis a total of almost 20 years. We moved here in 86, moved back to California in 89, and then in early 93 we moved back here for good to raise our son in the Midwest. He’s fifteen now. We like it here a lot.

It’s a totally different culture than what we grew up with in Northern California. I like being in the middle of the country. There’s lots of cool places within a day’s drive or less. Memphis, Kansas City, Chicago, Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and others. 2/3 of the US population lives within a day’s drive of St. Louis.

I like having four seasons and rain in the summer time. It’s very green here. Housing is affordable and the economy is fairly stable. Things are bad all over, but historically, St. Louis doesn’t have the major up and down swings like other places do. We’re more slow growth than boom bust.

We don’t have an ocean or big mountains, but we’re close enough to the gulf coast, east coast and Florida, that a lot of people take driving vacations to those places.

St. Louis is all built out of brick. The architecture is impressive. We have lots of neighborhoods dating to the mid-1800s. All this brick in old neighborhoods with big trees is pretty neat to be around.

Plus baseball. St. Louis is a great baseball town, and its fun being part of that.

Don’t get the impression that St. Louis doesn’t have its problems. It does. There was fifty years of white flight emptying out neighborhoods. There can be brutally hot humid days in summer and bitter cold days in winter. Freezing rain sucks, but dry snow is cool.

Holidays are a big deal. You wouldn’t believe the neighborhood decorations at Halloween and Christmas. We get hundreds of kids trick or treating on Halloween. And most of them tell a joke or do some skit to get the candy. It’s part of a tradition dating back decades.

Watch the Judy Garland movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis”. There’s a lot of that style of living even now in St. Louis. As in the film, things here flow very much with the change of the seasons.

The only reunion I attended was the 20 year – and that was over ten years ago!

Good luck on starting the new job. Keep in touch.

So there it is. Seed planted!

Friday, August 15, 2008

City in the City

Is St. Louis on the verge of seeing a new urbanist, major redevelopment effort on the near northside?

As has been well documented on the blogs, private site assemblage efforts, coupled with a vast amount of city-owned properties, creates the possibility of major planned redevelopment near the abandoned Pruitt-Igoe site.

With energy and transportation costs rising, St. Louis has the unique opportunity to rebuild a part of its original city with 21st century green building technologies coupled with cutting edge urban design.

Strategic historic preservation as part of a pedestrian scaled, new neighborhood is possible. Given all the private investment underway, a new development is on the horizon. What would make it appealing to you?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lots to do, how to choose?

The blogs provide a lot of information about civic affairs in St. Louis. There's arts blogs, socializing blogs, redevelopment blogs, just about everything.

Blogs give information about places, people, and things. They offer us an opportunity to dialogue on issues. If you're part of the redevelopment effort of St. Louis, there's plenty of discussion there.

Posting, reading and commenting on blogs is a start. Once you're done with that, what is there to do?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

STL Rising - Consumer Advisories

In a brief departure from our usual STL issues discussion, STL Rising has two consumer advisories for today's readers.

AVID micropchip service for pets is a safeguard measure aimed at reconnecting lost pets with their owners. If your pet gets lost and is taken to a shelter, the shelter scans the pet to search for a microchip embedded under your pet's skin.

If found, the chip reveals a code, which is tied to a database. The database connects the code to the owner. The shelter contacts the owner, and voila, you get your pet back. Great system, right? Yes. But there's one hitch.

Last night I phoned the AVID company after learning there were some mistakes made in the original data entering of our dog's ownership information. I'm on the phone with the nice lady entering info on her computer. We added my wife's name as a second contact person for recovery purposes; we added my cell phone number, my office number, and my wife's cell phone number. That's all well and good.

About five years ago, we moved to a new house three blocks away from our old house. So we have a new address. I wanted to update the database with our new address. To change our address, the AVID representative wanted our credit card number and a $6.00 charge for this service. And if I didn't like the policy, I was free to discuss it with her supervisor.

In the amount of time she took explaining the charge to enter a change in address, she could have updated her record. Add a person, add multiple phone numbers, all that, no charge. But to update an address on an existing, prepaid account (this service costs around $30 at the outset), they want a $6.00 fee. I suppose I could understand this charge if there was a change in ownership of the pet, but for the same owner?

AVID's mission is to connect lost pets with their owners, but they'll charge you to update your address in their database. Is that great service, or what? Which leads us to our second consumer advisory...closing time of the 6th street branch office of the US Post Office...

Yesterday I left the office about 5:45 PM. I missed the last scheduled pickup at the mailbox in our building lobby, but I remembered that the 6th street branch was open til 7:00, so I walked over there.

The mailbox in front of the post office had a final pickup at 5:00 p.m., so I walked inside. The clerk behind the counter, the person sitting behind the hand-written, taped-on sign which read something like "approach the counter only when called upon" (nice touch), says to me, "You might as well put that in the box outside".

"But that one already had it's last pickup."

"That's right, and if you give it to me, it won't go out till tomorrow either".

Huh? What is the point of keeping a post office open if you can't get your mail out in today's mail?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Breakaway Union

St. Louis is described as a city of neighborhoods, and it is. It's like a bunch of little villages all pushed together. Each has its own flavor and personality. The neighborhood feel of our city is one of it's greatest assets. However, maybe all of the neighborhood distinctions aren't necessary? Maybe it's time to consolidate some neighborhoods? We talk about "addition by subtraction" (a topic for a future post), but maybe we should also consider how combining neighborhoods might make them stronger?

Down in South City, a quiet area, the Southampton neighborhood (that's one word with one "h"), is gaining positive attention in the media. Neighbors have branded the area with a hip new name, "SoHa", and it's catching on. The area is walkable, with narrow streets, and is filled with well maintained, charming brick bungalos. While home prices have increased, affordable housing options are still available.

Among the amenities of the area are its many mixed use buildings found on corner lots and concentrated along Macklind Avenue. Macklind is the "downtown" of SoHa. EcoUrban, a new running store, the Macklind Avenue Deli, a variety of neighborhood bars, churches, real estate offices, doctor's offices, hair salons, day care centers, and nice restaurants are all there. It's like it's own small town, and it's very pedestrian scaled. The more establishments that open on Macklind, the more walkable the area becomes. Soha has good momentum.

So much so that maybe it's neighborhood organizations should combine? The distinction is so minimal, many people don't even know it exists. But according to official records, the area is actually made up of two neighborhoods - Southampton and Princeton Heights. The difference between them is misunderstood and the boundaries change depending on who you talk to.

The city considers the boundary between the neighborhoods as Eichelberger, but the neighborhood organizations put it a few blocks south at Milentz...or is it Rhodes...Ask a neighbor, and many would have no idea what you're talking about. Some would tell you they live in St. Louis Hills, or give you their parish name.

Some of the restauants and businesses in the area don't even think of themselves as part of Southampton or Princeton Heights, but rather, Soha. And why not, that's a buzz they want to be part of. A combined Southampton/Princeton Heights, aptly renamed Soha, would have double the population of each individual neighborhood. The combined organizations would carry double the weight down at City Hall.

Major streets would be the boundary: Hampton/Chippewa/Kingshighway/Gravois. Board members of existing neighborhood organizations could form one new consolidated board. Fewer meetings would be necessary, and the area's fundraising base would be significantly increased. The combined groups would have double the membership.

St. Louisans are notorious for resisting change, and not without reason. For many, change has translated to decline. But change can also be something positive. For Soha, things are changing, and the changes are for the good.

New "Soha" could set an example for the region in terms of partnerhsip, collaboration, merger, and streamlined government. Soha is hip, and getting stronger. If city residents think mergers in the region make sense, shouldn't we start out in our own backyard?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

"Carlo's": Now Open Saturdays!

Back in the early nineties, you could buy empty loft buildings on Washington Avenue for $.50 to $1.00 per square foot (that's a 10-story building for about $100,000). The streets were mostly empty.

The place was safe enough, there just weren't too many of us down here. Most of the people living downtown were elderly, low income or both. The streets rolled up at 5 o'clock, and on weekends, outside of baseball games, downtown St. Louis was pretty much a ghost town. Not any more!

City Museum arrived. ArtLoft opened. The state historic tax credit drove hundreds of millions in investment, and, wow, have things changed. Pedestrian traffic is way up. Well over ten thousand people of various races, ages, and incomes call downtown home. Shopping, dining, and lodging options abound. Downtown St. Louis is once again a competitive destination choice.

A few years ago, a sidewalk hot dog vendor named Carlo, opened a stand at 6th and Olive. He gets lines of people for lunch during the week. But now, downtown has picked up so much, he's expanded his hours to Saturdays! Downtown St. Louis with enough pedestrian traffic to support sidewalk vendors on a Saturday. Can you believe it?

Some never would. Some still don't. The naysayers will continue to knock the city based on the eanings tax or the public schools, but there's no denying it: downtown St. Louis is back. A downslide of about fifty years is finally over, and now, in only about ten years*, we've turned the thing around. The Roberts Tower is under construction. Ballpark Village is under construction. Plans are in the works to make the Arch an integral part of downtown.

For years, you could say that all roads led away from downtown. Finally, the tide has turned. Those roads run in both directions, and people are coming back.

* Debatable. I believe the turnaround really started in the mid-60s, by big downtown redevelopment projects including the Arch, Busch Stadium 1, and large corporations building office towers under long term redevelopment agreements.

Those projects kept downtown relevant through the thin years of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Had they not been built, we might have never maintained the civic energy to reach the positive results we are seeing now.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

It's St. Louis - Everybody Wants a Piece of Us!

A couple of Saturdays ago, I spent an hour at Wilmore Park interviewing park users about the idea of building a new, varsity level baseball field in some passive open space at the park. The only people against the idea were two older women from South County using the park to walk their dogs.

The recent trouble in the police department raises the perennial question of local control. Since the Civil War, the governor of the state appoints the Board of Police Commissioners for the St. Louis police department. We don't control our own police department!

Back in the 1930s, when the riverfront area was blighted and decaying, a grand plan led to the creation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the Arch - and cessation of local control over the St. Louis riverfront to an agency of the federal government - the National Park Service. We don't control the entry to our own downtown!

And way back in 1927, Lambert Field was sold to the City of St. Louis, becoming the first municipally owned airport in the United States. Ever since, St. Louis County has wanted to have say over the city-owned asset. Some would try to take away our airport!

They say St. Louisans have an inferiority complex. Is it any wonder?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Arch Super on KMOX - Gives Nod to "Lid" Idea

Tom Bradley, new Superintendant for the Gateway Arch, appeared this morning on KMOX to discuss the ongoing planning process for the future of the Arch.

In reply to a question about improving access and building the lid, Bradley acknowledged access was a major concern, and expressed support for the proposed lid and new pedestrian bridges across Memorial Drive.

There was no mention of rebuilding Memorial Drive or abandoning the depressed lanes/I-70 in front of the Arch and the Old Court House.

Bradley went on to say the planning effort will continue for quite some time, and that it will be an open, public process.

Bradley stated that hundreds of people participated in the two planning sessions held at Forest Park and the Old Court House, and that the NPS received over 2,000 comments. The comments are being reviewed now. He did not say when a first draft report would be available.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Thousands Drive Past Daily

Running some errands, I made a trip out Watson Road to Crestwood this morning to Guitar Center. I arrived 15 minutes before the store opened, so it gave me a little time to explore.

Hundreds of times I've driven past the historic
Sappington Cemetery in Crestwood, but never stopped. Today I had the chance to visit the historic setting. It's located on the north side of Watson Road, just east of Guitar Center.

It reminded me of colonial cemeteries from New England. If you want to take a neat tour in our own backyard, this place is worth a visit. The cemetery dates to 1811 and is the final resting place of many veterans from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and WW1.

John Sappington, Revolutionary War veteran, is buried in the far back corner. Sadly, his grave marker lies in pieces on the ground. Even though it's one of the oldest graves there, you can still read the tombstone fragments to tell it's his.

Someone more knowledgeable of such things please weigh in on it appropriate to restore the pieces of an old grave marker and stand it back up? Or are these centuries old relics considered to fragile for repair?

With such a fine historic landmark right in our midst, it doesn't seem right that one of the most significant memorials lies in pieces. Maybe there are plans for its repair? It's broken cleanly into about 4 or 5 medium sized pieces of stone.

On the bright side, most of the historic grave markers at the cemetery are aging beautifully.