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 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


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 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 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...