Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Pulitzer's Ghost"

An interesting comment was made in the "Ever saw a brick street" thread by a new commenter for the STL Rising blog, "Pulitzer's Ghost".

"Re: "How is it possible for someone to live in the same community for forty-something years, and never traveled around enough to see some of our most interesting sights?"

That's one of the things that, to me at least, is so interesting and maddening about St. Louis: The term St. Louis means radically different things to different people, based on where they were raised.

I grew up in Florissant and we went to a trivia night at the Letter Carriers Union Hall on Broadway a couple years back. One of the categories was "St. Louis" and we didn't get a single one because to the people writing the questions, St. Louis = South St. Louis."

What a great observation! "Pulitzer's Ghost" is on to something. St. Louis does mean different things to different people. Thanks, Pulitzer's Ghost, for the comment! (Great pseudonym name too...)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Citygarden debut

Tuesday, June 30, Citygarden makes its debut as the newest amenity in downtown St. Louis. The project, funded by the Gateway Foundation, has enjoyed stellar early reviews.

Coupled with the newly opened Old Post Office Plaza, downtown St. Louis is providing more reasons to linger after 5 PM.

The new Citygarden, a sculpture park, will offer dining and views along Market and into the attractive landscape.


Mayor Slay dedicated Citygarden today. A few highlights and interesting facts about the project:

The general contractor completed the project on time and on budget.

Citygarden is the only place of its kind in the United States, a completely free and open to the public downtown sculpture garden. Other cities have downtown sculpture gardens, but they are behind walls. Ours is a true front yard to downtown.

The garden has numerous water features, a gourmet restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining, and multiple lighted video displays.

The design of the garden is based on St. Louis and Missouri. Limestone walls give reference to the natural limestone bluffs above Missouri rivers, and a low-slung, gray-stone serpentine wall reflects the rivers as seen from the air.

Walkways are located at the sites of historic downtown alleys, and a mound feature is a reference to St. Louis's history as the location for a major Native American community.

Citygarden is a jewel for our city and region, and complements our existing wide array of arts and cultural institutions.

Ever saw a brick street?

I was at a party over the weekend with lots of lifelong St. Louisans. We got on the topic of neighborhoods and I mentioned how I loved the brick streets in some parts of the city.

A person in our group thought I was talking about cobblestones. "No", I said, "actual brick, the whole street is made of brick." There are many, many blocks like this, if not miles of brick streets running through St. Louis neighhborhoods.

The person was amazed. He had lived in St. Louis his entire life and had never seen a brick street. I was amazed too. How is it possible for someone to live in the same community for forty-something years, and never traveled around enough to see some of our most interesting sights?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Street wise

Last night the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis held a planning open house at the Old Post Office. The Partnership organization is updating the plan for downtown to position the area for continued growth and improvement.

Scanning the various display boards, I saw that the idea of "Arch camp" made the list of possibilities. I didn't see anything relative to improving the connections between downtown and the riverfront/Arch grounds other than a general reference. If you made the meeting and noticed anything along those lines, please comment.

One of the tables offered a place for particiants to suggest new ideas/comments. I suggested adding more water features downtown. In hot St. Louis summers, just the sound of running water is refreshing.

Standing at one of the boards, I bumped into an old friend and downtown building owner/business man. He's combination investor, artist, and creative tour de force. I asked him if he'd thought about the idea of making more streets in the core of downtown two-way. He said he had and that he liked the idea.

I've always thought about the idea of two-way streets from a traffic flow/pedestrian friendly amenity standpoint. Two-way streets slow down cars and spread out traffic patterns. But my friend had a completely different take. Over the years, he has noticed how the direction of downtown traffic, especially on the east/west running streets, helps or hurts retail trade.

Looking at the area between Market and Washington, he's observed that the shops and restaurants located on inbound/eastbound streets (Chestnut and Olive) outperform the storefront uses on outbound/westbound streets (Pine and Locust). Washington Avenue is two way, as is Market.

I never thought about it before, but my friend might right. Maybe businesses along the outbound streets suffer since they are located on the "getaway" streets, while business located on the inbound streets do better since they are located on the "arrival" streets? Having more two way streets might help balance out that differential.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

City proposing a vacant building registry

A four-hour long committee meeting of the Board of Aldermen ended yesterday tabling action on a proposed vacant building registry.

The registry will require owners of vacant buildings to register their properties with the city of St. Louis. A fee schedule for owning vacant buildings is under consideration.

Apparently there is some resistence to the bill, although it has a large number of co-sponsors. The main sponsor is Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett, 6th ward.

Knowing how to contact owners of vacant buildings is vital. Getting those owners to either maintain or sell them is the next step.

Vacant building watch: NE Corner of Arkansas and Wyoming

Last night we ate out at one of the fine dining establishments on South Grand near Tower Grove Park.

After dinner, we took a circuitous route home through side streets and alleys. Along the way, we passed an impressive building, vacant, located at the NE corner of Wyoming and Arkansas in the Tower Grove East neighborhood.

Most (if not all) of the windows were out of the building. Some of the openings appeared to be boarded. It was after 5 PM and there weren't any workers on the site.

Does anyone know if this is a building under rehab or an abandoned property?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What good is vacant and deteriorating?

The fate of the San Luis boiled down to two choices: preserve a vacant, deterioriating building or demolish it for a new parking lot.

From a city wide standpoint, our approach to dealing with empty deteriorating buildings is an ongoing challenge. Neighbors do not like deteriorating buildings in their neighborhoods. Preservationists do not like demolition after neglect.

The challenge is how to get unmotivated property owners to dispose of or maintain properties that they do not want to operate or maintain? There are plenty of examples of buildings in this state. The NorthSide area has lots of them. The San Luis is one. The Avalon in South City is another.

Our choices should not be limited to vacant and deteriorating or demolition. Urbanists and preservationists should work with the community at large to develop stronger tools to ensure good building maintenance and operations.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Add some shrubbery?

Nearly every work day my entrance into downtown St. Louis is on Memorial Drive above the depressed lanes, in front of the Arch grounds.

It's a very routine trip. Almost all the cars do the same thing, day in and day out. They merge to the left, then turn left onto Market or Pine. It would be the perfect situation for the magnetized, computer-operated cars of the future.

The pattern is constant. As is the landscape: hard concrete, metal rails, chipped and worn curbs and faded paint. It's a dreary vision as you enter downtown.

The area is devoid of living color or life in general. The occasional jogger or dog walker looks out of place. Even if we never see a new Memorial Drive or removal of the depressed lanes, what a difference it would make for there to be vegetation in the area.

Granted, there's no place now to plant anything. But picture the area with trees, flowers, sprinklers, fresh pavement, attractive signage, and an overall landscape plan that remade the area into an inviting place.

Maybe that's something we could do with a manageable cost and immediate benefits.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Enterprise Leasing's "We Car" program

My office is on the 16th floor of a downtown office building, close to two different Metro stations. Down on the street, there's a Toyota Prius parked in a specially reserved space. Both the car and the parking space are marked with the decal "We Car". Around the corner, there's another one.

Apparently they're part of some sort of car sharing program. Yet I've never seen anyone ever driving the cars. Does anybody know about the program? How do you get in on it? Could I ditch my car, ride Metro downtown, and then have the We Car avaiable for trips during the day out of the office?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

St. Louis area leads way in "Keep Kids Alive - Drive 25" program

(From Tom Everson, Founder of "Keep Kids Alive - Drive 25")

Dear Friend in Safety,

This note is about being “Motivated in Missouri.” The story of the growth of KEEP KIDS ALIVE DRIVE 25 in Missouri is a result of many motivated residents, law enforcement agencies, public works departments, neighborhood/homeowners associations, and businesses that have lead the way over the past 10 years.

Your efforts have made, and continue to make, a difference in keeping us all safer on neighborhood streets, and beyond.

Following are examples of those who are “Motivated in Missouri!”

The City of Hazelwood (Police Dept.) is the first community in the U.S. to enact a “KEEP KIDS ALIVE DRIVE 25” ordinance making residential streets “double fine” zones for speeding. The City of Wildwood is the 2nd to enact such an ordinance in conjunction with their campaign.

The City of Florissant (Police Dept.) was the 1st in the State to enact a citywide KEEP KIDS ALIVE DRIVE 25® campaign.

Vicki and Gordie Faust of Lees Summit have been leading advocates for the campaign in memory of their 9 year-old son, Justin, who died as a result of being hit in November, 2004. Learn more on our "Run to Remember" page.

Our 1st “Memory Marathon” to remember all children who have died in traffic incidents was the 2007 St. Louis Marathon. Ford Motor Company Fund came on board as our 1st Corporate Sponsor to assist us in our mission.

The City of Raytown was the 1st to invite the local Hy-Vee Grocery Store to serve as a corporate partner with their campaign. The City of Belton invited their local Hy-Vee to participate as well.

The Southampton Neighborhood was the 1st in St. Louis to enact the campaign. They were followed by the St. Louis Hills and the Princeton Heights Neighborhoods.

St. Peters (City), O’Fallon (City), St. Charles (Neighborhoods), Fenton (Neighborhood), Kirkwood (Neighborhood), and Lake St. Louis (Neighborhood/City) have all initiated the campaign over the past several years.

For more information about bringing the Keep Kids Alive - Drive 25 program to your community, visit the organization's website here:

Keep Kids Alive - Drive 25

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

St. Louis and urbanism

Is St. Louis ready for urbanism? Does the answer vary by neighborhood? Do people even agree on what "urbanism" means?

We are an old, brick city, with high density in lots of old city neighborhoods. Yet we are also fiercely independent and generally not comfortable with a centralized planning system. We like neighborhood control. It's part of our tradition.

Being central city makes us urban. Some say being racially diverse makes us urban. Should we expect more? If you think so, how would you make it so?

St. Louis Post Dispatch: start the Arch design competition

Post Dispatch to St. Louis urbanist and design community: Let's get going on the design competition!

(...while we're young already!)

Is it fair to describe the Arch design competition as an urbanism project? Or is it much bigger than that? What are the competing interests?

Based on varying points of view, what does a winning design look like?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Maryland Plaza revisited

The Central West End is a beautiful place, and I think Maryland Plaza is one of the nicest spots in the entire region, if not country.

Months ago, we did a post that touched on the use of cobblestones in city neighborhoods. There was a suggestion to remove them from Laclede's Landing.

In Maryland Plaza, cobblestones have been replaced by smooth stone. I like the new street, but someone commented in defense of the old cobblestone streets. Read their comments here:

Commenter from NYC makes the case in defense of the old Maryland Plaza cobblestones...

S. Kingshighway Planning Lab

The downturn in the US auto industry has created an opportunity for new development along S. Kingshighway, putting closed auto dealerships up for sale. What would you like to see happen?

Let's use this post as a virtual auction and planning exercise. Name your price and then describe what you would do with the property. We'll start off with some basic assumptions. Let's say the property consists of the following:

3.5 acre site on a heavily traveled commercial corridor in vibrant South St. Louis City, ample surface parking available in front, side and rear.

20,000 square foot showroom building, includes 6,000 square feet of executive/sales offices.

40,000 square foot, high ceiling, concrete floor, shop area.

Buildings recently renovated, all in good to excellent condition.

Some would start the bidding at $1.00. They wouldn't plan to actually build anything though.

They would simply tie up the property and seek another developer to buy it. Call it development in a sort of speculator, ebay sort of way.

Many investors would be willing to pay up to $100,000 for such a bottom fishing, speculative opportunity. So let's say the real planning and development ideas must start with a minimum bid of $100,000.

Name your price, but remember, you must also state your plans for the property.

Let's see how high the bidding gets, and what creative ideas emerge for the property's reuse.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tornadic dreams

Living in a place prone to wild weather can yield some wild dreams. Yesterday's storms wreaked havoc on my dreams last night.

Driving to a mid day meeting, I was caught in the powerful storms that blew through town. From the conference room, we could see the darkening sky, and fingers of the thunderstorm reaching down out of the clouds. News reports described heavy damage to some buildings around town.

Dreams last night brought those storms back to life. I dreamt that our neighborhood was hit, and that I was caught in the path of another tornado while walking near the intersection of Jefferson and Chouteau.

In the dream, I found a big drainage inlet to climb into for protection. The best protection was when instead I woke up at about 3:00 AM and the weather outside was just fine.

It has been about fifty years since the city of St. Louis has been struck by a serious tornado. Given the time between recorded serious tornados strikes in St. Louis, we are overdue for another touchdown.

Tornados are strange events in the way they come so quickly, wreak major devastation, and can be followed within minutes by tranquil weather and bright sunshine. They're surreal and powerful, sort of like dreams.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Why blog?

It forces you to wrk on your edting.