Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why No Pipe Organ at College Church?

It's one of the most beautiful churches in St. Louis. It's on the campus of St. Louis University. Lots of people have their weddings there; and, for the most part, a church wedding without a pipe organ is nowhere near as impressive as one accompanied by wonderful organ music.

So how is it that such a wonderful church has no pipe organ? There is the place in the building that is designed to house organ pipes. But there are no pipes and there is no organ. Do you know the story about what happened?

The answer says a lot about the utilitarian ways of St. Louisans.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Downtown's Year-End Economic Stimulus

Between Christmas and New Year's, a week you might think things would slow down in St. Louis, it has been anything but slow. There are hundreds - if not thousands - of energetic, college-age, young people all over the streets of downtown.

They are walking everywhere and filling downtown restaurants and creating lines around the block, even in this freezing weather. Where do they come from and why are they here in St. Louis?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chronicling the digital divide

There is an excellent article at STL Today about neighborhood organizations. Refreshing to see are the positive comments from readers. A lot of the discussion is on the interaction on social media versus neighbors showing up in face to face meetings.

No matter how busy you are, there's no replacing face to face meetings. Twitter, facebook, myspace etc do not take the place of showing up in person, especially when you consider that many people do not use these services at all.

Alley cleanups, neighborhood watch, community gardens, block parties etc all happened long before the advent of social media. Read the comments at STL Today's site. It's clear that among the strengths of urban neighborhoods are the active neighborhood organizations serving our communities.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Planning to build markets

The following link provides an interesting discussion of the relationships between urban planning, private development, government, citizens, collaboration, and markets:


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reconnecting the city to the riverfront

St. Louis architect Paul Hohmann tracks St. Louis architecture, history, and construction at his blog, Vanishing St. Louis.

Hohmann is currently featuring photographs of downtown taken at the time of Arch construction. The images dramatically show the moment in time where downtown, the Arch, and river were cut off from each other.

It's ironic that the disconnect happened at the time the Arch was built. 50 years later, under a new management plan for the Arch, everyone is looking for ways to reconnect the city, the Arch, and the river. A review of these images would be a good place to start.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fixing the hail problem

At a recent holiday gathering, a group of us were having a conversation about the latest developments in solar power. One person said that with current technology it's possible to power a typical single family through solar energy. I was amazed. The rest of the story gets in to issues of public incentives and project financing, and we didn't have time to get into those details. If you're familiar with any of the public incentives available for installing solar panels on your home or business, please comment below.

So with all of the underutilized land in St. Louis, whether it's in the form of publicly owned properties or highway embankments, I started wondering about the possibility of building urban solar electric farms. If you can power a house with the electricity from solar panels on your own property, what if we developed acres of solar electric farms in St. Louis neighborhoods? We could turn underutilized land into a sustainable energy source.

Filled with optimism, I mentioned this idea to a person of liberal persuasion here in St. Louis. He liked the idea, but he threw up a major barrier: hail. He said that solar panels in our region are problematic due to our occasional hail storms. Hmmmph. I hadn't thought of that. And I like St. Louis weather. It never occurred to me that our whether might be an obstacle to building a more sustainable community.

Okay, so I'm no expert on this, obviously, but it seems to me the hail problem could be solved. Why not simply shield the solar panels from hail storms with some sort of transparent covering? If clear plastic or glass protection are not workable due to a loss of solar waves making it to the solar panel, what about fitting sturdy metal screens over the panels?

More research needed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Southwest Avenue outdoor dining expansion planned

If you read some of the local St. Louis community affairs blogs, you have probably learned that Favazza's restaurant at the entrance to the Hill is proposing to demolish two buildings on its Southwest Avenue side. The purpose is to create space for an outdoor seating area.

Outdoor seating is a popular amenity at lots of area restaurants. It's available at a grill and bar next to Southwest Bank just a little east of Favazza's. It's wonderful at Bar Italia on Maryland Plaza in the CWE. It's an activity generator in neighborhoods. It's understandable Favazza's would want to do the same.

Some are opposed to the demolition on the basis of historic preservation. The buildings proposed for demo are brick buildings in the neighborhood of 100 years old. Others would say, it's their property, they should be allowed to do with it as they choose. There is no local ordinance prohibiting demolition of these buildings.

I side with those who support expansion of the business and creation of an outdoor seating area. Many of our area's most successful restaurants feature outdoor dining. While some people oppose the loss of these buildings, the business is making a significant investment to improve its offer to the community.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

And now for a new front door....

(Note - this post has been updated with the following National Park Service press release - click on the image for a larger view):

From our original post:

The City of St. Louis and the National Park Service have made a joint announcement regarding the design competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial:

FOR RELEASE: December 8, 2009


Tom Bradley, Superintendent
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
(314) 655-1600

Jeff Rainford
Office of St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay
(314) 622-3201

International Design Competition to Invigorate the Gateway Arch Starts Today

Goal is to “Frame a Modern Masterpiece” and Connect the Gateway Arch with the Mississippi River and the St. Louis Region by 2015

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The National Park Service and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay today launched an international design competition to invigorate the park and city areas surrounding of one of the world’s most iconic monuments, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

“The competition begins today,” said Tom Bradley, Superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which includes the Gateway Arch. “This competition is a unique and important opportunity to integrate the Arch and the park surrounding it into the fabric of the city and region and embrace the Mississippi River and its east bank. It’s an opportunity to energize the park with new amenities and attractions. By achieving these objectives, we will design people into the area – and establish a national model for urban parks.”

The winning design will be announced in October 2010, with the resulting work completed by October 28, 2015 – the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Arch.

“Critical stakeholders are engaged and the architectural and design communities are excited to get started,” said Slay, who, with Bradley, is a member of the CityArchRiver2015 Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to drive the effort. Also represented in that group are regional business and university leaders, national park advocates and architects.

“We’re very lucky to now have Tom Bradley as a partner in this initiative,” said Slay. “He has worked diligently to drive federal action, solicit community input, and engage and reassure the park advocacy community, all of which have been absolutely essential to launching this competition.”

The competition – “Framing a Modern Masterpiece: The City + The Arch + The River 2015” – is called for in the National Park Service’s new General Management Plan, which was developed with extensive public input over an 18-month period, and approved on November 23, 2009.

“Engaging the wider community, including and extending far beyond the St. Louis region, has been and will continue to be an important element in this process,” said Slay.

The competition will invite teams to create a new design for the Arch grounds and surrounding areas with 10 goals in mind:

* Create an iconic place for the international icon, the Gateway Arch.

* Catalyze increased vitality in the St. Louis region.

* Honor the character-defining elements of the National Historic Landmark.

* Weave connections and transitions from the city and the Arch grounds to the Mississippi River.

* Embrace the Mississippi River and the east bank in Illinois as an integral part of the national park.

* Mitigate the impact of transportation systems.

* Reinvigorate the mission to tell the story of St. Louis as the gateway to national expansion.

* Create attractors to promote extended visitation to the Arch, the city and the river.

* Develop a sustainable future for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

* Enhance the visitor experience and create a welcoming and accessible environment.

The competition is being organized and managed by Donald Stastny, one of the nation’s most experienced design managers. Stastny is the chief executive officer of StastnyBrun Architects in Portland, Ore., and has served as professional advisor for more than 35 design competitions. Among them are the recent Flight 93 National Memorial in Stonycreek Township, Pa., the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the new U.S. embassy in London and Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Stastny will instruct and assist an eight-person jury. The names of jury members – from design, architecture, landscape architecture and related fields – will be announced in early January 2010, closer to the deadline for initial registration for the competition.

“The challenge is great – to take one of America’s first urban parks and weave it into the fabric of the region,” Stastny said. “I’m confident that this competition will foster an environment in which leading and emerging design professionals can do their best work and walk in Eero Saarinen’s footsteps. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the participants – and I’m proud to be involved.”

“This competition will honor the character-defining elements of the National Historic Landmark, which includes the Gateway Arch and its grounds,” said Lynn McClure, Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association, America’s leading voice for our national parks.

“The national park, downtown St. Louis, the riverfront and the Illinois side will finally be brought together as a vibrant and exciting destination,” said McClure, who is also a member of CityArchRiver2015 Foundation.

Dr. Robert Archibald, President and CEO of the Missouri Historical Society, praised the competition plan, stating, “This park symbolizes the American spirit, the sense of optimism and energy. The Gateway Arch is truly stunning; as magnificent today as it was the day it was completed. We need now to free it of its isolation and connect it to the region and the river on whose banks it sits.”

Archibald was among a small group of civic leaders tapped two years ago by Mayor Slay to explore new options to connect the city, the Gateway Arch and the river, and to bring new vitality to the riverfront.

This new competition honors the spirit of the 1947 national challenge that inspired architect Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch design. In the effort to produce a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and the era of American Westward expansion, the jury chose the most audacious entry – a gleaming 630-foot stainless steel arch. It was the first of several masterpieces by the gifted but short-lived Saarinen.

Completed in 1965, the Gateway Arch instantly became an international destination and won immediate recognition as one of the world’s premier works of public art. The grounds immediately surrounding it, designed by the late Dan Kiley, are also widely recognized as a landscape masterpiece. However, those grounds, and the city streetscape, highways, and the Mississippi riverfront which they abut, lack the “buzz” of constant activity associated with a vibrant urban park – one of the issues the competition is meant to address.

In addition to Superintendent Bradley, Mayor Slay and Lynn McClure, CityArchRiver2015Foundation also includes: Bruce Lindsey, Dean of the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design at Washington University in St. Louis; Walter Metcalfe Jr., an attorney with Bryan Cave LLP and another of Mayor Slay’s original team of civic leaders; Deborah Patterson, President of the Monsanto Fund and director of social responsibility for the Monsanto Company; and, Dr. Vaughn Vandegrift, Chancellor of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. This volunteer group has coalesced over the last six months as the National Park Service’s General Management Plan took shape.

Financial contributions are being handled by the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, a public charity with more than $140 million in charitable assets and representing more than 350 individual funds.

Contributors to the design competition include: Emerson, Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis (Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park), Peter Fischer, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Civic Progress, Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation, Danforth Foundation, Bryan Cave LLP, Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, National Park Foundation, Monsanto, Alison and John Ferring, Bank of America and donors who choose to remain anonymous.

Additional information can be found at


Monday, December 07, 2009

St. Louis gets a new center hall

I took a detour this morning to try out the new 64 and was impressed with the results. I entered the highway east bound at McCausland. McCausland had a lot of traffic and it surprised me that I was the only driver entering the highway. Everyone else continued north on McCausland toward Forest Park. The new 64 improvements will help them also as many of the highway interchanges are widened and improved.

In particular, the new interchange at 64/Hampton and the Zoo is beautiful. There's a roundabout by the Zoo which replaces the old bottleneck at Clayton at Hampton. It will be interesting to see how traffic flows there next summer.

Up on the new 64, drivers get a different look at St. Louis. Graceful embankments lead the eye up to landmarks of our area along both sides of the new roadway. The Highlands office development across from Forest Park looks much better in its new setting. As does the Central Institute for the Deaf and pretty much everything along both sides of the new highway. Quality infrastructure makes a powerful statement about the health of a region and the new I-64 sends a good message about St. Louis.

Highway 40 was the oldest highway in the St. Louis area. Many of our region's core assets line the route. It takes drivers through the heart of our region and it gives them an intimate view of what we have here. They're "in our house". While the "center hall" aspects of the new I-64 are back in place, the view from the roadway is impressive. Travellers on the new 64 will be reminded of many of the things that make St. Louis special.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Ballpark Village Residential

Today on KMOX, radio personality Mark Reardon hosted a roundtable discussion with local elected leaders. They were discussing a variety of local issues including the future of Ballpark Village.

Concerning Ballpark Village, the news is reporting that we shouldn't expect anything coming out of the ground in 2010, and, much different from what was originally proposed (shops, residences, offices and restaurants), there won't be much of a "village" at Ballpark Village at all. The project is being described now as a development of one or more office buildings.

Here's what makes no sense to me: How is it possible that a condo tower with views of Busch Stadium would not be marketable in St. Louis? This is baseball heaven, isn't it? You would think the players alone would snap up half the units. From ad companies, to millionaire ballplayers, to team owners, to local corporations, you'd think the units would be in high demand.

Granted, we are in a slow economy. But things are improving. Other residential projects are getting going downtown. But not across from Busch Stadium? In our humble world, our son is dreaming that we'd sell our place and buy a condo in Ballpark Village. I like the idea. Are we nuts for considering it?