Monday, June 28, 2010

Federal Island

Repeat these words: "there's nothing wrong with the Arch...there's nothing wrong with the Arch..."

At the historic front door of St. Louis, our riverfront, a strange convergence happens. We have our historic riverfront and one of the world's most recognized monuments, the Arch. Unfortunately, the Arch and riverfront are separated from the rest of the city as if on an island.

The City + Arch + River design competition is intended to overcome the island effect and reconnect the Arch and riverfront to the city. Restablishing connectivity is the common theme of the new Jefferson National Expansion Memorial General Management Plan and the Arch design competition.

What we don't want to see happen is an expansion of the federal island. If the competition program is about reweaving connections between the riverfront, downtown, and the Arch, then the boundaries of the competition are where the design is most important.

If the St. Louis Art Museum, History Museum, and Science Center were all moved to the Arch grounds, would that increase visits to downtown? The Jefferson National Expansion Museum already has two museums, one under the Arch and one in the Old Court House. But if you ask visitors to the Arch, what drew them to the site, would they tell you it was the Arch or the museums? Most would say it was the Arch. "There's nothing wrong with the Arch; there's nothing wrong with the Arch".

Would a restaurant on the grounds of the Statue of Liberty draw more visitors to the Statue of Liberty? Would a museum alongside the Eifel Tower draw more visitors to the Eifel Tower? Like these two iconic landmarks, people come to see the icon.

Another goal of the design compeition is to catalyze the Arch grounds as a way to enliven downtown. Hence, downtown should be the destination for services, not the landmark. Looking at the possible downside, if there were a new restaurant or other services offered on the Arch grounds, they might siphon off customers who would otherwise patronize downtown restaurants and local businesses.

How do new attractions on the Arch grounds or the East St. Louis riverfront improve the connection between the riverfront, downtown and the Arch grounds? It is hard to see how they do.

If reestablishing connectivity is the biggest goal of the design competition, then the number one goal of the program should be to solve the connection problem and secure funding to make it happen before planning new attractions.

What St. Louis does not need is a nicer island in the heart of downtown. What people are calling for is a City that is reconnected to the River.


Matt M. said...

Great post, Rick!

Yet Another St. Louis Blog by Kevin B. said...

You make sense, Rick. And a lot of it.

I had written a piece on similar themes, but the dreaded 'system crash' wiped out my work. City+Arch+River is calling it 'Framing a Modern Masterpiece,' but really, this competition should be about breaking the existing frame and letting that Masterpiece seep into the city and, likewise, the city (a masterpiece in its own right) into the Archgrounds.

You could say the Archgrounds' existing 'frame' is what necessitated this design competition in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I agree. St. Louis is too much a collection of Islands and this particular case is really the most easy of our problems to solve.