Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dear Anonymous...

To balance the good with the bad...

The building above is just a few blocks from the one in the "Open floor plan" photo below...

Most buildings fall somewhere between these two extremes and are the ones that really matter for the long term future of the neighborhood. Few buildings are saved like the one shown above. And too many wind up like the one in photo below.

How good a job we do preserving the ones in the middle is the challenge we really face. How do we meet that challenge? Anonymous, what do say about that?

"Open floor plan with lots of light"

Clever marketing can make the most bland product sound appealing. Unfortunately, I don't think there's anything words can say to convince a would be homebuyer to take a second look at a place like this:

When it comes to demolition, clearing away urban debris like the building shown above can't happen fast enough. Bring on the bulldozers and dumpsters. Today maybe?

While the crews are out there, why not make it a two-fer and take down the one next door too?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Synchronizing Traffic Signals on a New Memorial Drive?

If I-55 and I-70 were connected through downtown via a new Memorial Drive, would synchronized traffic signals help keep traffic moving through the connection, reduce travel times, and conserve gasoline?

On YouTube:

Cities Try to Get Traffic Lights In Sync

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are Stars Aligning For Downtown?

Yesterday I joined City to River on its "Walking of Future Connections" tour. The tour went from Busch Stadium to Laclede's Landing, by way of Memorial Drive and the Arch grounds. There were stops along the way at key points of future connections.

The first stop was at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Spruce. Presently, the corner is a no-mans land. Even though this is the closest direct route between Busch Stadium and the riverfront, hardly anyone ever ventures in this direction. (Click on all images for a larger view).

The image below is the intersection with a new Memorial Drive at Spruce. Pedestrians would have a direct connection from Busch Stadium to the Arch grounds and riverfront. A possible arts, music and loft district at Chouteau's Landing would be directly connected through this new opening.

From Spruce and Memorial, we headed north towards the Old Cathedral. The walls of I-70 block views and the depressed lanes forms a brutal gateway to our riverfront and the Arch. (Note the deteriorating concrete on the underside of the bridge over the depressed lanes. Broken concrete exposes the rebar inside the bridge structure.)

A new boulevard changes the experience for drivers and pedestrians alike. Wide crosswalks and slower traffic make the area more visually interesting and attractive.

The tour traveled north on Memorial Drive to the area adjacent the new downtown Hyatt. Presently, there is no buffer between cars on Memorial Drive and the sidewalk. There is no on street parking. Street parking is good for local business and helps bring foot traffic to the Arch.

A new boulevard would have street parking on both sides of Memorial Drive, buffering the sidewalk from moving traffic and with parking meters adding revenue to local government. Connection to the riverfront is broken as much if not more by the elevevated lanes as the depressed lanes. Visitors staying at the Hyatt now have this view over to the Lumiere Casino and Laclede's Landing. (Notice the lack of street parking buffering the sidewalk from moving traffic):

The corner of Washington Avenue and Memorial Drive is the most historic entry point of St. Louis. The Eads Bridge is where travelers from the east crossed the Mississippi to the west. This is how the area looks today:

Pretty lousy tribute to our historic point of entry, isn't it? Removal of the elevated lanes and creation of a new Memorial Drive opens the area visually and adds value to the Eads Bridge and Arch grounds while creating potential for new development.

Laclede's Landing is a primary connection to the Arch grounds and riverfront. However, with I-70 cutting off Laclede's Landing from downtown, the connection looks like this:

Is 2010 the year stars align for downtown? There is reason for hope. A lot of positive developments are coming to our city at the same time including:

The New Mississippi River Bridge (scheduled for a February 2014 opening)

I-70 depressed lanes and elevated lanes approaching the end of their useful life

The rerouting of Interstate 70 north of Laclede's Landing (coinciding with the new Mississippi River bridge)

The City Arch River Design Competition (underway at this time with a September 2010 decision on the winning design)

The possibility of federal funding to help reconnect downtown to the Arch and riverfront (total cost estimated at $300 million by the National Park Service)

Local and National leaders all focused on reconnecting the city to the riverfront and the Arch grounds

Since the highway has long been known to be the main problem cutting off downtown from the riverfront, will highway removal and replacement with a new boulevard be a possible design solution under the design competition? The National Park Service has stated they strongly prefer highway removal.

The Park Service is also concerned that highway removal may not be feasible during the life of this new General Management Plan (20-25 years). However, the Park Service has stated that it would amend its General Management Plan to provide for highway removal if it could be completed sooner.

Whatever the outcome, the results of the design competition and subsequent investment of many tens of millions for connection improvements will be geared for the long term well beyond the life of the new General Management Plan. Decisions we make today will be around for the rest of our lives and the next few generations of St. Louisans. Now is the opportunity to make lasting, transformative change for our region and downtown - not 25 years from now.

Fifty years ago it was not very difficult to build an interstate highway through the heart of downtown. At the time it was the right thing to do. Are we saying today that it's too difficult to change it? Why wait another 25 years when we may never have a chance like this again? Other cities around the country are converting highways to boulevards to help revitalize and reconnect their downtown areas and waterfronts. Is St. Louis up to the task?

With the coming of the new bridge, the rerouting of I-70 away from the Arch grounds, and the major investments planned to implement the winning design of the design competition, shouldn't highway removal be considered at this time if ever?

(Architectural renderings courtesy City to River)

Friday, March 19, 2010

City + Arch + River on Twitter and Facebook

Design Competition organizers are on Twitter and Facebook.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

The River Des Peres Sea

Like the green hills of California seen only a few months of the year, views of the River Des Peres filled with water are a rare treat.

Wouldn't it be nice if it always looked this way? Perhaps a dam near the mouth of Mississippi is the way to do it. I wonder what it would smell like in summer...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why wait for Sunday?

This weekend we visited Southern California for a family gathering. Over the years I've gained an increasing appreciation for the area. On this trip we stayed in the Glendale area near Pasadena and Burbank. The view above is from Forest Lawn Cemetary overlooking Glendale. It was Sunday morning.

The day before we met up with lots of family and new friends. It was a gathering of mostly Latin Americans and we filled up on serious Carne Asada, chicken, shrimp, and lots of homemade salsas. Here's Arturo working the grill (note the woman in the center-right of the photo, providing testimonial to the quality of the meal):

Since daylight savings time starts in the middle of the weekend, why not set clocks ahead on Friday night, adding an hour of daylight on Saturday night? Then in the fall, when clocks get set back, why not set them back on Sunday night, rather than Saturday, thereby adding an hour of sleep on Monday morning rather than Sunday, and preserving an hour of daylight Sunday evening?

That extra hour of daylight would have meant more time for Arturo's authentic Carne Asada, and that would have been a very good thing. Instead, we'll just have to figure out a way to get back out there sooner rather than later.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Butter and Lemon go great with this:

Dungeness crab is a rare treat. You can get it fresh out on the west coast, or frozen here in St. Louis. If you steam the frozen ones, they still taste very good. Served with melted butter, garlic, lemon, white wine and french bread and you have a great meal. More and more regional delicacies can be found here in St. Louis. It's a nice add-on to our quality of life.

A Dungeness crab has a hard exterior and a soft, delicious interior. Eating crab takes a little skill. You have to work to get to the delicious tender meat inside. The photo above shows the first step in getting to the delectable crab meat: removing the main shell. Once cooked, it's pretty easy to pull off the body. When you do, you expose all the insides of the crab.

The result of removing an outer shell is also what is happening in the image below. Unfortunately, butter and lemon are no help here:

Here we see the remains of an abandoned building. Like the crab in the upper images, the hard exterior is gone, exposing the building's insides. Notice the interior stair, now on the outside of the remnant structure. Frame walls, plaster, all the guts of the building are revealed.

The problem is, when you get to the inside of an abandoned building, you don't get a sweet reward. What you get is a big mess for someone else to clean up. It takes a long time for a building to get to this point, and it can take many more years to clean this up.

If we are to avoid situations like the one in the lower picture, strategies need to be in place that intervene long before the outside walls of an abandoned building start coming down. The city's effort to create a vacant building registry is a step in that direction.

Arch Design Competition "Statements of Intent"

Design philosophies for the nine competing Stage Two design teams have been published on the City + Arch + River Competition website.

Statement of Intent PDFs

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Can-do attitude

In the early part of the last century, St. Louis was growing rapidly. Lots of buildings were going up and streets were being widened. In downtown Dutchtown, property values were increasing and the area was thriving with activity.

One block south of Meremac, off an L-shaped alley on the west side of Virginia, there's a relic from those busy times. A family operated a tin shop up on Meramec.

For some reason, I believe connected to the growth of the area, the shop owners decided to move their business, building and all, a block south and to the rear of a lot, to be then accessed from the alley. Today, you can find the historic building in its relocated setting, most of its original features intact..

The image above is the former rear of the building, converted to an entrance, now facing the alley. The image below is the former front of the building, now in the rear yard of another property.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A reasonable facsimile of Baltimore

This snug row of buildings along Broadway, just a little southwest of the Off Broadway night club, has always been one of my favorites. The grade of the street and the turn in the road reminds of the style of architecture you see all around Baltimore.

Some say St. Louis is the "western-most eastern US city", and buildings like this show it. The historic collection is located in the Marine Villa neighborhood (or is it Benton Park?), near one of the city's historic fire houses.

With its historic charm, tavern feel, and roadhouse location, this spot reminds me of the places back east where you find neighborhood seafood restaurants, where the owners spread newspapers over the table, serve cold beer, steamed crabs, crackers, chowder, and good times.

Can you picture an establishment like that filling in the side by side permastone covered store front spaces?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Eiler view

STL Rising isn't the most tech savvy blog around. In fact, it's probably one of the least. So we are just now figuring out how to upload pictures from an old camera phone to the internet.

At the end of last week, a commenter on the River City post requested pics of the cool views we found there. So, the team here at STL Rising did some homework over the weekend and we are now able to provide our readers with visuals. Not great mind you. We will work to do better. These things take time...

With our new found, low-tech, photo capability, STL Rising has a long backlog of city landscapes to bring to readers. Stay tuned for a wide range of scenes from across St. Louis to appear at this site in the days and weeks ahead.

We begin at one of the many historic blocks in South St. Louis, featuring one of the city's finest examples of "bakery brick" masonry construction. It's a block where, before the age of texting, no doubt countless numbers of school-aged children communicated through open windows via tin cans and string across the street and over parked cars: the 600 block of Eiler. The twin steeples of St. Cecelia's Church can be seen through the bare trees at the end of the block.

Apologies in advance for the grainy image. And the reverse view. The staff is all-volunteer and still in training. Poor as the image quality may be, we have also updated the River City post below to show one of the old relics from the shipping industry days along the Mississippi River at Lemay, Missouri.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Views from River City impressive

With over $400 million invested, the new River City Casino in South County raises a lot of curiosity. To find out more about it, I ventured over there this morning for a look.

The location is rare in St. Louis: a true riverfront setting. Just south of the confluence...that is the confluence of the Mississippi River and River Des Peres, you find it: an entertainment oasis equal to or superior to anything of its kind anywhere in the midwest. In fact, as I was walking up to the shiny gold metal and sparkling glass entrance, the man walking next me had driven all the way from Michigan to check out the place.

It was early, so the place was pretty empty. Workers were busy on ladders makinig little fixes. The gaming floor had not yet opened. I only got a little glimpse of one area of the casino. But it was all very nice. If you're into the gaming lifestyle, this place will keep your interest.

For me, it was the outside areas that were the most interesting. The overall site is huge. It's got to be a couple hundred acres. And it sits right next to the Mississippi River. The water is less than 100 feet away. There are relics of historic shipping operations right across the street from the main casino entrances. One of them is an old round house structure that appears to have served as an old freight office. Hopefully these authentic riverfront effects will be preserved for the long term interest of the community.

From outside the casino you have panoramic views of the river on one side and the bluffs on the other. The historic convent adjacent Notre Dame High School is prominent on top of the bluff. Given its size and unique setting, it's amazing that this site was available for this project. I confess to not knowing the history. Perhaps it was once an industrial site with lots of contamination, thus abandoned for years?

Whatever it was before, there's little sign of any of that history today. Now it's a first class casino, situated right alongside the South St. Louis riverfront, offering locals and visitors alike a rare opportunity to get up close and personal to the Mississippi River.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Art and Science of Demolition

With gentrification the topic of tonight's City Affair, here are some random things to consider...

St. Louis city population has dropped from 800,000 + persons to 350,000.

Our region has a stable population, with a 50 year history of people moving to the suburbs. The result is a lessening demand for our older housing stock, creating an inventory of vacant and abandoned buildings in the urban core.

In Clayton we see tear downs to build luxury homes in place of smaller historic housing. This translates to $500,000 historic tear downs for $1,000,000+ luxury townhomes. It's the free market at work.

In St. Ann Missouri, Northwest Plaza is a candidate for National Register listing - and a possible demolition candidate. What do the people of St. Ann want in its place?

Public safety concerns - most neighbors don't like having abandoned homes on their block.

Lack of investment - a man was killed last year while sitting on the front porch of the derelict building where he lived when the front wall of the building collapsed on top of him. Now the site is a vacant lot.

LRA inventory high cost maintenance - little to no demand, often leading to more demolition.

Gentrification requires reinvestment. St. Louis requires reinvestment.

Without more gentrification do we have more demolition? Maybe we're not gentrifying fast enough.

See you tonight at City Affair.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Anonymous commenters say the darnedest things...

Over at STL Today, there is continuing discussion on the editorial about planning for removal of the I-70 lanes through downtown. An anonymous commenter (posting under the pseudonym name "Renew STL") hits the nail on the head with this comment:

"Big Ups to the Post for supporting this idea. There is a great amount of positive energy working in STL right now, and it will lead to great things. If you support this idea, quietly go about the work of making it happen. Talk to people. Discuss reconnecting the city. Do what you can in your sphere of influence. Don’t wait for Gov.– it will never solve our problems, but enough engaged people can alter the landscape. This was once a great place; a confluence of ideas and cultures. Fear and ignorance split it apart, and those same forces will work to keep it that way. So… work humbly, dutifully and diligently to reconnect downtown to the river — it is symbolic of a greater reconnection. And don’t engage the fear and negativity, it only exists to slow the process down."

People often ask what they can do to help City to River's efforts to reconnect downtown to the Arch grounds and riverfront. Following this advice is a great place to start...