Thursday, September 08, 2011

Rebuilding Connections

St. Louis is working on connections. It's exploring reconnecting with St. Louis County. It's improving connections with Illinois over a new Mississippi River Bridge and high speed rail to Chicago. It's pursuing worldwide connections with a new China Hub. And it's building a light rail connection between University City and St. Louis City along Delmar Boulevard, our region's traditional dividing line.

Connections happen though partnership and collaboration. They are key to creating a successful 21st century regional economy. They happen through the removal of barriers and take time to structure. They are often more doable when taken on in small pieces rather than huge chunks; and, they always require finding shared benefits and common ground. For example, it's much more likely that STL City and County will collaborate on sharing services than making the big step of a full city-county merger.

While regional connections are on the increase, there is a big disconnection in downtown St. Louis. The biggest disconnection is between downtown and the riverfront. The barrier is the interstate highway and it extends all the way from the Koskiousko neighborhood to Cass Avenue.

It's more than just the riverfront that is cut off by highway infrastructure. Fully one-half of downtown St. Louis is carved up by the presence of highways, creating barriers of many different shapes and sizes. An entire post could be written just on the subject of highway barriers in downtown St. Louis. The barriers created by highways 55, 64, 70 and 44 form a broom ushering people out of the downtown area.

As a result, many of the region's most important destinations and investments are cut off from each other, creating a downtown that is difficult to navigate and unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists and confusing to motorists. In contrast, if downtown's many destination spots were connected, we wouldn't think of them as unique destinations.

If those destinations were part of one unified and connected downtown, it would be a lot easier finding your way around the downtown neighborhood. Downtown STL has invested hundreds of millions in disconnected downtown assets, creating untold opportunity costs. Pulling them together with renewed connections helps build a stronger network for sustainable economic growth.

A damaging side effect of the highway network entangling downtown is the evolution of a dispersed array of cheap parking lots. Today's downtown St. Louis offers an abundance of low grade, surface parking lots. Some of these lots, located within just a block or two from downtown highrise office buildings, offer daily parking at rates less than $5 per day. The current situation devalues downtown real estate and prioritizes highway access over a connected downtown neighborhood.

Work is being done to repair the damage. Efforts are underway to reconnect the Arch grounds to downtown. A plan to bridge the highway with a pedestrian lid will restore the connection between the Gateway Mall and the Old Court House to the Arch grounds and the riverfront. This one step will make a huge positive difference, and is scheduled to happen by October, 2015, as part of the revitalization of the Arch grounds.

There are more opportunities to rebuild connections. Those connections can take the form of physical improvements and community connections. In a region famous for fractured government, there are opportunities where strengthening government connections can lead to improved productivity and community services.

Rebuilding physical connections helps create the infrastructure for regional sustainability. Improving these connections brings multiple benefits to St. Louis. Economic growth, a more vibrant downtown and an improved quality of life for our region are all possible when we work together to bring down barriers and reconnect our city and people.


Scott Pluff said...

Replacing 70 with an at-grade boulevard would be the single best step toward revitalizing downtown. Will our leaders have the vision?

Costa Rica Real Estate said...

I agree with you that the biggest disconnection is between downtown and the riverfront.Will it is vision able???