Tuesday, November 29, 2011

STL Union Station: TOD Opportunity?

With the challenges facing Union Station, does it make sense to redevelop the property with an emphasis on transit-oriented-development at or under the current train shed/surface parking lot area?

The site is large enough to support a mixed income, multi-family, rental and/or homeownership development of 100 units or more.

The train shed superstructure could remain or be removed. If it were preserved, the development would be similar to gasometer adaptive ruse projects in other parts of the world.

The location has convenient access to jobs and light rail, and would support the retail, restaurant, and hotel uses of the historic train station.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Increased traffic volume, lower property values, and more accidents?

Are these some of the possible negative environmental impacts of the proposed South County Connector on city neighborhoods? The preferred alternative has been narrowed down to the option which adds substantial commuter traffic to River Des Peres Boulevard in the city of St. Louis.

River Des Peres Boulevard is a street fronted by a large number private homes with multiple intersections leading into residential neighborhoods. This is especially true in the Boulevard Heights neighborhood. For homes fronting on River Des Peres Boulevard, it is already dangerous to pull in and out of driveways, especially during peak commute times.

How will this situation be impacted by adding 20,000-30,000 (or more?) cars per day to the street? It doesn't seem possible that adding more traffic to an already hazardous situation can improve things.

Are there any studies showing that residential property values increase when automobile traffic in front of the home substantially increase? That would seem very doubtful. Personally, althought we loved our neighbors and house, we moved off our old block because of an excess of speeding traffic. More traffic in front of your house is not what most people want.

Nonetheless, the South County Connector project is moving through the system. If built, it will add traffic to city streets. Yet, to date, there have been no meetings for the general public held in the City of St. Louis on this project.

There will certainly be more meetings on the South County Connector plan before finalizing the Environmental Impact Statement. Hopefully organizers will arrange a public meeting in the affected area of the city of St. Louis before they complete the planning process.

current project newsletter

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Demolition by Neglect

St. Louis tears down lots of buildings. It's part of our history. We've historically torn down lots of buildings, and today, we tear down historic buildings.

Some. Not all. It all depends. Try to tear down a historic building in Soulard or Lafayette Square, and lots of people will try to stop you. Try to tear down a piece of sentimental history, like an old flying saucer shaped building, and lots of people will try to stop you.

But try to demolish a building by neglect, and hardly anyone notices. Demolition by neglect is hard to detect. It usually starts on the inside. When a building is vacant. Or when the rents no longer support the operating expenses.

Then the building might get into the hands of a slumlord, or "cash flow investor", or a bank through a foreclosure. Or maybe all three through a slow, grinding process, while, all along the building slowly decays. Perhaps in a few years the building ends up in the city's LRA inventory. But by then, most of the damage has already been done.

Look at a privately owned, run down building. Check out its building history on the city's online database. Chances are you'll find records of code violations, Citizen Service Bureau complaints, and maybe even a notice of condemnation for demolition.

Who prevents such losses? In a city with scarce resources, where does the issue of demolition by neglect rank? I think the best answer in St. Louis is that these sorts of things are handled at the neighborhood level, through a partnership effort starting at the individual city block by the people impacted the most: the neighbors. Then efforts build up from there.

If things happen to prevent such problems from taking hold, it usually starts with the neighbors, but it would be good to do more. It would be good to crack down on slumlords, although the housing courts are logjammed. It would be good to carry out emergency stabilization on buildings, liening the owners for the cost, but city funds for such purposes are very tight.

The truth is, looking at any one piece of community development in St. Louis outside of a broader context usually reveals very about the real story behind the raw numbers and photographs. When you dig, you find lots of little stories, all layered together, making for a complex world that doesn't translate easily to quick solutions.

Real solutions require lots of work, usually a lot of money, and working within the system. In time, we can hope that everything comes together to result in slow, gradual progress.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Balkanized Region Takes One Step Toward Reunification

On Tuesday, voters in the tiny St. Louis County town of St. George voted to disincorporate the city, returning it to unincorporated St. Louis county government status. By so doing, one layer of local government was dissolved. The vote to disincorporate passed by a wide margin.

Could the next ten to twenty years see more mergers, consolidations, and disincorporations in and around St. Louis? Perhaps tiny St. George will turn out to the be leader in a good government era in St. Louis.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Free the Rally Squirrel!

They say major league baseball is all about the Benjamins. The inevitable legal battle brewing over who owns the rights to the Rally Squirrel would further that cynical view.

The 2011 Cardinals were the underdog in the National League Division Series between the Cardinals and the Phillies. But in the middle of Game 4, in an at bat featuring Phillies veteran Roy Oswalt against Cardinal utility player Skip Schumacher, a squirrel ran onto the field, well, he more bounded in little flying jumps, running straight toward home plate in the middle of an Oswalt pitch.

The pitch crossed inside the plate, the Squirrel ran in front of Schumacher, headed from the Cardinal dugout toward the Philly dugout, the umpire called the pitch a ball, Oswalt stood slump-shouldered, wanting a do-over, the Cardinals rallied to win the game, and with all of that, a little squirrel set of a craze in St. Louis. He (or she?) became a sensation, and St. Louis had its Rally Squirrel.

In the 2011 post-season, the Cardinals would have many more rallies, and with each one, the legend of the Rally Squirrel would grow larger. When the Cardinal won Game 7 of the World Series, the Rally Squirrel became cemented in Cardinal baseball lore.

The Cardinals started the post season a 1000-1 long shot to go all the way. At the start of their historic run, a a magical thing happened: a little squirrel picked St. Louis. And the Cardinals and their fans rode the charm of the squirrel all the way to a world championship.

Rally Squirrel Shrine (pictured above)

The Rally Squirrel is not like "Fredbird", a corny, corporate created mascot. The Rally Squirrel is a magical thing that was created by no one, except possibly the fans. From day one, all sorts of impromptu Rally Squirrel sightings started to appear. Fans were attaching little squirrel tails to their hats. They'd sport a squirrel on their shoulder. They had fun with it and it added a level of charm to the post season.

Baseball always says it's about the fans. The Rally Squirrel either belongs to no one - or it belongs to the fans. It does not belong in a court room. It does perhaps belong on a statue in front of Busch Stadium, with a placque commemorating this incredible 2011 championship season.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Ghost Towns of St. Louis

With Halloween just a couple of days ago, and daylight hours dwindling, now is a good time to think about the haunted places of St. Louis. A good starting point is:

Zombie Road

There are lots of others. Have any of you heard the stories of Castle Park?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A first on Halloween night

Walsh Street scene on Halloween night

St. Louis rocks Halloween. It leads the nation in commercial haunted houses. Year after year we get over 200 trick or treaters at our door. Lots of neighbors decorate their houses. We close the street with a block party permit, just like the block next to us. Parents walk with kids. Beers and fall treats are exchanged. It's a highlight of the year in the neighborhood.

Enjoying ideal weather, this year we had a first on Halloween. A little girl, about 7, trick or treating by herself with her parents watching from the sidewalk, came up to our porch, told her obligatory joke, and then received her treat from our candy filled treasure chest. Then she gave something back to us.

It was a little, handmade thank you note. She had cut yellow construction paper into the outline of a tiny picture frames. Then she glued a little orange spider to each note and wrote the words "thank you" in pencil across the top. She was maybe seven years old.

Each year, we make up special decorated gift bags with extra candy to give to the immediate neighbor kids on our block. We had one of those left, so we tracked down the little girl's parents to make sure she got one of the special treats. Her mom smiled and told us the idea of the thank you notes was all hers. Pretty awesome thing for a seven-year old to do, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Tony LaRussa Rising

After leading the St. Louis Cardinals to their eleventh world championship, yesterday morning Tony LaRussa announced his retirement. Although not always a fan favorite, LaRussa is the winningest manager in Cardinal history, having led the team to three World Series and two titles.

Some thought LaRussa would return for the 2012 season, possibly to overtake the next manager on the all-time wins list. That apparently wasn't enough to keep LaRussa in Cardinal uniform. Instead, leaving on top makes Tony LaRussa the first manager in baseball history to retire after winning a World Series.

Some of his peers are suggesting that LaRussa is perhaps the best baseball manager of all time. Maybe, maybe not, but he's definitely among the top three or four. Let that question stand as one of those perpetual baseball debates.

LaRussa has a big heart. His love of animals probably exceeds his love of baseball. Does he have a star on the U City Loop Walk of Fame? I don't know if he does, but it won't be long before he gets his due in the baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

So how to commemorate the career of Tony LaRussa in St. Louis? Will the Cardinals retire his number? Will they erect a bronze statue in his likeness with the other Cardinal Hall of Famers in front of Busch? Here's a suggestion for a way to honor two birds in one bronze.

Erect a status of Tony Larussa in his Cardinal uniform (being a lover of animals, LaRussa always says how he believes the Cardinals uniform, prominently displaying the birds on the bat, is the best uniform in all of baseball). Then, standing beside LaRussa, add a likeness of the unofficial 2011 mascot of the St. Louis Cardinals: the Rally Squirrel. I think LaRussa would like it that way.