Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Neighborhood Decay

Sidewalk lawn:

Was a house:


Monday, May 13, 2013

Okay, now what's the real price?

There's a building sitting empty in a city neighborhood. It looks good on the outside, but word is the inside is a real mess. If it doesn't need a total gut renovation, it needs something pretty close to one.

A real estate company has an "available" sign in the window, but calling the number on the sign just leads to voice mail. Neighbors say the owner is offering the property "for sale" at a "not_really_for sale" price of $1,000,000.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the city assesses the land value at under $8,000 and the value of the improvements at under $20,000.

The building has sat mostly vacant for over ten years. It's in the heart of an improving commercial area, so it's a drag on the neighborhood.

Complaints from concerned citizens have been piling up against the property. Since 1996, the place has been the subject of 38 Citizens' Service Bureau complaints, beginning with rat infestation. Building Division inspections in 2012 yielded 20 code violations.

Today, the grass and weeds in front of the building have grown to over a foot in height. The sidewalks around the building are cracked and crumbling. The owner lives in a neighboring municipality, one or two counties away. Plain and simple: it's an absentee-owned eyesore.

It's properties like these that test the system.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

We want your technology workers!

That's the message Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had for the City of Seattle, and Chicago is taking steps to make its city more attractive to young workers. It's a smart plan for sustainable development. Is St. Louis making the same choices? In its efforts for sustainability planning the answer is yes. However, what about the current plans for the South County Connector? That's the question Trailnet raised last night at a community meeting about the South County Connector, a proposed $110,000,000 county highway project.

Young workers, the kind of people we want to attract and retain in the St. Louis region, want to live in closer, denser, more walkable communities. These trends are happening around the country and they are happening in St. Louis. People are driving less. Young people are moving inward towards the heart of the region rather outward to far flung suburbs. Young people are looking for diverse, walkable, amenity rich environments. And they are voting with their feet. If St. Louis doesn't offer these choices, these mobile young people will find what they are searching for in other regions.

Downtown Maplewood:

We have success stories in St. Louis. Maplewood, an inner ring community right on the edge of St. Louis City, saw the highest percentage increase in property values in our region. How did it happen? Over the past ten years, Maplewood has focused on the revitalization of its historic downtown, making the community more walkable, and capitalizing on its central location and two Metrolink Stations. With regard to property values, the nearby communties of Shrewsbury and Webster Groves also saw property value increases exceeding the average in the St. Louis region.

Which brings us to the proposed South County Connector. How does the South County Connector support a sustainable future? Does it make the surrounding areas more walkable and bikeable? Does it help to build a more diverse, amenity rich environment, attractive to young knowledge based workers? Or is it ironically an inner ring infrastructure project designed to encourage sprawl development - the opposite of the kind of sustainable community investments we should make to help attract young workers to St. Louis?

Study Area for the South County Connector:

Building a road that is designed to make it more convenient for drivers headed for outlying suburbs at the cost of walkable, inner ring, communities would seem to be the opposite direction we should be investing in for the future of our region. On Thursday, May 30, the public will have the opportunity to make comments at a public hearing on the project. More information is available here: South County Connector official website

Sunday, May 05, 2013

STL-Based Syfy Series "Defiance" More Truth than Fiction?

Okay, so maybe the title to this blog post is a stretch, but take away the alien invasion and "terra formed" landscapes, and the dramatic science fiction series "Defiance", based in a post-apocalyptic St. Louis, sheds a lot of truth on the St. Louis of 2013.

The premise of "Defiance" is that in the future, after the apocalypse, when aliens share the city with human beings, together they must sort out their differences to find a brighter, shared future. The producers of Defiance chose St. Louis as the setting for the show because of the history of this place as a starting point for new futures, from the heart of the country.

Those challenges set in a science fiction future aren't that different from the challenges we face today. Locals know St. Louis to be a place filled with people from a wide range of communities and backgrounds. We're sort of famous for our fractured nature, and many suggest those divisions are holding us back.

Maybe those future imaginary citizens of Defiance/STL can share some good ideas with the current residents of St. Louis for how we might create a better future starting today?