Monday, April 30, 2007

Northside Preservation

Last week there was discussion about providing incentives for land assembly for redevelopment in distressed communities. The above is an aerial view of the neighborhood around St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church on Shreve in North City.

St. Elizabeth church is in the middle of a beautiful northside neighborhood with nearly all of its original buildings intact. We made a point of returning to the neighborhood again soon to attend church services at St. Elizabeth's.

The idea of land assembly for major redevelopment here is probably a low priority compared to preserving the historic character of the area. Lots of the north side is similarly intact in terms of its original building stock.

If you're interested in learning more about community based organizations working to strengthen the northside of the city, be sure to include the long term efforts of Erma Lawrence and the Northside Preservation Commission in your research.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Challenges in Community Revitalization

For years, urban planners, developers, architects, elected officials, neighborhood residents, community organizations, and a huge array of other interested parties have worked together addressing the difficult challenges of community revitalization. While the challenges differ from neighborhood to neighborhood and town to town, some issues are common in the most troubled situations.

Low property values, high development costs, weak real estate markets, poor public perception, and aging infrastructure are frequently part of the mix. There's another major issue challenging community developers: the difficulty in site assembly.

Site assembly is not a sexy issue. In fact, it can be downright dull. While it's going on, there's usually not a shovel in the ground, and lots of money being spent. It gets further clouded when viewed in discussions involving the use of eminent domain. Nonetheless, for any development to occur, it's an absolute necessity. The lack of site assembly can hold back redevelopment efforts for decades.

Bring together a group of experienced community developers from across the country, and they will usually agree that the ability to assemble large, contiguous sites for redevelopment is critical. Why is this important?

Successful redevelopment projects create positive visual impact and critical mass. They establish economy of scale in the installation of public and private improvements. They are connected.

For our local redevelopment efforts to be successful, where property ownership has become a dizzying patchwork of mostly tiny, often vacant, publicly and privately owned parcels, we must overcome the upfront challenge of site assembly to create opportunities to build quality planned developments.

For macro challenges we need solutions of scale.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

STL Most Enhanced: Pre-Nomination

At the southwest corner of Devonshire and Macklind, just across from Manzo's (best salsiccia in St. Louis) grocery and deli, Raineri Construction, a general contractor actively working on historic rehab in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood, has acquired and is performing the first true gut rehab in the Southampton neighborhood,

The building is a typical city corner storefront, solid brick construction, featuring a cast iron column on the front corner entrance, and an apartment upstairs. The new rehab will restore the original large-sized windows of the commercial space.

At one time, the building was home to "Buckets Lounge". Back around 1994, the building sold for about $38,000. Shortly thereafter it was badly remuddled, and sold again in the $150,000 range. Now, in 2007, it's getting the royal treatment.

If you haven't visited Macklind Avenue in a while, it's taking off in the way neighborhood leaders envisioned ten years ago.

Chicken or Steak?

This morning I was waiting in line for a cup of coffee, when two people behind me were discussing their dinner choices at a recent banquet: chicken or steak. They had a long talk about it. I'm thinking, hmm, I think I'd be happy with either one. However, for the two of them, it mattered. Chicken or steak was an issue.

The conversation made me think about our town. Some issues mean a great deal to one group of people and very little to others. Other issues have large groups of supporters, while some have very few. In our urban world, we read lots of articles ranging from things like pedestrian friendly design, historic preservation, "urban scale", public shools, charter reform, and so on.

But how many people really pay attention to these things? Last night, our son Matt and I attended an orientation for Matt's new high school. He'll be a freshman next year, and attending a Catholic high school in the middle of St. Louis County. During one part of the orientation, they had the incoming class take turns standing up based on their place of residence.

We were in the group that lives "east of the school". Then there were those from St. Charles County, North County, and West County. The kids were from all over. I'm wondering how many of the people there would get excited about pedestrian access or urban scale? They were probably more concerned about their jobs and their kid's educations. And who will get to do all that driving to their kid's new friend's houses all across the metro area...

We all have different priorities in our lives. Does St. Louis bring a passion out of you? What kind? Is it a luxury or a sacrifice to follow a passion? A little of both maybe? Does where you live make a difference?

Cherokee Now

Things seem to have quieted down along Cherokee since the 20th ward primary. There was buzz on the blogs for a while about getting more neighborhood involvement, especially for residents interested in the future of Cherokee. But that seems to have faded, at least by what you can gauge from local blogs.

Does anyone know a place online to keep up with the continuing revitalization of Cherokee, especially the section between Jefferson and Gravois? Please post if you know of any links. Or is it time to start a new free blog...just for Cherokee?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The St. Louis Paradox

The anonymous comment made in this post raises a question that must have an answer: If St. Louis has so many problems (as noted by the anonymous poster), how is it possible she is attracting so many new residents?

"College Town" Atmosphere Rising in STL?

Even though we have many fine universities in the St. Louis area, most people don't think of us as a "college town". And while we don't have an NCAA Division One football team, we do have Division One men's and women's basketball teams in the St. Louis University Billikens.

And soon, St. Louis will have Division One men's and women's sports played at an on-campus facility. Do you think that will change the atomsphere of college sports in St. Louis?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Downtown STL Reaching Critical Mass?

I've lost count. How many housing options are available in downtown STL? Yesterday, I saw the old Ford Apartments on 14th being gutted in preparation for a high-end condo development.

The transformation in the last ten years has been remarkable, and in the next five years we will have a downtown core that will be a model for urban revitalization.

Ballpark Village will be complete and thousands of new residents will be calling downtown St. Louis home. Revitalization of the Gateway Mall will likely be complete or in full swing.

City living has many advantages. Will St. Louis be the mecca for those seeking a hip, affordable, exciting, environmentally-friendly, downtown lifestyle? The groundwork has been laid, and now we are seeing the results of years of planned progress.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Supporters Raise Over $12,000 at Mullanphy Fundraiser

We attended the fundraiser for the Mullanphy on Saturday held at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood. It was our first time visiting this not-so-microbrewery, and it's good knowing there's one more reason to spend time in our city-friendly neighbor to the west.

When we arrived, the parking lot was jammed, and a goodly number of the visitors were there for the Mullanphy event. In total, there were close to 150 people in attendance for Mullanphy, and over $12,000 was raised, with more contributions arriving by mail. People in attendance could not remember any event in St. Louis history where more funds were raised so quickly to help preserve a local landmark.

We made a big dent in accomplishing our fundraising goal. There's a long way to go; however, this event was successful in expanding awareness, building momentum, and growing the financial base it will take to preserve the Mullanphy building.

Watch for more opportunities to get involved. If you couldn't attend, but want to help, the most important thing needed right now is financial support. How about hosting a coffee in your home to raise funds for Mullanphy? No matter what amount you an afford, every dollar raised in this appeal will go towards the preservation of this St. Louis landmark and Old North St. Louis neighborhood anchor.

The best part of the Mullanphy event at the Bottleworks was the bottom line fun and fellowship of St. Louisans from a variety of backgrounds all gathered together for the purpose of building up St. Louis.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Dedicated Fund For Historic Preservation In STL?

How's that old saying go? "Better to have and not need than need and not have?"

Well, at the present time, we've got more of the latter than the former when it comes to dedicated historic preservation funding in St. Louis.

So, this Saturday, from 5:00 - 7:30 PM at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, supporters of historic preservation are gathering to raise emergency stabilization funds for the Mullanphy Emigrant Home.

Maybe the conversation will include establishing a dedicated source of funding to support historic preservation around St.Louis?

If you're interested in promoting the cause of historic preservation, please join us this Saturday in Maplewood and be a part of the effort.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Neighborhoods Pulling Together on Mullanphy Effort

Organizers of the effort to preserve the Mullanphy Emigrant Home are reaching out across the St. Louis area to expand the base of support for the project by forming the "Historic Mullanphy Alliance".

Neighborhood organizations, professional associations, historic preservation groups and individuals are all joining the Alliance to become part of this collaborative effort.

Look for the launching of a new website which will provide links to all of the organizations signed on to the Alliance.

If your organization is interesting in becoming part of this pro-St. Louis, pro-neighborhood effort, please contact me at or the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group directly at 314-241-5031 for more information. Thanks.

For Sale Or Rent?

One of the debates in establishing housing priorities for neighborhoods on the mend is finding the right mix of rental and for sale housing. Given a choice, there is usually a preference for home ownership over rental.

However, at the present time, especially in areas with lower housing prices, financing programs to rehabilitate housing in historically designated areas often make rental developments more feasible.

If you were on the housing committee of your local community development organization, would you prefer a historically accurate, professionally managed, rehab of a 1-4 family building for rent, or a code compliant, non-historic, vinyl clad rehab of the same building for owner occupancy?

Friday, April 06, 2007

April 14 Mullanphy Fundraiser - See You There!

Let's Save This Landmark! (Click on the image for a larger view)

She Loves Her People...Too Much!

Every morning we wake up with our seven-year old Shepherd/Beagle mix curled up at the foot of the bed, keeping our feet warm. We adopted her when she was about six months old from a local humane society. Her name is Hollie and she's a small to mid-sized dog, weighing a little under 25 pounds.

Hollie has lots of friends. She wants to be everyone's friend. She is particularly devoted to little people. She loves children and other dogs. She does not love rabbits or squirrels.

She likes to go out in the middle of the night to flush the yard clear of wildlife. That is her job. It's one of the things she does to protect her people. With her Beagle nose, she finds every hiding rabbit or running squirrel and chases them out of the yard.

She barks to let her people know if there are any intruders. If I go outside with her, then she won't bark. So sometimes, in the middle of the night, I'll wrap myself in a blanket and lay back on one of our patio chairs while she makes her midnight rounds. When I'm outside with her, she doesn't bark.

When one of us leaves the house, she takes her place on the top of the sofa, looking out the front window. She stays there until we return. This is one of her people, and she loves them. When we come home, we see her little face and perked up ears looking out the window at us. Then she jumps down and greets us at the front door with her tail wagging happily. She does a little dance, jumping up and down in little jumps. She wants to be with her people.

And if her people bring new people in the house, then she wants to make them her people too, and she will love them even more, especially if they are little people - the tinier the better. She loves little babies. It is her goal in this world to serve and please her people. She lives to love and serve her people and to have companionship with other dogs.

If there is a dog barking somewhere in the distance, her ears perk up, and she trains on the sound. Then she barks in reply, in support of another dog serving its people.

Hollie has many voices. She sings and moans and makes pleasing clicking sounds from deep in her throat. Her name could be "Mona" for all the different sounds she makes. She makes her clicking sounds when she is the most content with her people. The clicking sounds like the kind of sound some higher intelligence, alien life form might make. Or like dolphins talking. She also makes a funny sound when she yawns.

When she's sleepy, she yawns and when she yawns, her Shepherd jaws spread open wide, revealing rows of big, sharp, white teeth, and you can see the pink and brown speckled roof of her mouth. Then, if she yawns a big yawn, sometimes she shakes her head a little and lets out a super high-pitched, 2 or 3 second long squeak.

When she yawns and lets out the little squeaks, it always makes her people laugh, even though they've seen it hundreds of times before. When she's done, her eyes sparkle and her head stops shaking. Then she looks at her people with her big brown Beagle eyes and they pet her or pat her on the head and give her big hugs. Sometimes then she will start making the clicking sounds, or moan if her people stop petting her.

But she doesn't like it when they touch her feet. And she cries when they clip her nails, but she always forgives them when it's done. And she doesn't like it when she sees a lone man walking down the sidewalk. Unless the man is a friend of her people, then she will wag her tail and love the man too much.

She's been in our home for almost seven years now, and she keeps loving her people more each day, and she keeps getting more people. There is no limit to the number of people she can love and the amount of service she can give from her big heart.

There are lots of dogs with no homes or people of their own to love and serve. If you have a place in your home for one of them, and the time to share your life with it, please consider adopting a dog to let it love and serve you and your people for the rest of its life.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cold Outside? Try Park and Ride!

The weather was a little on the cold side today, so, feeling a tinge of lightweight public citizen guilt, I took the low impact option, and drove the mile or two to the Metrolink Station, to give the park and ride option a try.

What's not to like? Ample free parking. Park your car right on the station lot and stroll over to the brightly lit, easy to access ticket area. Walk up the stairs to the waiting train. Have a seat in the comfy, heated modern rail car.

This is new life, uncomplicated!

STL Rising: Downtown Shortcuts!

Last night, we were driving into downtown via northbound I-55 to Memorial Drive. Meanwhile, ballpark traffic in the lefthand lanes of Memorial Drive was backed up all the way to the Poplar Street Bridge. Oddly enough, the righthand lanes were wide open.

We kept to the right, and made it all the way to the stoplight next to the Old Cathedral. Gridlocked traffic in the left lanes, waiting to make a left turn on Market past the Drury Inn, was waiting...and waiting...and waiting. Given the length of the line of cars waiting to turn on Market, drivers were probably waiting 20-30 minutes or more to make this turn.

It's a breeze to avoid this delay; remember, we have a grid street system! One block further north, south, east or west and you probably can steer clear of all sorts of traffic jams.

We circumvented the traffic by travelling one block out of our way, and had the car parked and were in our seats at the ballgame while some of the cars we had passed ten minutes earlier were probably still lined up on Memorial Drive.

Take a different turn! There are lots of ways to get from Point A to Point B!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Back in the day, people used to say "bad" for things that were cool.

A bunch of us studied German in high school, and we learned that the German equivalent for "bad" was "tol". Tol means cool in German, and according to Wiktionary, it still does.

Thirty years later, I'm finding a whole new meaning for tol, and this time, it's really cool...

TOL as in Transit-Oriented-Lifestyle. Since I started riding Metro last week, the lifestyle benefits have been amazing. Now we're figuring out ways to fit transit into more of our daily routines.

For $60 per month, you can buy an unlimited monthly pass on Metro. That $60 gets a rider unlimited access to the airport; downtown; Clayton; Laclede's Landing, the Riverfront, and the Eads Bridge; the Convention Center; Union Station; Busch Stadium; Maplewood; and, the Galleria.

I can be nearly free from the car and the hassle of driving, reduce a huge chunk of our $300-$400 monthly gasoline expense, eliminate $120 per month in parking fees, and save on car repairs. For the times I need to drive somewhere during the day, there are multiple options, including parking at one of the free, nearby Metro parking lots, and then taking a short ride on Metro to pick up the car. Walking back and forth to the Metro stations creates a built in exercise routine.

In addition to the savings, convenience, and health benefits, Metro is just plain clean and fun. The views are beautiful and the elevated sections along the new I-44 extension are like riding an amusement park attracton. St. Louis looks great from a skyway!

Now that's tol!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Mother Nature Raises Bar On Mullanphy Effort

Strong storms this past weekend have dealt a major setback to the efforts to preserve the historic Mullanphy Emigrant Home in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.

What began last year as an emergency project to save one of the city's most historic buildings, became a fate uncertain now with the structural integrity of the Mullanphy severely weakened.

The Historic Mullanphy Alliance, an ad hoc coaliton of city organizations, formed this year to work together across neighborhood boundaries to preserve the building. The effort was gaining momentum just as this latest setback occurred.

The immediate future of the building is unknown. There will certainly be an updated assessment of its structural condition. After the initial damage in 2006, the building was nearly demolished for public safety purposes. Facing a huge challenge, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group intervened, taking on the responsibility of the building and its preservation.

The effort to preserve the Mullanphy has significance beyond one building. The larger challenge we face is how to elevate the cause of historic preservation beyond ad hoc initiatives to one with sustainable funding and a physical development strategy.

Maybe there is greater potential for the Historic Mullanphy Alliance than we first believed?

(photograph courtesy of Michael Allen, Ecology of Absence)