Friday, July 20, 2007

STL People and Places

St. Louis has lots of cool places, but what makes STL such a great city is our people. People make the place. Visitors love our architecture, but they come back for the people. Lots of places have interesting architecture. We have the people to make it special.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ask 100 St. Louisans...

How do you think most St. Louis area residents would respond to these questions?

1) Do you favor the plan for a sculpture garden for downtown's Gateway Mall?
2) Should public schools in neighboring districts accept students from St. Louis City?
3) Are you pleased with the remaking of the St. Louis University campus in midtown St. Louis?
4) Do you favor the BJC lease of Forest Park lands east of Kingshighway?
5) Do you support Paul McKee's efforts for large scale redevelopment in North St. Louis?
6) Are you happy with the Cardinals decision to build their new ballpark downtown?
7) Do you want Metrolink to expand near your neighborhood?
8) Do you actively follow blogs discussing community renewal efforts in St. Louis?
9) Do you know what is planned next to improve the St. Louis riverfront?
10) Do you favor MoDOT's total shut down plan to rebuild Highway 40 between 270 and the City of St. Louis?
11) Would you patronize a restaurant on the East St. Louis riverfront with panoramic views of downtown St. Louis?
12) Would you move to a riverfront condo on the East St. Louis riverfront with panoramic views of downtown St. Louis?
13) Should pro-choice politicians receive the sacrament of Holy Communion?
14) Should Missouri pay half the cost of a new Mississippi River bridge at downtown St. Louis?
15) Will your next home in the St. Louis area be closer to downtown?

Do you prefer...

16) KMOX or KTRS?
17) Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken?
18) State or local control of the St. Louis City police department?
19) Residency requirements for city employees?
20) The appointed or elected city school board?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Southside Sunset Brings New Beginning

For a long time I've preferred kid baseball to watching the pros. Starting from the time they're just learning to play, all the way up to when they get to play on a major league-sized field, it's always been more enjoyable watching these young people learn to play and improve. This year the changes have been dramatic. The finer points of the game stand out. Last night, I finally figured out why I prefer watching these young players so much: it's a far more precious thing.

When they're seven and eight years old, their young baseball lives seem like they'll last forever. But they don't. Each year, more and more of them drop out. Some of them stay with it, but by the time they reach high school, most of the players are done with the competitive track of the game.

Last night our guys played their final league game of the season. For a lot of them, it will likely be the last competitive baseball game of their lives. This fall, as they enter high school, some will try to make their high school teams. Some will make them, but many won't. Of the ones who do, plenty will spend most of the season riding the bench. Only the top players will see much playing time.

A few years from now, when these young people enter the working world, some will probably play adult softball. St. Louis is among the top recreational softball towns in the country. But you usually don't see many parents cheering their kids at beer-league games. We're fading out of the picture.

So as last night's game wound down, it was a sentimental time for some of us. We enjoyed a few beers at the grand stand, looking out over the manicured diamond, watching as many of these young ballplayers - our sons - stood in the batter's box, taking the last competitive at-bats they'd ever see.

The outcome of the game was never in much doubt, and ended a rather uninspiring 8-2 loss. As the game ended, there was a beautiful sunset in St. Louis. I wonder if any of the boys realized that, for most of them, faroff dreams of playing professional baseball, if they ever had them, were now fading as fast as the setting sun over that outfield fence? Hopefully the thought never entered their minds.

Afterwards, a group of us went over to Gino's restaurant on Hampton. The group "Presentations" performs there on Thursday nights, and Rich Guzman, drummer for the band, invited some of the boys to sit in. They've got a rock band now, and they're doing pretty good. For the young band, this would be their first time playing a public performance. They played three songs, and received a good reponse from the crowd. The boys still need to come up with a name for the band.

We struggled for a long time trying to think of a name for the ballclub. Kerri was the one to think of "South Sox", since the team brought together players from neighborhoods all across South St. Louis. That was the perfect name. For the band, it's their turn. They'll have to come up with a name of their own.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Zip Codes, Parishes and School Districts

Besides our 100-something local municipalities, countless individual wards, neighborhood boundaries, and police districts, in St. Louis, we also identify by school district, zip code, and parish boundaries. Some people even get down to the X-hundred block of a street. When you're an old city, you develop a lot of layers. It's a lot to learn.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Districts or Wards?

After seventeen years in St. Louis, fourteen of them in the city , I still don't know the number for our police district. When people cite different police districts around town, I'm lost. It's the one time I feel like a real out-of-towner.

I know the location of the city's 79 neighborhoods and her 28 wards, but have no idea how many police districts we have, let alone their boundaries. Some folks are just the opposite. They'll use their police district and neighborhood name interchangeably.

There are people who say St. Louis is "subtle". Identifying with a police district is something I've never understood. It's another of those nuanced things like the "where'd you go to high school" question. Maybe the practice dates back to our loss of local control of the police department? Or maybe it's just another example of our strong sense of community and neighborhood identity.

Northside Acquisition Effort Sign of the Times

Large scale purchases of land on the near north side by private interests are another sign of the city's turnaround. For decades, most of St. Louis had written off the north side. Then the city started its turnaround.

Neighborhoods rebounded. The state created the historic rehab tax credit. Momentum grew. Targeted investments drew more interest. Property values around the entire city increased. The city's population started growing again. The northside started showing more and more signs of life.

With her momentum swing to the plus side, the city was in a new position: it could start lowering the amounts of incentives being offered to attract investment. No longer would the city be the first money in on projects or land acquisition. Developers would have to risk their funds on the front-end of projects. The city would lower its participation and seek more leveraging.

Meanwhile, familiar themes remained: Assembling buildable sites for redevelopment continued to be a challenge. A statewide incentive for land assembly was needed.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Venture capital seeks opportunity. The near northside provides a solution to both.