Friday, February 29, 2008

How to make a good first impression

Thinking more about the idea of removing the depressed lanes between the Arch grounds and downtown, and looking at how such a plan might get community support, perhaps the most important aspects of the concept are the economic development possibilities for St. Louis.

If drivers entering downtown arrived on a newly aligned and landscaped Memorial Drive, at grade with intersections with the rest of the city's street grid, they would get a completely different first impression of our city than they do now.

Currently those drivers blow through downtown sunk in the depressed lanes of Interstate 70. What a negative first impression that is!

With traffic instead entering the city on a surface level roadway, slowing for signalized intersections, with views of the Arch, the Old Court House and the rest of downtown, drivers will have the sense of "having arrived". They are "in" the city instead of stuck on a highway. They have more choices. They could make turns down Washington Avenue, or Market Street, or onto Laclede's Landing, or park and tour the Arch grounds and riverfront and go on to explore downtown.

The thousands of cars now passing through downtown without even slowing down, are now possible visitors, customers, tourists, restaurant and hotel patrons in our city. There is no doubt more people would stop and visit. They would be lined up at our front door and we would have the welcome sign out. We could put up signs: "This is St. Louis, Missouri!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Land Between the Bridges

Yesterday's announcement that a deal has been reached to build a new bridge over the Mississippi river is big news for Missouri, Illinois, St. Clair County, and the City of St. Louis. The new bridge will relieve a lot of traffic congestion from the Poplar Street Bridge.

Drivers on Highway 70 travelling between Illinois and Missouri will no longer be required to drive through the depressed lanes through downtown St. Louis. Meanwhile, Interstate 64 drivers will still have direct access between Missouri and Illinois across the Poplar Street Bridge.

The rerouting of interstate traffic between Missouri and Illinois gives us the opportunity to revisit the purpose of the depressed lanes. Presently, they connect Interstate 70 drivers to the Poplar Street Bridge and connect Interstates 70/55 and 44 in Missouri through downtown St. Louis. Once the new bridge is built, the primary purpose for the depressed lanes will be to connect Highway 70 drivers to Interstates 55 and 44.

Downtown's connection to the riverfront and Arch grounds is negatively impacted by the depressed lanes. The depressed lanes are unsightly. They form a moat dividing downtown from it's greatest public resources, the Arch grounds and the riverfront. Hence, various plans have been discussed for years to improve the connection. None have yet been implemented.

The connection between our downtown and the Arch grounds/riverfront is not unlike Chicago's connection to Lake Michigan and San Francisco's connection to its waterfront. People are naturally drawn to water.

In Chicago, the interstate system terminates into Lakeshore drive. Parks and the lake are easily accessible throughout the length of downtown. Metered traffic signals and wide crosswalks create safe pedestrian access in the area. Now, as attractive as the Chicago lakefront already is, there is a movement on to further open up the area. Creating inviting public spaces in America's downtowns is a growing trend.

In San Francisco, the Loma Prieta Earthquake led to the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway along the San Francisco waterfront. The Embarcadero Freeway was an elevated interstate delivering drivers from the Bay Bridge halfway around the waterfront to Fisherman's Wharf.

After the 1989 quake, the Embarcadero Freeway was removed and replaced with a surface level promenade roadway. Writers likened the change to having the "braces removed" from San Francisco's watefront. There is no comparison between the before and after conditions.

The Embarcadero Freeway was a loud, big, shadow casting structure dividing San Francisans from their waterfront. It's removal brought daylight, quiet, room for landscaping and other beautification. A trolley car line has been added to the mix.

Imagine if we could do something similar with our Memorial Drive? Filling in the depressed lanes and replacing them with an attractive, landscaped, surface level promenade, with wide sidewalks and signalized intersections. Does the new Mississippi Bridge make that possibility more feasible?

The main change would be for drivers connecting to points north and south through St. Louis City. The traffic on 55/44 and 70 would be transitioned onto a new Memorial Drive surface roadway past the Arch grounds and Laclede's Landing. It would add a few minutes to the drive. Some people would oppose the change. However, with all the hype leading up to the Highway 40 closure, we have a good example, "right here in St. Louis", of how well drivers adapt to changing traffic patterns.

What do you think? Would it be worth a few extra minutes' drive through downtown (with a much improved view of the Arch) to improve downtown's connection between the riverfront and the Arch grounds?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Short lived title?

I heard on the news today that Los Angeles just won a world wide competition for having the best tasting tap water. Lousy air, but great tap water.

Huh? I thought STL just won the title for the best tasting tap water in the US not more than a month ago. This must be some leftover get-evens for the Rams choosing STL over LA.

Trivia Night Ideas

St. Louis is home to trivia nights. Go to California, and they've never even heard of them. Trivia nights are a tried and tested money maker for worthy causes.

Trivia nights have been popular here for more than ten years, and they generally follow a set formula. Ten rounds, ten questions, celebrity emcees, free popcorn, and usually free beer. Not a bad formula.

However, more and more, it seems we are seeing the trivia hounds out in force, sandbagging the competition. They show up with a variety of specialists in an effort to ace each category. Really people, is it supposed to be so serious? Then when they win, the divvy up the $120 or so dollars in prize money to about $12 apiece. How about giving it back?

These are supposed to be fundraisers! Return the prize money. Isn't it enough to win with a score of say 96 out of 100? C'mon, loosen up a little! Okay, so here's a few suggstions to change up the trivia night routine ...

Reduce the number of rounds from 10 to say 5 or 7, max. Bring in a warm up band for the start, and then quit earlier so the band can play for a half hour or so, while everyone helps to clean up.

Create the option for random team selection. Go as a group, or drop your names into a hat and draw names out to form teams. Meet and greet. Mix it up a little.

Okay, I know. St. Louisans hate change. Maybe it's best to leave well enough alone...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

City sales tax increase: pro or con?

City voters recently approved a sales tax increase to help fund costs of providing public safety services and pensions for city police and firefighters. The issue didn't get a lot of attention, and passed easily.

Since the vote, I've been thinking about the increased sales tax we pay in STL City. Are we pricing ourselves too high? Is there a limit to how much we can raise sales taxes before they start to hurt our economy? There must be, and I'm not smart enough to know how much that is.

So I'm thinking about the sales tax rate-ranging from 8.24-9.74%-and wondering, hmmm, maybe it's a cost worth paying in order to have the convenience of living close in to work and all the amenities we have in our neighborhoods and the city? City voters must agree.

On the other hand, say you live in an outlying area. There, sales taxes might be lower, but other costs enter the picture, especially related to transportation. In terms of a household's bottom line, higher transportation costs take a big bite out of the budget, so maybe things are about even?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Western states take big hit in housing slump

From Yahoo News:

The states suffering the biggest drop in sales in the fourth quarter were Nevada, down 44 percent and Wyoming, down 42 percent. Other states with big declines were New Mexico, down 39 percent, Oregon, down 38 percent and Arizona, down 37.6 percent.

STL Band Rising

Tell Tale Heart, a rock/emo band out of St. Louis, will appear tomorrow night at the Pageant.

Joel Dodson, lead vocalist and guitar player for the band, is a high energy, dynamic performer. Drummer Andrew Carter and bassist Alex Hammond both sing and round out the band's full sound. A sampling of their music can be heard at the myspace link above.

STL Rising has a limited number of complimentary tickets available. The show starts at 8:00 PM.

If interested, please email me at by 5:00 PM today. Tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis.

High tech marketing advances

Interested in marketing trends? Check out this virtual tour:

Friday, February 08, 2008

Making the case

This morning I rode Metrolink to work. The cost? $2. Cheaper by far than driving and paying to park. Along the way, we had a relaxing tour of the inner ring communities of St. Louis. Some of the stations are decorated with public art. The train was pretty full. For us, it was wonderful, and the train certainly improves the quality of life for the places it serves. On the other hand, public transit critics will say that the cost per rider mile is not justified and that public transit is not cost effective. I'm guessing those same critics are really torn over the public art.

Some experts predicted that Y2K and the Highway 40 shutdown would lead to near apocalyptic events. Not so much. They tried to make the case, but their case did not hold up. It turns out they were mostly incorrect.

Back on Metrolink, between Savvis and the Sheraton, we passed the nearly completed Multi-modal transit center. It's looking wonderful and will be another gem in our civic fabric. It links many forms of transportation, in the heart of our region. Access for visitors will be improved, as will their experiences arriving and departing. Compared to Amshack, we have made a light-year improvement. Yet Amtrack is a consistent financial drain and struggles each year to stay in business. Why spend the money? Every year the case must be remade to do so.

Last night tragic events unfolded in our neighboring community of Kirkwood. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Many of these people are known personally to us and our friends. Based on news reports, a man with a lot of serious problems snapped and went on a killing rampage. People are immediately trying to create a connection between his neighborhood and race background and his actions last night. Given the heavy debt and serious business problems he faced, that seems a more provable connection.

Over in Illinois, a plan to build a soccer stadium and surrounding supportive uses is being considered. University professors are citing academic data evidencing that these developments are not good investments. Town leaders and many area business interests support the project. The ongoing narrative sounds similar to the debate over the new Busch Stadium. Looking at the impact of Busch Stadium, what we know for certain is that when the Cardinals are in town, street life downtown skyrockets. When there is no game, activity is way off and some restaurants are closed.

Historic buildings sit vacant in city neighborhoods. We have lots of these buildings. Attracting investors to rehab them requires a case be made that redeveloping the buildings is a worthwhile pursuit. The case can be made over time. Our job is to develop the foundation and build the case for sustained progress. What are we doing today to make things better tomorrow? Are we doing the right things? What else should we be doing?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Gateway to Community Involvement

Are you looking for ways to become more involved in your community? Do you have a desire to serve? The Operation Brightside program in the city of St. Louis is one of the best ways to get your feet wet in the area of public service.

While Operation Brightside works year round on community improvement projects, "Project Blitz" is their annual spring cleanup. Volunteers are needed across the city on eight Saturdays, beginning March 29. Now is the time to sign up.

Individuals or organizations can sign up to help. You can work in your own neighborhood, or help in another. There are special projects focused on downtown. If you want to get more civically engaged, Operation Brightside is a good place to start.

By participating in Operation Brightside you will meet lots of good people, good neighbors, all working together to make our communities better places to live. For more information, please call (314) 772-4646 or visit them online at Operation Brightside.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Feeling Young?

With voters headed to the polls today, the presidential primary races have boiled down to four top candidates: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and John McCain.

For the republicans, McCain appears to have a big lead over all of his republican opponents. His overall victory today looks to be a lock.

On the democrat side, things are much less clear. Over the past few weeks, Obama has nearly drawn even with Clinton.

Do you think voters are swayed in the direction of candidates they most identify with on a personal level? Never mind the policy distinctions. Rather, if they consider themselves more similar to one candidate or another, do they pick that candidate?

I ask this question, because in this country, we have an obsession with youth and youth culture. We have a national obsession with being young, with prolonging youth, and with fighting off old age. As the popular expression goes, "50 is the new 40".

Given our cultural obsession with youth, does that help one candidate over another? Obama appears to be attracting younger voters. But what about middle aged voters? Do they choose Obama because he makes them feel young?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Green Remix

With years of disinvestment in some neighborhoods resulting in thousands of vacant lots today, we are presented with a unique opportunity. We get a do over and our timing could not be better.

As the nation gets behind the greening of our society, St. Louis, an old city, has the asset, vacant land, to rebuild our neighborhoods green.

Recently, I visited a LEED certified new home built in St. Louis. The builder is projecting a mid-summer electric bill on a mid-sized two story home at only $80 per month!

Can you imagine entire blocks built new with energy efficient, "green" construction methods?

Going green on a large scale would be one more way we could set St. Louis on a course for sustainable growth.