Friday, May 30, 2008

Dumb question, I know...

Since eating and drinking are prohibited on board Metrolink trains, why is there a Pepsi machine on the 8th and Pine station platform?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Busch Stadium -- It Was Built!

(Since many people leave based on their first impression, the title of this post was changed from the original tongue in cheek version, "Busch Stadium Should Have Not Been Built")

No, not the new Busch Stadium, it should have been built...we're referring to Busch II, the first downtown stadium opened in 1966, about the same time as the Arch.

Busch Stadium should not have been built because it replaced a thriving Chinatown in downtown St. Louis referred to as "Hop Alley". People don't often think of St. Louis as a destination for Asian immigrants, but it did at one time have it's own Chinatown.

Hop Alley was tiny compared to the Chinatowns of New York and San Francisco. I wasn't around at the time, but from what I've read, it was real, and it was located at the site of the former Busch Stadium. When the stadium was built, a number of former uses were removed, to make way for the new ballpark.

Had Busch Stadium remained in North City at Grand and Dodier, Hop Alley in downtown St. Louis would have been preserved, and St. Louis today would be more urban and ethnically diverse. True fact? Maybe so? We really don't know and we can't say. That's not our history, so basing arguments on the premise really can't be proven either way.

As much as St. Louisans loath change, our history is one of steady changes. Today, we have a thriving Asian district along Olive Boulevard. It's much larger than the old Hop Alley, running nearly from the city limits on the east to west of 170 in Creve Coeur and Olivette.

Busch II, our first downtown baseball stadium, was part of a wave of downtown redevelopment which included the Arch and many of the office towers downtown. From an academic perspective, one might ask, what would have happened if instead of downtown, the Cardinals chose to move to the western suburbs? That didn't happen either, but it's fun to think of the possibile outcomes. Some might suggest the Cardinals leaving St. Louis proper would have been good for the city.

They might argue that city leaders would then have been forced to consider a future without major league sports. Older buildings would have been preserved, so there would have been more rehab opportunities. Remember though, this was the 1960s, and historic preservation had not reached the economic leveraging potential we see today. So perhaps, the buildings demolished for Busch Stadium and other new construction would have been lost anyway. We don't know.

Instead, we are what we are today. We continue to evolve and change. Our community has certain tools and values guiding our efforts, and we have different issues and challenges now than we had in 1966.

Will Anheuser Busch remain a St. Louis based company? Will the Arch grounds and downtown be better connected? Will the Rams remain in downtown St. Louis or the region at all? What will come of the St. Louis Centre Skybridge over Washington Avenue?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lemay is No. 1!

In its April 2008 edition, Fortune magazine rates the the top 100 communities in the country to start a small business. 85th on the list, and the only St. Louis place to be included is...drumbeat please...Lemay, Missouri!

Located at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the River Des Peres, Lemay's history is as old as Carondelet's, and its welcoming business climate makes it a competitive location to start a new company. Factor in its central location, and Lemay businesses have a lower transportation costs as well.

Part of the Hancock and Bayless School districts, Lemay has a stock of older homes, many built in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. One challenge for older communities like Lemay and our other inner ring suburbs is how to modernize their pre and post World War 2 housing stocks to keep them attractive to today's homebuyers.

One of the best routes to preserve historic neighborhoods is to keep them viable over the decades. With Lemay's notice as a good place for business, it can only mean good things for the area's other community betterment efforts.

Hats off to the many people and organizations working to promote the Lemay community, and congratulations for this recognition by one of the country's leading financial advice publications!

Dave Murray: A Stand Up Guy

After having waded through water in the alley, sitting for hours at rain-delayed youth baseball tournament games, and watching cars navigate the shoulder lane on I-44 like motor boats, to say the weather forecasters blew it this weekend would be the understatement of the year.

Last week, the forecast was for a beautiful weekend. The Post Dispatch said it would perfect weather to go to the pool. Yet, by Monday afternoon, it was clear Mother Nature had different plans. Some parts of the region had 6 or more inches or rain over the weeked.

In a show of class, on the 5:00 pm newscast on Channel 2 Monday afternoon, weatherman Dave Murray gave a stand up, apology for his blown forecast. He did it with class, and cautioned, never trust a St. Louis warm front. Seeing a weather man owe up for a rotten weather prediction was a breath of fresh air.

It's interesting in these days of advanced radar, computer models, etc, that in St. Louis, weather predictions remain a tough call. Through it all, some stations are now making 7-day forecasts? They're kidding, right?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Metrolink Comings and Goings

In the week-plus since the car died, I've been a regular rider on Metrolink. Having light rail available as an alternate to driving your own car sure is a nice option. It's economical, it's relaxing, and it opens your eyes to all sorts of things you never see from behind the wheel of a car.

We have a funny way about names here in St. Louis. They get changed, but we don't
always go with the changes. Like Metro. I think the whole public transit system of Bi-State now operates under the name Metro, but for me, I'll always think of the trains as Metrolink.

They say we're really like a small town here in St. Louis, and it's true. Without fail, every day I've ridden the train, I've bumped into one or more friends and business associates. The other day, one of my colleagues working in another downtown office was waiting at the station. We hadn't seen each other for awhile, so I walked up to him, we shook hands, and started to chat. Seated next to him was a woman, seemingly minding her own business. Not for long. She made me her business.

"Hey, you wanna move?", she said. "Huh?" I'm thinking...move? "Why?" I asked. "You're blocking my view." "Blocking your view? Of what". (We were in an underground station. She motioned to the west bound tunnel. We were waiting for a train coming from the east. At that point my friend muttered, "...people in their own world..." He stood up and we walked a few feet down the platform, and continued our conversation.

At the other end of the line, while exiting the station, a guy walking up the stairs is holding his MP3 player in his mouth like an infant's binky. Okay. I'm thinking, maybe some variation on a Peter Frampton voice box? That was different.

Every day is something new. More and more people are riding the trains. Ridership is growing and setting new records every week. With the price of gas these days, it's no wonder. Just yesterday I saw diesel at $4.65 per gallon. It's gotten insane.

So you've heard of the "last straw"? The last straw implies that there are some preceding, final straws. Yesterday, one of those final straws for me was waiting at the Clayton station. He, better stated the views he represented, were among the things leading up to our departure from our old church. In meetings, he espoused views justifying slavery based on a biblical context.

The seat next to me is empty. I'm hoping, don't sit here...don't sit here...don't sit here. There were lots of other empty seats...He sits down right next to me. Wonderful. I keep my head forward, and slightly turned away. He doesn't say a word. Good. Maybe he doesn't recognize me. We're sitting next to each other passing a few platforms.

He's holding some official looking documents in his hands, and he's dressed like a lawyer. I'm curious. Taking a quick glance at the title, they're called "The Law and the Gospel". Oh brother. I guess things really don't change that much.

Today on the train, we're riding through one of my favorite parts of the trip: the industrial section near the Grand Avenue platform. Here you're passing alongside lots of other rail lines. Stopped at the station, I see about a half dozen pigeons and one other bird pecking into the coal-looking rocks between the rails of the next track. They looked to be eating, but what sort of food would they find there? In between a pile of railbed rock. It was odd.

Then it dawned on me. A passing freight train must have dropped some grain or something down onto the tracks. It's the last place you'd think a tiny creature would get a meal, but sure enough, they liked it just fine.

One of the nice things about Metrolink is that it's very uncomplicated. You're either going west bound or east bound. With the exception of the trip out to Lambert, it's pretty much a one-track line. And the engineers give lots of updates and announcements. There's not a whole lot of thinking required. You get on board, chill for 20 or 30 minutes. Then you get off and you're there. A connection between work and home that is made via Metrolink has got to be one of the best quality of life options there is in St. Louis.

With the outrageous price of gas these days, and no relief in sight, maybe St. Louis is ready to up the pace of Metrolink expansion? I would definitely vote in favor of that happening.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A good reason to move: sleep!

When we moved to a quieter, 2-way street with lots of shade we thought we found just right house. Great neighbors. Pretty brick houses. Great holiday decorations. Tops in block parties. Walking distance to everything. A lush backyard as seen in the photo above. We love the house and the neighborhood.

Lots of kids making friends with young son. Parks and churches nearby. People taking good care of their houses. What more could you want in a neighborhood? Everything seemed perfect. And it was! There's just one tiny problem. The place isn't just perfect for us - the wildlife likes it too. Too much. Not inside-outside!

All that lush vegetation in the backyard? It's the perfect habitat for rabbits, mice, squirrels, birds, possum, raccoon, foxes, everything. We're in the city, and it's living on the set of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Which is okay. We like having wildlife in the area. This time of year the singing birds are everywhere. And it's neat to see the occasional fox. We love the rabbits. It's all good. All good except for one thing: our dog can't stand it. She's half beagle, half shepherd. To her, the situation is totally unacceptable. And she's made it her job to do something about it. And she does.

Every night, without fail, between 3 and 4 am, she gets up to get to work. And she can't do her rounds without someone with her, for if she does, she will bark to alert us humans of her successes in flushing the wildlife from the yard. And good neighbors that we try to be, we can't have her out there in the middle of the night barking at every rabbit and squirrel she rousts from the yard. So daddy gets to accompany her on her "job".

Now you know that a happy dog needs to have a job, right? They do. And we want our dog to be happy. So, bleary-eyed and half awake, out I go, wrapped in a blanket, toting a flashlight, and dozing on a folding chair, to accompany loyal Hollie, as she protects us from the invading hoards of field mice, squirrels, and cotton tail rabbits. It's all very sweet really. But it's wreaking havoc on my sleep pattern. Something's gotta give, and we certainly won't give up the dog. And I've got to be able to get at least six hours of sleep. So what to do?

It dawned on me this morning. The only solution is we move. Not because we have a kid "reaching school age". Or because we have an "old house". Or because of the "1% earnings tax". No, I guess we'd be moving because we love our dog too much. That's a good reason, isn't it. Or is it crazy? We move because we love the dog too much?

Love of dogs is something that must be pretty important to St. Louis. We've got our own Dog Museum, and we've got an amazing person in one Randy Grimm of Stray Rescue. STL Rising wishes to thank fellow St.Louisan, Randy Grimm, for his love of dogs and his selfless acts of service rescuing stray dogs from the streets of our region. For his years of effort, Stray Rescue was just awarded the $1,000,000 top prize in a national contest to continue its efforts.

According to the sponsors of the contest, one of the reasons Stray Rescue was chosen was the way the St. Louis community rallied around Grimm's Stray Rescue program. Thanks to Randy Grimm and Stray Rescue for all the good they do to help save dogs from the streets and bringing positive attention to St. Louis.

St. Louis getting national attention for pulling together as a community for a worthwhile cause....that's about the best kind of news we can get, isn't it? And so while we may need to find a different house on a block where the backyard doesn't transform nightly into a scene from Where the Wild Things Are, that's certainly no reason to move too far away. A downtown condo maybe? Or maybe one in a converted old school? Something along Metro? Pave the backward? Hmmm. I wonder if they offer "test rests"...

Monday, May 12, 2008

A new project for Charlie Brennan?

When it comes to promoting the good things about St. Louis, KMOX's Charlie Brennan is a one-man PR machine. The historic red line downtown, books about St. Louis, and plaques like the one of Mr. and Mrs. Dred Scott in front of the Old Court House are just a few of things he's done to help tell the story of St. Louis.

We come to depend on people like Charlie Brennan to get the word out about this place. After all, we're not a very self-promoting sort of people. We tend to be humble, low-key, self-deprecating, and modest. And it's too bad really. There really are a lot of good things to tout about St. Louis. Like Forest Park.

The transformation of Forest Park is nothing short of amazing. It has gone from a tired, scary for some, expanse of green space - albeit dotted with interesting attractions - to a seamless place of beauty and serenity. At the heart of it all is the Grand Basin at the foot of Art Hill.

When you're standing there, in front of the Grand Basin, you're in the exact spot where the 1904 World's Fair took place. But would you ever know it? What about out of towners? Would they? They've possibly heard of the 1904 World's Fair (it's one of the few things we do talk about...). So they might know the Fair happened in Forest Park. But the park is so big, would they know where in the park the Fair was held? Probably not.

Is there a marker, perhaps a bronze relief with an image of the Fair, mounted atop a brick or stone pedestal, describing the Fair? Wouldn't something like that be a nice addition to the promenade that runs along the edge of the Grand Basin, from where you can look across the water, to Art Hill, and upward to the Art Museum?

"....Here in the summer of 1904, St. Louis staged the 1904 World's Fair. This Grand Basin and the Art Museum on top of Art Hill are the only remaining landmarks from the Fair. The Fair ran from April to December of 1904, and was the first place...." etc. For a town so proud of its World's Fair, I can't think of a historical marker in Forest Park memorializing it. Is there one?

If not, wouldn't that be an ideal project for Charlie Brennan? After all, isn't he our town's number one historical and civic ambassador? Maybe so, but the idea of electing Charlie Brennan to do the work is symptomatic of another St. Louis trait: We like other people to do things for us.

The blogosphere is a good place to see lots of people calling out other people to do things. But beyond the blogs, overall, it's part of how we are. We find problems. We cite them. Then we expect others to take responsibility. Maybe it's all part of human nature.

Volunteering others to do work is cheap talk. Ideas are free. Everyone has them. Accomplishing stuff takes time, resources, and commitment. That's where we are faced with choices.

Do you choose to make a difference? Where do you see the priorities for our time, resources and commitment?

Friday, May 09, 2008

NPS to Start Dialogue Re. Future of Arch Grounds

Did you know that the National Park Service controls the land under the I-70 depressed lanes? That's one of the things involved with any changes to Memorial Drive, the depressed lanes, or the Arch grounds. It's all under the control of the National Park Service.

Yesterday, the National Park Service announced that it will revisit the "management plan" for the Arch, a document that dates back over 40 years. A lot has changed in 40 years, so the National Park Service has decided to engage the public in a discussion about how to position the Arch and its surroundings for the next generation or two.

One suggestion is to build a "walkway" over Memorial Drive, however, the idea of ceding land from the NPS to the City of St. Louis or some other local authority was not expressly mentioned as part of the agenda.

It will be interesting to see how much is available for review and discussion, but the good news is that this is a start. The timeframe for receiving public input is estimated at 18 months.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

KMOX Reports on North St. Louis Land Acquisition Activity

KMOX has picked up on the story of private land acquisitions taking place on the near north side. The pattern of land acquisitions suggests a development plan may be in the works. Reporter Kevin Killeen interviewed a state representative, however, he was unable to get any comment about the acquisition activity from the ownership group.

While the story has been covered widely in the blogs, and was featured in the RFT, the mainstream media has given the issue minimal attention. Perhaps with wider media attention, a major announcement of a development proposal may be coming soon?

Red Light Cameras Hard at Work

Over the past couple of years, "red light cameras" have been popping up at signalized intersections across the metro. The camera snaps a picture of cars running a red light, and then the owner of the car is mailed a violation notice with a fine. Based on the number of flash bulbs going off, the system is generating a lot of traffic fines.

A longer standing tradition here in St. Louis is the right of way given to cars driving in funeral processions. To newcomers, it's a little hard to get used to. Cars in parade formation drive right through red lights.

Yesterday, the two practices faced off right in front of me. The light was red, a funeral procession continued right through the red light, and there was the red light camera, busily snapping photos of every car driving through the light. There must have been thirty or forty of them.

What happens now? Do these drivers have to fight the tickets? Will they get them? Do they assume when a long line of cars runs a light in succession, it's a funeral procession so they don't bother sending the tickets?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Blogger has a problem

The security codes to make new posts, the ones where you have to enter the anti-spam letters in the box, have become nearly impossible to read. For me at least. Has anyone else noticed this?

Why does blogger schmoosh the security letters so close together that they are nearly impossible to read? Sometimes it takes me four or five tries to get a post past the spam blocker. Is it just me, or is my increasingly advancing age rendering me more and more incapable of functioning in this (youth dominated/sight advantaged?) internet world?

(ps: I'm now on my third try to enter this post...maybe its an Apple thing?)

(okay, this is ridiculous,,,now its the fourth try...)

(the first round of editing has me back dealing with blogger's spam blocker we go again...)

Hillary for the win?

About 6 weeks ago, Barack Obama was looking solid to win the democratic nomination for president. However, since the whole Reverend Wright (sp?) eruption, the democratic nomination now looks totally up for grabs.

Hillary has a strong base in St. Louis. Our mayor endorsed her campaign early on, while Senator Claire McCaskill has been a strong Obama backer.

Both candidates offer new direction for the country. Would one be better for St. Louis?

Maybe we'll see an Obama/Clinton ticket? Does anyone believe that will be the ultimate outcome of the Democratic National Convention?

If it were, then do the democrats prevail versus John McCain in November?

Centene and the Art of the Deal

After a failed eminent domain attempt in Clayton, Centene offered to build its corporate headquarters at Ballpark Village. For reasons never fully explained, Centene withdrew its Ballpark Village plans, and is now once again poised to re-up its Clayton Missouri headquarters expansion effort.

Given all the recent history of Centene's site location efforts, real estate observers will be interested to follow the next round of negotiations. There is no question that the 1,000 or so Centene jobs are an attractive economic development opportunity for any community.

As a decision maker, where do you think the negotiation leverage rests now? Does Clayton offer tax incentives to re-lure Centene?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Impacting change

Outside of our professional lives, we face many choices about the issues that are important enough to us that we want to become personally involved. We all filter them through some sort of internal screening process to set our own priorities. Yet, if we are to positively impact the situation, we must come up with an effective approach. How do you decide how to proceed? A few examples...

Your neighborhood has a problem property. You want something done about it. What's the best thing to do?

There are lots of historic buildings in your community, and you're concerned about preserving them. How should you proceed?

The school near your home needs better athletic fields, but they are landlocked. How can you help them get a "home field"?

A local nonprofit does important work, but the funding to continue their operation is at risk. What should you do?

Every day we encounter different challenges and opportunities, especially in active communities like St. Louis. There are tradeoffs, positives and negatives, and lots of different perspectives and competing priorities.

If you have a goal to see some certain outcome, what is the best way for a single person to make a real impact toward achieving the desired result?

Do you have a pet project you'd like to see happen? For some, the preservation of the San Luis Apartments has become an important issue. There is a plan to tear the building down and create a parking lot to serve the needs of the Arch Diocese. Some would rather see the building preserved. Competing priorities, different perspectives. A neighborhood priority? Maybe, maybe not.

A pet project of mine? One is the revamping of the connection between the Arch/Riverfront and downtown. I believe it's a major concern impacting our city/region and that we can do better. A lot better.

However, it's also one of those things where a single person doesn't carry much weight. So why should I get involved? The Arch connection to downtown involves a myriad of public agencies, lots of money, and many institutions and individuals. It's a complicated situation, but that makes it more interesting! It could take years.

The only way something will happen is for the community to come together around a feasible solution. We want to build a better community, but we also don't want to waste precious time. Perhaps the real challenge is to figure out how to pick your battles?