Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Trading Interstates for Better Downtowns

Great article here. It's a growing trend.

Looking around the country, it would be hard to find a better candidate for such a project than our situation in front of the Arch.

On the other hand, few subjects raise so much heated controversy. If you've ever worked on traffic issues, you've heard it before: "Do what you want - just don't mess with my commute!"

Online Petition For Retired Chief

Invites supporters to add their names.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jazzy Cops Downtown?

People talk about street vendors, sidewalk cafes, and trolleys to enliven downtown.

How about some flashy, traffic directing police officers during rush hour?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Arch Improvements As A Federal Public Works Initiative?

Back in the days of the Great Depression, strategies to turn around our ailing economy included completing major public works projects such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, and Mount Rushmore. The idea was to strengthen the nation's infrastructure and create jobs.

The program worked, and the Obama administration is thinking about bringing back the approach. What about targeting the Arch and downtown St. Louis infrastructure improvements for one of these initiatives?

As a national symbol and a national park, the Arch is a worthy project. It suffers from dilapidated and outmoded infrastructure and improvements there leverage ongoing efforts to strengthen an American city.

Missouri Senator and Obama supporter Claire McCaskill is suggesting public works projects as a way to stimulate the economy. The Arch is in her home state. From a timing standpoint, we could work to complete the Arch project during President Obama's first term.

Arch improvements are already in the planning process. The National Park Service is leading the effort. Funding is always one of the challenges. Is this a case of need and opportunity meeting just at the right time?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

STL Literature and Artistry Week, Continued

Here's another St. Louis themed book, just released, well worth your consideration. It contains wonderful watercolors of famous St. Louis scenes, both past and present. I read the book this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the artwork and historical information. From the publisher's website:

In St. Louis in Watercolor, renowned artist Marilynne Bradley presents rich, breathtaking scenes of architecturally significant places, past and present. Accompanied by concise and intriguing histories, Bradley's renderings illuminate buildings like Brookings Hall, City Hall, and the Old Post Office--all designed after world-famous structures. The book also depicts originals that define St. Louis, including the Gateway Arch and Forest Park's Jewel Box.

More than just current sites are featured. Lost treasures (the Buder and Title Guaranty buildings) as well as failed attractions (Spanish Pavilion and Santa Maria) appear with background stories. Bradley captures the essence of these and other places, as the Foreword, by preservation historian Esley Hamilton, and Introduction, by local historian Johnny Rabbitt, set them in context. A rare combination of gorgeous illustration and fascinating history, St. Louis in Watercolor is a must-have for art and architecture enthusiasts alike.

About the Author:

Marilynne Bradley's watercolors are recognized in museum exhibitions and national juried competitions. They appear in corporate collections around the world.

The author is knowledgeable about St. Louis history and architecture. The book is published by Reedy Press, an independent St. Louis-based publisher specializing in books on St. Louis and local neighborhood histories.

To arrange promotional events with the author, please contact the publisher's representative on (314) 956-9800 for additional information.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Sales To Assist Community Group

Amy Fontinelle, author, photographer, and blogger at Seeing St. Louis, is publishing a book entitled "Disappearing St. Louis". The book provides beautiful photography of St. Louis architecture with hopes of encouraging its preservation.

Ms. Fontinelle created the book to bring greater awareness to the issues faced by the city in the hopes of bringing greater support to help solve them. She has pledged to donate all profits from the sale of her book to the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group.

More info available here.

Short List Twitter

I was slow to the blog scene, and am certain will never get to the twitter thing. Besides there being no way people would be interested in following my every move, I never want to be trying to operate one of those tiny keyboard, blackberry in the category of appropos of nothing, here's a quick shortlist from a long weekend away from the keyboard...

Had a brother visit this weekend from California. Picked him up at the airport on Metrolink, which he thought was great, then spent a few days together getting around and seeing some of the places that make this place great. Started at Blueberry Hill (exiting the Delmar Metro station), then Broadway Oyster Bar, Iron Barley, Fast Eddies, a couple of Macklind Avenue spots, raking leaves into the street (me - not him), St. Louis Bread Company, and the Old Court House. By the end, he was thinking how a St. Louis lifestyle could suit him just fine. The sense of neighborhood and community we have here is a thing you can't package.

Over at Ecology of Absence, Michael Allen notes that there around 30 "half flounder" buildings left in the City of St. Louis. I wonder if the old part of the Broadway Oyster Bar (the eastern half) counts toward that total? Based on Michael's description, it sounds like one of the type, dating to the 1850-60s. Whether or not it's a legit half flounder, the place has great food, service, atmosphere, and music.

If you're in the market for furniture, check out the ground floor of Macy's at Northwest Plaza. The prices are amazing (about 1/3 retail), and there's a neighborhood guy who works side deals for same day home delivery, even on Sundays. Well worth the trip.

Had a message in my in-box from a new startup urban magazine called "Knot". They were looking for "categories" describing St. Louis. Got any suggestions? Post them here and the writers at "Knot" might work them into a future article.

From over at Urban Review St. Louis, there's news of a charrette being held tonight in downtown St. Louis to discuss the future of Lucas Park. Thanks to Steve Patterson for the tip, and for setting me straight on how many "r's" and how many "t's" there are in the word "charrette".

Got a thought about what to do at the Arch? It's a topic that interests architects and planners, but for the most part, the general public has taken little notice. Ideas run the gamut (that is spelled correctly), but a consensus for the future of the Arch seems nowhere in sight. A hundred divergent views results in what?

Since we made that trip to the furniture department at Macy's, we now have available a twin sized Serta Perfect Sleeper mattress and box spring, with steel frame and a Cardinal red head board, all in excellent condition. Interested? No reasonable offer refused. Email me at for more info.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Land Is Your Land...

...this land is my land...You know how the rest of the song goes. It's a patriotic number about America and all her beauty. We sang it as a little children in school. Back in those days, there was a lot of singing in schools, and more public singing in general. Not so much any more.

When we moved to St. Louis, one of the most striking things for us was the amount of public singing here, often at sporting events. Being among thousands of people singing either the national anthem at a Cardinals game or the name of a Blackhawk goaltender in mock affection, is a pretty cool thing.

What is happening with the Arch is going to take a similar level of community spirit. For the Arch effort to succeed, St. Louisans need to rally around it. We're not there yet. Most people don't have the Arch planning project on their radar screens. And if they're aware of it, many want to see things left alone. That's not a surprise. St. Louisans are famously resistent to change. Change the Arch? Well, that brings people off the sidelines.

We can build on this interest. When it comes to the Arch, people across the region have a sense of ownership. It's the symbol of St. Louis. From Wentzville to Belleville, there's a connection. And beyond personal connnections, there are legal ties as well.

The Arch is a national park. It's a National Historic Landmark. It's owned by the National Park Service - that's you and me. It's located in the City of St. Louis, in the State of Missouri. It has a federal highway running through it, though the NPS owns the land under the highway. The Corps of Engineers manages the Mississippi. And it's been the subject of numerous plans and design studies. There are as many ideas about what to do with the Arch as their are planning firms, universities, and special interest groups.

With so many different perspectives, it's easy to do nothing. Yet most people acknowledge some things could change. Improving access generates little controversy. How to do it? Then you'll get differing views.

What we need is regional buy-in. The National Park Service and the Danforth Foundation have started the process. There have been a number of meetings and design concepts presented. However, given the way people feel about the Arch, will current efforts lead to a regional mandate for the plan?

The planning process needs to build toward a regional consensus. With consensus, the project has the greatest opportunity for success. This process can be a powerful exercise in building civic energy and community pride, connecting the region. (Hmmm, ideas for logos are starting to come to mind. The Arch, connecting the region, in a community development process...)

We are headed toward a design competition. How the designs will be judged remains to be seen. The design competition needs to result in a decision which is embraced by the greater St. Louis community. How should that happen? From a top down or grass roots approach? Some of both?

From the administrative file on the original development of the Arch:

"The memorial was not simply to be a huge shaft of stone, a statue of Thomas Jefferson, or a monumental structure that people would visit only once or twice and then revisit only when showing a stranger the city's sights, the paper said.

Instead, the area must be made an integral part of the community's life, and revive the adjacent downtown area in terms of beauty and vigor."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vacant Beauty

STL Rising seldom writes on vacant or abandoned sites, but this weekend's Arch and riverfront planning charette brought into stark focus vacancy where our city should be it's best - downtown, facing the Arch.

The Mansion House complex was built near the time of Arch construction, back in the mid-1960s. It's a three tower complex, with each tower now under separate management. One serves as a hotel and the other two as apartment buildings, Gentry's Landing and Mansion House. Within the complex there are a number of related service buildings, some for retail, others for office or community space.

The charette was held in one of the community/office spaces, a 3 or 4 story building directly facing the Arch and riverfront. With good reason, the building was generously loaned to the AIA for the charette by the owners of Mansion House. If future improvements happen around the Arch, it can only mean good things for downtown property owners. They are "deep stakeholders" in this effort.

Owners of this building should be concerned. According to charette organizers, the building has not had a tenant for over 21 years. Knocking on the door of 50, I know personally how the years can add up pretty fast. In this building, the bathrooms and elevators no longer work. Nonetheless, to the casual observer (given that most people see it through a windshield at upwards of 50 miles an hour) the building still looks pretty good. There could have been no more ideal setting for this charette.

This building not only offers commanding views of the Arch and grounds, but also a panoramic view of the highway barrier dividing downtown from the riverfront, Arch, and Laclede's Landing. Counting shoulders, traffic lanes, raised concrete barriers and viaduct walls, the expanse between downtown's front row of buildings and the Arch and riverfront uses is equal to about 16 traffic lanes.

For the charette, the students were divided into seven teams. Each team had architecture, art and traffic engineering students represented. Based on the diversity of presentations, the teams were given broad latitude in developing their ideas.

One team followed closely Professor Krieger's "Mind the Gap" principle, prioritizing the edges of the Arch grounds, connecting them to their neighboring uses. On the north side, they proposed replacing the underground garage with a dramatic new use, with a wall of steel and glass facing the Eads Bridge and Laclede's Landing. It could possibly house a new museum or other major attraction, drawing visitors from the Laclede's Landing, Lumiere Casino, and Washington Avenue areas.

Along the southern edge, where concrete pillars support the Poplar Street Bridge and its ramp connections to Interstate 70, Memorial Drive, and Interstate 44, they proposed a concrete garden, to green the area and soften the transition to Chouteau's Landing.

On the western edge, where the Arch faces downtown, they proposed reworking Interstate 70, the depressed lanes, and Memorial Drive. They recommended removing the interstate, filling in the depressed lanes, and creating a new, local circulation system. They envision a trolley loop connecting with downtown, new retail uses and sidewalk cafes facing the Arch, and a cobblestone road, remembering back to the original days of the St. Louis riverfront. What would such an improvement mean for the vacant Mansion House building?

One team suggested multiple bridges connecting downtown across the interstate and Memorial Drive. These bridges would provide varying view angles of the Arch. Another team made the analogy that while Forest Park is the "back yard" of St. Louis, the Arch is the front yard, suggesting that the region place equal priority to improving its front yard as its back yard. Recent improvements to Forest Park have transformed Forest Park into a regional jewel. The price tag for the Forest Park improvement effort was about $50 million.

(Note: a commentor notes the actual cost of Forest Park improvements was $102.6 million. That's a better number, giving more headroom for thinking big in terms of possible Arch/riverfront improvements.)

The students presented a wide range of ideas about how to improve the Arch and riverfront. Restoring connectivity was a theme throughout their presentations. Results of their work will be made available to the public on a blog in the near future.

Our new president-elect has stated that among his plans to rebuild our economy will be the prioritization of public works projects. Professor Krieger stated that one of the requirements of a successful waterfront revitalization program is support through a regional mandate. Michael Allen at Ecology of Absence makes the case that President-elect Obama may be one of the most urban friendly presidents in 50 years.

Another blogger writes about St. Louis as "Confluence City". Are we possibly at a crossroads where our region, our national agenda, and efforts to revitalize the connections between downtown and the river can be leveraged into a regional development agenda?

With so much potential and focus on our riverfront, the Arch, the national effort to restore the economy, and our city's overall ongoing renewal, think of the case we might make for this effort as a demonstration project on various local and national priorities. That's a case statement waiting to be written.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Keynote Speaker Challenges Arch Planners

For those wondering whether the design charette for the future of the Arch and riverfront in downtown St. Louis would be a “think big” effort, based on last night’s keynote presentation, they should be encouraged.

Alex Krieger, professor or architecture at Harvard University, and principal in the firm Chan, Krieger, and Sieniewicz, opened the design charette with an hour long presentation highlighting dramatic riverfront transformation projects from around the world. Chan Krieger has been directly involved with a number of these.

Krieger showed slides of current and planned projects where underutilized waterfront areas are being restored as beautiful and vibrant centers of activity. His practice has developed a number of principles to guide the redevelopment of waterfront areas. He challenged the participants in this weekend's Arch/riverfront design charette to consider these principles as they develop their design concepts.

Chan Krieger's ten principles of waterfront planning are as follows:

1. Waterfronts change over time. They can evolve from old industrial, to recreation, to desirable neighborhood.
2. The aura of a city resides along the waterfront.
3. People have a natural instinct to preserve and reinvent waterfronts. Those that reinvent have been more successful than those trying to preserve.
4. Mind the gaps (places that separate the city from the waterfront, like our depressed lanes or blockages from obsolete structures).
5. Downtown waterfront revitalization is the best antidote to generic development.
6. Successful urban waterfronts must be a desirable place to live.
7. The public demands access to the water.
8. The appeal of landside developments are intrinsically linked to the appeal of the waterfront.
9. Prioritize the role of perpendicular corridors, such as city streets, connecting to the waterfront.
10. Waterfronts are the umbilical chords which connect people to nature.

Krieger noted that in St. Louis, our challenge is three-fold. Not only is our waterfront a challenge, but the “lawn” (Arch grounds) is too wide, and the first couple of blocks of our downtown next to the Arch/riverfront are not appealing. Krieger is challenging designers to look beyond the limits of the immediate riverfront and Arch grounds.

Krieger noted that waterfront revitalization projects have the opportunity to be "catalytic, watershed" projects. He gave examples of many projects opening up new areas for residential, recreational, and commercial development.

The most dramatic images Krieger presented were of waterfront revitalization efforts in Seoul, Shanghai, Dallas, Boston, New Orleans, and Montreal. The efforts in these cities provide examples of the possible. Kreiger noted that a regional mandate is required for a successful, long range waterfront revitalization effort.

Shanghai Before:

Shanghai After:

Krieger is thinking big. Applying the prinicples laid out last night, St. Louis should be looking far beyond the four corners of the Arch grounds, and thinking how to reposition it's riverfront from Chouteau's Landing north to the new Mississippi River Bridge, incorporating trails, perpendicular connections to the city street grid, and multiple points of interest and human activity. Krieger's visions are long term, connecting multiple generations.

With the old power station north of downtown, LaClede's Landing, the Arch site, and emerging Chouteau's Landing neighborhood, St. Louis has the physical assets. Our challenge is how will we use them.

The public is invited to attend parts of this weekend's charette. Tonight at 6:30 pm, Steinberg Auditorium on the Washington University campus, there is a panel discussion with local experts discussing the history and future of the Arch and riverfront. This Sunday, from noon - 4 pm at the Mansion House, participants in the charette will present their concepts for the future of the Arch, downtown, and riverfront.

Some examples from Chan Krieger's riverfront planning work:

Trinity River in Dallas

Anacostia Waterfront in Washington, DC

Pittsburgh, PA

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Time for light rail expansion in STL City?

With Metro suffering voting setbacks in St. Charles County and now St. Louis County, maybe people in St. Louis City should start exploring ways to extend rail service within the city limits?

If routes travelled twin loops through main corridors north, south and central, we could get every city resident within a mile or so of a train stop. Everyone could be within walking distance, connecting all parts of the city.

Are there other places in the US with recently installed light rail systems that primarily focus on serving the urban core of the region? I don't know. What I do know is that as a convert to riding light rail, I'd sure like a system that could get me all over town.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Arch Design Charette November 6 - 9 at Mansion House

Students from across the midwest will be participating this week in a design charette for the future of the Arch site. The public is invited to attend this Sunday from noon - 4:00 pm.

Details available here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Advice on How to Spend $3.92 Billion

"Stabilizing Neighborhoods by Addressing Abandoned and Foreclosed Properties"

Good read published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The article addresses many of the concerns faced by neighborhood development advocates in the St. Louis region.

Helping Build the Grass Roots

In this election season, there's lots of talk of getting out the vote: organizing people, and working the grass roots. But what about the other grass roots? The ones under our feet? It's always a good time to be thinking about how to empower them.

Halloween on our block is a great tradition. We close the street with a block party permit; lots of people decorate their houses; and, we get over 200 kids through for trick or treating. One of our neighbors, a young couple with young kids, is raising the bar in terms of yard care.

Before Halloween, he raked all his leaves and swept the sidewalk. So, maybe in an expression of a little positive peer pressure, three or four of us immediate neighbors all followed suit. Well, okay, I didn't sweep the sidewalk.

Afterwards, I walked over to compliment him on how nice his yard looked. His lawn is perfect, which is quite a feat on our block. We have one of those tree canopied blocks. A neighborhood lady some sixty years ago went around and made sure every house had a street tree. So now, we enjoy great shade, but, it's hard to grow a nice lawn under all that shade.

Somehow, a few neighbors still manage. This fall, our new neighbor with the great lawn, had his lawn aerated with a gas powered aerator. He overseeded and fertilized; and, this week, his lawn is growing and bright green. It's a thing of beauty. Wouldn't it be great if every lawn on this shady street was so nice? How could we make that happen? Apply block science.

We do lots of things on our block as neighbors. There's a block captain; we have a block wide email loop; we have a block party; kids play together; adults socialize, we share ladders and other tools; and, have a great Halloween. We look out for one another. All of these things improve the quality of life. So, just maybe, working together, we could green up everyone's lawn?

Home Depot rents aerators. Our lawns are not big, so in about 20 minutes, we could knock out a lawn. At a rate of 3 per hour, with the 50 or so houses on the block, in one weekend, we'd have the job done. Aerator's rent for about $80 a day. For the weekend, that works out to less than $5 per house on our block.

We'd need to line up workers, with shifts and that. But think about it. Group aerating, group fertilizing, group seeding, watering across property lines, covering for the elderly or physically challenged, we could make it work. We could have the best lawns in the city. This is a project that we could do! This is a project we should do!