Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why No Pipe Organ at College Church?

It's one of the most beautiful churches in St. Louis. It's on the campus of St. Louis University. Lots of people have their weddings there; and, for the most part, a church wedding without a pipe organ is nowhere near as impressive as one accompanied by wonderful organ music.

So how is it that such a wonderful church has no pipe organ? There is the place in the building that is designed to house organ pipes. But there are no pipes and there is no organ. Do you know the story about what happened?

The answer says a lot about the utilitarian ways of St. Louisans.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Downtown's Year-End Economic Stimulus

Between Christmas and New Year's, a week you might think things would slow down in St. Louis, it has been anything but slow. There are hundreds - if not thousands - of energetic, college-age, young people all over the streets of downtown.

They are walking everywhere and filling downtown restaurants and creating lines around the block, even in this freezing weather. Where do they come from and why are they here in St. Louis?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chronicling the digital divide

There is an excellent article at STL Today about neighborhood organizations. Refreshing to see are the positive comments from readers. A lot of the discussion is on the interaction on social media versus neighbors showing up in face to face meetings.

No matter how busy you are, there's no replacing face to face meetings. Twitter, facebook, myspace etc do not take the place of showing up in person, especially when you consider that many people do not use these services at all.

Alley cleanups, neighborhood watch, community gardens, block parties etc all happened long before the advent of social media. Read the comments at STL Today's site. It's clear that among the strengths of urban neighborhoods are the active neighborhood organizations serving our communities.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Planning to build markets

The following link provides an interesting discussion of the relationships between urban planning, private development, government, citizens, collaboration, and markets:


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reconnecting the city to the riverfront

St. Louis architect Paul Hohmann tracks St. Louis architecture, history, and construction at his blog, Vanishing St. Louis.

Hohmann is currently featuring photographs of downtown taken at the time of Arch construction. The images dramatically show the moment in time where downtown, the Arch, and river were cut off from each other.

It's ironic that the disconnect happened at the time the Arch was built. 50 years later, under a new management plan for the Arch, everyone is looking for ways to reconnect the city, the Arch, and the river. A review of these images would be a good place to start.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fixing the hail problem

At a recent holiday gathering, a group of us were having a conversation about the latest developments in solar power. One person said that with current technology it's possible to power a typical single family through solar energy. I was amazed. The rest of the story gets in to issues of public incentives and project financing, and we didn't have time to get into those details. If you're familiar with any of the public incentives available for installing solar panels on your home or business, please comment below.

So with all of the underutilized land in St. Louis, whether it's in the form of publicly owned properties or highway embankments, I started wondering about the possibility of building urban solar electric farms. If you can power a house with the electricity from solar panels on your own property, what if we developed acres of solar electric farms in St. Louis neighborhoods? We could turn underutilized land into a sustainable energy source.

Filled with optimism, I mentioned this idea to a person of liberal persuasion here in St. Louis. He liked the idea, but he threw up a major barrier: hail. He said that solar panels in our region are problematic due to our occasional hail storms. Hmmmph. I hadn't thought of that. And I like St. Louis weather. It never occurred to me that our whether might be an obstacle to building a more sustainable community.

Okay, so I'm no expert on this, obviously, but it seems to me the hail problem could be solved. Why not simply shield the solar panels from hail storms with some sort of transparent covering? If clear plastic or glass protection are not workable due to a loss of solar waves making it to the solar panel, what about fitting sturdy metal screens over the panels?

More research needed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Southwest Avenue outdoor dining expansion planned

If you read some of the local St. Louis community affairs blogs, you have probably learned that Favazza's restaurant at the entrance to the Hill is proposing to demolish two buildings on its Southwest Avenue side. The purpose is to create space for an outdoor seating area.

Outdoor seating is a popular amenity at lots of area restaurants. It's available at a grill and bar next to Southwest Bank just a little east of Favazza's. It's wonderful at Bar Italia on Maryland Plaza in the CWE. It's an activity generator in neighborhoods. It's understandable Favazza's would want to do the same.

Some are opposed to the demolition on the basis of historic preservation. The buildings proposed for demo are brick buildings in the neighborhood of 100 years old. Others would say, it's their property, they should be allowed to do with it as they choose. There is no local ordinance prohibiting demolition of these buildings.

I side with those who support expansion of the business and creation of an outdoor seating area. Many of our area's most successful restaurants feature outdoor dining. While some people oppose the loss of these buildings, the business is making a significant investment to improve its offer to the community.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

And now for a new front door....

(Note - this post has been updated with the following National Park Service press release - click on the image for a larger view):

From our original post:

The City of St. Louis and the National Park Service have made a joint announcement regarding the design competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial:

FOR RELEASE: December 8, 2009


Tom Bradley, Superintendent
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
(314) 655-1600

Jeff Rainford
Office of St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay
(314) 622-3201

International Design Competition to Invigorate the Gateway Arch Starts Today

Goal is to “Frame a Modern Masterpiece” and Connect the Gateway Arch with the Mississippi River and the St. Louis Region by 2015

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The National Park Service and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay today launched an international design competition to invigorate the park and city areas surrounding of one of the world’s most iconic monuments, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

“The competition begins today,” said Tom Bradley, Superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which includes the Gateway Arch. “This competition is a unique and important opportunity to integrate the Arch and the park surrounding it into the fabric of the city and region and embrace the Mississippi River and its east bank. It’s an opportunity to energize the park with new amenities and attractions. By achieving these objectives, we will design people into the area – and establish a national model for urban parks.”

The winning design will be announced in October 2010, with the resulting work completed by October 28, 2015 – the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Arch.

“Critical stakeholders are engaged and the architectural and design communities are excited to get started,” said Slay, who, with Bradley, is a member of the CityArchRiver2015 Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to drive the effort. Also represented in that group are regional business and university leaders, national park advocates and architects.

“We’re very lucky to now have Tom Bradley as a partner in this initiative,” said Slay. “He has worked diligently to drive federal action, solicit community input, and engage and reassure the park advocacy community, all of which have been absolutely essential to launching this competition.”

The competition – “Framing a Modern Masterpiece: The City + The Arch + The River 2015” – is called for in the National Park Service’s new General Management Plan, which was developed with extensive public input over an 18-month period, and approved on November 23, 2009.

“Engaging the wider community, including and extending far beyond the St. Louis region, has been and will continue to be an important element in this process,” said Slay.

The competition will invite teams to create a new design for the Arch grounds and surrounding areas with 10 goals in mind:

* Create an iconic place for the international icon, the Gateway Arch.

* Catalyze increased vitality in the St. Louis region.

* Honor the character-defining elements of the National Historic Landmark.

* Weave connections and transitions from the city and the Arch grounds to the Mississippi River.

* Embrace the Mississippi River and the east bank in Illinois as an integral part of the national park.

* Mitigate the impact of transportation systems.

* Reinvigorate the mission to tell the story of St. Louis as the gateway to national expansion.

* Create attractors to promote extended visitation to the Arch, the city and the river.

* Develop a sustainable future for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

* Enhance the visitor experience and create a welcoming and accessible environment.

The competition is being organized and managed by Donald Stastny, one of the nation’s most experienced design managers. Stastny is the chief executive officer of StastnyBrun Architects in Portland, Ore., and has served as professional advisor for more than 35 design competitions. Among them are the recent Flight 93 National Memorial in Stonycreek Township, Pa., the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the new U.S. embassy in London and Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Stastny will instruct and assist an eight-person jury. The names of jury members – from design, architecture, landscape architecture and related fields – will be announced in early January 2010, closer to the deadline for initial registration for the competition.

“The challenge is great – to take one of America’s first urban parks and weave it into the fabric of the region,” Stastny said. “I’m confident that this competition will foster an environment in which leading and emerging design professionals can do their best work and walk in Eero Saarinen’s footsteps. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the participants – and I’m proud to be involved.”

“This competition will honor the character-defining elements of the National Historic Landmark, which includes the Gateway Arch and its grounds,” said Lynn McClure, Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association, America’s leading voice for our national parks.

“The national park, downtown St. Louis, the riverfront and the Illinois side will finally be brought together as a vibrant and exciting destination,” said McClure, who is also a member of CityArchRiver2015 Foundation.

Dr. Robert Archibald, President and CEO of the Missouri Historical Society, praised the competition plan, stating, “This park symbolizes the American spirit, the sense of optimism and energy. The Gateway Arch is truly stunning; as magnificent today as it was the day it was completed. We need now to free it of its isolation and connect it to the region and the river on whose banks it sits.”

Archibald was among a small group of civic leaders tapped two years ago by Mayor Slay to explore new options to connect the city, the Gateway Arch and the river, and to bring new vitality to the riverfront.

This new competition honors the spirit of the 1947 national challenge that inspired architect Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch design. In the effort to produce a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and the era of American Westward expansion, the jury chose the most audacious entry – a gleaming 630-foot stainless steel arch. It was the first of several masterpieces by the gifted but short-lived Saarinen.

Completed in 1965, the Gateway Arch instantly became an international destination and won immediate recognition as one of the world’s premier works of public art. The grounds immediately surrounding it, designed by the late Dan Kiley, are also widely recognized as a landscape masterpiece. However, those grounds, and the city streetscape, highways, and the Mississippi riverfront which they abut, lack the “buzz” of constant activity associated with a vibrant urban park – one of the issues the competition is meant to address.

In addition to Superintendent Bradley, Mayor Slay and Lynn McClure, CityArchRiver2015Foundation also includes: Bruce Lindsey, Dean of the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design at Washington University in St. Louis; Walter Metcalfe Jr., an attorney with Bryan Cave LLP and another of Mayor Slay’s original team of civic leaders; Deborah Patterson, President of the Monsanto Fund and director of social responsibility for the Monsanto Company; and, Dr. Vaughn Vandegrift, Chancellor of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. This volunteer group has coalesced over the last six months as the National Park Service’s General Management Plan took shape.

Financial contributions are being handled by the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, a public charity with more than $140 million in charitable assets and representing more than 350 individual funds.

Contributors to the design competition include: Emerson, Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis (Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park), Peter Fischer, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Civic Progress, Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation, Danforth Foundation, Bryan Cave LLP, Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, National Park Foundation, Monsanto, Alison and John Ferring, Bank of America and donors who choose to remain anonymous.

Additional information can be found at


Monday, December 07, 2009

St. Louis gets a new center hall

I took a detour this morning to try out the new 64 and was impressed with the results. I entered the highway east bound at McCausland. McCausland had a lot of traffic and it surprised me that I was the only driver entering the highway. Everyone else continued north on McCausland toward Forest Park. The new 64 improvements will help them also as many of the highway interchanges are widened and improved.

In particular, the new interchange at 64/Hampton and the Zoo is beautiful. There's a roundabout by the Zoo which replaces the old bottleneck at Clayton at Hampton. It will be interesting to see how traffic flows there next summer.

Up on the new 64, drivers get a different look at St. Louis. Graceful embankments lead the eye up to landmarks of our area along both sides of the new roadway. The Highlands office development across from Forest Park looks much better in its new setting. As does the Central Institute for the Deaf and pretty much everything along both sides of the new highway. Quality infrastructure makes a powerful statement about the health of a region and the new I-64 sends a good message about St. Louis.

Highway 40 was the oldest highway in the St. Louis area. Many of our region's core assets line the route. It takes drivers through the heart of our region and it gives them an intimate view of what we have here. They're "in our house". While the "center hall" aspects of the new I-64 are back in place, the view from the roadway is impressive. Travellers on the new 64 will be reminded of many of the things that make St. Louis special.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Ballpark Village Residential

Today on KMOX, radio personality Mark Reardon hosted a roundtable discussion with local elected leaders. They were discussing a variety of local issues including the future of Ballpark Village.

Concerning Ballpark Village, the news is reporting that we shouldn't expect anything coming out of the ground in 2010, and, much different from what was originally proposed (shops, residences, offices and restaurants), there won't be much of a "village" at Ballpark Village at all. The project is being described now as a development of one or more office buildings.

Here's what makes no sense to me: How is it possible that a condo tower with views of Busch Stadium would not be marketable in St. Louis? This is baseball heaven, isn't it? You would think the players alone would snap up half the units. From ad companies, to millionaire ballplayers, to team owners, to local corporations, you'd think the units would be in high demand.

Granted, we are in a slow economy. But things are improving. Other residential projects are getting going downtown. But not across from Busch Stadium? In our humble world, our son is dreaming that we'd sell our place and buy a condo in Ballpark Village. I like the idea. Are we nuts for considering it?

Monday, November 30, 2009

NPS clears way for 2010 Arch design competition

NPS Press Release regarding selection of Preferred Alternative - Program Expansion for JNEM General Management Plan (click to read the document):

In this article in the Post Dispatch last Friday, NPS official Frank Mares describes the timeline for the design competition.

One of the questions to be decided is the scope of the design competition. What should the boundary of the competition area be?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Meet the author: Nini Harris at Urban Eats

Nini Harris, author of the new book Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch, will give a presentation and sign books at the popular south side gathering spot Urban Eats.

Details below:

Who & What: Local author NiNi Harris to sign copies of her new book Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch

Where: Urban Eats Café, 3301 Meramec, St. Louis, MO 63118; (314) 558-7580

Join interested and interesting folks in Downtown Dutchtown

• 6 PM -Arrive and Imbibe! Our Happy Hour Menu pricing for food and drinks is 4-7 PM- It’s an unparalleled incentive to come early for a nosh and a nip.

• 7-8 PM – Book Readings & Signings on our cozy stage

Why: Well–Read Wednesdays …the second Wednesday night of each month, beginning December 9, 2009. Listening, sharing and conversation with local authors, or authors who have written about local subject matter, in an intimate, casual setting, with breaks for refreshing your food and bev.

When: 7:00-8:00 PM; December 9, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holiday Special

Downtown Macy's is offering a holiday parking special. Park in their adjacent garage for $1 if you spend $25 in Macy's. Shop downtown. Prices are good! Park downtown. Parking is cheap!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Solving that vacant building problem

There's a saying in some old neighborhoods "a vacant building never hurt anyone, it's the occupied ones that you have to watch out for!" It's true that a building can't do much by itself. Unfortunately, vacant buildings do cause problems, and the longer they remain vacant, the more expensive it is to save them. So what can neighbors do to help get vacant buildings back on line?

Vacant buildings come in lots of shapes and sizes. For years, downtown St. Louis had scores of (mostly) empty, 19th century warehouses. With passage of the state historic tax credit, most of these buildings are seeing new life as office buildings, market rate and affordable housing developments, restaurants, and retail shops.

Some newer neighborhoods are seeing a wave of vacant buildings as a result of the foreclosure crisis hitting the country. In some places, as a result of softening prices, foreclosures breed more foreclosures. A correction is underway in the residential real estate market with the air coming out of the mid-2000's housing bubble.

Some neighborhoods have a specific vacant building they are concerned about. The Avalon Theater on South Kingshighway is an example. Carter Carburetor on North Grand is another. Around town there are others. Years of vacancy and neglect may lead to the ultimate loss of the Avalon to the wrecking ball. Carter Carburetor appears to be a solid building, but's it's still a high cost, environmentally challenging redevelopment situation.

And what can neighbors do to try to bring about the reutilization of these properties? If you're concerned about vacant buildings in your neighborhood, what are some of the things you see happening, and what are some of the things your neighborhood is doing?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

You gotta be there

After regular business hours, there's a worker with a high pressure spray gun washing down the sidewalks around Met Square.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Draw your own conclusions...

Hawaii, Seattle, and San Francisco are last in tipping percentages in restaurants

St. Louis is tied for first.

Frozen pee

The massive influx of residents in downtown has brought with it something else: a lot of pets. Every day, around 7 am in the morning and shortly after 5 pm, there are lots of dog walkers. And those dogs leave their mark.

This morning, there was a fresh wash of dog pee on one of the stone planters in front of the Old Post Office. I feel for the dogs, they gotta go when they gotta go. Unfortunately for them, lots of downtown is solid concrete or asphalt.

As more people walk their dogs downtown (which is a very GOOD thing), pet waste will become a bigger nuisance. In winter, it will be a different challenge. The issue is a concern for pets, their owners, workers and visitors alike.

Has anyone heard what the plan is, if any, to keep the sidewalks and greenspaces of downtown clear of pet waste? A sign of a healthy downtown is a daily routine of cleaning/washing down sidewalks. Maybe St. Louis is close to reaching the critical mass of needing such a program? That'd be a good thing.

History repeating itself - 133 years later

Today voters in St. Louis County will decide whether St. Louis City goes smoke free. Thinking about the situation, I've been trying to think of any possible scenario where the tables would be reversed? When would St. Louis City voters decide the fate of an issue in St. Louis County? I can't think of any. Can you?

I believe the only time this has happened, around here at least, was way back in 1876, when the voters of St. Louis City decided to permanently separate themselves from St. Louis County creating the so-called "Great Divorce". However, even then, voters in St. Louis County had a say on the issue. It just didn't make any difference. They were so heavily outnumbered, their votes didn't matter.

Indeed, St. Louis County, if memory serves, voted against the Great Divorce. It was the vote in St. Louis City that made it happen. And so today, something similar might happen again. Whether or not St. Louis City voters favor a smoking ban, St. Louis County voters will decide the issue.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Everybody's doing it

Young son and teen rocker, Matt, and his bandmates in Headfirst, have been working on their first CD, or EP (not sure what the difference is?). The first track is complete, and has been loaded on Youtube. Check it out here:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

China Gold

Having grown up within walking distance of San Francisco's Chinatown, enjoying great Chinese food is a good memory from my childhood, and a continuing quest today.

We've found a place in St. Louis that compares to the best family run San Francisco Chinese restaurants. It's on Olive in the well-established Asian community that connects UCity and Olivette.

The name of the place is Shu Feng, 8435 Olive, tel. 983-0099, and the website is:

Try this place. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, October 23, 2009

NPS releases GMP for Arch grounds

Online version

The plan presents multiple alternatives, including a "Preferred Alternative - Program Expansion". Interesting language is contained in the other alternatives: "Portals" and "Park in the city".

A design competition, possible reworking of the south end of the Memorial (current site of the maintenance facility), lids, decks, or bridges over the depressed lanes and Memorial Drive, and possible closing of Memorial Drive are all suggested.

STL Today has a feature story about the new plan here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

With thanks to "Anonymous"

Anonymous from Nashville (maybe?) was reading the archives of STL Rising and posted an update to a post about dispersing traffic through local street networks. It is an important policy read:

"But where will the traffic go?"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Arch Design Competition

The National Park Service is close to releasing the final General Management Plan for the future of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The plan will govern the management of the site for the next 15-25 years. The plan is the result of year long public process. A design competition has been discussed as part of the management plan.

Current conditions along Memorial Drive:

A volunteer citizens group has emerged during the process know as "City to River". The mission of the group is to improve connections between downtown and the neighborhoods of the central riverfront. One idea that has been suggested is the replacement of the depressed lanes with a new at grade boulevard. This post is a sneak preview of how such a plan might look. The image above shows Memorial Drive and the depressed lanes at Memorial and Spruce.

Soulard resident, city booster, and local designer Jeremy Claget ( prepared the before and after images shown above and below to provide an example for how the new boulevard would look. Below is an illustration of the intersection of Spruce and Memorial with the new boulevard in place of the depressed lanes (click on the images for an expanded view):

Design concept for new "Gateway Boulevard":

The top priorities of the City to River effort are to enhance economic development opportunities, improve quality of life, and to support transformative change to our downtown area, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront.

City to River is an entirely volunteer, citizen-driven effort. The organization receives no public support or outside funding. All efforts are carried out by City to River volunteers. This effort is a work in progress and needs your help. The National Park Service design competition is likely going to take place sometime after the first of the year. Among the top priorities is improving connectivity between downtown, the riverfront, and the Arch grounds.

If you are interested in learning more about the plans for the riverfront or joining our efforts, please contact us via the comments section below or through email at City to River is working on a website which will launched in the coming weeks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Local artist creates music site

Space Junk blog

Would a new Memorial Drive discourage you from coming downtown?

One of the concerns raised about replacing the I-70 depressed lanes with an at grade boulevard in front of the Arch is that it reduces access to downtown. It's an interesting question.

Currently, drivers headed to downtown St. Louis destinations must exit the interstate at either Memorial Drive (from the south) or the Memorial Drive/Pine Street exit (from the north). On the other hand, drivers staying on the interstate are bypassing downtown, possibly headed to North County, St. Charles County, Lambert Field, UMSL, South County, Jefferson County and other points north or south of downtown St. Louis.

If there was a boulevard in place of the depressed lanes, all traffic traveling through the current Memorial Drive/I-70 depressed lanes corridor would be on the city street grid from around Walnut at the Old Cathedral north through Laclede's Landing and the Bottle District area.

On a new boulevard, drivers would have multiple connection points to downtown hotels, restaurants, Laclede's Landing, Lumiere Casino, Washington Avenue, the proposed new Immigration Museum, Market Street, the Edward Jones Dome, the Bottle District, and all other points downtown.

Drivers on the depressed lanes have no connections to downtown, unless they exit the interstate. For those concerned that a new Memorial Drive boulevard in place of the depressed lanes reduces access to downtown, how do you see that happening?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

11/14 Trivia Night to benefit CCBF

Where: Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish
Address: 4092 Blow Street
When: Saturday, November 14th

Doors open at 6:30 PM
Trivia begins at 7:00 PM

Tables of 8, $20 per person.

Includes beer, soda and snacks.

Proceeds benefit community development programs of the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation.

To make a reservation, please call Stephanie at (314)752-6339

Early birds?

There's a new CVS Pharmacy opening at the corner of Gravois and Germania. It's across the street from a Schnuck's store with a pharmacy and a Walgreen's pharmacy. When opened, there will be three major pharmacies in head to head competition at the same intersection.

The CVS is nearly complete. The lighted signage went up last week and the parking lot is paved and striped. Workers appear to be stocking the store right now. Unexpectedly, this morning, all the signage was covered over with white plastic.

My guess is that with the parking lot finished and the signs up and lit, customers from the area figured the store was open so they were trying to get in for a look.

Some might loath the idea of a third pharmacist at the corner, especially one surrounded by surface parking that took down four or five existing houses to build. Others might like the competition or just having a new store in the area.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Hope springs eternal...

...pitchers and catchers report to spring training on February 15th" *

* As seen on a sign Sunday night outside a church along Big Bend in Webster Groves.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Old house window options

Our house was built in 1932 with large, wooden windows. Over the years, the windows have been well maintained, but they are now 77 years old. They are "six over six" windows, measuring approximately 3 feet wide and 5 feet tall.

The house is a solid brick, neo-colonial designed home. The historic windows add a lot to the aesthetics. They work well, but are showing some wear. A few panes have cracks, one fell victim to a random slap shot, and they need exterior painting. They are made of single pane glass, with triple track storm windows and screens. We've gone round and round about whether to replace them.

A historic replacement window would cost in the $800-$1000 range installed. To replace them all would cost close to $25,000. That's a lot of cash. And the existing windows are not in bad shape. So we have decided to keep and maintain.

This month, we are having them painted and repaired by a professional painting company. The cost is running about $80 per window. We are also having the basement windows painted. The total cost of the window painting and repair will come to something under $2,000. Or less than 1/10 the cost of full window replacement.

For less than half the cost of historic replacement windows, we could install vinyl windows, but they would severely lessen the charm of the home. Weighing the options, we are maintaining the original windows in place.

In another 5-7 years, it will likely be time to paint again.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

South Grand, Delor traffic improvements looking good

South Grand traffic calming experiment from Arsenal to Utah:

Drove it, liked it, hope they extend it. I especially like the way they used massive concrete barriers and sections of concrete pipe to erect temporary barriers. The concrete barriers and restriping create an immediate, noticeable change.

I like the "brutalist" look of it. It makes a statement: "We're gonna do something to clam traffic around here, and we're gonna do it now. We're not waiting for millions of dollars from somewhere else, we can do this now." Traffic was calmer and pedestrians looked more comfortable crossing the street.

Maybe we should consider other opportunties for doing similar projects with these heavy concrete, movable street barriers and lane restriping? South Broadway through Carondelet seems a natural, as does N. Broadway through Baden. There must be many others. Natural Bridge on the north side is a street many say is way over capacity.

Delor street widening from Ridgewood to Morganford:

It is impressive the way new sidewalks and pavement can brighten the whole area. The tiny front yards look appropriate given the small lots, compact houses, and narrow gangways. The charm of the area looks to be improved. Another plus will be improved views of historic Bevo Mill from the west.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A million small things

Working to make things happen usually isn't rocket science. It's often the opposite. Very simple little things done over and over and over again. Maybe a thousand little things. The challenge is getting away from pointing out errors or weaknesses and moving to action and results.

There are lots of issues in St. Louis deserving attention. The challenge is, how to make an impactful difference? Having meetings, talking about issues, making points about what needs to happen often leads to suggestions that these things require the actual work of someone...else. That's not effective.

If you want to see something happen, then you have to be part of making it happen. This subject reminds me of the criticism of volunteer groups. It always strikes me as extremely ironic when people are critical of volunteer organizations. Why would people criticize volunteer efforts?

Rather than criticize, how about joining, offering funds, or partnering in some other way? There certainly is plenty of work to do and not enough money, time or people to make it all happen. When people volunteer, they give of themselves, and they are trying to make a positive difference. They need help and support, not criticism. We get more done working together and leveraging our efforts.

A point was made at a recent meeting about helping to improve educational outcomes in city schools. The person made the statement that each one of us needs to become personally invovled. He was right. How does that happen? We hear lots of complaining about the city public schools. Other than complaining, what are people doing to make a difference in improving them?

I read online recently about the idea of targeting historic buildings for preservation. The idea is appealing. How will it happen? It will take a million, or maybe a thousand, small steps. People have to work together. Get on the same page. Share a vision and a passion. Overcome differences, find common ground, and move forward toward making things happen. That means alot work for a lot of someones. And usually it's on top of our normal 8-5 jobs, family and home commitments, walking the dog, and everything else that demands of our time.

Let's explore the things that we've done to make good things happen. A couple of best examples in St. Louis include the creation of Metrolink and the restoration of Forest Park. Getting those projects done took a million small things and years of work. What are some of the other big challenges we face? Zoning reform? Improving educational outcomes? Dealing with vacant and abandoned buildings? What should happen, but more importantly, how do we get things to happen?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Urbanexus Next American City" finds St. Louis

Urbanexus - Next American City came to town this week and is finding a place where creative people are working together to remake St. Louis.

A meeting of Urbanexus representatives, local creatives, and out of town experts convened at the downtown Left Bank Books. The event started at 7, with most people lingering long after the 9 PM scheduled conclusion.

There were well over 100 people in attendace. The standing room only group overflowed into the upstairs balcony.

Had this event occured ten or fifteen years ago, there would have been likely fewer than a dozen persons on hand. And there would have been little to do afterwards. Attendees at last night's event had many venues to choose from for after meeting gatherings.

Among the issues presented included creating a 1% for the arts program. Former 28th Ward alderman Dan Maguire was in attendance and encouraged attendees to promote such ideas to current members of the Board of Aldermen.

Panelists included current alderman for the 21st Ward, Antonio French. Alderman French stressed the need for an update to the city's zoning and development process. His point was supported by another panelist and Trailnet representative who mentioned the importance of an understandable and predictable development process.

A German born architect and current UC Berkeley professor stressed the importance of cross collaboration. Cherokee street creative entrepreneur and start up business advocate Galen Gandolfi spoke eloquently about the importance of providing capital to low and moderate income persons and businesses.

St. Louis American editor Chris King moderated the event. It's always good to meet the people whose blogs we read. King did a good job emceeing the event and sharing his love for St. Louis. King described Alderman French, as exactly the sort of bright, educated, young professional person St. Louis needs to retain.

The need for strong leadership was a recurring theme. Whether its for passage of a tax for a regional trail system (have) or a 1% for the arts program (need), it takes leaders to make such ideas into reality. Question: How does St. Louis nurture the increase in such leadership that gave us the regional trail system to do more progressive things for St. Louis? Case in point: if a revamp of the planning and zoning code for St. Louis is a desired goal, how do we build leadership around that issue?

Downtown St. Louis has become the focal point for the discussion. But its important to remember that many of the principles discussed last night have already been happening in St. Louis for a long time. Alderman French cited the success of the Loop as an example of a creative person, Joe Edwards, making change happen. The role of gays and the sustainability of the Central West End was emphasized.

Tough issues such as a challenged public school system and attracting middle class families were debated. Some suggested writing off the idea of attracting middle class families. Others said a "quiet tax" exists for families choosing to live in the city and paying to place their kids in private schools.

What is never brought up in the schools debate is the fact that most enrollees into private high schools in the St. Louis region live outside the city of St. Louis.

Here's a related question. The City of St. Louis has a residency requirement for most public employees. As a former public employee, I support the policy. What I don't understand is why are employees of the city public libraries and city public schools exempt from a residency requirement? You must be a city resident to serve on the school board, but you don't need to live in the city to be a city school teacher.

Wouldn't city school teachers have a more vested interest in the success of city schools if they were city residents themselves?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Urbanists: are you "hitting the hustings"?

I had to look that term up on Google to learn what it meant. "Hitting the hustings" is an old English expression that means campaigning and debating for an issue.

We read a lot of ideas about ways to improve St. Louis. There is lots of debate online and in the blogs. However, most citizens don't follow blogs. They get their information by attending meetings or talking with friends and neighbors.

If you're passionate about an issue, are you out there in person making presentations to promote your ideas?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mapping St. Louis urbanism

There is much talk on the blogosphere about revitalizing neighborhoods and improving our city's urban assets. Most of the talk centers around built environment issues. Concerns over building scale, setbacks, demolition of historic buildings and neighborhood walkability are frequently mentioned.

There is such intense debate about the built environment, some advocates of urbanism suggest that parts of St. Louis are not urban. If this is so, then does it mean we could map the urban parts of St. Louis?

STL Rising differs from the above point of view. We see the whole city as urban. We'd add some adjoining areas outside the city to our urban fabric as well, but we'd definitely not remove any parts of the city from what is urban.

The city proper is a whole, with one overall tax base and many distinct neighborhoods and 28 individual wards. When we pay our 1% earnings tax, annual real estate taxes, or buy a gallon of gas, it doesn't matter where in the city we buy it, the tax revenue from the sale supports the whole urban community of St. Louis.

If I'm a city resident, then I'm 1/350,000th of our city's urban fabric. It doesn't matter what neighborhood I live in or what my house looks like. I'm part of the city. When you visit the city, and spend money here or attend an event, then you're part of our city's urban fabric too. STL Rising's position is the most important ingredient in sustainable urbanism is people.

So I'd be curious to hear from others, with anonymous comments welcome. If you believe parts of St. Louis are urban, while others are distinctly not, how do you make the distinction?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

City wants to super-size your block party

An article in the Beacon describes a plan to close long stretches of city boulevards for several hours at a time to create miles long play areas connecting multiple neighhborhoods. With our abundant street system, this idea sounds fun and feasible.

Closing long stretches of city streets has been done for parades. Market was closed during the Final Four a few years ago for the "March to the Arch". We participated with thousands of others, dribbling basketballs down a mile or so stretch of Market Street. We brought the dog and a group of our son's friends. It was fun.

The plan is being developed by the Mayor's office and Trailnet. It's an effort to get neighbors outside, away from the television, doing healthy activities with friends and families. Boulevards closed for the day might link with city parks, creating an open space and recreational network. Lindell has been mentioned as one of the possible streets.

Okay, so STL Rising doesn't like to complain, but it seems like some places get all the cool stuff. Lindell and the CWE is a great choice, but what about doing this in lesser known parts of the city?

Last weekend I attended the Gateway Cup bike race around Francis Park in St. Gabriel's parish in South St. Louis. A former U-City resident now Chesterfield resident, and lifelong St. Louis area resident in his sixties approached me. He said he had never seen Francis Park in his life. He was amazed at the neighborhood's beauty. I suspect he's never been to Natural Bridge and O'Fallon Park or South Grand and Carondelet Park either.

I hope if the city does move forward on its plan to close long stretches of major city boulevards, the lesser known parts of St. Louis get to participate. We have lots of streets to celebrate.

Broadway through Baden. Natural Bridge, Page and MLK on the north side. Hampton, Manchester, S. Grand and Jefferson on the South side.

Why hold back?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Morning bits

Smells are powerful mental cues. They can remind you of things from decades ago. I had one of those scent triggered memories today.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent about half my childhood in downtown San Francisco visiting my mom at her "Upper Tenderloin" or "Lower Nob Hill" (depending on your point of view) apartments. My sister and I would ride the bus from our suburban home in the East Bay to the South of Market area A/C transit station on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. From there, we'd walk the ten or so blocks up the hill to mom's Leavenworth or Bush Street apartments.

Along the way, there were lots of activities and various smells. Some good, some not so good. Fresh newspapers being delivered. Flower stands on the sidewalk. Along with the fresh flower stands, good food aromas coming from coffee shops, restaurants and hotels were my favorites. This was way back in the early 70s.

Fast forward to the present. I've worked in downtown St. Louis for about 15 years. Good smells haven't really been part of the experience. Dust and cold concrete mostly. Today, that changed. I exited the parking garage onto Olive near 7th street and for the first time, I noticed the smell of breakfast cooking. It immediately took me back to those early morning walks in downtown SF.

It may not seem like much, but the smell of breakfast cooking sure beats the alternative of cold concrete and musty air that used to greet morning visitors to our downtown.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Gateway Connector project

The Illinois Departmnent of Transportation has plans to build a north-south running highway known as the "Gateway Connector" through the metro east intended to connect communities from Troy through O'Fallon to Columbia.

The project has a price tag of $500,000,000. Its price is very comparable to the $460 million cost of the Highway 64 rebuild from Interstate 270 into the city of St. Louis, but its size is much different, running 41 miles compared to the 11 of the Interstate 64 rebuild.

As one would expecet, the project has both opposition and support, but rather than debate the merits of the plan, what I find interesting is the timelines involved. It seems like the project has been on the drawing boards for at least 10 years and planners estimate it could take another 20 years before the road is ready to drive on.

Opponents cite urban sprawl as the reason to block the project and among the supporters are businesses working in real estate and home building. They say the project will open land for development.

The thing that amazes me is the way we are looking at decade after decade to plan such a project. Why does this take so long? Wouldn't it be better to either commit to move forward or outright kill the project? The slow funding and decision making process is torture for the participants on both sides.

If we have STL Rising readers in the metro east, it would be great to hear your take on the proposed Gateway Connector. Given the extremely long lead time for this project, one gets the sense that the road building industry and highway lobby has some of the longest horizons in American society. Sort of like the 50-year business planning strategies of the Far East.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Carondelet to bookend its southern flank

Redevelopment takes time. Sometimes a long time. Today, St. Louis celebrates a milestone in one of its longest term redevelopment efforts.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and other community leaders will take part in the groundbreaking of a new business park to rise on the site of the decades abandoned and once environmentally unusable Carondelet Coke site.

The new business park will bring jobs to the Carondelet neighborhood and the city of St. Louis and complement what's happening across the River Des Peres at the new River City Casino project.

Visitors to the area will see new businesses, more workers, and the historic South Broadway commercial area will have new traffic from the increase in activity. It's a win-win for all, and the result of coordinated effort between the City of St. Louis and its development agencies, the State of Missouri and its development agencies, the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and residents of Carondelet.

With new historic rehab housing developments underway, a new community center nearly complete, the Ivory Triangle area experiencing rapid growth as an entertainment and dining destination district, and now the redevelopment of the Carondelet Coke site a reality, Carondelet is making rapid progress in becoming one of the city's latest neighborhood improvement success stories.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

1988 - 2013

In 1988, the Dow Jones Industrials were under 2,000, Ronald Reagan was president, the Iran Contra affair was in the news, and a 25 year time capsule was set at the northeast corner of the Metropolitan Square building in downtown St. Louis.

In our household, we were in the middle of a three year relocation from California to St. Louis. We lived in an apartment in West County, spent weekends exploring St. Louis neighborhoods, and had no kids. We weren't involved in city affairs much at all. We paid little attention to the new high rise being completed downtown and didn't think much about long term efforts to revitalize the city. We were already though, captivated by its neighborhoods, its history, and lifestyle.

Back in 1988, people more involved in St. Louis were keenly aware that its future was in question. Maybe that's why the builders of Met Square only set a 25 year time horizon for their time capsule? The time capsule is set to be opened in just a few years, and many of the same people on hand for the sealing of the capsule are still working in important roles to guide St. Louis forward.

We moved away from St. Louis in 1989. But in 1993, we returned, moving into the city proper. A month later, our son Matt was born. Now he's a junior in high school and we're still city residents. He's seen first hand a lot of the positive changes of the past two decades.

In 2013, when they open the time capsule at Met Square, son Matt will be 20 years old, and St. Louis should be on track for celebrating further progress. Many had written off the city's chances for renewal, but enough people stuck around to see things through for better days today and a brighter future tomorrow.

If you were in St. Louis in the late 80s, what sorts of things were you and your friends and associates thinking about St. Louis and its future? Maybe you were on hand for the placing of the time capsule or topping out of Met Square. Was there a sense of optimism or doubt?

When we moved away in 1989, it was a tough decision for us. We weighed the pros and cons and decided on returning to California, even though St. Louis rated higher on a side by side comparison we did at the time.

For a place like St. Louis city, twenty five years is a good timeframe for planning and implementing community progress. If we look ahead over the next twenty five years, what should be the top things we prioritize for action?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

St. Louis International

They were walking through Tower Grove Park carrying carved sticks adorned with shrunken heads. They were dancing to the rhythm of drums and recorded music. They were walking dogs and visiting with friends new and old. They were wearing costumes from around the world. They were dining on cuisine from over thirty nations. They were all attending the the Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park which continues today.

For a weekend in late sumer, Tower Grove Park hosts and the International Institute presents the Festival of Nations, a multicultural experience celebrating the often underestimated diversity of St. Louis. Delicious food, perfect weather, wonderful music and fascinating exhibitions fill the southeast corner of the Park.

We attended yesterday. We ate from the different booths and enjoyed the various costumes and dance. We kept seeing people walking with the scary looking walking sticks.

One side of the event has mostly food booths, the other offers booths selling merchandise from around the world. And in between are various performance areas with musicians and dancers.

One booth representing Russia sold those wood carved, colorfully painted dolls which open and reveal many layers of smaller and smaller dolls on the inside. A booth offering Chinese themed goods was beautiful just to walk by. The festive bright colors were stunning. A man and woman dancing in costume to flamenco music were followed by a Japanese troupe dancing to music which sounded like Japanese nursery rhymes. I'm thinking this music would be great as either a conversation starter at our next house party or for setting the rhythm for cleaning house, maybe both.

And then the mystery of the shrunken-head-mounted-walking-sticks was solved. The most popular of all the booths represented Indonesia. Their items were made of molded plastic to look like carved wood. They sold rustic looking plaques with the words "Margaritaville" carved into them and mini surf boards with a bite out of them and the logo for LandShark beer, and what turned out to biggest seller in the park this day, walking sticks adorned with little shrunken heads. I don't know what any of these items have to do with Indonesia, but the operators of this booth sure seemed to know the kinds of things St. Louisans would like to take back home!

With a beautiful Sunday on tap, another trip to the International Festival may work out for a lunch visit today. It would be good to see you there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Upgrade Opportunity?

With the abundance of park land in the city of St. Louis, it's hard to believe there would be shortages of playing fields. But in the area of quality baseball fields for adult/varsity games, it's true.

High school teams have few options. Across Cass Avenue from the new Vashon High School, at the Senator Jet Banks city park, there is a new full size diamond, built in part through support of the Cardinal Care organization.

In South City, I am wracking my brain to think of any varsity fields available for public school use. The only one I can think of is at "The Greens" on River Des Peres. The Green's field is a nice one, with dugouts, and outfield fencing and a grass infield.

Unfortunately, The Greens is located in a low lying area and as a result often suffers from flooding and can be unplayable in good weather. With the amount of rain St. Louis gets in spring in summer, it's important for baseball fields to have good drainage. The other downside with the Greens is that the field lacks lighting for night games. Since there are lots of nearby homes, installing new night lighting can raise concerns from neighbors.

It appears there may be an opportunity to upgrade an existing facility. Sandwiched between the city compost pile, Interstate 55 and the railroad tracks which cut through Carondelet Park on the east side of Grand Avenue, is the location for the new South City Recreation and swim center. The facility is nearly complete and makes for an excellent entrance into the city. Adjacent to the new recreation center is a large field which for years has housed two little league sized ball fields. With the construction of the new community center, these diamonds have been unused this entire season.

The area is large enough to build a quality, full-sized, varsity/adult baseball field. It features a natural hillside between the community center and the athletic field for spectators. It has a beautiful stone restroom building and quality lighting for night play.

What if this field were upgraded to complement the new community center with a first class baseball field? There would be no neighbors to complain about night games. It would bring more traffic to the area. Local high schools could have one more field for home games. And it could become a regional draw serving as home field to host St. Louis area amateur baseball tournaments.

An upgraded baseball field at Carondelet Park would expand the positive impact of the new community center, make a perfect compliment to historic Heine Meine field in Lemay, The Greens, and the baseball field being constructed at St. Mary's High School. Together, the four fields would position the City of St. Louis to compete in hosting high school tournaments from across the midwest.

Championship games could be held at the improved Carondelet Park field, with banquet and award ceremonies held inside the new Rec Center. Both facilities would be owned by the City of St. Louis and serve as an added source of pride and recreational opportunities for city and regional residents.

Stay tuned. Follow up conversations to explore the feasibility of this concept with local leaders, the operators of the new community center, and the city parks department will be sought to update this post.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

St. Louis: Good For Your Career

According to the "Sales HQ" website, St. Louis is ranked # 20 in the US for career opportunities and in the top 100 worldwide for quality of life.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Low voter turnout, election fraud, led to Great Divorce?

Sunday's Post ran a fascinating article by Tim O'Neill about the history surrounding the election and subsequent lawsuit leading up to the "Great Divorce", where the city of St. Louis separated itself from St. Louis County. At the time, voters in the city wanted out of St. Louis County, and voters in St. Louis County wanted to stay united with the City. But if the issue was of signficant interest, you sure couldn't tell by the vote count.

According to the Post article, in 1870, St. Louis city had a population of 310,864 persons and St. Louis county had 31,000. The vote was nearly split in St. Louis city, 11,878 for the divorce and 11,525 against. In St. Louis County, the vote was 848 for the split, 2,617 against. Overall, the measure lost by a 12,726 for and 14,142 against count.

However, pro-separation forces filed a lawsuit, and a pro-city judge, Thomas Gantt, tossed 5,069 ballots, mostly no votes, leading to eventual approval of the measure by 1,253 votes.

The thing that amazes me is that only 26,868 people voted out of the total 341,864 plus people living in St. Louis City and County at the time. Were only property owners allowed to vote? Thinking back, by this time, women were not yet allowed to vote, so that would have lowered the total.

I wonder if women would have had the vote, if the measure would have passed or failed?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lambert Rising with "Windows on St. Louis"

This being vacation season, I made a trip to Lambert St. Louis International Airport this week and was amazed at the airport's new tourist friendly exhibit "Windows on St. Louis" located in the luggage area of the main terminal. The display is worth a visit to the airport.

There are four or five huge displays, situated behind huge panes of glass, highlighting St. Louis area destinations including the New Cathedral, the U City Loop, and the Arch. It's a must see. Kudos to the organizers behind this effort. For all the criticisms of Lambert, I personally am a big fan of the place. It's easy to get in and out, parking is ridiculously close and cheap, and it's within ten minutes of downtown.

The Visitors and Convention Bureau has a booth there as well, stocked with info about good things to see and do around St. Louis. We picked up a flier for a historic St. Louis themed baseball exhibition now showing at the Arch grounds. Did you know it was there? It runs through the end of the year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fountain Park Back to School Celebration

This Saturday, August 22nd, from 11:00 AM till 3:00 PM, neighbors will meet again in Fountain Park for a Back to School Celebration.

Centennial Christian Church with other community partners are sponsoring a fun day at Fountain Park open to all school-aged city kids to help them get off to a good start for the new school year. There will be raffles for free bicycles, free music, and backpacks filled with school supplies. Supplies are limited.

Last year the effort provided five free bicycles and over 200 backpacks. The tradition is continuing this year and donations of time, funds, and bikes or school supplies are welcomed. If you would like to help out with a donation, the contact person for this event is Mr. Clint Potts, telephone number (314) 443-4081.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Review: Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch

A new book completed through a collaboration between the National Park Service and local author and historian Nini Harris documents the construction of the Gateway Arch and the history of the site through photographs, drawings, and detailed captions. "Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch" is a photographic time capsule of the thirty-plus year time span of the design and construction of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

The site of one our nation's most iconic landmarks was once the original riverboat docking warehouse district of old St. Louis. "Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch" provides readers a detailed retrospective on the city's original industrial warehouse and riverfront area.

Author Nini Harris is a lifelong St. Louis resident and author of many books on St. Louis history. The writer was active in early rehab efforts of the Lafayette Square neigborhood and is a resident of South City. In addition to her writing, Ms. Harris is involved in historic preservation consulting, including the preparation of National Register historic district nominations for St. Louis neighborhoods.

Through a wide variety of images, Harris leads readers through the planning, design competition, and construction of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Images range from hand drawings to historic and modern photographs. From the expressions on the faces of city leaders, construction workers, and citizens at the time, you can see the sense of pride and accomplishment the Arch brought to St. Louis.

The book opens with a panoramic aerial photograph of downtown St. Louis taken before massive clearance was carried out to make way for the Arch grounds. For those interested in early St. Louis history, the book provides reproductions of many posters and drawings from mid-19th century St. Louis. Photographs then lead readers through many blocks of the historic street grid once located where the Arch now stands. Cobblestone streets, cast iron storefront, warehouse, and apartment buildings are shown.

Following the documentation of the original buildings, the book transitions readers into the design competition for the Memorial. There are many photographs of the unselected proposals. It is interesting to ponder how different St. Louis would be today had any of the alternative proposals been selected. A proposal by St. Louis architect Harris Armstrong called for the construction of a futuristic observation tower and navigable slough for small watercraft on the St. Louis riverfront, with a new airport to be built on the East St. Louis side offering prime views of downtown's growing skyline.

The approximate 30 year timeline from the original clearance to construction of the monument can be tracked based on the vintage of automobiles in the photographs. A significant percentage of the work covers the actual construction of the Arch. Many of the photos of Arch construction must have been taken by the workers themselves, since they are shot from vantage points high in the rigging.

As the National Park Service is currently updating its General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a process and plan that will govern uses of the Arch grounds for the next 15 - 30 years, including a new design competition and possible expansion into Illinois, this book provides an important context in the overall review of the Memorial as future uses and designs of the Memorial are considered.

Historic Photos the Gateway Arch is available at local St. Louis retailers like Hammonds and Left Bank Books or online at or for $39.95.

Monday, August 10, 2009

1st, 2nd or 3rd?

Late in the summer of another year in St. Louis we just completed a week-long tour of two midwestern destination cities - Cleveland and Pittsburgh. St. Louis has made a local out of me, but with nearly twenty years of time here, it was time to clear my head and think about the motivations that keep us here in this place.

This was a father-son trip (recommended for those with teen sons that have outgrown the junior amateur athletics and scout aged things). Now we share interests in music, architecture, historic neighborhoods and local/ethnic food. Both Cleveland and Pittsburgh offer much to choose from in those categories.

Our trip started in Cleveland. We made the drive from St. Louis to Cleveland in about ten hours. Not one highway patrolman in sight, so traffic moved at 70+ mph the whole way. Midway through Ohio you enter the Great Lakes watershed and beautiful Amish farm country. Arriving in Cleveland you immediately get the impression that it is much more a smaller version of Chicago than St. Louis ever is. Note to self: We St. Louisans would be well served to stop the STL-Chicago comparisons.

Without a reservation, we got a great deal on the lakefront at the Crown Plaza hotel. Cleveland folks are super friendly and helpful. Our primary destination was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but we arrived early enough to explore some of Cleveland and was directed by locals to the historic Tremont neighborhood. Tremont is a 19th century neighborhood, undergoing significant rehab and gentrification.

Tremont is beautiful, about five minutes from downtown, and full of hip restaurants and galleries. One interesting feature of the neighborhood is the way architects of infill new construction seem to have a lot of freedom of design expression. The new construction has urban scale but modern form. I liked it and recommend a visit to this neighborhood if you're ever in Cleveland.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was worth the visit. But after having made the trip once, I doubt we'd return to Cleveland for another trip the R and R HOF. After you've seen it once, it would probably be kind of boring. Maybe after another ten years or a major remake of the place. We would return sooner to attend a sporting event or tour more of the city's neighborhoods.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland are only about 140 miles apart, so the rivalry between cities is strong. After attending a baseball game at Cleveland's Progressive Field (a new downtown ballpark built in a decidely non-faux historic style), at about 9:00 pm we left Cleveland heading to Pittsburgh. Enter the land of the toll roads. What a strange life it must be for the workers collecting those tolls. I'm wondering, are those patronage positions?

For miles there was nothing but darkness. No street lights, no highway intersections with four corners of fast food and filling stations. Eastern Ohio and western PA are heavy rural. Where were the suburbs and sprawl? Maybe we were on the rural route? We'll have to make the trip again in daylight to see what we were missing, but I'm betting it was all forest and farms.

The lack of familiar settlement patterns continued until we were very near Pittsburgh. Highway signs for the Pittsburgh International Airport appeared before any gas stations or subdivisions. Where were the suburbs? We felt like we were riding in the twilight zone. Good thing we had spare change for the toll plazas and enough gas in the tank!

We finally found an offramp with services (restaurants, hotels, filling stations), about ten miles from downtown Pittsburgh. There was an inn with a room, so we checked in and got a good rest before our visit to Pittsburgh. Having heard lots of good things about Pittsburgh, this would be the main destination of our journey.

The next morning on our drive in to Pittsburgh we were impressed with the geography. What a hilly place. Mountains really. Steep ones. We kept getting closer to Pittsburgh, now there were offramps for the city and stadiums, but still no major developments along the road. Very open mostly. Then we came upon the "Fort Pitt Tunnel". We drove through the tunnel and on the other side the whole skyline of Pittsburgh appeared right in front of us. What a view and how dramatic! It was beautiful. And bridges and water everywhere. Pittsburgh claims over 400 bridges. Our plan was to drive around for an hour or two to get our bearings.

The place reminded me very much of eastern cities. Much older and smaller scale of buildings than St. Louis, and a very dense and impressive big city downtown. Regional attractions in Pittsburgh abound. Other than a quick game of catch at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and a ballgame at spectacular PNC stadium, we didn't even make a dent in the downtown area. Neighborhood destinations filled our schedule.

We toured the Andy Warhol museum, a closed Catholic parish church which had been coverted to a micro brewery, the Carnegie natural history museum with one of the world's largest collection of dinosaur fossils, took a ride up one of their incline trains (awesome views of downtown from the top), checked out the "Strip" neighborhood (ate a Primanti's sandwich there), the northside and southside neighborhoods, and Heinz Chapel on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The rivers, steep hills and historic neighborhoods, along with a strong eastern European influence in churches dotting the hillsides, make for very scenic landscapes, defined neighborhoods, and beautiful views. I expected to see more vacant steel mills but there really weren't very many, even though we did hear from the locals how the local economy still feels the sting from the loss of jobs in steel industry.

In both Cleveland and Pittsburgh we asked for recommendations about neighborhoods with nightlife and music, sort of like our Soulard or Loop areas. Recommendations were few and we didn't find much. Any suggestions would be appreciated, especially for Pittsburgh, since we definitely plan a return there.

There was a noticeable lack of cemetaries around Pittsburgh. We only passed one the whole time we were there. Maybe with the scarcity of buildable land, they're all along the periphery? Or maybe they've been relocated outward through the years?

Whetherwise, Pittsburgh was best. The news reported they were getting ready to have their first 90 degree day - in over a YEAR! With the reduction in industrial activities, the years of dust and soot are over and the skies were clear and blue.

It's easy to see how people would love living in both Cleveland and Pittsburgh. We heard from a person at the ballgame at PNC how many Pittsburgh families have over 100 years of local residency.

Given the competition among midwestern regions, there are lessons we can take from both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. All three regions, St. Louis, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, are about the same size (just under 3,000,000). All three suffered from white flight, struggling public school systems, and declines in their industrial jobs base. Yet all three are making turnarounds and getting national attention.

Cities of the midwest enjoy lots of advantages. They are drawing more attention from young people seeking creative, affordable environments. They have history and destination attractions of national significance. They are supported by educational institutions and interesting neighborhoods. Weather is seasonal and with A/C, summers are manageable.

St. Louis has better baseball than Pittsburgh or Cleveland, but I'd submit Cleveland and Pittsburgh have better stadiums. Cleveland has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I'd say St. Louis has a far better music scene. Cleveland and Pittsburgh have more the big city feel, but St. Louis's small town atmosphere makes it easy for people to get connected and gain a meaningful role in their communities.

Making lists makes news. But it's easy to find holes in the lists. So does it really matter whether you're first second, or third? I learned on this trip that we can learn a lot from our neighbors, and we need to always be doing more.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fountain Park Partnership

Those interested in historic city neighborhoods have treasures awaiting them in Lewis Place, Fountain Park, and Academy/Sherman Park on the city's north side. The three neighborhoods are a short distance from the Central West End and Forest Park, straddling Kingshighway between Delmar and Dr. Martin Luther King and Union and Newstead. The neighborhoods retain much of their original building stock and have many unique structures.

Among them are the old street car rights of way including the Hodiamont Track and another to the north near Newberry Terrace and Kensington Avenue whose name I am still researching to learn. Some of the neighborhood's historic buildings were designed to hug the curving rights of way for the old street cars. Seeing the relationship between the buildings and the old rail lines conjures images of what St. Louis life was like during the street car days.

While these neighborhoods offer much to appreciate for their architecture, there are also opportunities for people across St. Louis to get involved to help strengthen these communities, and that is what this post is about.

First is National Night Out on August 4th, next Tuesday, beginning at 5:00 PM. From the neighborhood association's press release:

Neighbors of Fountain Park Association Will Celebrate National Night Out 2009 In Fountain Park

National Night Out (NNO) is a unique community event, celebrated in the United States and Canada, that focuses on prevention of crime and drug activity, and is held the first Tuesday of August every year. This year, NNO falls on August 4th.

NATIONAL NIGHT OUT is designed to:

Heighten community awareness of crime and drug prevention.
Generate support for, and participation in, local anti-crime programs.
Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships.
Send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
Promote emergency preparedness awareness.

This year Neighbors of Fountain Park Association has partnered with other neighborhood associations and faith based groups to join in a peace walk through the community. The participants will assemble at the Fountain at 5:00 PM and return to the park for refreshment and an evening of fun and socializing.

For more information, contact Clint Potts, Neighbors of Fountain Park Association at (314)443-4081

The second opportunity is a back to school event. There are a lot of school-aged young people living in these neighborhoods.

Back to School Celebration

On Saturday, August 22nd, from 11:00 AM till 3:00 PM, neighbors will meet again in Fountain Park for a Back to School Celebration.

Centennial Christian Church with other community partners are sponsoring a fun day at Fountain Park open to all school-aged city kids to help them get off to a good start to the upcoming school year. There will be raffles for free bicycles, music, and backpacks filled with school supplies.

Last year the effort provided five free bicycles and over 200 backpacks. The tradition is continuing this year and donations of time, funds, and bikes or school supplies are welcomed. Contact person for this event is also Mr. Clint Potts, telephone number (314) 443-4081.

I have attended two of the organizing meetings for these events and can attest that this project is a community-driven effort. The first meeting had roughly ten attendees and last night's meeting had more than that. If you are interested in helping out, please phone Clint Potts at the number above or contact me directly on (314) 605-5811 and I will provide you with further details. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

South Kingshighway Community Development Ideas

With yesterday's news that the Avalon Theater is being offered for sale, the Southampton listserve has been abuzz with ideas about how to redevelop the vacant theater property.

Today, there is discussion on the list of forming a nonprofit organization to further target the revitalization of the Kingshighway corridor. The area being considered runs from the closed Don Brown Dodge dealership at Fyler all the way south to the Burlington Coat factory shopping center at Kingshighway and Christy Boulevards.

Perhaps interest in the fate of the Avalon Theater will be the catalyst to advance a renewed development effort in the area?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Avalon Theater For Sale: Asking Price $1,000,000

News of the long-vacant Avalon Theater on South Kingshighway being offered for sale is appearing in people's electronic in-boxes today. However, at an asking price of $1,000,000, some are wondering if the property will draw much interest, especially during this economic slowdown.

The effort to market the building does provide the opportunity to think about the challenges faced by the owners of vacant buildings, and what should be done to ensure their long term viability and reuse potential.

Too often, preservationists and urbanists learn of a building's fate after a permit for demolition has been issued. By that time, it is often years' past any serious thought went into how to reuse a building.

One reason for the significant amount of demolition in St. Louis has been the decline in population. A city of 350,000 does not need the built housing stock of a city that once housed over 800,000 residents. The vacant land we see today is evidence of this transition.

It is not unusual to see a neighborhood's vacant commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings last longer than the vacant residential ones, if only because they are perceived to have higher values by their owners than smaller residential properties. Still, without a viable use and operating income, they are caught in a cycle of decline.

If a goal of urbanists and preservationists is to see fewer buildings of architectural and historic significance demolished, what steps should we pursue to make that happen?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Sustainable Cities Collective" features St. Louis blogger

The author of the St. Louis Urban Workshop site, Alex Ihnen, is highlighted in a nice "blogger of the week" national community development website feature.

South of Gravois, between Jefferson and Grand

Those boundaries describe a huge geography in the City of St. Louis. Included in the area down to Meramec is the largest national register historic district in the state of Missouri, the "Gravois-Jefferson Streetcar Suburb Historic District", containing over 5,000 historic buildings.

Beyond historic rehab, neighbors are working together on other community projects to build up the area. Here's a link to one important effort: Seeds of Change

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

St. Louis Arts and Crafts Society Open House

(Click on the image for a full size view of the invitation)

When: July 26, from 2:00 - 5:00 pm
Where: 700 Bellerive, St. Louis, Missouri, 63111. (located in beautiful Carondelet, off of South Grand, near Carondelet Park).

For more information, please call Patrice Petrich on 314-412-1382

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Block party season

Summer and fall are the peak times for block parties. If you've never organized a block party, here are some helpful hints to get started.

You'll need barricades to close the streets, but don't plan to rent out a "porta-potty". With all the neighbors participating, they have bathrooms in their homes.

The earlier you start planning, the better your block party will be. Allow at least 60 days.

Work with your alderman to secure a block party permit. The permits are applied for at the city Street Department off of Hampton Avenue on the north side of I-44. Invite your alderman to attend.

Form a committee to help with closing the street and cleanup. A good block party takes alot of work. The more people helping out, the lighter the workload. Plus, this years volunteers make for a better committee and block party next year.

Take advantage of the event to get to know your neighbors better (obviously), but go further and start a neighbor/block directory. Ideally, a block captain would be involved. If your block doesn’t have one, consider volunteering.

Organize the block directory so it’s voluntary, encouraging participation by providing everyone who participates with a copy. Sort it by name, address, email, and phone number. Then use the email addresses to update neighbors when things come up. Update the directory every year.

The fire department usually will send a crew and a truck for an hour or so. (Having food on hand keeps them around longer). The police canine unit is usually available as well. The dogs are beautiful and great with kids.

The best part of having a block party is closing the street to traffic and “owning” the block for kids to play, without fear of traffic, etc.

Send notices to neighbors at least 30 days in advance, listing activities, soliciting volunteers, etc, and asking them to park their cars off the street for the day. Remind them again a couple days before the actual date.

If you have questions or comments about organizing good block parties, post them in the comments section.

Monday, July 13, 2009

If you can green a highway embankment, why not the banks of the River Des Peres?

Drivers heading north and south on Interestate 55 through Soulard and Benton Park see grass covered embankments. Every spring the embankments bloom with thousands of bright yellow daffodils. Volunteers plant the flowers. City crews (or are they from MoDOT?) mow the embankments.

The steepness of the slopes on the I-55 embankments look close to the same as those lining the River Des Peres. Unfortunately, the banks of River Des Peres don't look anywhere near as nice as the embankments along I-55 from Arsenal to Gravois.

The ones along the River Des Peres are covered mostly by broken up shards of rock, not trees, green grass, and flowers. Is there anything from a landscape design or soils and erosion control standpoint that would prevent the banks of the River Des Peres from achieving a similar green appearance?

City of Webster Groves, Historical Society Sponsor Excellence Awards

In a celebration of one of our region's most beautiful areas, the City of Webster Groves and the Webster Groves Historical Society are sponsoring their 5th annual "Awards of Excellence".

Awards will recognize outstanding work in the areas of architecture, historic preservation, craftsmanship, and landscape design.

Applications are due September 4. For more information, call Jennifer Conrad on 314-963-5319 or visit the website.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rock Show Tonight!

Adding to the atmosphere in downtown St. Louis, tonight is the July Rockfest at the Fubar club, 3108 Locust.

Doors open at 5:00 PM, there is an $8 cover charge, and STL Rising has a rooting interest in one of the bands - that's the young Matt B. on the right side of the photo, performing alongside his co-lead guitarist Ron, in their band "Headfirst" (click to enlarge the image).

Check them out tonight starting after 5:00 PM and help support our local music scene!

Greening the River Des Peres?

The River Des Peres is an unattractive drainage ditch forming the southern edge and entrance to our city.

It's upland areas are being improved with nice bike trails, bridges, and landscaping. But the banks down the side are bare dirt with no visual interest.

Long stretches of time pass when the river is nearly empty. During periods of heavy rain, it fills up and looks like a real river. Most of the year, however, it's somewhere in between with a fairly low waterline.

What is the possibilty of planting vegetation along these banks to make the area greener and more pleasing to the eye?

MLB descends on downtown STL

This morning there was a man pulling a suitcase down Olive, wearing an "MLB" logo emblazoned golf shirt. Yesterday, tiny front loaders were removing the hunks of broken sidewalk away from the edges of Ballpark Village.

The temporary Cordish signage surrounding the Ballpark Village site has been removed and an enormous temporary building has been installed. It's probably the hospitality area for media reps, team people, etc. Giant Allstar game posters adorn downtown buildings including the moribund St. Louis Centre Skybridge. There are banners everywhere and Allstar game themed arches for photo ops. It's a very festive atmosphere.

Even Papa Fabarres is getting into the act. Yesterday, they were moving furniture onto the sidewalk, so I asked them if they were closing down. Quite the contrary. The longtime downtown restaurant is opening an outdoor cafe area on the Olive side of the Railway Exchange Building (600 block of Olive) to sell lunches and cold beverages to Allstar visitors.

For the next few days, St. Louis is the center of the baseball world. Getting an Allstar game only happens once every fifty years or so, so St. Louis is working to put on a great event, and leverage this effort into marketing the community for future visits, corporate investment, etc. Mayor Slay is predicting that the overall St. Louis Allstar game experience will top last year's effort in New York City. Altogether, it's a $60-70 million dollar economic boost for our region.

What are your impressions? Will you come downtown to be part of the atmosphere? Anyone fortunate enough to be going to the actual game?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

New link added to blog roll

For in depth articles with an arts focus, please visit 2 Buildings 1 Blog, now linked on the right side of the page. The site is a project of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.

Follow the site for future discussions about the role of community and the arts in neighborhood revitalization.

Impressive West County Stats

STL Rising doesn't write alot about the St. Louis suburbs, but something arrived in my in-box today that is pretty impressive.

A postcard advertising a shopping center for sale along Manchester Road included demographic information. People love comparing St. Louis to other regions, and these numbers make St. Louis look pretty good.

The stats below refer to population and income information for a radius centered on Manchester Road between Clarkson and 141. (According to the flier, the source of the following is the US Census.)

1 mile radius

Population - 9,114
Households - 3,374
Average household income - $76,871

3 mile radius

Population - 76,242
Households - 26,870
Average household income - $101,462

5 mile radius

Population - 150,397
Households - 55,013
Average household income - $109,612

With the low cost of living in the St. Louis metro, a lot of people are living a good lifestyle.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A book sale worth exploring

A Book Sale worth exploring at the Missouri History Museum Shop.

July 11, 2009 11am - 5pm

You’ll discover 43 titles about St Louis history, 1904 World’s Fair, ghosts, sports, architecture and more. Originally $14.95 to $35.00, they will be offered at $5.00 for hard bound copies and $3.00 for soft bound copies.


A Century of Sports
Ghost Town: While St. Louis Sleeps
The St Louis Hawks
Parkview: A St. Louis Urban Oasis


City of Gabriels: The Jazz History of St. Louis
St Louis Baseball Fan Sudoku & Word Search
St. Louis Watercolor: The Architecture of a City
Bringing Science to Life
1001 Things to Do In & Around St. Charles
Tales from the Coral Courts
Days & Nights of the Central West End
Hermann Haunts
So, Where Did You Go To High School?
Under Three Flags: Exploring Early St. Louis History
Johnny Rabbits Amazing St. Louis Trivia Game
The Queen of Lace: The Story of the Continental Life Building
Still Shining: Lost Treasures from the 1904 World’s Fair

Booklovers are sure to uncover a great summer read!

Arrive early for the best selection.

See you there!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Building on Citygarden's success

So far, Citygarden has been a huge success. I make a point to go by the garden as much as possible. Today around noon it was more packed than ever.

Today's Post Dispatch had a photo of two smiling children playing in one of the fountains. It was a cute photo, and the kids were obviously having a good time, but I wondered if playing in the fountains is permitted? Are there limits?

The same question came up the other day in Forest Park. There were families of kids playing in the new fountain at the bottom of Government Hill (across from the Boat House Lake). Is that permitted too?

What happens if homeless people start bathing in the fountains of Citygarden? That would no doubt be a problem. Maybe there's an age limit for people going into the fountains, say around age twelve? If anyone knows the story on this, please reply in the comments section. Thanks.

Back to the good stuff. Seeing the throngs of people flock to the wonderful environment of Citygarden makes me think, there has got to be a way to have similar success in remaking the connection between downtown, the riverfront, and the Arch grounds.

Imagine if we could create the buzz of excitement for our downtown/Arch/riverfront connections area that has happened at Citygarden. The recipe at Citygarden includes public art, water features, and an inviting public space ready to explore.

Is such an outcome possible for our riverfront/downtown/Arch connection area?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Pulitzer's Ghost"

An interesting comment was made in the "Ever saw a brick street" thread by a new commenter for the STL Rising blog, "Pulitzer's Ghost".

"Re: "How is it possible for someone to live in the same community for forty-something years, and never traveled around enough to see some of our most interesting sights?"

That's one of the things that, to me at least, is so interesting and maddening about St. Louis: The term St. Louis means radically different things to different people, based on where they were raised.

I grew up in Florissant and we went to a trivia night at the Letter Carriers Union Hall on Broadway a couple years back. One of the categories was "St. Louis" and we didn't get a single one because to the people writing the questions, St. Louis = South St. Louis."

What a great observation! "Pulitzer's Ghost" is on to something. St. Louis does mean different things to different people. Thanks, Pulitzer's Ghost, for the comment! (Great pseudonym name too...)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Citygarden debut

Tuesday, June 30, Citygarden makes its debut as the newest amenity in downtown St. Louis. The project, funded by the Gateway Foundation, has enjoyed stellar early reviews.

Coupled with the newly opened Old Post Office Plaza, downtown St. Louis is providing more reasons to linger after 5 PM.

The new Citygarden, a sculpture park, will offer dining and views along Market and into the attractive landscape.


Mayor Slay dedicated Citygarden today. A few highlights and interesting facts about the project:

The general contractor completed the project on time and on budget.

Citygarden is the only place of its kind in the United States, a completely free and open to the public downtown sculpture garden. Other cities have downtown sculpture gardens, but they are behind walls. Ours is a true front yard to downtown.

The garden has numerous water features, a gourmet restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining, and multiple lighted video displays.

The design of the garden is based on St. Louis and Missouri. Limestone walls give reference to the natural limestone bluffs above Missouri rivers, and a low-slung, gray-stone serpentine wall reflects the rivers as seen from the air.

Walkways are located at the sites of historic downtown alleys, and a mound feature is a reference to St. Louis's history as the location for a major Native American community.

Citygarden is a jewel for our city and region, and complements our existing wide array of arts and cultural institutions.

Ever saw a brick street?

I was at a party over the weekend with lots of lifelong St. Louisans. We got on the topic of neighborhoods and I mentioned how I loved the brick streets in some parts of the city.

A person in our group thought I was talking about cobblestones. "No", I said, "actual brick, the whole street is made of brick." There are many, many blocks like this, if not miles of brick streets running through St. Louis neighhborhoods.

The person was amazed. He had lived in St. Louis his entire life and had never seen a brick street. I was amazed too. How is it possible for someone to live in the same community for forty-something years, and never traveled around enough to see some of our most interesting sights?