Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Looking for the next big thing

St. Louis is on the move. There are always things happening. It's an exciting place, filled with interesting people and cool projects. There's something for almost everyone.

The big issues get lots of media focus, but it's the little stuff that needs our daily attention. A new motto for me is "everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to clean up their own block" (can't claim credit for that one; it was shared with me by a local historian/neighborhood advocate).

Over in Jefferson City, one of the big issues is the fight to restore local control of the St. Louis police department to St. Louis citizens. It's a big issue that dates back 150 years. It was looking like 2011 might be the year that St. Louisans are re-enfranchised with their own police department. But now, it appears the bill might be blocked over pending tax credit reform legislation.

So, while the legislature works the politics over the local control issue, residents in St. Louis neighborhoods continue to work to strengthen the quality of life on their own blocks. The big thing of local control may never happen. Addressing quality of life challenges will be with us no matter the outcome over local control.

Up in Hyde Park, the long abandoned and severely dilapidated North St. Louis Turner Hall (officially known as the Nord St. Louis Turnverein) has finally been demolished. The demolition marks a milestone in the history of the site. Presently it is a vacant lot with salvaged bricks stacked on pallets. It might be years before the site has a new use. The bricks might end up in a driveway in Dallas.

In the meantime, Hyde Park residents have lots of little things to do, just as they always have. Care for Hyde Park. Insist on strong maintenance of quality of life priorities. Work together. Keep an eye out for one another.

The Avalon Theater has been the subject of controversy for over ten years. It sits a blight on South Kingsghway in the Southampton neighborhood. Poll area residents and you might learn that the majority prefer demolition. But that's not happening for a variety of reasons. Something will happen with the Avalon someday, and some people will be pleased and others disappointed. When that will happen, no one knows.

Meanwhile, not so far away, I saw a locally owned real estate office, branded with the names of two upstanding St. Louis families. Meanwhile, the lawn in front of the building had grown to over 1 foot in height! What is up with that? It's in a high traffic location and is an embarrasment.

Walking through the neighborhood the other day, I saw the most uplifted section of sidewalk I've ever seen. The section was elevated a full five inches, the mother of all trip hazards. I don't know if I should call my alderman, the homeowner, the parish priest, or the street department. But someone has to pay attention to these sorts of things.

We may not be able to effect much change on the things that seem the the biggest issues. Those big things will work themselves out on their own time. Think Ballpark Village. But we can be effective in making sure the little things get the care they deserve. In the end, keeping up with the countless little things - even things so mundane as weeding the yard - can make the biggest positive impact on our quality of life - today.

Monday, May 09, 2011

You Can't See This from Alaska!

Terrace View Cafe at City Garden

May is prom season in St. Louis and just about everywhere else. So early Friday evening, we found ourselves playing catchup to a group of high school seniors riding a rented coach to snap a few pictures of the sharply dressed young people enjoying a big night out.

Via text message and cell phone we were told we could catch up to the crew at the Arch grounds. Spaces on the Old Cathedral parking lot were being sold for $10 apiece for that night's Cardinal game, but when we explained to the lot attendents that we were only there to snap a few photos, they let us park for free.

While we were waiting, a somewhat lost looking late-20-ish man walked by. He was marvelinig at the Arch. He was utterly amazed by it. "How old is it?", he asked. "Why isn't it more corroded?" "Can you go up in it?". "How do you get up in it?".

Being the astute STL Rising observers that we are, we asked if he was from out of town. He was! He was visiting St. Louis from Alaska and was checking out the Arch. But, sadly, his girl had left him there alone.

We couldn't tell if he had a ride to his next stop or not, but he was friendly enough and eager to chat. So I asked him if he'd like some ideas for places to see. Yes, he was interested. I suggested he make the short trip south to visit the Soulard and Lafayette Square neighborhoods, famous for their historic architecture, fine restaurants, and live music scene. He said he thought maybe he had already been there. He took out his smart phone.

He played a video on it that he shot earlier in his trip. The video was taken from a moving car and showed house after house built of brick and stone. I recognized the street. These buildings weren't in Lafayette Square or Soulard; they were about sixty years younger. These were from my neighborhood! He had been riding around shooting video of random city neighborhoods.

"We don't have anything like this in Alaska!", he proclaimed.

"But that's not Soulard or Lafayette Square", I replied. "In fact, that's my neighborhood! Soulard and Lafayette Square are waaay older. They pre-date the arrival of the automobile. You really need to go check out those places if you like neat old neighborhoods".

Now, I've never been to Alaska, nor is it on my short list of places to visit. Some people say you can even see across the Bering Strait from there. I didn't think that was possible. And I understand that the government
pays its residents to live there.

On the other hand, here in St. Louis, we pay a premium to live in a place where folks from out of town come and marvel at the beauty.

So, we finally caught up to the prom goers at Citygarden. Once there, we found the place filled with teens from across the region stopped to take prom photos amongst City Garden's many photo-friendly spots.

Two St. Louis seniors on prom night enjoying Citygarden in downtown STL

To our new friend from Alaska: welcome to St. Louis and thanks for visiting our fair city! We hope you were reunited with your girl sometime later that evening and had a good time together, perhaps visiting Soulard, Lafayette Square or one of the city's many other unique and interesting neighborhoods!