Friday, September 25, 2009
Strangely, none of the demolitions referenced in my previous post that were listed on the Temporary Agenda are listed on the final.
Those included demolitions in Kosciusko, Old North St. Louis, Shaw, and Soulard.
I called the Cultural Resources Office to confirm this was not a mistake and was told that, indeed, the items had been pulled from the agenda. It appears that 10th Street in Soulard is to be deferred until October, which means it is still threatened. Montgomery Street in Old North was approved, likely via emergency demolition permit. And the person with whom I spoke was unsure of the status of the other two proposed demolitions.
I will post any further information as it becomes available.
(EDIT: I just received word from Michael Allen that the Cultural Resources Office approved the demolition of 1103 Montgomery in Old North St. Louis due to extreme structural failure. The building was on the verge of collapse.)
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Frenchtown, Pre-Clearance (1953) 7:26 PM
Look at that density! And Tucker (12th Street at the time) was just a small street like any of the other numbered streets extending from downtown. At least some of the foreground of the photo (LaSalle Park) remains, along with City Hospital and a couple buildings from Bohemian Hill just opposite that sprawling complex.
These historic photographs are great reminders of the scale, intimacy, and form of building we should be pursuing.
On a brighter note, most of the buildings nominated in this very isolated (but very attractive) neighborhood remain from 1981. That's good news, because LaSalle Park is an under-appreciated gem of a neighborhood with some of the city's most attractive corner storefronts, if not housing as well. Its human scale presence on the Near South Side is a welcome building block to restitching the tattered urban fabric in this area. Surprisingly, the neighborhood has a nice website too. Check the Speck out and remember that, though St. Louis has lost so much solid built environment, what remains is strikingly beautiful!
Oh, and, an unedited version of the photo:
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
What a circus the NorthSide development has been as of late.
Talks of McKee's holdings in NorthPark facing foreclosure. A near meltdown by McKee himself over blogger Doug Duckworth's videotaping of a public meeting. Reports on Claire Nowak-Boyd's blog that McKee has indeed been empyting out North Side buildings and buying out landlords (only to later reneg and force them into foreclosure while also threatening the future of the buildings themselves). Oh yeah, and that whole bit about the city having to back its largest TIF request ever.
Of all the things that could be said, I would like to highlight one.
McKee, a private developer making this huge TIF request and subjecting the Near North Side to further degradation, can certainly be accused of wrong-doing. The jury has sort of already delivered that verdict.
The real enemy here, at least looking at the breaches against historic preservation and urbanist principles, is twofold:
A) we don't have a coherent plan to guide urban development throughout the city
B) we don't have meaningful ways for citizens to influence the decision-making process.
Therefore, I would argue, it's the process, and not Paul McKee, Jr., who's really to blame here.
That is a half-hearted indictment of the leadership of the North Side and the city as a whole coming from me. But a lot of the problems, of course, are due to an anemic, visionless, and bureaucratic leadership rather than one outright malevolent.
So this process? Well, you might hate that the San Luis is getting torn down for a surface parking lot; you might detest that Crown Plaza just north of downtown is your run-of-the-mill strip suburban center; you may loathe Loughborough Commons for its lack of a pedestrian realm; and indeed, you may despise McKee for trashing several sensitive, historic neighborhoods.
Yet our zoning allows all of the above. Our Preservation Board, and moreover the process of preservation in the city, is beyond circuitous. The process can only be described as so ridden with holes that it would puzzle a preservation expert much less a mildly interested plainclothes citizen. At any rate, a citizen's right to contest Preservation Board decisions has been taken off the table by Judge Dierker in the case Friends of the San Luis v. St. Louis Archdiocese. (Well, if you're a next door neighbor or have direct economic interest, then you're fine to contest...).
And what about planning? Does our city do it? We have a Planning and Urban Design Agency, but they're largely advisory. So the Strategic Land Use Plan of 2004 developed by then lead planner Rollin Stanley goes largely ignored because there was never any legislation to enforce it. So, the Building Division continues to issue demolition permit after demolition permit in neighborhoods deemed "Neighborhood Preservation Areas" by that same Land Use plan. Much of the North Side isn't under "Preservation Review" and isn't in a local or National Register historic district either, so the demolitions simply go unreviewed. If the vacant lot ever attracts the attention of someone willing to build something--unless they're going to receive tax abatement status for the property--they're not subjected to any sort of urban design standards. So we get more suburban-style commercial and residential buildings where they really just don't seem to fit.
Try to contest any aspect of any of this. What department do you start with? Who do you complain to? Will you even hear a response? Won't your alderman have the ultimate say in almost all matters anyway? It seems so.
So, if you want to be an activist for your own neighborhood, you better develop a friendly relationship with your local alderman. Better yet, run for the position. Because if that alderman already has enough friends that don't think like you do with regard to urban design and preservation, then you'd better rest assured none of the other alderman are going to throw a wrench in his plans (thank you, aldermanic courtesy!). It's as good as a done deal. So when the redevelopment agreement goes before the Board of Alderman, as it must in order to pass and become a reality, we have no assurance that any aldermen outside of the 5th and 19th Wards, primarily, will truly have a say.
Citizens of the North Side should not have had to fight to hold the TIF hearing at a time more amenable to public participation. And what's this about the removal of a NorthSide project naysaying commissioner from the TIF commission? That doesn't sound like a democratic process to me.
If St. Louisans' ability to access their government and the decision-making process were simpler, more straigtforward, and less politicized, our built environment's present state might not be so piecemeal. We have to remember that the biggest problem with the NorthSide project is that, when or if this TIF is approved, the city has no planners to assist McKee on appropriate urban design, and indeed, no means to demand it from him. There's no progressive zoning ordinance to rely on. The project area's not under Preservation Review and is not "officially" historic (it's neither in a local nor National Register district), so ultimately residents will have no say over which buildings stay or go.
So, if we're looking at the possibility of a suburban developer attempting to wave a magic wand over the North Side, and we have no means of either stopping what he takes from the built environment or influencing what he puts in, is it his fault? Or is it a horrible broken process that denies citizens due influence over the outcomes of major decisions affecting the built environment?
While Paul McKee's conduct thus far with the North Side has been highly questionable, this seems like an appropriate time for citizens to demand more power and control of the shaping of their city.
(Okay, I could complain a bit here. Other large municipal parks have cut down on paved roads and turned the park into more of an urban, pedestrian-friendly destination. And, as St. Louis Urban Workshop notes on his blog, Forest Park could definitely feature more spaces in which to simply hang out and people watch.)
To me, the biggest flaw of Forest Park is a somewhat disappointing connection to nearby neighborhoods. On each side, there's an issue.
On the west (Skinker Boulevard), you have an overly wide road that does carry a high volume of traffic. It's noisy, difficult to cross during the day, and somewhat uninviting, though a tree canopy helps a bit. Regardless, this edge of the park appears the most active and therefore enticing. It's no doubt bolstered by the presence of Washington University at its doorstep and all of its students/faculty.
On the north (Lindell), there are beautiful, stately homes, but I have never seen much activity flow out of these single-family manses. I always wonder if this portion of Lindell had developed as Pershing (formerly Berling) did, with all of its mid-rises, what Forest Park's northern edge might be like. It would have been wonderful to be able to sit at a sidewalk cafe patio and stare into the park, urbanely surrounded by an attractive turn-of-the-century skyline. Don't get me wrong, the present homes are splendid; my feelings toward them are not exactly ambivalent. I just wonder how they could be employed to make Forest Park's northern edge even better. I'm excited by the possibility of the proposed Delmar Loop Streetcar continuing eastward from DeBaliviere on Lindell and into the Central West End. In New Orleans, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar carts tourists and locals alike who, cameras in hand, enjoy gawking at inconceivable wealth and their historic mansions. Could St. Louis have its own version of this pleasant, tourist-friendly transit ride? I think so.
A St. Charles Avenue streetcar passes in front of one of the many mansions on the famous street. Source.
The east side of Forest Park (Kingshighway) is an interesting case. Just to the northeast sits one of St. Louis's mostly densely-walked neighborhoods and just to the east is the well-trafficked Medical District. You would think the east side of Forest Park would be filled with sauntering pedestrians. Yet, when you look at the topography, you see why. There are definite grade issues with the eastern side of the park, which slopes significantly downward from the Kingshighway elevation. Plus, the Metrolink railroad tracks slice off a portion of Forest Park, dividing the two sections from pedestrian access.
Of all of the neighborhood connectivity issues with Forest Park, the south side of the park (Oakland/I-64) is the worst. Why? Because there's an interstate highway blocking the following from walking to and directly enjoying their park with ease and without a car: Forest Park Southeast neighborhood (ironic, right?), St. Louis University High School, the Science Center, Compton-Drew, St. Louis Community College's Forest Park campus, the King's Oak and Cheltenham neighborhoods, the old Arena site's Highlands development, Forest Park Hospital, the Dogtown neighborhoods, Turtle Park, and points west. I cannot help but think that the south side of the park would usurp the title from the west for most active if Oakland, rather than I-64, were the point of crossing into the park (as it once was).
So when I read the following Post-Dispatch headline I was disappointed:
Highway 40 project head to lead Forest Park group
All urbanists should be frustrated that the Missouri Department of Transportation thought it worthwhile to rebuild several miles of I-64 almost exactly as it was to the tune of $535 million. Sure there are now soundwalls and somewhat less egregiously land-wasteful interchanges. Great. But if there were one section of the interstate that should not have been rebuilt as it was, it was the stretch that fronts Forest Park! Yet now, Lesley Hoffarth, manager of that woebegotten "New I-64" project, will head Forest Park Forever, the advocacy group and ersatz management of the park.
It astounds me that there was such a fight to rescue Hudlin Park (a portion of the park stranded by both a re-routing of Kingshighway and the construction of I-64) when the "New I-64" project was a real chance to take back a huge chunk of the park.
With the money spent adding even more highway lanes to a region that simply doesn't need them, I-64 could have been tunneled, reconnecting Forest Park to its southern neighbors and institutions.
Now, I don't know Lesley Hoffarth, and she may be more urban-minded than I'm aware. But any head of Forest Park Forever, a group that has done great work strengthening and improving the innards of the park, should know that its edges are important too.
The greatest improvement that could come to Forest Park would be the removal of I-64, at least visually, from the southern end of Forest Park.
Not that I think this concept ever held much weight in an autocentric region, but I worry now that this "radical" idea may now never get airtime. At any rate, the finishing touches are adorning the rebuilt stretch from I-170 to Kingshighway. Many would call it more than wasteful to suggest that this freshly redone section now be covered up.
But I say, the sooner the better. We need not live in the shadows of bad planning simply to justify the costs of a worthless effort.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
September Preservation Board Agenda Includes Some Ridiculous Demolitions in Very Historic Neighborhoods 8:42 PM
The proposed demolitions include:
1925 S. 10th St. in Soulard
View Larger Map
107 Victor in Kosciusko
(which, by the way, appears to be one of the very last buildings remaining from St. Louis's early urban renewal project)
View Larger Map
1103 Montgomery in Old North St. Louis
(Bing Maps Aerial View)
4250 Shaw in Shaw
(Bing Maps Aerial View)
These are horribly egregious examples of sacking incredibly important historic contexts in each neighborhood. More details as they come.
Most of today's renewed crop of St. Louis boosters recognize that the nature of the inferiority complex is, by definition, internal. Its our own residents, city and suburbs alike, pounding St. Louis into the ground, not people from other cities. (Well, Chicago is jealous of our Cardinals, and Austin, Texas seems to have a superiority complex, but it's really just those two).
Many St. Louisans grow up with an internalized indifference, dislike, or even hatred of their own city. Some of them move far outside the city and don't look back (or their parents did so a generation ago).
Like...this guy, a student of St. Louis University (in 2003) who penned a petty piece on his hatred of St. Louis, aptly titled "St. Louis: how I hate thee".
Here are some lowlights from that editorial. It's worth noting that it is one of the University News' most commented articles, even today, and most of those comments are either lukewarm or brutally negative themselves.
I'm no anthropologist, but, as a high school history teacher of mine noted, every society has culture--even Affton. Culture like cruising Lindbergh Boulevard with neon license plate holders; culture like the monstrosity of a movie house called Ronnie's and its sea of waist high pre-pubescents wearing clothing and make-up that would make a hooker blush (my friend dubbed these youngsters "prosti-tots"); culture like having every major road and highway within a 50-mile radius of St. Louis clogged with bumper to bumper traffic that makes the opening scene of Office Space look like a documentary. Forgive me if I'm unimpressed.
I suppose I post this because I've grown tired of fighting people that can't see the positive and the potential of St. Louis. Yet it's difficult to exist in St. Louis without some pre-existing database of words, phrases, and neighborhoods in your head to counter the next "why do you stay here?" commentaries.
To that effect, I knew there would be someone in St. Louis's vast online journalism community that could sum up their love for the city better than I can. Or at least do so less wordily.
That's why I wanted to post these three uplifting St. Louis articles/commentaries that really fly in the face of the critics. Read them and weep--with tears of joy for our much-maligned, but, I feel, kickass city that I feel is truly becoming a great place to live.
The first is a well-put blog post from St. Louis Magazine. The second is a lengthy article in that same publication discussing the movement of "Creatives" to St. Louis and includes more boosterism than I think I have ever read in something written about St. Louis. And the last is a particularly snarky, yet no less inspiring (and early--written in 2002!) defense of St. Louis from haterism by our own Riverfront Times.
Kicking Against the Myth of "St. Louis, Misery
St. Louis Magazine - Look/Listen Blog
We have a great contingent of place-sensitive, brilliant, creative people who are doing that work here locally, too. When seen through this filter, St. Louis is anything but miserable. Tiny ripples are starting to reach shore; PSFK, "a trends an innovation company" that runs a daily news site, has been doing a "Report from Middle America," series, and today's post focuses on Black Bear Bakery. This weekend, scores of those young bloggy creative types will be gathering in the West End to protest the possible demolition of the San Luis Apartments with a "Valentine's Day Love-In." They may just save that building, and more: the astrological alignment that the Broadway hippies saing about in "Age of Aquarius," will actually occur tomorrow! Now, that's having some major mojo on your side, at least if you're organizing a love-in. Change, I think, is continuing to blow through the air, but I think it will be a while before the list-makers figure that out.
The Rise of the Creative Class
St. Louis Magazine
Educated, imaginative, enterprising people of all ages and persuasions have migrated to St. Louis over the last decade to join an already vibrant, if largely subterranean, creative ecosystem. Here—amid the historic architecture, patchwork street life, distinct neighborhoods, diverse ethnic populations, city parks and grungy warehouses—they find a creative freedom that they’ve experienced nowhere else. Fueled by a jury-rigged spirit of optimism and ingenuity, they love this city shamelessly. They’re determined to restore its glory—and, if we’re careful, they just might succeed.
Best of 2002 - St. Louis
Losers, crybabies and unsettled souls love to blame St. Louis for their frustrations, as though something as nebulous as a city could be held responsible for a human being’s unhappiness. “Everything would be better if I were in (enter name of hipper city here). There’s so much more action there. I’ve got my choice of two dozen vegetarian restaurants, hundreds of international markets. Amazing shows every night! A rock scene. An art scene. House and techno scenes. An amazing theater scene. Hotter boys. Sexier girls. Get this: (insert hip city here) has a store devoted only to Asian incense! Weird!”
And yet these same unsatisfied souls have never been to a production by the Black Rep, have never been to Lo when Astroboy’s spinning house, never grooved to the Hot House Sessions at the Delmar, never rocked with the Fantasy Four at Lemmons. They haven’t experienced the sublime joy of In Soo’s shrimp moo shu. They’ve never listened to the amazing DJ Needles on Q95.5, don’t even know what the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts is, let alone that Tadao Ando’s creation has been touted as one of the most important new American buildings of the decade. No, they’ve never cruised on a Saturday afternoon down Martin Luther King Boulevard, as revealing a St. Louis history lesson as there is, have never sneaked onto a downtown roof -- which isn’t that hard to do if you pay attention -- at 5 a.m. with your honey and watched the sun rise between the legs of the Arch.
Feeling uplifted? Don't let it stop here. Link me your own inspiring write-up in defense of St. Louis, and I'll post it here. You don't necessarily have to be the author, but make sure to give credit where it's due!
Monday, September 14, 2009
I Will Stay If... 8:06 PM
I Will Stay If...
Do you think this campaign is too negative a concept for the already under fire Rustbelt?
Or, do you think this lights a fire beneath the leadership of slow-to-change Rustbelt cities like St. Louis and Detroit? Does it say to them, these are the basic quality of life issues I want to see addressed, or else? To that end, what role do citizens themselves have in shaping the environments they boldly demand on these signs?
Should it be: "I Will Stay, and I Will Make the Following Necessary Change in My City:..." ?
Sorry, I am always verbose.
Then and Now: Lafayette Square 5:07 PM
Circa October 2007 - Google Streetview
View Larger Map
Friday, September 11, 2009
Yet Another Neighborhood Celebration - Vegtabalooza at the North City Farmers' Market in Old North 4:19 PM
Source: Old North St. Louis Blog
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Here's the Soulard tour, for example:
Monday, September 7, 2009
St. Louis Hills Street Art 5:59 PM
Nothing is more urban than mysterious street art and anonymous artists adding life to public streets and sidewalks.
While this subject is admittedly tame--Cardinals fever--the street art definitely adds some character to the neighborhood.
Source: Hills Street News
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
4:00 - 10ish
Now in its fourth year, Grove Fest is a multi-block showing of the food, culture, and nightlife of the revived Grove District along Manchester in Forest Park Southeast. The course of this neighborhood over the past four years has been incredible. Anyone who has followed the Twitter updates of the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corp. (WUMCRC) knows that crime has decreased for nine consecutive years in this onetime no-man's-land and that major infrastructural improvements are on the way (new streetscapes, some mysterious but apparently groundbreaking lighting experiment in the neighborhood [again, see Twitter], replaced planters). I was surprised at the turnout at the first year's festival, in 2005, when I lived in the neighborhood. I'm sure the festival has only grown since then.
Street Fest (Midtown Alley)
Saturday, September 26, 2009
4:00 - 11:00
As a lowly SLU student unwilling (and unable--let's be honest) to purchase a semester parking pass, Locust Street and its free-to-park intersecting streets were no strangers to me. Even though I observed a relatively intact business district along the old Automotive Row, I would never have predicted the quick rise of this once quiet stretch (which also includes Olive Street). "Midtown Alley", the new name for the area, is now home to a clothing store (Anatomy of Style), an art deco ice cream parlor (Fountain on Locust), and numerous eateries and nightlife options.
Street Fest is in its first year, so make sure you show up to support it. According to the website:
The Midtown Alley is not an “average” neighborhood … and this will not be an “average” street fair. The event is being styled as part street-party / part music fest/ part art extravaganza, with an urban/industrial theme; a direct nod to the history and location of Midtown Alley.
Sounds cool to me!
Morgan Ford in Motion
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Noon - 9:00
Another inaugural event, Morgan Ford in Motion celebrates the progress of this human-scaled business district in Tower Grove South. It's hard to believe that a decade ago, A&M Cyclery at Arsenal and Morgan Ford seemed a strange holdout on a strip known only for its busy 7-11. Now, the strip is being declared "the New South Grand" by neighborhood residents. With its own independent grocery store, locavore cafe, furniture store, and cool bike rack/sculptures (in addition to some notable watering holes), who's to doubt that claim? The Post-Dispatch agrees, calling it one of St. Louis's "Hip 'Hoods".
As with Street Fest, make sure you show up to make sure this fledgling festival earns enough moolah to make next year's even better!
And, with all three, make sure to enjoy and return to the local businesses that lend these neighborhoods so much character and identity!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Check it out and let me know what you think!
I get that the USPS is probably looking at consolidating offices for "efficiency" purposes. But I doubt they looked into the effects of the loss of walkable post office locations. The loss of the South Grand location--along the busy Grand South Grand stretch--is especially upsetting. So too is the blow to the Baden Business District, which just revived its neighborhood street festival, Badenfest. While Soulard's station was tucked away in east of 7th Street (actually the Kosciusko Industrial area), it was still walkable to that neighborhood's residents. It's a shame to see such community-based amenities go.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
How does it break down by ZIP code (click here for a map of St. Louis ZIPs, or refer to my neighborhood listings behind each ZIP)?
2008 Population / Increase or Decline from 2000 / North Side (NS), South Side (SS), or Central Corridor (CC)
- 63101-02-03 (Downtown, Midtown): 7,200 / 11.6% / CC
- 63104 (Soulard, Lafayette Square, Benton Park): 21,000 / 5.9% / SS
- 63108 (Central West End): 20,700 / 5.2% / CC
- 63109 (St. Louis Hills, Southampton): 31,900 / 4.5% / SS
- 63139 (Dogtown, Lindenwood): 28,000 / 4.5% / SS
- 63116 (Tower Grove South, Bevo): 51,500 / 3.7% / SS
- 63112 (Skinker-DeBaliviere, West End): 22,800 / 3.3% / CC
- 63120 (Mark Twain, Walnut Park): 16,200 / Stable / NS
- 63147 (Baden, Northpointe, North Riverfront): 15,200 / Stable / NS
- 63106 (Old North St. Louis): 11,100 / -1.0% / NS
- 63110 (Forest Park Southeast, Shaw): 20,700 / -1.7% / CC, SS
- 63115 (The Ville): 24,700 / -2.6% / NS
- 63111 (Carondelet, the Patch): 20,400 / -3.6% / SS
- 63113 (Academy, Fountain Park): 17,200 / -3.9% / NS
- 63107 (Hyde Park, O'Fallon): 14,100 / -6.7% / NS
- 63118 (Benton Park West, Gravois Park): 27,800 / -7.0% / SS
Keep in mind that the population figure used for the City of St. Louis in 2008 -- 350,400 -- is lower than the Census's July 1, 2008 figure of 354,361, which is itself currently under challenge and will likely be revised upward. Still, it is interesting to get a sense of which neighborhoods may be gaining population and which may be losing. While I didn't present the school-age children numbers, they are perhaps suggestive of a yuppifying city somewhat swiftly losing families in favor of smaller households.