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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Does St. Louis Have a Signature Architectural Style?

Some cities are known for a particular brand of architecture.

New Orleans has its Creole cottages and shotguns; Baltimore's known for its Italianate-influenced row houses; Brooklyn for its brownstones; Chicago for its skyscraper innovations; and so on.

Does St. Louis have a signature style? I suppose the most numerous building type would be a fight between the red brick, foursquare house of the early 20th century and the so-called "bungaloid"--a skinnier, more pared down version of the California bungalow that arrived a bit later on the scene. I guess the best signature St. Louis architectural feature would be the ubiquitous red brick building in general, but I was looking for something more specific.

I could be exaggerating their presence, but St. Louis seems to have lots of Second Empire homes (with their beautiful tiled mansard roofs).

I'd like to elect them our signature style because I think they're some of the most beautiful. I'm especially a sucker for the Second Empire storefront. Check out this Benton Park West beauty at Texas and Lynch--recently renovated, too! Scroll down the street to see the "before" shot, which contains an earlier Google Streetview image of the building in its vacant state.


View Larger Map

Or maybe we should just celebrate having so many different styles to choose from. That sounds better.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tiffany Shotguns -- Endangered?

Mark Groth's recent blog post dedicated to the Tiffany neighborhood showcased a classic, if somewhat hidden, urban neighborhood with a surprising diversity of housing options within its small extent.

Part of this varied architectural fabric is the group of small, relatively spare shotguns on the 3600 block of Hickory Street, just west of Grand.

Mark captured a few shots of the shotguns in question:


In the blog post, Mark observed that most of these shotguns are vacant and boarded.

Upon researching ownership, nearly all of the homes on the south side of the block are owned by Tenet Healthcare, the owner of St. Louis University Hospital. A few on the north side are Tenet-owned as well.

With Tiffany's remaining residential context confined further south, this largely residential block stands out. Does the fact that the hospital owns most of these small, but attractive homes mean that they're doomed? More than likely.

Why care? Shotguns are a relatively unique American urban form, appearing en masse in very few cities. Their diminutive frames were often contrary to the nature of urban real estate, where land meant exploitation of profit via high densities. St. Louis is lucky to host several neighborhoods with a good number of them--Forest Park Southeast, the Ville, to name two. In both of those neighborhoods, however, shotguns are quickly disappearing, often too small in size to be marketable.

The loss of the Hickory Street shotguns would be unfortunate given the fact that vacant land--and a lot of it-- exists just to the west on Spring Avenue. This would be a logical expansion point. These fine homes on Hickory should remain as reminders of the importance of a human scale form of building in the midst of large campus environments such as SLU Hospital.

Let's hope we don't see the Hickory shotguns on the Preservation Board agenda any time soon. But let's not hold our breath, either.

What's in a Bridge's Name?

As the new Mississippi River bridge ceremonially breaks ground today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a nice article on the efforts of archeologists to excavate and document sites to be disrupted by the construction of the bridge. Since the area in question was host to 19th century urban neighborhoods and Mississippian culture dating, perhaps, to the 9th century, these digs are important undertakings.

But as I read the article, something else was on my mind. What will the bridge be named?

Wait, what? It was already given a name? By the state of Missouri? In 2005?

Yes. The bridge is to be known as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Bridge.

Without getting overly political, I'm not happy about the name or the way it came about. Does Ronald Reagan have any association with Missouri? I know he was born in (northern) Illinois, but that doesn't count by my judgment. Also, doesn't it seem natural to consult the localities that the bridge will connect before naming it? Was this ever done?

The article states the bridge's Missouri landing would be Brooklyn Avenue (itself named after nearby Brooklyn, Illinois). Why not call it the Brooklyn Bridge?

Many bridges are named after the street on which they land. The Poplar Street Bridge is a prominent example. Since the bridge is to feed into Cass, why not call it the Cass Avenue Bridge?

If the state wanted to name the structure after a famous person, why did it not choose a famous St. Louisan or Metro East figure? I would have loved to have seen a Josephine Baker Memorial Bridge, to name just one.

The Post-Dispatch article brings up an even better idea for naming the bridge: the city's mound-builder history, which spans both side of the river. What about the Mound City Bridge?

Basically, any other name would have been better for this new bridge. Missouri, where is your creativity and pride in place?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mayor Slay Recommends St. Louis City Re-Enter St. Louis County

On MayorSlay.com, the mayor bluntly stated that the city should rejoin the county, citing inefficiencies involved in regional infighting. In red below is a good portion of his blog post:

Competing against the world for new employers is hindered by the fact that much of our energy is spent competing with each other – municipality against municipality, City versus County.
...
If St. Louis is going to stay competitive both nationally and globally, we have to work together as a region, rather competing against each other as fiefdoms. And we have to make more sense to people from outside the region.

How? As an important early step, the City of St. Louis should re-enter St. Louis County and the two should work together to create partnerships in public safety, parks maintenance, sustainability, and economic development.

...
The change would be a good, dramatic story. St. Louis County’s population would grow by 360 thousand residents, making it one of the “fastest growing” counties in the country. It would be able to count within its boundaries dozens of vibrant neighborhoods, including most of the historic ones; a sizable percentage of the state’s jobs; the cathedrals of several religions; the venues for three major professional sports; the stage of a major symphony orchestra; double or triple the number art galleries it now has; a menu of great restaurants; almost a hundred new parks; several new universities and colleges; and the state’s largest and best equipped police and fire departments.


What do you think: would a symbolic reconciliation of the "Great Divorce of 1876" contribute to a healthier, more cooperative region? Would it ever even happen?

I support the idea, but have one fear. When I read about previous attempts to combine the City and County, it was always mentioned that the entire state of Missouri would have to vote and approve such changes to county boundaries. Does anyone know if this indeed would be the process of getting this done? Other thoughts?

Click here to read the whole post.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympia Investments is Demolishing Dogtown

A poster on the Urban St. Louis forum has alerted St. Louisans to an unnecessary and upsetting demolition in Dogtown--specifically the Franz Park section.

Olympia Investments, associated with the restaurant of the same name on McCausland, is tearing down two properties across the street from their establishment. As of right now, the reason can only be speculated. These two parcels border on an already existent parking lot. These freshly cleared lots will likely become more parking for the popular Greek restaurant.

These are the properties getting the axe:


View Larger Map

Both 1532 and 1536 McCausland have demolition permits dating to December of 2009. UrbanSTL forumer DogtownB&R reports that at least one of these homes is already down.

You might be asking yourself: what's the big deal about the demolition of two small frame houses in an otherwise stable neighborhood? If the demolition were occurring for some new cutting edge new construction, I'd agree that this would not be a big loss.

If the answer is parking, though, we have a familiar dilemma in St. Louis. A destination restaurant thinks it needs more and more parking to succeed. The surroundings become something entirely un-urban in the process. How many of your favorite restaurants in the St. Louis area have adjacent parking that hampers the urban experience? The unqualified answer is too many.

St. Louis will never be a walking city if people expect to find adjacent, free parking everywhere they go. Again, while the purpose of these demolitions is speculative at this point, I'll go out on a limb and still condemn Olympia for making Dogtown uglier and less walkable.

And I really condemn the City of St. Louis, whose urban design guidelines should prevent decisions like this...or at least give the neighborhood a chance to review such demolitions. This makes me wonder also: why didn't these demolitions go before the Preservation Board? The 24th Ward, in which the two structures lie, is a preservation review ward, which means that all proposed demolitions should go before the Board. Anyone have the answer?

I would recommend going on Yelp to "review" Olympia's neighborliness.

UPDATE (@ 5:04 PM EST): Just called Olympia. The person with whom I spoke confirmed that the homes are to become a parking lot.

Vacant Buildings Bill

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported that a measure to catalog vacant buildings and fine their owners for violations has moved along in the legislative process, winning the support of a key aldermanic subcommittee.

Personally, I am all about code enforcement. Making sure vacant buildings are secure and stabilized should indeed be a high priority. And finding owners of long-vacant buildings can be difficult. So I see where this bill is going and I don't disagree.

However, the obvious question arises: how will this bill affect the several thousand city-owned Land Redevelopment Authority (LRA) parcels? (Let's talk Paul McKee, Jr. later...)

Check out this building at 1435 Salisbury in Hyde Park--an LRA-owned building. The image is courtesy of Geo St. Louis.


While the picture above is dated from August 4, 2006, I was in town January of this year and saw it with each and every window open and un-boarded. I believe the city only requires a property owner to board the first floor to block easy entry. Yet won't open upper floor windows accelerate the decay of this handsome mixed use building, resulting in code violations? How can we as concerned citizens (whether because of safety concerns or historic preservation ones) see to it that this property is more tightly secured? Will the vacant buildings bill help? Will it put pressure on the LRA?

On that note, why doesn't the LRA have a storefront with staff to assist potential buyers? I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that the city has no money. Still, I'd like to see our city's budget reflect the needs of our community. We need to better manage and market the city's inventory of vacant parcels. While many LRA parcels are located in severely distressed neighborhoods and the properties themselves need several thousands of dollars of TLC to become livable, some LRA holdings are in stable or stabilizing neighborhoods. Benton Park West and Old North St. Louis, to name just two, should have dedicated LRA staff helping market viable properties.

Beyond that, I wonder if the city has ever considered an Urban Homesteading program, whereby you essentially get the house itself for free, in addition to other tax credits, if you bring the house to code and remain living in it for several years. Baltimore pioneered this type of thing in the 1970s and saw hundreds of properties renovated. From a 1986 New York Times piece entitled "Baltimore's Story of City Homesteading":

During the 1970's the city sold blocks of abandoned Federal-style row houses in downtown neighborhoods for $1 apiece and provided buyers with up to $37,000 in low-interest construction loans. The city provided technical assistance and authorized payments to approved contractors. Major work had to be completed within six months and, after 18 months in residency, homesteaders received the deeds to the houses.

The Baltimore homesteading program evolved as an alternative to urban renewal programs that were phased out. The first project, for example, was a block of 44 tiny row houses on Stirling Street in Oldtown -one of the lowest-income neighborhoods in East Baltimore.

Other solutions for vacant properties exist. What about a community service program whereby those convicted of certain low-level crimes could serve out their sentences rehabilitating vacant and city-owned properties? Skills would be gained in the process.

As I have posted previously, Kansas City is using federal monies (through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA) to establish what is being called a Green Impact Zone in the city's downtrodden east side. This program would employ un- and under-employed neighborhood residents in renovating and weatherizing both occupied and vacant housing. St. Louis has largely used its ARRA funding to plan bare bones streetscape improvement projects that didn't ever even seem to consult the surrounding community. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. Where are our priorities?

I think this Vacant Buildings bill is probably a good "stick" measure, but where are the carrots?


 

Out of City, Out of Mind

This blog doesn't often cover non-City of St. Louis topics, but that's a fault of its own. Our metropolitan region is vast and full of discoveries. (By the way, check out the rapidly ballooning Facebook group "Secret St. Louis" for hundreds of recommendations on food, urban exploration, nightlife, and more across all corners of the region).

So I wanted to bring some sad, albeit non-city news.

> The historic Mansion House of Alton, Illinois is being demolished after a nasty fire gutted it. The 1830s-era building was Alton's first hotel. I never saw it, but I will miss it still. Despite what this Telegraph article says, I still wonder if at least the facade could have been saved.

The Mansion House pre-fire:

View Larger Map

> In other more lighthearted news, the St. Louis County Council must have listened to my advice, because Carondelet and Weber Roads will now be River City Boulevard rather than River City Casino Boulevard. I'm still skeptical on the need for a name change, since signage has been shown to work, but this is better. We are in fact a "River City", so perhaps, with luck, tourists will not make the connection that the road name is an ad for the nearby casino.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Make a Call to Support Transit Investments!

As a sort of update to the previous post, I have a bit of news for you.

The "Hive" sculpture, pictured below, which resides at the Delmar Metrolink Station will be one of the subjects of Mark Reardon's show on KMOX TODAY, from 2-4.



The discussion is similar to that of Elliot Davis's "You Paid For It"--"why did we waste our tax dollars on this?".

PLEASE call to show your support for the arts and for transit. If you disagree with me, check out the post "Why We Invest in Public Art in Transit" for a defense of the reasoning.

The segment will air at 2:35 pm CST. Please call in to the show to express your support for public transit!

You may listen live here.

(314) 436-7900



Fox 2's Elliot Davis Assails Infrastructure Improvements; Misses the Mark

Recently, Fox 2's ever vigilant Elliot Davis covered streetscape improvements on Delor in Bevo in his "You Paid For It" segment.

For a summary of what was done to the street, see Mark Groth's post from St. Louis City Talk. Essentially, the street was widened on both sides by removing the tree planting wells and grass buffer. Yet, the city decided to plant new trees in their old locations, basically creating curb bump-outs in the place of the former tree lawn. The resulting look is somewhat odd, though functional. What would have been an overly wide street is now at least mitigated by the fact that one cannot use the parking lanes to pass.

I agree with Elliot Davis that the need for this project was not extreme. I grew up two blocks from here and know that, sure, the street was narrow in its old incarnation and more than a few people saw their mirrors get clipped off by overeager motorists. Wouldn't a no parking sign from 7-9am and 4-6pm have solved the issue, even if just on one side of the street?

Instead of assailing the idea of widening a street in the city of St. Louis, Eillot Davis's "You Paid For It" inexplicably mocks the tree wells, confronting 14th Ward alderman Stephen Gregali about the "issue". "Won't the trees outgrow the planters and tear up the street you just fixed?" Davis repeats several times, to which Gregali responds, "Call a botanist". Watch the hilarious and puzzling video here.

Or here:



Another angle to approach the issue, besides the need for widening the street at all, could have been the tree selection itself. The city seems to think that these tiny trees survive; they often don't. Shouldn't we pay a little bit more to get some more mature and larger trees that could live through an ice storm, vandals, etc.?

Rumor is (it's not yet on their website), Davis is next set to attack Metro's Arts-in-Transit investments as wasted taxpayer money. I cannot begin to list all of the ignorance involved in that statement, but, luckily, Metro could. Read their eloquent response to such attacks here. Oops...it's essentially a federal funding requirement. And boosts transit-ridership. I applaud Metro for swiftly correcting misinformed critics.

And Elliot, please, make it a semi-annual report if you can't find anything worthwhile. Or at least read more deeply into the value (and faults) of particular infrastructure improvements in the city.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Submit Your Bicycle/Pedestrian Improvement Project to MODOT!

MODOT is seeking community consultation on "high priority" pedestrian and cyclist improvements to their transportation system.

Please, do the City of St. Louis a favor and submit a project!

There are some ground rules. Read them and submit your project here.

One requirement is that your proposal directly affect the MODOT system. So, for example, bike lanes on Lindell might sound great, but Lindell is not a state or federal road.

Try to think of ideas along the interstate system, but especially on one of the state-maintained roads within the City of St. Louis. These include:

> Missouri 30 - Gravois Avenue
> Missouri 100 - Chouteau/Manchester Avenues
> Missouri 115 - Natural Bridge Avenue
> Missouri 180 - From Goodfellow west to city limits on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
> Missouri 267 - A portion of South Broadway in Carondelet/the Patch
> Missouri 366 - Chippewa Street

I submitted a proposal to install a planted median in the center of Gravois from Taft Avenue on the north to Christy Boulevard on the south. This would reduce traffic lanes on Gravois, provide a pedestrian crossing, beautify the area, and connect the Christy greenway and bike lanes to the Bevo neighborhood.

Please submit your own project ideas! St. Louis needs you right now, as the vast majority of submissions are coming from Kansas City and St. Joseph! If you need examples, click here for previously submitted projects (including mine).

Adopt-a-Track?

We've all seen these along our interstates:


Just a quick thought: why doesn't Metro start an Adopt-a-Track program for Metrolink? That way, a corporate or philanthropic organization could pay for track or station upkeep and maintenance. A sponsoring organization could even help fund Arts-in-Transit for its particular station or track segment. There could be a competition amongst donors, who get a bit of advertising out of the deal, to see who has the best Metro stop.

There could also be Adopt-a-Route, for buses.

What say you, Metro?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Local, Independent Bookstores in the City of St. Louis

Recently, St. Louis accomplished something its detractors never thought it could. It placed near the top of a positive list--Most Literate Cities.

While #11 overall is not too shabby, St. Louis scored particularly high in the "Libraries" (#2) categories as well as the "Booksellers" (#8) category.

Wait...booksellers? This certainly had to be a regional measure, which would include the many chain bookstores that litter the metropolitan region.

This list gave me the idea to look at St. Louis's offerings in this category. But I wanted to focus on the city of St. Louis and in particular its local, independent booksellers of the non-adult variety. Below is a list of places in the city where you can flaunt your literacy, among the Top 11 in the country.

THE ARCHIVE
Neighborhood: Benton Park West
213-15 Cherokee Street
Saint Louis, MO 63118
(314)288-0712
(800)604-8122
fax: (314)288-0657
email: info@archivescribe.com

Website: http://archivescribe.com/

This is St. Louis's newest independent book store, located on an evolving stretch of Cherokee Street on the Benton Park West side. I wanted to highlight this one first because it needs its presence known the most as the new kid on the block. Plus, my heart bleeds endlessly for Cherokee Street. I just love that you can now stroll the stroll and peruse rare used books, buy an STL-Style t-shirt, gawk at antique medical equipment, watch printmakers at work, thumb through metal records, lug home some used furniture and other trinkets, etc. I digress, badly. When I was last in town, the shop was not quite open yet, but that didn't stop the owner (didn't get his name...) from letting me in for a little tour and browsing. It looked well stocked then. Please visit and support your Cherokee Street bookstore...or else suffer a slide in the rankings on next year's Most Literate Cities study! You wouldn't want to be responsible for that, would you?

HAMMOND'S BOOKS
Neighborhood: Benton Park/Antique Row
1939 Cherokee Street
St. Louis, MO 63118
314-776-4737
800-776-4732
info@hammondsbooks.net
Website: http://www.hammondsbooks.net/


Okay...so the Archive isn't Cherokee Street's only bookstore. Hammond's has been around for a while and specializes in rare and out of print books. It fits in well with its antique surroundings, as many of their books are antiques themselves. Hammond's has limited hours, so make sure to call ahead.

DUNAWAY BOOKS
Neighborhood: Tower Grove South/Heights
3111 South Grand
 St. Louis, MO 63118
 Phone: (314) 771 - 7150
info@dunawaybooks.com

Website: http://www.dunawaybooks.com/

South Grand, to me, lacks the needed retail element to truly make the district pop. Dunaway Books, though, is one of the most authentic and cool businesses on the strip. This has to be St. Louis largest independent bookstore, with a jam-packed main floor and a basement to boot. Please support Dunaway to keep South Grand viable. Hopefully the street's more pedestrian-friendly layout will give Dunaway some extra foot traffic.


LEFT BANK BOOKS




Neighborhoods: Central West End, Downtown
399 N. Euclid
St. Louis, MO 63108
314-367-6731

and

321 N. 10th
St. Louis, MO 63101
314-436-3049

Website: http://www.left-bank.com/

Left Bank Books probably needs no introduction. Most city residents know of it. But that doesn't mean, come Black Friday, most residents shop there. Left Bank has had something of a shaky history, having nearly shuttered several times. Originally a counter-culture bookstore located in the Loop, Left Bank was rescued from the brink of closure and moved to the Central West End, where it remains today. Due to Craig Heller's brilliance and generosity, a subsidized store now exists downtown. Left Bank's plight is a case in point: local booksellers need your support whenever possible. Remember that their products are the same as Barnes and Noble and Borders, yet their level of customer service and neighborhood-oriented settings simply make the shopping experience more pleasant than any corporate one. During the real estate and investment bubble of the mid 2000s, I recall Mayor Slay trumpeting news of a Borders scouting a downtown location. I can safely say I'm glad they didn't move in now that Left Bank anchors downtown. Left Bank's profits stay in St. Louis.

LEGACY BOOKS AND CAFE
Neighborhood: Academy
5249 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108
314-862-4226

So I admit: I've never been to this store. Reviews of it sound great, though. It seems to be a combination book store and coffee shop--a concept that's popular here in Baltimore but not so much in St. Louis. It seems rather social justice-oriented, too, which is excellent in my book. It's already on my list of places to try when I return to St. Louis.


NOT JUST A BOOKSTORE
Neighborhood: Skinker-DeBaliviere
5892 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63112
314-361-9955
Website: http://www.notjustabookstore.net

Here's yet another "Far East Loop" bookstore I've never been to. As the name suggests, it's not merely about books, but empowerment through literacy--very fitting for the study that inspired this post. Does anyone have the scoop on this business, located in the Delmar Design District?

--------------

A personal favorite of mine is the American Institute of Architects (AIA) bookstore downtown on Washington Avenue. There are a handful of comic book stores left in the city as well. Does anyone else know of any specialty book stores in the city? We can't forget Subterranean Books, located just outside the city in the Loop.

One more thing...a fond farewell to one of the region's coolest book stores ever:  Library Limited in downtown Clayton, swallowed by the corporate campus of Centene.

Final reflection here: support your local, independent book store because 1) our city will be less cool if you do not and 2) we will not rank as highly on "lists" with dubious criteria. That's all.

UPDATE (2/22/10): An adroit reader caught that I missed a specialty book store--Big Sleep Books on Euclid in the Central West End, which specializes in mystery novels. Thanks!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The City that Never Sleeps / Mound City

I just got back from my first ever (albeit very brief) trip to New York City.

Here is a cell phone picture of SoHo to stand as incontrovertible proof that I indeed visited:


St. Louis can't compare to this, right? People, shops, activity in every direction. As a self-avowed urbanist, St. Louis should be quickly fading from my memory.

But it's simply not. While I was scrolling through my several cell phone photos of New York, I crashed abruptly into this one...


This was certainly not New York. In fact, it was definitely no where else but St. Louis. Little Midwestern St. Louis, a city of 355,000.

I can't explain it fully, but I brimmed up with pride in the moment of the realization: these unique red brick streetscapes are ours and, for the most part, ours alone.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rants and Raves, Quick and Dirty

Rants

Grand Center--the Intersection of Art and Life--is getting an artless, lifeless streetscape improvement project. New sidewalks, essentially...that's it. See Gateway Streets blog for more details. Why waste the money?

In a 4-3 vote Tuesday, the St. Louis County Council approved the name change of Weber/Carondelet Roads in South County bordering River des Peres to, gulp, River City Casino Boulevard. River City Boulevard? Maybe. The "casino" portion does indeed turn this stretch of road into a billboard. It erases the history and identity of the street so that drivers cannot mistake where they're heading. Anyone ever heard of a directional sign?

Raves

On the other side of Grand Boulevard, in the Grand South Grand strip, things look a bit better. This streetscape project will shrink the bloated roadway without the use of ugly barriers, will plant new trees, install new street furniture, wayfinding signs, etc. Here is the link to the latest presentation on the project, which includes the rendering.

Sappington Farmers' Market is expanding into the city. The market's owners plan to build a two-story structure at the southeast corner of Park Avenue and Truman Parkway in the City Hospital Complex. It'll include 25,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor and an 80,000 square foot greenhouse atop the building. This excellent development should make the Near South Side an even better place to live. Here's to hoping the building is designed well and is urban in form.







City to River

The all-volunteer citizens' advocacy group City to River has debuted its website.

CITY TO RIVER OFFICIAL WEBSITE (And be sure to scroll over the main photograph with your mouse).

It's wonderful!

City to River's work is essential for the future of our city. The time has never been more opportune to demand for the Archgrounds Redesign (called Framing a Modern Masterpiece) to include the removal of both the depressed and elevated sections of Interstate 70.

Since Interstate 70 will be rerouted to the Cass Avenue landing upon completion of the new Mississippi River Bridge, the leftover section of I-70 running along Memorial Drive from the Old Cathedral to the Bottle District will no longer be necessary. Current plans call for this stranded section of I-70 to become a northward extension of I-44. This status quo action is unacceptable amidst an international design competition enacted to bring bold, transformative ideas to the Archgrounds.

What is likely to happen without action by the City to River advocates is a proposal that calls for the "lid" over the depressed section, essentially tunneling it. This is not enough. Connecting Laclede's Landing and points northwest of the Arch is just as important a goal as connecting those points directly to the west. The elevated portion of I-70 must go too!

Bravo to City to River for providing a clear and organized voice for positive change in St. Louis! I hope to become involved from afar!

No TIGER Grants for St. Louis City

TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery)is a program of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Cities across the country submitted proposals to the $1.5 billion program. Competition was stiff, and St. Louis's projects did not make the final cut (with the exception of a small Metro East grant).

The final TIGER grant awardees list is here.

Midwestern TIGER recipients include (not exhaustive): Detroit (for construction of light rail on Woodward); Chicago (for a freight train congestion reduction program); Indianapolis (a bicycle and pedestrian network downtown); and Kansas City (to help fund the "Green Impact Zone" that I blogged on recently).

Among St. Louis projects passed over were:

  • The Loop Trolley.
  • Rebuilding the 22nd Street Interchange downtown (as part of McKee's NorthSide development).
  • Unnamed "improvements" in the Chouteau Lake and Greenway project.
  • Truck-only lanes for I-70
  • A Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) at DeBaliviere and Forest Park Parkway.
Read more at Building Blocks Blog. The Loop Trolley, DeBaliviere TOD, and 22nd Street interchange rebuild will likely go on without these helpful TIGER grants; I am unsure of the status of the Chouteau Lake project. I believe a truck-only lane on I-70 is a heap of wasted money.

Better luck next economic crisis, St. Louis?

UPDATE: Building Blocks Blog has posted a tally of the rejected TIGER projects including their costs here.

Form-Based Zoning Coming to (Part of) St. Louis

In the 1920s, the town of Euclid, Ohio set up a rudimentary zoning code that drew the ire of some well-off local landowners. These individuals believed the city's attempt to restrict the use of their land constituted a "taking" and, moreover, was unconstitutional. The resulting landmark Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. Supreme Court case would, surprisingly, declare zoning not only constitutional, but necessary.

This is where the name "Euclidian" zoning arises. Euclidian zoning entails neat separation of land uses. "Mixed-use" properties, combining residential, office, and retail perhaps, would not be allowed under a strict Euclidian zoning code.

Most planners today realize the utility of zoning but lament the modernist interpretation of zoning represented by the Euclidian manner. Corner stores, live-work units, even clean industry surrounding housing--all have gained acceptance as essential parts of a varied, diverse urban fabric. Recently, urban planners have been looking for a way to regulate land that does not stifle the way cities were meant to work.

Enter Form-Based Zoning.

Rather than merely regulate the uses of structures, form-based zoning looks at the appropriateness of scale, design, height, etc. to the urban environment. It's a relatively new concept, pioneered by New Urbanists like Andres Duany, and has been applied in a few cities now (Petaluma, California was one of the first).

Now, St. Louis may be jumping in on the game.

Central West End Midtown Development is nearly finished with its form-based zoning code for its service area--the southern portion of the Central West End and parts of Midtown. Read more at the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corp.'s blog.

Some nuggets from that blog post:

The proposal will be implemented in three phases:
1. The Building Envelope Standards (to regulate the physical form of the area)
2. General Design Standards (to preserve and create the appropriate urban experience)
3. Sustainable Building Standards (to incentivise various levels of green development)

Here is an excerpt from the Building Envelope plan (click to enlarge):


I think this is a wonderful effort for the Central West End, Midtown, and St. Louis. I will be eager to see more of the details, such as how design is to be regulated, but this seems like a good start.

If I had one major criticism, it would be, of course, the parking. Requiring one off-street parking space per residential unit seems a little high for a truly urban neighborhood like the Central West End. It might make more sense to make one space the maximum allowed parking rather than the minimum. I am also wondering what strategy neighborhood residents chose to pursue: the modified existing envelope or the contextual envelope. The former would have allowed for more high-intensity development, especially on Lindell, Forest Park, and Vandeventer. The latter would be more cautious and preservation-minded, keeping almost all historic structures and preserving the scale of neighborhoods as they are today.

The form-based code should certainly block, say, a CVS from tearing down a group of buildings for a suburban store with a drive-through (which, of course, almost happened). It should also not allow for the rebuilding of McDonalds and Arby's in their usual forms, which already did happen.

This code should be strong and urban, solidifying the Central West End/Midtown as St. Louis's most urban experience. I am definitely eager to see the final product.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cologne Cafe, Air Conditioned

The last time I was in town, I walked around my old neighborhood--Bevo.

In the stretch of the neighborhood where all the street names turn German--Gertrude, Dresden, etc.--sits a fairly innocuous street named Cologne.

I don't know why, but this small house with an adjacent storefront really caught my eye. Maybe it was the matching green-glazed brick courses at the bottom. The window on the storefront reads "Cologne Cafe, Air Conditioned". Was this once a bar and grill? It would appear so.


The city is littered with the remnants of neighborhood commerce. They each tell a story about their respective neighborhoods. Does any reader know the story behind this one?

Friday, February 12, 2010

St. Louis Open Streets

St. Louis Open Streets is a new program sponsored by the City of St. Louis that will open up several miles of city roads to pedestrian and cyclist traffic only. That's right...automobiles are prohibited!

The project web site is located here.

Open Streets is an excellent way to encourage walking and cycling in the city, as well as to see the city the way it was meant to be seen--outside of a vehicle and on foot or bike. More importantly, the city's willingness to close major arteries for pedestrians--when not encouraged to do so for parades or other special events--is an important milestone. Perhaps the St. Louis Streets Department will consider other measures to improve our city's road network to make it more amenable to pedestrians. These would include making bloated streets like Olive Street west of downtown go on a "road diet"; opening up streets closed by barriers to make them more trafficked and safer to walk along; reconnecting the street grid where interstates have done damage; et cetera.

The first Open Streets event is scheduled for May 1, 2010, from 8am to 1pm. The route selected is Lindell Boulevard from city limits on the west, eastward to Compton, where the closure jumps to Locust Street, which extends all the way until 4th Street. See below for the route's flyer.


Other Open Streets events are planned for Sunday, June 13; Sunday, September 19; and Saturday, October 9, 2010.

If you notice, certain streets within Forest Park will also be closed off to vehicular traffic.

Personally, I think this is a wonderful idea and a victory for pedestrians in the City of St. Louis. I do want to be careful to point out that permanent street closures without sufficient population density are often a bad thing, making streets appear too quiet, private, or even desolate. That is why I support allowing through-traffic on most of the city's closed-off roads. However, as an event designed to bring people out to have fun and exercise temporarily in the former right-of-way of vehicles, Open Streets is a great statement in support of pedestrians. This event does not, however, serve as a substitute for improving the state of St. Louis's often overly-wide and pedestrian and cyclist-unfriendly roads. Still, for now, bravo!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Breaking News: No Demolition Requests on This Month's Preliminary Preservation Board Agenda

The title says it all: according to the preliminary Preservation Board Agenda for February, there are no proposed demolitions this month. This is very rare indeed.

In fact, there's even a proposal to construct a single-family home on a corner lot in Soulard (at 1325 Lami, to be exact). That sounds good to me.

See the agenda for yourself here, but note that this is preliminary, and items could be pulled or added before the Monday, February 22, 2010 meeting.

St. Louis Intersections in High Definition from Google Maps

This could be horribly old news, but it's a new discovery to me, at least.

Fans of Google Maps' StreetView might be pleased to know that most, if not all, intersections in the city are now in what I call "high definition" rather than the usual grainy resolution.

Many of our city's corners look great with such rendering! Here's a before and after look, from Soulard. Note that, when you're not in an intersection, the old resolution is still present. Other cities, such as Pittsburgh, seem to have their whole expanses covered with this "high definition" rendering.

10th and Menard Streets, non-intersection view.


10th and Menard - intersection view


I know this post is impossibly nerdy, but just thought I'd pass it along for those with the same cartographic/photographic inclinations.

UPDATE: It looks like the H-D photos are most prevalent in areas heavily covered by Streetview (South City and Downtown). Some Central West End and North Side intersections are not yet updated.

SECOND UPDATE: Google has added more sections of the city (completely HD) to Streetview. The Patch, Princeton Heights, portions of Bevo and Holly Hills, etc. were all basically left untouched and are now available on Streetview. I hope they finish the rest of the city--the North Side is particularly undone.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

21st Ward Preservation Review at Work

One of the first legislative actions of Antonio French, the newly elected alderman of the 21st Ward, was to institute preservation review for his ward. Preservation review means that the Preservation Board reviews proposed demolitions in participating wards. Currently, most wards participate. Those that don't are located on the North Side, with the exception of the 14th Ward (Bevo).

In January, the Preservation Board reviewed a proposed demolition at 4125 Turner on an intact North Side block. According to live Tweets by Michael Allen, the home was spared demolition by a unanimous vote. Here is a capture of the Cultural Resource Office's staff report showing the house (circled in blue) and adjacent structures:

A North Side block is now to remain intact due to Preservation Review. Most certainly, this situation would have been entirely different if this demolition request had occurred a year or two earlier. The owner would have gone to the Building Division, requested a permit, and that permit, in all likelihood, would have been granted with no opportunity for public comment or oversight.

While the house is certainly not a work of architectural genius, it's an attractive contributor to a unique streetscape. I sincerely hope, now, that its owner can shore up the financing to rehab it or sell it to someone who can.

The "Other" West End

St. Louis's "West End" Neighborhood can cause quite the confusion. Many refer to the bustling and popular Central West End by the same shortened name. Others think of the "West End" more in its historical sense, taking in an area from Kingshighway to city limits, Page Avenue to Forest Park.

Today's West End neighborhood is considered a solid part of the North Side, being located north of Delmar. Most people don't consider that this neighborhood shares the East Loop with Skinker-DeBaliviere; contains one of the oldest houses in the city; was indeed once part of that nebulous and larger West End region that was defined by its wealth and prestige.

If you read the History of Urban Renewal in St. Louis, you'll discover that the West End (current definition) was one of the city's countless "urban renewal" areas. Usually this meant mass demolition for new construction and green space. However, the West End was a late urban renewal zone. By the dawn of the 1970s, Pruitt-Igoe and like-public housing projects were rapidly losing favor. The federal government's Model Cities program contained public participation requirements for urban redevelopments receiving federal funding; through this more democratic approach, mid-century planners were beginning to hear the voices of unrest and upheaval. To their surprise, many low-income residents liked their neighborhoods and did not want to see them cleared outright.

Accordingly, in the West End, the intent was rehabilitation of the bulk of the neighborhood's fine homes. The plans also called for a popular crime-deterring technique of the 1970s, one that has scarred the city throughout--street closures and other disruptions to the grid. Sadly, planned rehabilitations in the West End Urban Renewal Area were outpaced by demolitions. The street grid was still marred as planned, in many cases.

Today's West End has little relation to the better known Central West End, socioeconomically or otherwise. There are some new homes:


These homes are located on the 5800 block of Clemens. Their presence is probably a good sign for the neighborhood, though their execution could clearly have been better. Driveways should be banned in most of St. Louis's urban neighborhoods, including the West End. In addition, the city should probably discourage the brick facade-vinyl siding phenomenon in a well-articulated urban design guidelines. Still, the several blocks that have witnessed these new homes are at least no longer desolate.

Even better, the West End contains one of the city's most picturesque and historic private streets--West Cabanne Place. It has sustained some high profile losses, but for the most part is intact. For a great history of the Cabanne area, please make sure to see the immaculate Vanishing St. Louis post: "Survival and Loss on the West End's Cabanne Avenue".

The West End neighborhood is also notable for hosting several examples of a relatively rare American housing style--the Shingle-style house. West Cabanne Place has several--as does Bartmer Avenue centered on Belt.

Unfortunately, last month's Preservation Board meeting saw the unanimous approval of the demolition of one of these rare housing types. 5594 Bartmer was requested for demolition by an adjacent property owner who had built a new home and was worried about the condition of this neighboring home. It is pictured below, courtesy of the St. Louis Community Information Network.


Vacant for many years, 5594 was given several reprieves by the Preservation Board in the past in order to find a fitting owner. Such an owner never materialized. Now the house will be demolished.

The West End has lost another important building recently as well. The 30-unit building at Goodfellow and Cabanne is no more. Courtesy of Vanishing St. Louis:


The West End was likely once not too much unlike its neighbor to the south, Skinker-DeBaliviere. That is to say, it contained lots of large apartment buildings like that above and many unique, turn-of-the-century single-family homes. Despite its many losses, it's not too late for a neighborhood like the West End. Urban design guidelines, a neighborhood-wide National Register nomination, re-opening the neighborhood's street grid and, who knows, maybe the Loop Trolley, could all help to get the neighborhood back on its feet. We shouldn't forget the two West End attributes when we rebuild any neighborhood in the city--uniqueness (see the rare Shingle style houses that call the neighborhood home) and density (its formerly numerous apartment blocks).

Monday, February 8, 2010

NabeWise

In Baltimore, power has been restored, yet three feet of snow remains, with 5 more inches on the way tomorrow. That means blogging time.

For now, a short post.

I found this new website, NabeWise, which beckons users to:

* Explore neighborhoods.
* Discover new neighborhoods.
* Find the right neighborhood for you.

So far, in its infancy, it includes only New York City and San Francisco. Make sure to register and get St. Louis added. This could be an excellent resource!

That's all for now.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

St. Louis: We're a Distinctive Destination!

Last year I posted about St. Louis's not being listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual listing of the nation's "Dozen Distinctive Places". By my review of their archives, the city had never been selected,  although St. Genevieve, Missouri had. A USAToday article describes the Dozen Distinctive Destinations as "highlighting 'cultural and recreational experiences different from those found at the typical vacation destination.'"

Well, 2010 is your year, St. Louis! We're now distinctive!

Here's the link and here's the list:


2010 DISTINCTIVE DESTINATIONS

What was said of St. Louis?

Meet Me In St. Louis

Famous for its beer, legendary baseball teams, and the modernist Gateway Arch that has loomed over the cityscape since 1947, St. Louis, Missouri is one of America's great cities. But visitors who look beyond St. Louis' hallmark offerings will find a vibrant, ethnically diverse city full of unexpected treasures and one-of-a-kind attractions.

Gateway to the West

Immigrants determined to pursue their version of the American dream made tracks to this city on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River in the early nineteenth century, resulting in what is now a regional patchwork of architectural styles and distinctive neighborhoods. Architecture buffs and curious visitors will not be disappointed with the collection of red brick buildings, cobblestone streets and terra cotta friezes designed by some of America's most notable architects: from Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building, lauded as the nation's first skyscraper, to the area's only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, Ebsworth House, St. Louis has preserved excellent examples of America's major architectural trends throughout history.

Activities

The size of the city and breadth of cultural influences have combined to provide sites and attractions for every visitor to enjoy. Art lovers will revel in evening gallery walks through revitalized historic districts, the world's largest collection of interior mosaics at the 1908 Byzantine and Romanesque Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, and the exquisite details of Theodore Link's stained glass windows at St. Louis Union Station. The station, which was once the largest and busiest passenger rail terminal in the world, now serves the public as a festival marketplace of shops and restaurants. In a Preserve America community located just south of downtown, the Anheuser Busch Brewery offers tours of the historic Brew House and Clydesdale stables and is in close proximity to the longstanding Soulard Farmer's Market.

St. Louis Going Green

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, St. Louis ranks ninth among U.S. metropolitan areas for the number of buildings certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The region features 11 LEED-certified construction projects that have been completed, with another 36 in the process of attaining LEED certification. Seasonal markets are interspersed throughout the city to promote a Buy Local campaign, and St. Louis lays claim to an abundance of sprawling parks and green spaces including the nation's oldest public garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden. 

Congrats, St. Louis!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Eco-Friendly Infill Coming to Old North St. Louis

Matt Fernandez, author of the blog St. Louis Evolution and future Old North resident rehabber, was kind enough to post on Urban St. Louis a rendering of possible infill for Old North to be developed in tandem by Habitat for Humanity St. Louis and EcoUrban. In all, 17 homes are expected to be built. Better still, both Habitat and, as their name might suggest, EcoUrban are planning to build the homes to be energy efficient and eco-friendly.

Note that this rendering is preliminary and set to be revised. See the Urban St. Louis forum topic here (yes, it's back up...and better than ever, FYI!).


And a very preliminary site plan to show the lots to be built upon here:



Personally, I love the idea of building new, eco-friendly flounder houses. They're basically unique to St. Louis. Those shown above have one other great feature--no brick! Look...I love brick as much as the next St. Louisan, but our old masonry work is expensive and difficult to replicate. Why not use contemporary materials?

The added density on Dodier, Sullivan, and Hebert only solidifies Old North's most solid and intact streets. With luck, we'll see other builders tackle some of the more challenging areas of Old North (such as its southern and northern extremes).

What do you think?

UPDATE: See Old North's own blog post on this topic here.

Second Update (2/3/2010): Per a commenter on this post, you can count on the rendering that there are actually 17 Habitat homes specifically, with a possible six additional (judging by that drawing) to come from EcoUrban. The two are not "collaborating" per se but are co-locating their developments.

Monday, February 1, 2010

New Construction (and Renovation) in Gravois Park


2732 Miami (at Iowa). Yours for $240,000. Click here for the listing. It has a twin to the east.

There's no side view, but I'm willing to bet this sucker does indeed present a vinyl face to the street.

What do you think: sufficiently deferential to historic Gravois Park architecture or too stuck in the past?

Also in Gravois Park, how's this for a proposed renovation?

3523 California Before


View Larger Map

3523 California After


Click here for the listing. It will be excellent to see this beauty rehabbed!

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