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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The NorthSider

If you visit the city's official website and click the link to its 79 official neighborhoods, you'll witness the digital divide right before your eyes.

Well-to-do and well-known neighborhoods like St. Louis Hills and Soulard have attractive, contemporary websites. Neighborhoods less on the radar are not likely to have much of a web presence. Many of these historic neighborhoods are faced with a city-designed website that dates to the mid-1990s--and hasn't been updated since.

But it's not just a matter of flashiness and neighborhood pride--neighborhood websites can be a great place to disseminate information out to residents. Other than Old North St. Louis, not a single other North Side neighborhood had much in the way of an online presence. Now, several of them have something even better--a neighborhood/ward newspaper that has both a physical and online copy, the NorthSider.

The NorthSider is a project of 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French. The neighborhood newspaper lists its constituent neighborhoods underneath its title: Penrose, O'Fallon, the Greater Ville, Mark Twain, and Kingsway East.

In its first edition are stories regarding the North Side Recreation Center to be constructed in O'Fallon Park:


and new housing on North Newstead:



The NorthSider fills a tremendous gap in coverage of the goings-on and development news across a wide swath of the North Side. South Siders and Central Corridor-ians better take note of the NorthSider's covered neighborhoods--they're true architectural stars of which we should all be proud.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Bright (Green) Future for McRee Town?

Unlike Dotage, the 17th Ward has a fairly regularly updated blog keeping St. Louisans abreast of developments in that section of the city (Central West End, Forest Park Southeast, McRee Town, et cetera).

One of the most exciting bits of news covered by Blog 17 is a newly announced redevelopment plan for the old section of McRee Town not razed for the Botanical Heights development.

On the 4200 block of McRee, Urban Improvement Construction (UIC) has proposed a green redevelopment of nearly the entire block -- 16 historic renovations along with 12 new LEED-certified homes.


Blue buildings are existing, to be rehabilitated; yellow are proposed new construction. Image is courtesy of Blog 17.

Brent Crittenden of UIC and the Central Design Office (CDO) also spoke of UIC/CDO's plans for the corner building at McRee and Tower Grove, located diagonally from their main offices.


While this building has been allowed to degrade over the past years, under the plaster finish that now covers the façade is a glazed brick former Standard Oil station, with white glazed brick and a bright red cornice. We intend to restore this vintage filling station and outfit it as a small corner café. Our hope is that this café will provide some vibrancy to the neighborhood and become a long term icon and meeting place.

To me, this is a great step in the right direction towards revitalizing McRee Town. While I'm quite sure Botanical Heights has stabilized its surrounding neighborhoods, I do wonder if a more sensitive infill-based project like that proposed for the 4200 block of McRee would have been even better. I even like the design philosophy suggested by UIC/CDO:

Maintaining and restoring as much of the historic character of the neighborhood is important to us for many reasons, both culturally and architecturally. Our firm has developed an expertise in the restoration of difficult rehabs and we hope to showcase that ability in this project. On the new units, we plan to build homes that match the proportions and materials of the existing homes, but in a more contemporary design that appeals to a design conscious buyer.

We need more infill housing across the city that walks the fine line between homage and challenge to our architectural heritage.

Below is one of the homes slated for renovation, including facade improvements:

Image courtesy of the City of St. Louis

I have always thought McRee Town to be a sadly and unnecessarily overlooked part of St. Louis; having I-44 and heavy industry as a neighbor on nearly all sides doesn't help too much. That said, this is actually part of the neighborhood's history, having sprung up around the looming Liggett and Myers Tobacco Factory on Park Avenue. Thankfully, the remaining portion of McRee Town is now a historic district under the Liggett & Myers name. I am glad to see it may not be too late to appreciate what's left of this small, but classic south St. Louis neighborhood.

Please check out Blog 17's item on the redevelopment here, which includes the full interview with Brent Crittenden,

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I'm a Cherokee Person

Just last week, I attended the Pecha Kucha night that took place at the Contemporary Art Museum. I saw Mike Glodeck there - proprietor of one of the city's best coffee joints, Foam. We had a brief discussion on what was the next step for Cherokee Street.

Mike mentioned that the street needs more people living on, not just around, it -- more stakeholders, in other words. He's right. Misguided zoning of the modern era sought to make commercial districts businesses alone; corner storefronts only residential; etc. The intermixing of uses and users on the same urban block is the essence of city life. No one street or space belongs to any particular group. It is quintessentially public and shared, whether you're a lifelong resident who lives above the bakery or you're the person stopping in for some fresh-baked bread.

I'm excited to say that, as of today, I'm living on Cherokee Street (Foam is now my neighbor!). What that means for you, dear reader, who has been scratching his or her head wondering what has happened to this blog, is that I will once again have my own space. This blog should return to its normal life shortly. No excuses.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Triangle, Benton Park West

When my parents' neighbors in Bevo announced they were moving and put up a "For Sale" sign, I couldn't help but think perhaps urban life had gotten the best of them. Perhaps I was stereotyping just a bit--she's pregnant, and so I assumed that she was preempting the tough decision ahead when her child reached school age by moving to a better school district now.

To my surprise, she told me she was moving to the "Triangle". I was intrigued that she assumed I would know where this mysterious neighborhood was. At first, I was thinking of the Ivory Triangle in Carondelet/the Patch. Then I figured it out: that wedge of Benton Park West bounded by Arsenal on the south, Jefferson on the east, and Gravois to the northwest, forming a pretty neat triangle. She confirmed this nebulous Near South Side neighborhood to be the same Triangle in which she and her husband were undertaking a four-family rehab!

The Triangle has no shortage of Essential Red Brick St. Louis, but this Second Empire-styled commercial building and its neighbors form one of my favorite street scenes in the area, at Texas and Lynch:




Whether you call it Benton Park West, the Triangle, or something else entirely, this is a neighborhood that St. Louis should be showing off! May many more intrepid pregnant women decide to rehab forlorn homes here!

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