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129 Year Old Home Demolished – Gas Station Rumored Replacement

July 29, 2014

A few weeks ago I noticed a heartbreaking demolition just north of Downtown.  On one of the most active blocks in the vital transition between the heart of Downtown/Washington Avenue Loft District and neighborhoods to the north (part of Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration), a rare reminder of contiguous urban form connecting these areas has been erased.  Built in 1885, the home pictured below was purchased for $135,000.00 just over a year ago, only to be demolished a couple of months ago at a cost of $6,000.00.

Home on N. 13th before demolition

1414 N. 13th Street – June 2013

This last weekend I found the time to photograph the lot, and speak with the neighbors at Kunkel’s Auto.  Apparently the little shop’s days are numbered as well.

Soon to be demolished

Kunkel’s Auto – November 2013

The rumor is that a gas station will be going into this prime lot near the new Stan Span/Downtown interchange, and is part of Northside Regeneration’s plans for the area.

Tucker/N. 13th between Downtown and Stan Span Access

Tucker/N. 13th between Downtown and Stan Span Access

In the image above, the red circle identifies the demolished home, blue circles point out existing gas stations, and the green circle is the only other surviving home on this important stretch.  Note that much of the Tucker frontage is devoted to surface parking and inappropriate infill like the straight-out-of-suburbia McDonald’s at 1119 N. Tucker.  Single use modern housing developments barricaded from walkable downtown by superblocks and fences dominate areas to the east and west, leaving Tucker as the only feasible way that McKee’s plan can connect livable urban places to the north and south.

1414 N. 13th – Gone

By squandering what little is left of this area’s built environment for another gas station/convenience store, Northside Regeneration is proving that it’s unfit for the job of remaking this part of our city, choosing instead to double-down on the failed strategies of the last few decades.  I hope that the rumors are wrong, but can’t help but believe them.

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McRee Town Today

May 17, 2014

The McRee Town neighborhood (recently rebranded Botanical Heights) has seen an incredible transformation over the last couple of years.  Its positive trajectory has a lot of momentum thanks to the pioneering local design/build firm UIC.  Their redevelopment provides an excellent example for other areas of the city.

Downtown McRee Town (Botanical Heights)

Tower Grove and McRee

The above intersection, virtually abandoned just a few years ago, is now seeing new life and gaining popularity thanks largely to sister establishments Olio and Elaia (I haven’t tried the restaurant but Olio’s cocktails are top-notch).  Situated in between Shaw’s Garden and the rapidly gentrifying Forest Park Southeast neighborhood (Tower Grove Ave is still rough there), McRee Town’s new-found spotlight improves outlook for the Tower Grove Avenue Corridor and adjacent areas.

Bar and Restaurant in McRee Town - Tower Grove Avenue

Olio and Elaia

New housing and commercial space in the form of ground up and rehab construction is coming online in the immediate vicinity of this intersection.  Union Studio, SLAM! Agency, La Patisserie Chouquette, DTLS, and City Garden Montessori have all moved into the neighborhood over the past couple of years, and residential demand is increasing.

On Tower Grove in McRee Town

SLAM! Agency

Relatively rare in the City of St. Louis, single family home construction by UIC has been completed at an aggressive pace.

UIC Infill Housing in McRee Town

Multi-Family residential has also been recently developed at the Tower Grove Mews.

Tower Grove Mews

St. Louis’ lack of connectivity between its destination neighborhoods is possibly our biggest hurdle to overcome.  The interstates, stroads, superblocks and Schoemehl pots that isolate us will not disappear overnight, but evidence of progress in areas like McRee Town both inspire and motivate the entire region.

For more photos of McRee Town over the past few years see my flickr photo set here.

 

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Snowpocalypse 2014 – Forest Park Southeast

January 11, 2014

I weathered out the entirety of this past week’s winter storms in the comfort of my neighborhood, Forest Park Southeast (also known as The Grove).  Getting behind the wheel from Sunday to Tuesday was about as appealing as a visit to Chesterfield.  Hopefully this will be the worst of the season.  The photos below demonstrate just how small of an area I found myself willing to brave during these (relatively) extreme conditions:

 

Ped Xing

 

Pizza delivery in the snow

Dominos Delivers in Any Weather

Walking in the Snow

Pedestrians

I switched to black & white after my first brief outing:

Manchester Avenue Winter Weather (Forest Park Southeast)

Snow Storm in The Grove

Bicycles

Mural on Tower Grove

The Mangrove

Sweetie Pie’s is Closed Today

Arco in the Snow

Pedestrian on Tower Grove

FPSE in the Snow

Arco Avenue

Snowed In

Buried Car

Snow Shovel Carrier on Newsted

Out to Shovel

Blocked off with Snow, Etc.

Spherical Bollards

Home on Arco

Fenced-in Yard

Snow-loving Pet

Dog in the Snow

Snowy Avenue

Getting into the Car

Tire Tracks

Snowy Alley

Cold coming indoors

Frosted over Light Switch

St. Louis Streets Department

Snow Plow on Newstead

The next day road conditions had improved immensely on the neighborhood’s major trafficways, but driving remained unattractive.

The Grove

Cab and Pedestrians on Manchester

Welcome

Abandoned Storefront

A new neighborhood market is in the works (presumably the same City Greens Market run by St. Cronan’s Parish about a block away), to replace No Coast skateboard shop (recently moved to 4427 Morganford):

Exciting new retail in The Grove

Coming Soon: City Greens Market

Piled up by snow plows

Snow on the Shoulder

Stay warm and be safe!

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Downtown Creve Coeur and The Fresh Market

November 14, 2013

This spring I started working in the Creve Coeur “Central Business District.” There’s a lot there. Tons of office space, plenty of retail, grocery stores, many restaurants, residential all over the place (with a large emphasis on multi-family), great school districts, close proximity to major hospitals, parks and even a public golf course. Creve Coeur has a lot to offer. Despite these assets, the area is unashamedly suburban, auto-centric and unfriendly to pedestrians (or human beings as I call them).

Public Transit and Pedestrians in Suburban Sprawl

Jogger and bus stop on Olive in Creve Coeur

Interstate access and ample parking are the area’s main advertising points, but ironically, Creve Coeur’s CBD has nothing on Downtown St. Louis in both of those arenas.

Car Dealership in

Creve Coeur CBD

In 2002, the city of Creve Coeur adopted a new master plan, envisioning a progressive future shaped by revised zoning that focuses on the transformation of its “central business district” (see this pdf for several maps of the area and conditions – well worth a thorough perusal).

Olive Blvd's 8-10 lanes in Downtown Creve Coeur

Not exactly walkable

The language of the planning document takes care to emphasize that Creve Coeur is “mature” as well as already “attractive and well planned.”

1. The City of Creve Coeur is an attractive, well-planned suburban community that is almost fully developed. It has strong residential neighborhoods, a strong retail corridor, a solid employment center, and strong educational and health institutions. There is much to value and protect in Creve Coeur. This plan urges gradual, but important changes that build on the existing community, not wholesale changes that alter its basic fabric. 2. “Big ideas” can be pursued in a mature, stable community such as Creve Coeur. The City can and should implement substantial changes in certain areas. Specifically, there is a desire to improve the “livability” of the community. This concept means different things to different people, but it generally involves several themes: – Addressing mounting vehicular traffic congestion including providing alternatives to automobile-only transportation, and creating a more pedestrian-friendly and “walkable” community with a network of pedestrian connections throughout the community. – Creating a system of recreational bicycle trails and commuter bike lanes/routes, which provide connections between residential areas, schools, parks and activity centers.

I like that livability is tied directly to alternative transportation. I wish the City of St. Louis had come out against “wholesale changes that alter its basic fabric” in its master plans. I wonder what would happen if the ideas expressed above were taken seriously by our region’s hopelessly addicted motorists.

Urban development attracted by Creve Coeur’s 2002 Master Plan (note the lack of a sidewalk across the street)

Since the adoption of this comprehensive plan there has been visible progress. King’s Landing (pictured above) is the most obvious example, but a number of smaller developments have incorporated elements of urban design into their construction. Apartment buildings have been constructed alongside offices. Strip malls have been built to the sidewalk. Even car dealerships are building in the spirit of the new code. This is all despite the fact that the technical language of the zoning is relatively lenient in many areas. See the following setback guideline as an example:

Section 405.370(E)(4)(a) (2) requires that any structure shall be located a maximum of 80 feet from the Olive Boulevard right-of-way

Unfortunately, even such modest attempts to push developers in the right direction can come under attack. In this case by a rather unlikely assailant.

The Koman Group sought [a] change in zoning protocols to give council the ability to hear site development plans that fall outside the setback requirements along Olive Boulevard. The Fresh Market has submitted a plan that leaves the building 104 feet from Olive Boulevard. City codes call for 80 feet.

The Fresh Market, “different from the giant industrialized grocery stores,” with “each [store being] a part of the local community,” is fighting a plan to improve (otherwise forgotten) livability and sustainability. Luckily for the small (deindustrialized?) grocery chain – with a market cap of 2.4 billion – Creve Coeur City Council voted to override a decision by the city planning commission to enforce the municipal zoning. Clearly this stretch of Olive must need another grocery store more than the Fresh Market needs it (there are 3 others within a block or two of this site, more within a mile or two).

Grocery Store Chain, Suburban Sprawl

Potential Site for The Fresh Market

Whether or not this development is built as planned, Creve Coeur’s “CBD” has a long way to go before it becomes either sustainable or livable. This significant hub of activity is so hostile to pedestrians today, that driving a quarter mile to lunch is considered normal. It is a shame to squander the potential of such relative density. This is a section of town in which retrofitting suburbia has already been started, and where the relevant municipal zoning is already law. It’s also an affluent area in which new developments largely succeed! Unfortunately, the war for retail that wages between St. Louis County’s 90 municipalities and the region’s countless other administrative bodies has blinded elected officials into competing in a race to the bottom. Here, the big box chain is the only winner.

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A Vacant Urban Lot – Brought to you by SLU High

November 3, 2013

The Kings Oak Neighborhood has a small but beautiful residential section at its northeastern edge (Kingshighway and Oakland).  The vast majority of the homes on these quiet tree-lined streets are occupied and well-maintained.

Kings Oak Neighborhood Residential

Lawn Place North from Berthold

This area has a lot of appeal, seemingly isolated but smack dab in the middle of the action.  Unfortunately it’s shrinking.

Demolition of a Four Family Flat in Kings Oak

Demo on Wise

Despite their prime central corridor location, recent occupancy and sound condition, two four-family flats on Wise had to be demolished.

Demo on otherwise picturesque Wise Avenue

Why did these buildings have to come down?  Because SLU High students needed a convenient “Vacant Urban Lot” for their AP Environmental Sciences class:

Experiment in Progress – Please Do Not Disturb

In their defence, while a number of vacant lots already exist just across Kingshighway, it can be a terrifying street to cross on foot.  And what’s a St. Louis neighborhood without at least one vacant lot?  Thanks SLU High!

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Urban Prairie becomes Urban Farm

August 11, 2013

A couple of years ago I wrote about a large expanse of Urban Prairie in the St. Louis Place neighborhood.  While I’ve driven through a few times since, I haven’t really taken the time to stroll around the neighborhood again until this afternoon, when poor road conditions on North Florissant prompted me to park my car and inspect it for damage.

Water Feature Urban Park

St. Louis Place Park – Plenty of green space was planned into the neighborhood.

Luckily my car was fine, and without anything on the calendar decided to let my feet and camera guide me around the neighborhood to the west.  This led me through St. Louis Place Park to St. Louis Avenue (St. Louisans have always been proud of the city), where a homeowner wondering why I was photographing her property directed me to revisit the prairie only a block or two away.  As I took her advice and started walking south, I was shocked to see large cornfields filling up many of the vacant blocks.

Corn - Urban Farming in North St. Louis

Urban Scarecrow and Farm in St. Louis Place

Over the course of the next hour or so that it took me to explore the 10+ blocks of mostly demolished city, I chatted with numerous people who live or work in the neighborhood and pieced together some of the story.  A local firefighter and resident each credited the crops to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation (which has an urban farm in East St. Louis).  Some saw the city maintaining them.  Others thought that corn looked pretty out of place, that rebuilding a mixed use neighborhood should be the priority and that Paul McKee would probably continue his track record – in the tradition of previous developers – as a serious disappointment at best.  The consensus was that none of the crops are intended for human consumption.  Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any additional information on the internet (please share if you know more).

Downtown St. Louis Urban Farming

Freshly Planted

Although I agree that new urban buildings would be much much better than cornfields, I think that the conversion to farmland is a positive.  While visiting the town of Valmeyer, Illinois a few weeks ago (devastated by the flood of ’93 and mostly relocated to a nearby hilltop), I saw that many blocks of the former downtown – street grid still in place – are now soybean fields.

Downtown Old Valmeyer, Illinois

A strange sight, but I imagined it  at the intersection of 23rd and N. Market.

North Market and 23rd Street in St. Louis Place

August 2010

Cornfield at 23rd and N. Market

August 2013

Old North St. Louis also has a program to open up vacant lots for projects like this sunflower garden:

Old North St. Louis (ONSL) Sunflower Garden

Sunflowers in Old North

Below are more photos from today of the urban farm in St. Louis Place:

Soybean Farm in North St. Louis

Soybeans near 22nd Street

Urban Farming

Fire Hydrant and Manhole Cover

Survivor in the Urban Prairie

Abandoned Home and Cornfield

Feed Corn on an Urban Farm in North St. Louis

Corn Growing in St. Louis Place

Urban Corn Crops in St. Louis Place

Fire Hydrant on Urban Farm

Cornfield in North St. Louis East of Jefferson

Downtown over a Cornfield

Urban Farming in St. Louis, Missouri

Corn on the Corner

They say this is not edible

Red Corn Silk

Visit my St. Louis Place flickr set for more.

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St. Louisans Smile

July 28, 2013

For the last few days, St. Louisans have been enjoying a rare break from the usually oppressive summer heat/humidity.  Consequently more people are out on the streets, and almost everyone is smiling.  Below are some smiles I saw this weekend:

Kid with Soda in The Loop

Smiling on Delmar

Woman with White iPhone Headphones and a hat

She’s Smiling too

Delmar Buddies

Three Guys in the Loop

Beautiful Smiling Girl on Delmar

Girl walking to the Metrolink

Corner Bench

Father and Son in Webster Groves

Bug

Kid with his Bike on Newstead

Forest Park Southeast Laugh

Mom Smiling

Nice Guy Posing for the Camera in North St. Louis

Kung Fu in Lewis Place

Lee's Fried Chicken

Having a snack in the Loop

Delmar Loop Sidewalk Cafe Performer

Guitar Player and Audience

Bikes in the Loop

Motorcycle Fans

Bikers at Delmar and Skinker

Motorized Bicycle Fans

Blue Skateboarder on Delmar

Skateboarder

The Loop Coffee Shop Sidewalk Cafe

Enjoying some Coffee on Delmar

West Belle Place

Lewis Place Resident

Delmar Loop

She was in a rush to catch her train

For more portraits, see my “people” flickr set, or my photostream.

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