Archive for the ‘Currrent Events’ Category

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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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Queers Against…

July 10, 2013

Last weekend, to coincide with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defence of Marriage Act, a large number of posters were wheat pasted up on Manchester Avenue in The Grove.  The common theme was “Queers against…”

Queers Against in St. Louis, MO

No Pride in A$$imilation

I’m not going to offer any commentary here, and have no idea if this is the work of one person or an organization, but I will share a few photos:

And there's STL Metro driving past

Not Gay as in Happy, but Queer as in F*** the STLPD

In front of the LGBT center

No Pride in A$$imilation

Here’s a better shot of “Queers Against (haiku edition)”:

Posted up in the Grove

Queers Against… Monsanto, the HRC, the STLPD, the Military, Marriage and Pride, INC

Posters on an Abandoned Building

Queers Against Society

Pride Rainbow Flags

Queers against

Post No Bills in the Grove (Forest Park Southeast)

Pro-Fabulous Anti-Capitalist

Despite the postering campaign, life in Forest Park Southeast continued on as usual.

Forest Park Southeast (aka the Grove)

Dude and his Dog in front of N&M

Manchester Ave in FPSE

The Grove

Guy on Scooter in the Grove

Scooter Rider on Manchester Avenue

Residential Non-Vandalism in FPSE

Owner Endorsed Free Speech – Booze and Guns

Police in the Grove - St. Louis, MO

STLPD ATV in FPSE

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St. Louisans Enjoying the Independence Day Weekend

July 6, 2013

I spent a lot of time wandering around the city this weekend, and it seemed like everyone was in a good mood.  The weather was relatively nice, there was no drought to discourage fireworks, the spirit was festive.  See some of the people I ran into this weekend in the photographs below:

Tower Grove East, South St. Louis Summer

Pool Party! – Tower Grove East

Tower Grove East South St. Louis Summer Swimming

Break from the Pool – Tower Grove East

Cherokee Street South St. Louis Summer

Phone Convo on the Stoop – Cherokee Street

Tower Grove East, South St. Louis Summer Grand Am

Beautiful evening for a drive – Tower Grove East

Grand Center St. Louis Summer

Outside of Powell Hall – Grand Center

South Indian Poetry Grand Center First Friday

Performing outside of the Sheldon – Grand Center

Sheldon Concert Hall Grand Center First Friday

Watching and Listening – Grand Center

Greater Ville Martin Luther King Blvd North St. Louis Summer

Enjoying the Afternoon – MLK and Marcus

Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd North St. Louis Summer

Taking a break – The Greater Ville

Grand Center St. Louis Summer

Peace – Grand Center

Carr Square North St. Louis Summer Ice Cream

Very Energetic Ice Cream Van Passenger – Carr Square

Benton Park West South St. Louis Cool Kid on Sidewalk

Very Cool Kid – Benton Park West

Fair St. Louis Downtown Riverfront Jefferson Expansion National Park Arch

Pepsi Challenge – Downtown Riverfront

Not everyone had a perfect weekend, but it was about as close as you can get.

No Trespassing Beware of Dogs South St. Louis Benton Park West

Hiding Out – Benton Park West

Happy Independence Day (Weekend)!

Fair St. Louis Downtown Fireworks Fourth of July

Downtown Fireworks

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North Sarah Update

June 16, 2013

The North Sarah Redevelopment Project‘s second phase has really started to take shape.

Vandeventer, Grand Center, New Construction

North Sarah Phase II on Vandeventer looking north from Bell.

Three 2-3 story mixed use buildings facing Vandeventer Avenue just across the street from Grand Center’s western edge are the most visible signs of progress.  Although I am unaware of the plans here, similar buildings from phase I have live/work spaces facing Sarah.

From a 10/26/2012 Post-Dispatch article:

The front room doubles as a living room and waiting room, and a big sliding door covers half the interior wall. Roll it one way and an office appears off the waiting room, ready for business. Roll it the other, and the office disappears and a kitchen appears off the living room. A bedroom and laundry room are in back.

Driving/walking down Sarah you can see that most of these spaces are now occupied by small businesses (these shots taken on a Sunday evening):

Live/Work, Redevelopment, North St. Louis, Small Business

Diversity Gallery on North Sarah

Health care on North Sarah

Williams and Associates – Addressing Minority Health Disparities

Health care on North Sarah

Call of Duty Home Health Care Services

Many of the storefronts have more subdued signage that is hard to see while driving past, but the fact that almost all are advertising small businesses is very encouraging.  Across the street construction is underway on another portion of Phase II.  Hopefully commercial space of some sort is included in this new building as well.

New construction in the Vandeventer neighborhood

North Sarah Phase II – Mixed use building going up on the west side of Sarah

Now that the live/work spaces have occupants, maybe we’ll hear news about the planned grocery store soon.

Nothing inside, but the sliding door look promising.

Grocery Store on North Sarah

This is an exciting development, and I truly hope that it encourages infill development between Sarah and Vandeventer that allows at least some of the surviving historic homes to stay.

For more photos of this development, see my flickr set: North Sarah Redevelopment

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Near North Riverfront

June 2, 2013

The New Mississippi River Bridge is coming along quickly, and will soon raise the visibility of the Near North Riverfront neighborhood, and its main drag North Broadway.

Mound Street Bridge, Mississippi River, Cass Avenue Bridge

New Mississippi River Bridge from Broadway and Mound

This section of Broadway has a fairly intact built environment and is home to many businesses.  Admittedly it’s in pretty bad shape, but the potential here is humongous.

Near North Riverfront North Broadway Revitalization

Warehouses on North Broadway

Although the thoroughfare is major and many of its buildings are large, the street still has a human scale.  One of my favorite parts of coming here on the weekends is the large number of people out on their motorcycles (presumably many of them are in the area for Shady Jacks).

Motorcycle Tricks Wheelie

North Broadway is already a pretty cool place

Because this area is about to see a lot more traffic, developers will be tempted to build truck stops and drive-thrus with giant billboards and signs to advertise them.  Competitions for who can build the biggest and newest gas stations (or chain drug stores, etc.) have destroyed enough of our great intersections and commercial strips.

Highway Advertising, Urban Blight

Downtown St. Louis Interstate 70 Billboard

I hope the city is working to ensure that development around the new bridge will help knit together the neighborhoods north of downtown, rather than create more barriers in the form of auto-centric development.  670 Million dollars is a big investment that St. Louis needs to take advantage of.

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Food Truck Row and Street Vendors in St. Louis

February 22, 2013

Over the past couple of years an impressive roster of food trucks has sprung up in St. Louis despite an almost complete ban on street vendors that spans the entire region.  Street Vendors are prohibited as the default, and vending districts don’t always match up with good vending locations.  As can be seen here in St. Louis City Ordinance 65061, vending is allowed only Downtown (East of Tucker), along the river from Chouteau to Biddle, along Grand from Natural Bridge to 70, on a tiny block bounded by Broadway, Meramec and Ohio (“Licensed vendors in this district may sell agricultural products and flowers only”), and in any ward whose number ends in ’4.’  These rules seem arbitrary and disconnected from reality.

From St. Louis City Ordinance 65061

SECTION THREE. Vending prohibited; exceptions.

No person shall sell or offer for sale or permit the offering or selling of any goods, wares, merchandise, flowers, horticultural products, services, food or beverages upon any public sidewalk, street, roadway, or roadway median within the City of St. Louis except in those areas designated by ordinance as Vending Districts.

Although these laws are often unenforced, they’re on the books.  Luckily not every entrepreneur has been deterred.  Stands selling BBQ or hot dogs, t-shirts and rugs, bootleg CDs/DVDs and  sno-cones can be seen on vacant lots or in front of businesses all over the city.  While I’m sure that some of these businesses are licensed, some are certainly not.

BBQ Truck/Trailer Jamaican in North St. Louis, Missouri

Mi Hungry Bar-B-Que on North Kingshighway – I remember eating here 6 or 7 years ago off Grand.  Pretty tasty stuff.

Recently, food trucks have been bringing street vendors the kind of positive attention that could lead City Hall(s) to rethink their restrictive ordinances.  While food trucks are not new to St. Louis, the 20-30 that have popped up over the last couple of years represent something new.  These businesses feature creative options that differentiate them from the conventional American hot dog stand or taco truck.  Over the past two years I’ve visited food trucks with specialties ranging from Korean Tacos to grilled cheese sandwiches, Filipino rice bowls to po-boys, Vietnamese sandwiches to gyros and from sushi rolls to crepes.  The diversity of options that have appeared in this relatively short time span is incredible.

Comfort Food/Soul Food on Chestnut in front of Anthem in Downtown West

Street Life Food Truck – Recently featured in a great music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aiy6-Wp_7WA

As these new eateries have proliferated, they have established a growing list of lunchtime parking spots to rotate between.  Popular locations include CityGarden, Wells Fargo Advisors (Beaumont and Pine), SLU Pius Library, Anthem (19th and Chestnut), Washington University Medical Center (Taylor and Scott), and Purina on Chouteau.  With the exception of CityGarden, most of these places don’t usually attract pedestrians.  They are all in close proximity to large daytime populations, but sit on the edge of parking lots, or underused green space.  One contributing factor is that St. Louis Food Trucks are Pretty Much Banned from Parking Anywhere Ever.

Food Trucks at St. Louis University - Popular Lunch Destination

Food Trucks outside of SLU’s Pius Library on Lindell

In a positive step towards accepting these mobile vendors, City Hall established “Food Truck Row” on 13th Street between Market and Chestnut this last summer.  Granted, this spot is located on the Gateway Mall in the Civic Center (often referred to by suburbanites as “Homeless Park”), and is more convenient to City Hall employees than anyone else, but it’s a nice gesture.  As someone who works in Downtown West (but not at one of the huge organizations that can attract their own food trucks), I find Food Truck Row to be one of my more conveniently located lunch options (behind Mom’s Kitchen, Hoagie City, The White Knight Diner and Imo’s on Washington).

Zia's on the Hill has an incredible Food Truck

Zia’s at Food Truck Row

Although it has been reported that business at Food Truck Row is slow, I’ve seen some busy lunch hours there.  It can also be anticipated that business will improve once SLU’s Law School is completed, and the renovation of the Municipal Courts Building should also help out.  One thing that the City could do to help, is add more seating!  There are currently only three tables in this rather large park, and none in the adjacent blocks of green space.

Fireman's Memorial in the Gateway Mall is home to Food Truck Row

Food Truck Row needs more Tables

Keep an eye out for Food Trucks around town, and try to support the ones that stop at Food Truck Row.  There are some really incredible chefs behind many of these trucks, and just as the food truck gives them the opportunity to try out their business, it gives us an opportunity to try out their food.

For daily map of Food Truck Parking spots, check out http://showmefoodtrucks.com/.

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Chesterfield Commons and Downtown St. Louis

January 17, 2013

Chesterfield Commons is a gigantic strip mall that runs along highway 40. If you’ve never been (don’t go), it’s like every single big box store you’ve ever seen strung together in a giant row. From the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce’s website:

A great place for one-stop shopping. Seven large retailers – Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart Super Center, Target, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Home Depot, and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse – presently anchor this 1.9 million square foot commercial development. When finished it will be over 2 million square feet and 1.5 miles long, making it the largest open-air retail center in the country. Chesterfield Commons currently hosts more than 100 shops and 30 restaurants in this beautifully maintained location. The Galaxy cinema features a 500-seat auditorium with the region’s largest movie screen – measuring more than 5 stories. – Chesterfield, MO Chamber of Commerce

I like that it’s described as an “open-air retail center.” It’s a 1.5 mile strip of big box stores fronted by parking lots. Click the photo below to see the area in Google maps.

1.5 miles is huge. That’s the distance from 4th street to Jefferson.

“In business, it’s all about location. Chesterfield has easy access, a good road system and good demographics,” said Robey Taylor, executive director of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce. – St. Louis Business Journal

Downtown St. Louis (the combined Downtown and Downtown West Neighborhoods), is about 1.5 miles long. A single building, the Railway Exchange, has more than half the interior square footage of THF’s Chesterfield Commons.

However abundant land may seem, it is a finite resource, and its misuse contributes to many types of waste beyond that of square-footage (or acres or square miles). We currently have plenty of vacant land within the boundaries of St. Louis City, as well as available office, residential and retail space in every class. St. Louis needs to wake up to the fact that exclusively auto-centric greenfield development is a poorly considered and shortsighted investment. Maybe after those new outlet malls are completed we’ll have had enough.

Parking Lot that goes on and on for miles

Chesterfield Commons – Summer 2010

Suburban Sprawl Flood Plains St. Louis, MO

Aerial taken 7/11/2013 – Huge Outlet Mall across 64/40 is dwarfed by Chesterfield Commons

 

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