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).
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.
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).
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.
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:
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).
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.