Archive for the ‘Currrent Events’ Category

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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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Post No Bills

December 7, 2012

I personally enjoy seeing the posters, flyers, rants, tags and stickers that are plastered along commercial strips and at active corners around the city.  Some advertise events, or simply an artist.  Others deliver a political message, often independent of the two major parties.  The number of handbills and flyers posted up is a cool measure of an area’s popularity and foot traffic (The Loop probably has more of this than any other district in the region).

Posted Bills on Cherokee

Cherokee Street has also seen a steady stream of new material.  Although many people strongly disapprove of this delivery method for ideas/messages, I consider it an important form of expression.  The bilingual flyer below prompted a written response, and probably quite a few conversations as well.

Gentrification and Surveillance

Gentrification and Surveillance

Graffiti is similarly controversial, but it has its place in my opinion.  There’s a difference between gang tags and street art.

Operation Frightside

Operation Frightside – Operation Brightside cleans up graffiti around the city

I might feel differently about this kind of stuff if I lived elsewhere, but in the City of St. Louis, pretty much any sign of life is welcomed.

For photos around town related to this topic, see my flickr photo sets Post No Bills and St. Louis Graffiti.

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North Sarah Redevelopment Moving Past Phase I

November 11, 2012

Phase I of the North Sarah Redevelopment celebrated its grand opening on October 16th.  This is a project that I have written about in the past, and the type of development that we definitely need more of in the City of St. Louis.

North Sarah and West Belle in November 2012

In the press release that followed the grand opening of Phase I, it was revealed that a grocery store would be one of the development’s retail tenants.

The community includes a mix of two and three-story buildings, plus almost 12,000 square feet of commercial, management and community space, which will include a small, locally-owned, fresh food grocery store.

The developers here also demonstrated an extremely encouraging understanding of the community’s 21st century needs.

Vincent R. Bennett, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of McCormack Baron Salazar said, “Sustainability means a lot of things: reducing a building’s impact on the environment is just a piece of this.  The sustainable features at North Sarah also include creating healthy living environments for our residents by reducing toxins and ensuring sufficient air flow. The community is walkable and connected to transit, keeping non-drivers like seniors and the disabled from becoming isolated. And the fresh food grocery will provide healthy living choices that will sustain our residents in the long-term.”

While Phase I is still getting its finishing touches, work continues on Phase II.  This work is apparent on the west side of Sarah between C.D. Banks and Finney, and along Vandeventer between W. Belle and Finney.

North Sarah as seen on Google Maps

I was hoping that this phase would include at least one renovation.  Unfortunately the home pictured below has been demolished.  Several Homes North and West of Turner Park appear to be headed for demolition as well.

Alley Between W. Belle and C.D. Banks near Vandeventer

I truly hope that the urban character of the development is maintained as it expands into Phase II.  Although I have no idea what the next phase will be like (hopefully not like the new strip mall on Vandeventer between Finney and Cook), some clues can be gathered from the newly launched website for the development.  Check out the rendering’s redevelopment of Turner Park.

Turner Park at W. Belle and N. Sarah

I hope that the developers are working with the neighborhood’s existing residents on this.  It would be a shame to remake the park into something that nobody would use.  See my photos tracking this development’s construction here.

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Projects in Grand Center Advancing as Promised

June 25, 2012

It’s been a while since I last wrote about Grand Center, and since then a lot has happened.  The neighborhood has been improving at a remarkable pace, with a lot more investment than we’re used to seeing around the city.  KWMU’s new home, UMSL at Grand Center just opened, and the building is a great addition to Olive Street.  I haven’t seen any signs of work on the proposed plaza behind this new building  but hopefully it’s still in the pipeline.

KWMU Grand Center

KWMU’s new Location on Olive Street

Just across Grand, the Metropolitan building renovation is a big project that will dramatically improve the look and feel of Grand Center’s center.  The Metropolitan Artist Lofts, as the project is being called, are scheduled to open September 1st and I’m getting excited.  As one of the largest buildings in the neighborhood, and one that has had a few failed attempts at rehab, the reopening of the Metropolitan Building will be a major psychological boost to Grand Center.  The activation of this building should also help to link Grand Center with SLU and Midtown Alley given its placement at the intersection of these three districts.

Metropolitan Artist Lofts

Just a couple blocks up Grand is another new sight.  The Grand Center Public Art area finally has its third installation.  Entitled “A Chromatic Confluence,” this colorful, interactive sculpture is quite unique and worth checking out.

A Chromatic Confluence

Particularly fitting is that this art installation is right across the street from the Grand Center Arts Academy.  Already home to Cardinal Ritter High School and Clyde C. Miller Career Academy (not to mention SLU), Grand Center is really establishing itself as a neighborhood that values education.

Grand Center Arts Academy

Another new addition to the neighborhood that this blog has reported on in the past is Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust.  Located on Delmar about halfway between Grand and Spring, the restaurant is a little bit isolated by parking lots and an abandoned building or two, but that doesn’t seem to be discouraging any business.  Riding off the success of the TV show “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” (which really shines a positive light on the city of St. Louis in my opinion), as well as their delicious food, this new location looks like it’s going to be an attraction of its own.

Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust

Grand Center has had an ambitious list of projects queued up, but after seeing so much recent success  I am confident that we will see many of them come to fruition.

Just for fun, here are some more photos I’ve snapped around the neighborhood in recent weeks:

NPR UMSL St. Louis Grand Center

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Wire Art

February 26, 2012

Last month, walking down Lucas Avenue past the City Museum, I noticed this:

STL Misses You

What a cool way send a message!  Nobody could consider this vandalism, but the art form feels as appropriate for the urban environment as graffiti has become.

Today I saw a similar installation in Lafayette Square.

Equality for All

I think it’s awesome.  Has anyone seen more of these around town?

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New Substation at Prospect and Scott – TOD?

December 13, 2011

Last year I wrote about the demolition of some old industrial buildings in the block bounded by Prospect Ave, Bernard St, Spring Ave, and the railroad tracks.

Site of New Substation Before Demolition

At the time I originally noticed the demolition I was unsure of its purpose, but speculated that this had something to do with work on the Grand viaduct and Metrolink station.  However disappointed I was about the clearing of this site, the buildings were ill-suited to reuse.  The old May Company warehouse at Market and Spring was freshly renovated, and I was hoping that The Armory would be next.  The idea that a new and improved Metrolink station could attract transit oriented development there was too exciting to ignore.

Work on the New Substation

Unfortunately, upon returning to the site a couple of weeks ago, I found that a tall, permanent fence, topped with barbed wire was being installed all around the block.   Workers on the site then confirmed to me that they were constructing an electrical substation.  Even to those who considered the block’s previous occupant an eyesore, a substation will almost certainly be uglier.

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North Sarah Project is a Good Role Model

September 15, 2011

Construction on an exciting new development is underway in North St. Louis.  On the east side of North Sarah, between Belle and Cook, what was recently urban prairie is now being transformed by St. Louis based McCormack Baron Salazar Development.

North Sarah Redevelopment

The area in question here was once the Sarah-Finney Business district.  In Ain’t But a Place, Miles Davis reminisces about the area.

Luckily the area is going to have some business activity returned to it.  Unlike almost every new project that I have seen in North St. Louis, this one includes mixed uses: both residential and commercial spaces.

Homes under construction along Finney

The project also makes use of green technologies such as permeable pavement for the sidewalks.

Permeable Pavement

Building setbacks are pretty much non-existent on the buildings to contain commercial space, and quite small on the residential buildings.  Density appears to be relatively high, and parking looks like it will be hidden behind the residences, but also allowed on-street.  Each intersection has eight curb-cuts and well marked crosswalks.  The pedestrian experience has not been overlooked here.

New Commercial Space on North Sarah

Directly across Sarah from the southern half of the development is Turner Park, home to a softball field and playground.  Along the southern edge of development on Belle is an in-tact block of the kind of homes that make St. Louis what it is proud to be.

Belle Avenue

Sarah is a key connector to the north side, and activating this corridor is a great step toward inviting St. Louisans into the north half of their city.  With the success of the Gaslight Square redevelopment to the south and close proximity to everything in the city, I am extremely optimistic about this project.  Even without these advantages, however, the good urban planning involved makes this development a great asset to the city, and will hopefully set a good precedent for future ideas.

For more information about the project and the history of the area, please see the links below:

History of the Sarah Finney Business District

Comet Theater on Finney

NextStl Forum Topic

Construction Details

Flickr Photos


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Modern Streetcars could be coming to Downtown Kansas City

August 23, 2011

Today, while randomly exploring Kansas City, I walked into Union Station during a Open House event featuring a modern trolley that KC leaders would like to see downtown by 2015.  The model on display, courtesy of Kinkisharyo, was a new ameriTRAM designed specifically for American cities wishing to bring back streetcars.

ameriTRAM on Display in Kansas City, MO

Its bragging points include a 100 percent low floor and an “e-hybrid” system designed to run on overhead power or lithium-ion batteries for up to five miles.  Even while operating on batteries it has several security cameras, wireless internet, and lcd information screens.   The light weight cars will not necessitate bridge replacement on the proposed routes through downtown Kansas City, and will help to lower the cost of laying track.  Because the plans include only routes that are around two miles long, overhead wires are unnecessary, eliminating not only a possible eyesore but also the associated expenses.

Map of Proposed Streetcar Routes in Downtown Kansas City

Coincidentally, the length of the Loop Trolley in St. Louis is approximately two miles long as well.  Could our local streetcar project use the ameriTRAM?  Could completely eliminating overhead power help lower the price tag?  One of the first things that this blog did was come out against the Loop Trolley project.  I still don’t think that this particular implementation is a great addition to our transit system because it does little more than duplicate the coverage of the Metrolink and the 97 Delmar Bus.  Other critics have argued that it just connects Blueberry Hill to the Pagent.  If the project is perceived as a failure, it could help prevent new investment in more substantial public transit infrastructure in the future.  On the other hand, streetcars are awesome, and the potential for this project to spur expansions is too exciting to ignore.  To best take advantage of this opportunity, we must make sure that the Loop Streetcar is effective and well received.  One easy and substantive way to make this project more legitimate is to use cutting edge technology – the latest modern streetcars.  In my opinion, a sleek, modern and attractive streetcar will be even more enticing to the curious pedestrian or motorist than a replica of a historic trolley.  I think it’s an option worth considering.  The advantages are considerable.

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Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan

July 1, 2011

I’ve spent the last week or so in Seattle, and have been extremely impressed with the city.  Seattle’s Central City is a continuous, walkable urban environment, that is unlike the vast majority of American cities I’ve been to.  In Seattle, the “inner-city” is a truly desirable place to be (as it should be).  Although it is not completly free of empty storefronts and surface parking lots, when compared to a place like St. Louis these underused spaces are a non-issue.

Seattle has its problems too

I am aware that Seattle and St. Louis have more differences than similarities, but I disagree with those who say we have nothing to learn from a city so dissimilar.  Seattle’s Metropolitan Area is not significantly larger than St. Louis’ (only having recently surpassed us), but it has the resources to experiment.  We need to be paying attention to even our more distant peers if we want to stay competitive.

Section of Chinatown cut off from Downtown by Interstate 5

Seattle has made many of the same mistakes that St. Louis has.  They have an interstate highway running through their downtown.  They have two major sports stadiums that take up superblocks and are surrounded by underused parking garages in a historic district.  At the same time, they value good urban design and the pedestrian experience.  For me, Seattle has many new ideas to offer.  Good ideas.  One big one that struck me is the Downtown Transit Tunnel.

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel

Seattle’s Light Rail runs through Downtown in a tunnel, but the tracks run on a paved, flat surface that is also used by buses.  This is brilliant for many reasons (it keeps you out of both traffic and the rain), and is a flexible infrastructure investment.  My one complaint is that you aren’t allowed to simply walk across the tracks to the other platform to change directions.

Illegal to Cross

As convenient as being able to walk across the tracks would be for an urban explorer and photographer like myself, walking up and over is a small sacrifice for us to make on behalf of public safety.  The City of Seattle actually cares about pedestrians and their safety, and it shows.  Little details can make big differences.  This year Seattle was recognized as the most “walk-friendly” city in the country by the NRDC, and in the City’s Pedestrian Master Plan, Seattle declares that it wants to truly become the most walkable city in the nation.

Alternatives to the Car

Featuring before and after photos of transformed sidewalks that would be sure to make Steve Patterson proud, the Pedestrian Master Plan’s website lays out a detailed plan with ambitious goals that focus on the pedestrian experience.  It outlines the benefits of walking and the responsibility of the city to encourage and to facilitate alternatives to personal automobiles.

Seattle has a Large Network of Trolley Buses

I think that the City of St. Louis can learn from cities like Seattle.  Our problems are not unique to the rust belt, and their solutions might found if the time was spent creating something like a master plan.  We have a long way to go before we can even compete in a walkable city competition, but we need to start with a coherent (unlike many of my blog posts – Sorry!) and comprehensive plan.  Let’s start Downtown and connect our neighborhoods to one another.  Otherwise newer, faster growing cites like Seattle will leave us in the dust.  Or in the fumes of our own exhaust.