Archive for the ‘What if?’ Category

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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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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.

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Vote for Cahokia Mounds! Only Three Days Left!

June 27, 2011

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is currently hosting a Community Challenge that will give the three historic sites with the most votes a cash prize.  Currently, Cahokia Mounds is ranked 13th and will require a big push during the last three days of voting to make it into the top three.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cahokia Mounds gives the St. Louis Area an extremely unique International attraction.  While visiting Berlin recently, I found many references to Museum Island‘s designation as a UNESCO site.  This is a source of great pride for the people of Berlin.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that most St. Louisans appreciate the significance of Cahokia Mounds and are unaware of its status as a World Heritage Site (nobody in my family knew that we had a UNESCO site in St. Louis when I mentioned it in Berlin).  This is our chance to both contribute to Cahokia Mounds, and to help spread the appreciation of our history that the United Nations recognizes while many locals fail to.

If the flying saucer on Grand is worth fighting for, Cahokia Mounds certainly is too.

Click on the image above to register, and cast your vote for Cahokia Mounds.

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Hotel Ignacio Opens

April 22, 2011

St. Louis University’s new Boutique Inn, Hotel Ignacio opened its doors this month.  This accomplishment follows numerous Midtown Hotel projects that never made it much farther than the planning stage (except for the very small Grand Center Inn).  Midtown is a pretty major destination in St. Louis with assets such as SLU, The Fox, Powell Hall, The Moto Museum, Chaifetz Arena, Pappy’s Smokehouse and The Best Steak House all within a couple of blocks of the hotel.

Hotel Ignacio - Across Olive from SLU, Just a Block from Grand and Grand Center, and Right on Locust Street in Midtown Alley

The hotel’s placement is very nice for the growth of Midtown Alley, helping to anchor its Western end along with Triumph, The Moto Museum, MotoEuropa, The P.W. Shoe Lofts and the recently opened Field House Bar and Grill.

West End of Midtown Alley

In the near future, hotel guests and area residents alike will be able to enjoy Frozen Yogurt from Flying Cow Frozen Yogurt Company set to open this summer in a newly renovated building just East of the hotel.  It’s neighbor is currently an Art Gallery with some cool looking work on the walls and pedestals.

Art Gallery and Hotel Ignacio

Other recent additions to Midtown Alley such as the Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (which makes delicious beer) and the Double Apple Cafe and Hookah Lounge are bringing more people to the area and increasing its visibility.  My hope is that we won’t have to wait too much longer to have the large parking lots separating Grand Center from Midtown Alley replaced with useful buildings to create a continuous urban space.

Parking Lots in Midtown Alley and Grand Center

A large Parking Lot right in front of the new hotel is a bad first impression and I hope that SLU will realize that a parking garage with first level retail is a better way to go.  The enormous glut of parking in Midtown remains its biggest problem in my opinion, and only by rebuilding the city where it has been torn down to create these parking lots can we get this neighborhood to reach its full potential.

More Photos of Hotel Ignacio

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Metrolink Bridge over Vandeventer appears to be designed for Murals

January 31, 2011

As I have previously written, The Grove (also known as Forest Park Southeast) is home to a growing number of murals that really make a big impact on the perceptions of a visitor to the neighborhood.  Although The Grove has a wonderful start, its collection of murals is still quite small, at least in comparison to the large number of blank walls facing Manchester (and other side streets in the neighborhood).  With the addition of the neon sign at Manchester and Sarah, The Grove is becoming more and more of an attractive place, and I am convinced that this investment will pay off.

New Neon "Welcome to The Grove" Sign

A great way to add to this momentum is with more murals, and what better place to start but at more of the neighborhood’s “thresholds.”  With neighbors like Barnes Jewish, Wash U Med School and St. Louis University, those points of entry that are visible to these significant populations hold lots of potential.  As a SLU student I would often hike over to the Phillips 66 on Vandeventer for their competitively priced tall cans of Budweiser, but was totally unaware of The Grove’s existence just a couple of short blocks away.  In addition, I felt that the dismal walk from Campus was only barely worth the cheap beer.

Now, the Rail Bridge over Vandeventer just south of Highway 40 has been rebuilt, and it has indented arches along both sides of the roadway, and in the support that splits the opposing lanes of traffic.

Train Bridge over Vandeventer – Doesn’t it seem to be asking for Murals?

These spaces seem to be designed for murals, and I really hope that whoever is responsible for this bridge (Metro?) is open to the idea.  I truly believe that SLU students would be more willing to walk to attractions in the Grove if the walk itself were more attractive.  Right now, passing underneath the highway and train tracks is the scariest part of the trip.  Bright and Colorful Murals underneath one of the bridges could not only make the walk more enjoyable right away, they could also encourage the addition of even more artwork to the area, maintaining the momentum that has been building here for several years now.

For more on the Grove’s Murals, see MUMC.Wordpress.com.

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Ellen Clark Sculpture Park Finally has Sculptures

December 15, 2010

While visiting The Best Steak House this past weekend, I noticed some activity on the former site of the Marina Building at Lindell and Grand, a fenced-in grass lot that was recently bestowed with a sign identifying it as the Ellen Clark Sculpture Park.  It was finally getting sculptures!

Ellen Clark Sculpture Garden is Under Construction

This lot has been informally used as a dog park for several years and I am glad to see it made into a more attractive place. Although I am disappointed to see a permanent use for the land that doesn’t add to the density of the neighborhood, the fact that something is happening is a releif.  What I really hope is that the black fence (ubiquitous on SLU’s campus) surrounding the lot is removed.

Not the Entrance - A Fenced in Sculpture Park

This corner is very important in linking SLU’s campus to Grand Center and while it is fenced-in it will remain underused, something that is particularly important to avoid in a place where neither of the two adjacent corners attract much activity.  Midtown is one of the coolest neighborhoods in St. Louis already; with more seamless connectivity between the University’s, Grand Center and Midtown Alley, the neighborhood could truly reach its potential.

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High Ball Alley

October 9, 2010

Grand Center is one of St. Louis’ coolest areas, but has some pretty bad problems.  I would say the that the biggest problem is one shared with Downtown and other city neighborhoods: it can’t keep people around after events.  People drive in to see shows at The Fox, The Sheldon, Powell Hall, The Black Rep etc., and then hop right back into their cars and drive home.

Grand Center from the North

Some do have a bite to eat at Kota Wood Fire Grill, The Best Steak House or the new City Diner @ The Fox before hand, but theater/concert patrons only add business for the hour or two directly preceding their show.  Looking at a map of Grand Center, the explanation for this phenomenon is pretty obvious.

Ample Parking

Although the view from Grand is wonderful, most of Grand Center is made of parking lots.  The only thing to do is park and then leave.  For Grand Center to be the entertainment destination that it could be, the parking lots must be replaced with something!  Clearly parking is necessary, but surface is not the answer.  We need some parking garages with stores, bars, restaurants and clubs on the first floor and we need mixed-use infill everywhere else.  To make this task easier and reduce the amount of land in need of development, I propose adding a North/South street in between Spring and Grand from Olive all the way to Enright.

Grand Center Avenue (or High Ball Alley!)

This short Avenue also creates much more walkable blocks that improve the friendliness of the pedestrian experience.  Looking at the map I became curious if there was once a similar street in place breaking up these long blocks, but according to the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1907, no such street existed.  What did exist, however, was a short street connecting the back of the St. Louis Club to the Olive streetcar.  On the map it is labeled “High Ball Alley.”

A little bit of Google investigation yielded more about the drink than the alley, but proved quite interesting nonetheless.  Apparently the Highball had been invented in Grand Center at the University Club during the late 1800s, and had become a very popular drink at the area clubs.  Somehow, over time, the streetcar conductors changed the name of their stop along this stretch of Olive, from the St. Louis Club stop to Highball Alley.  This spot, that was once popular enough to have its own name and streetcar stop, is now a pair of surface parking lots.

High Ball Alley Today

I think that Grand Center’s revitalization would get a huge boost from the creation of an extended High Ball Alley.  Doesn’t it sound like a great place to meet for a drink?

References to High Ball Alley/The St. Louis Highball:

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0101a&L=ads-l&P=10786

http://www.oldandsold.com/articles16/american-travel-18.shtml