Posts Tagged ‘NorthSide’

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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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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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Urban Prairie

September 2, 2010

The only thing worse than this city’s abandoned buildings and surface parking lots, is the Urban Prairie that accounts for far too many blocks in North St. Louis.  One of the largest expanses of Urban Prairie that I have come across is in the area of North Market and 23rd Streets.  This area is just North of the Pruitt-Igoe site and is hardly better off than the rubble that remains from the housing project there.  At least the street grid is intact.

Looking South from N. Market and 23rd

It’s almost too depressing to try imagining what this intersection once looked like, but the task is made easier (but no less depressing) by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of the area in 1909.

N. Market and 23rd in 1909

This intersection was home to a 5-story building that housed “Moving Pictures” in a neighborhood made up mostly of 2 or 3 story flats.  Just around the corner on 23rd was a “Beer Depot”.  Although this area was clearly not extremely dense (at least not in 1909),  I can count over 20 homes that faced the alleys on either side of N. Market between 25th and 22nd.  These alleys are still in place, but only a handful of buildings remain within eyesight of 23rd and N. Market.  A look back to 1875 shows another picture that stands in sharp contrast to the current condition of 23rd and N. Market (in 1875 23rd Street was 19th).

N. Market and 23rd (then 19th) in 1875

For me, these historical documents are just ideas of what could be here next.  Currently, the slate is all but clean.

Urban Prairie

Although this expanse of Urban Prairie is particularly large and depressing, it is by no means strange to stumble across a similar sight while traveling around St. Louis.  Demolitions that continue to occur around our city increase the amount of totally vacant land and decrease the stock of historic buildings with rehab potential.  One plus side to the current state of this land is that Paul McKee would have to really try hard to screw up its redevelopment.  A NorthSide project that narrowed its scope to the Pruitt-Igoe site and the Urban Prairie nearby would have hardly any current residents or legacy buildings to worry about and would serve the purpose of reconnecting neighborhoods that are intact enough to resurrect themselves.  Since McKee has announced that he will soon begin work on the Clemens Mansion, these deserted blocks nearby would be a great place for him to demonstrate his vision and possibly win support for his broader plan for the much larger chunk of North St. Louis he wants to redevelop.

For more on this area/subject matter see Built St. Louis’ Excellent tour of St. Louis Place and Slow Death of a City Block.

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