Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

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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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Spokane Washington’s Ghost Signs and Pavement Markers

August 8, 2010

I spent last week in Spokane, Washington and was thrilled by the abundance of Ghost Signs and Pavement Markers (mostly Sidewalk Contractor Stamps), two features I love to admire in cities.  Both advertise the history of their surroundings and symbolize investment and Pride.  The city also has some wonderful architecture, but like St. Louis its built environment has been scarred by demolitions.  Unlike St. Louis however, Spokane’s Urban Riverfront Park actually links the two sides of the city together instead of existing by itself as an island like our Arch grounds (even though part of Spokane’s park is in fact an island).  People who visit downtown Spokane can easily walk across Spokane Falls Blvd and be in some part of the park’s southern boarder.  See CitytoRiver.org for how we can fix the problem with our Urban Park by reconnecting it to Downtown.

Downtown Spokane Washington

Being able to travel freely back and forth between the well preserved downtown street grid and the park allows businesses alongside the park to flourish.  Although a big chunk of the land opposite Riverfront Park is surface parking (a problem their city is trying to fix), buildings with their backs to the park still share its success.

Downtown Spokane Skyscrapers

Spokane cares about its city park and its city streets.  Concrete Contractors like WM Winkler and Cameron-Riley have been taking pride in their work for as long as they have been in business, and stamping the sidewalks they pour.

WM Winkler - 1936 Spokane

Seeing the excellent state of this 70+ year old concrete is wonderful.  Like a work of art, the sidewalk is signed by it’s creator.  I even found one Brass Sidewalk Marker.

Laid by A.K. Copson.

A.K. Copson also stamped the adjacent squares of sidewalk with a similar logo.  The competition is everywhere.

Laid by Mootz - 1930

In addition to these great pavement markers, Spokane has a wonderful collection of Ghost Signs, with a nice concentration downtown.

Ghost Signs in Downtown Spokane

Along the railroad tracks one building proclaims itself as “Home of Snowflake Saltines” and as both the Washington Cracker Company and Nabisco.  I could not help but laugh at the advertisement for Snowflake Crackers in a city that is 92 percent white.

Snowflake Crackers

Although choosing one was not easy in this haven for Ghost-Sign-spotters, my personal favorite was a advertisement for the most delicious brand of “pop:” Squirt.  I found it hidden behind trees and bushes on a small building that currently houses a boot store.

Drink Squirt

Spokane is a very cool city well worth a visit.  They set a good example of how a city should embrace its river and parks.  For more photos of Spokane and its Sidewalk Stamps and Ghost Signs see my flickr photo set from the trip.

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Midtown Alley

June 27, 2010

Ever since I first rode my bicycle down Locust Street East from Theresa (as a SLU student and Grand Center resident) I have considered this area one of St. Louis’ coolest.  Once known as “Automotive Row” and recently re-branded as “Midtown Alley,” this district has many advantages including its 2005 placement on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is centrally located and in close proximity to SLU, Harris-Stowe and Wells Fargo Advisors not to mention Grand Center and existing residents of the immediately surrounding area.  It has a fairly intact built environment with fewer gaps in the street-wall than most of St. Louis and it already had a few churches, residents and many small businesses scattered throughout it (most notably on Washington Avenue which has a Limousine Business, a Sign Maker, Salvation Army Harbor Light, Grand Wig House, several auto-related businesses and more).

Washington Avenue in Midtown Alley in 2007

Unlike many concentrations of commercial activity in the city of St. Louis, Midtown Alley is not restricted to one street.  Washington, Locust, Olive and all the streets that connect them are part of this district and each have been benefiting from recent investment.  Midtown Alley also has short, walkable blocks (which Jane Jacobs is a big fan of) and an ability to expand in any direction it wants!

Map of Midtown Alley

In the last few years the area has improved dramatically, particularly along Locust and Olive Streets.  Restaurants, nightclubs, barber shops, residences, offices of professionals and more have made the decision to move into Midtown Alley.

Motorcycle Event Outside Moto Museum

There is a motorcycle museum, a tanning salon, a boutique clothing store, a Taekwondo school, a recording studio, a very popular rock venue, the Black Alcohol/Drug Service Information Center, and more.  SLU is opening a boutique hotel in Midtown Alley next year and next door on Locust will be a Motorcycle Dealership (SLU had better have a lobby that connects Locust and Olive).

Hotel Ignacio and MotoEuropa

This is from the website of the Tour de Grove bicycle race (which included the Midtown Alley Grand Prix:

Moto Europa coming July 2010, Moto Europa located at 3410 Locust is the latest addition to a true motorcycling destination right here in StLouis, MO. Attached to the Moto Museum and the Triumph Grill Moto Europa will offer new Ducati and Triumph motorcycles combined with a beautiful state of the art dealership and providing customer service second to none. Opening July 30, 2010.

Personally I’m excited.  And not as a Motorcycle fan.  The transformation this area is undergoing is just incredible.  And the best part is that Midtown Alley is not alone.  It is just one of many places around the city that people are rediscovering.

Anti-Aging and Wellness Center next to Arch Taekwondo

Areas where people concentrate themselves generate economic and social activity that makes our city a city.  We can never have enough of these places where St. Louis actually looks like a real city and we can really learn a lot of lessons from seeing what works when redeveloping neighborhoods.

Midtown Alley's Grand Opening was September 26th 2009

The slow and organic growth that Midtown Alley has been experiencing has actually been going pretty fast!

Locust Street in 2008 - The Two Buildings on the Right are now the REO Lofts

I commend Midtown Alley and its businesses/organizers for their great work.  Pappy’s attracted the New York Times to Midtown Alley (even though they didn’t name drop it) and I’ve been recommended the chicken wings and sandwiches at The U, the pizza at The Good Pie and recommend to others the beer at the Buffalo Brewing Company (and the food).

2 Buildings SLU is converting to Apartments and Retail

Unfortunately, despite all of the success Midtown Alley has had, it still faces some pretty big obstacles.  Just like the Loop owes much of its success to Wash U, SLU and Harris-Stowe are key to the success of Midtown Alley.  Although they literally touch Midtown Alley, both institutions have turned their campuses inwards leaving fences to face the outside world.  Olive Street already suffers from it’s extreme width that discourages pedestrians from crossing it.

SLU's Face Fence to Midtown Alley

If SLU were to add street entrances to it’s buildings along Olive and allow students and staff to enter from the inside OR outside of the campus, people would be better able to take advantage of what the school’s prime location has to offer.  In addition, the blight of surface parking between Midtown Alley and Grand Center must be addressed.  If re-connected, these areas could benefit each other greatly.  I recommend driving through Midtown Alley at the very least.  While a lot of what it has to offer is still just potential, that potential is still great.

More photos of Midtown Alley.

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Strauss Park’s Earth Rabbit

January 11, 2010

When I first saw this rabbit in Grand Center it was a little after Easter last year and I assumed that the rabbit was a temporary installation for the holiday.  Of course I was forgetting that Grand Center is the intersection of Art and Life.

Strauss Park Earth Rabbit

I was inspired to mention this piece here because of KETC and youtube.

Grand Center really needs more art projects but I love the few that are already there.  I have a few more photos of the rabbit here.

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