Join Us Tonight to Open Our Front Door!

Yesterday was a big day for the city of St. Louis. Five finalists in the CityArchRiver competition unveiled their proposals for the the St. Louis riverfront. Together we took our first step towards a bold and vibrant re-imagining of the arch grounds that will shape the image of St. Louis for the next half century.

While highway removal was not made explicit in every design scheme, a closer look reveals amazing support for highway removal. To quote the teams themselves:
“City to River articulates an enormous number of benefits arising from such a scheme…”
Skidmore Owings Merrill/Hargreaves/BIG

“..the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear...”
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

“Full Circle’s grand loop of transportation facilities could be easily integrated into its [City to River’s] design."

"We predict fanfare should the elevated highway that cuts off Laclede’s Landing be removed."

These proposals make it clear that experts from around the nation and world agree with City to River's growing network of supporters that highway removal is the ultimate solution to reconnect the city and riverfront.

Please join us tonight to learn more about the entries, show support for highway removal, and make your voice heard on this pivotal issue.

The front door of St. Louis has been unlocked. Can you help us open it?

Schlafly Tap Room Club Room

2100 Locust Street

7:30 PM

Free + Music and Trivia

If you cannot attend this event Please submit comments to the National Parks Service website

Walkscore Gains Full Transit Operability, the mapping website devoted to walkability, rolled out full integration of transit this morning. A search on WalkScore now results in the following screen.

The new TransitScore algorithm is based on three major parameters:
1. How close are you to transit (distance)
2. How readily available is it? (frequency)
3. Can it get to where I need to go? (this is the hard one)

While the first two criteria can be easily satisfied with existing geolocation and open transit data, the third parameter is hardest to quantify. The solution at the heart of TransitScore is to analyze the number of transit options within a half mile radius, the frequency of service, and the total number of businesses accessible by those lines (including calculating WalkScore at all stops along the route). For a discussion of the complete algorithm click here.

While the combination of these factors works well at a base level, ideally the TransitScore would depend on your destination. For example, if you live in a dense, walkable area that is well-served by transit, but those transit lines fan out into a low-density and under-served region, then the resulting transit score would be lower than a similar area with lines only extending into a mid or high density area. Furthermore, what if you live at the top of a steep hill or mountain and all the transit options are at the bottom? Geolocation would still indicate a high transit score.

WalkScore has anticipated this problem with a second new feature: WalkScore Commute. Accessible from the "Commute" tab on the results page this feature lets you use your starting point and specify an end point. The destination could be a job location or any other destination for that matter. The result gives a map with walking, cycling, driving, and transit durations (a la google maps) and an elevation graph such as that used by for several years.
Interestingly, given that the start point and end point are finalized, the commute function does not give a definitive walk or transit score. Since the algorithm is compromised by the aforementioned limitations, it seems that the lack of a Commute TransitScore/WalkScore is a missed opportunity.

In any case, the inclusion of full transit analyses into WalkScore is a major improvement. Since its inception WalkScore has caught the eye of the media and has become an essential instrument for emphasizing the power of walkability in the real estate market (pdf link). With the greying of the baby boomer generation, the importance of walkability cannot be understated and the importance of quantifying walkability has been recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

So where do we go from here? WalkScore is enabling web developers to embed maps, access data, and use their API. It is my hope that this move will make walkability as ubiquitous as Google Maps has made geographic data. In the near future WalkScore will be releasing open source code for their algorithm. It is my hope that this action will drive programmers to develop the next generation of wayfinding that will not only give you options for modes of travel, but incorporate externalities and facilitate spur-of-the moment side trips via mobile application. Since many people do not currently use transit due to its complexity, the seamless integration of WalkScore with mapping software and social wayfinding services such as Foursquare and Yelp has the potential to drive a large increase in ridership. Such a sea change will have the related effect of moving walkability from the realm of theory and analysis and into everyday life.

Realpolitik and Transformational Change for Saint Louis

Current I-70/Memorial Right of Way looking North from Spruce St. Photograph by author.

The next several years present a unique opportunity for the city of Saint Louis. As I have previously detailed, a series of ill advised post-war decisions severed the vital connection between Saint Louis and the Mississippi River. We now have a unique opportunity to fix these mistakes and enhance the potential of downtown while reconnecting to a vital identity for 21st century Saint Louis. The convergence of the first new bridge over the Mississippi in 40 years, renewed interest due to an international design competition, and an urban resurgence present a once in a lifetime opportunity. We must take advantage of these circumstances to remove the depressed and elevated lanes that sever the arch grounds and Laclede's Landing from the city, for this transformative change will become the driver for future incremental redevelopment on a scale not currently feasible.

In a recent study by Development Strategies the replacement of 1.2 miles of the existing 12 lane corridor with an adequately sized boulevard would open up to 500,000 square feet of developable land. These properties, in conjunction with adjacent vacant lots, could generate a value of $1.2 billion dollars in the next two decades. Based on this estimate, highway removal and redevelopment could provide as much as $6.3 million in annual property taxes to the city. An observer might bet that this windfall alone would be enough to attract political support, but they would have paradoxically long odds at this point.

In his 2009 presentation at TED Paul Collier prescribes a radical fix for global post-conflict recovery:
The reality is that we need to reverse the sequence. It's not the politics first; it's actually the politics last. The politics become easier as the decade progresses if you're building on a foundation of security and economic development. The rebuilding of prosperity ... The objective of facing reality is to change reality.
This matches the trajectory taken by City to River. The grassroots organization has found it far easier and more productive to engage those people and organizations who have a profound interest in the outcome. Unlike the typical convention center/stadium/museum attraction trope of urban development and more like the civic projects of a century ago, the development of an at-grade boulevard provides an armature for growth rather than a single deal to be closed. This potential and complexity requires a robust conversation with numerous parties and the negotiation of hundreds of varying interests. To echo Ed Morrison: If we were just building a convention center then "civic engagement [would be] a carefully circumscribed event, not a process; a meeting, not a collaboration." The problem with which we are confronted resulted from just such a hierarchical and artificial process -- to be successful our solution must be organic. City to River is developing what Morrison would describe as "complex public/private strategies [that] are developed in a “civic space” outside the four walls of any one organization;" and since January 2010 we have given over a hundred presentations to property owners, business associations, neighborhood groups, non-profits, design teams, and interested citizens.

The end result of this process has been a lengthy series of endorsements and a robust network of potential partners. This network includes non-profits such as the William Kerr Foundation, advocacy organizations such as The Open Space Council, The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, developers such as Spinnaker, LoftWorks, and Chivvis, The US Bank Community Development Corporation, Laclede's Landing Merchant's Association, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For a full list of organizations that endorse the City to River boulevard concept please view the City to River Blog.

As the above list of supporters demonstrates, the network of organizations and individuals that support the idea of reconnecting the C.B.D. of Saint Louis with the Arch Grounds, Laclede's Landing, Chouteau's Landing, and the North Riverfront incorporates diverse sectors: development, real estate, advocacy, non-profit, business, and media. Although updates from the CityArchRiver competition have been regrettably sparse, a recent email highlights major supporters of the CityArchRiver competition:
Congressional leaders from both sides of the Mississippi River have officially voiced their support for the international design competition set to frame the area around the Gateway Arch. The nine Democratic and Republican members of the St. Louis area delegation from Missouri and Illinois have sent a joint letter to the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation, the group sponsoring the competition to select a design team to invigorate the Arch grounds and connect the Arch to downtown St. Louis, the Mississippi River and the Illinois side. The letter - signed by U.S. Senators Kit Bond, R-Mo., Roland Burris, D-Ill., Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., as well as Congressmen Todd Akin, R-Mo., Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., William Lacy Clay, Jr., D-Mo., Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and John Shimkus, R-Ill. - praises the competition as an event that will have "indelibly positive impact on our region."
The competition organizers say the official endorsement reinforces the region's commitment to making sure the vision of a new iconic setting for the Arch on both sides of the river becomes a reality. "We are thrilled that our region's lawmakers have joined to communicate their support and to recognize the significance of the competition and the Arch project," said Walter Metcalfe Jr., senior counsel with Bryan Cave LLP and a member of the foundation board.

While I echo Metcalf's sentiments, I hope that the signatory politicians will find the political foresight to meet the growing mass of City to River supporters by embracing the potential of replacing the obsolete highway with an at-grade urban boulevard.

Please consider leaving a comment supporting highway removal at the CityArchRiver competition website, please examine the competition finalists and give input during the comment period (August 17th-24th), and please contact your representatives and elected officials.

The time is now to reopen our front door!

A potential vision of the New Memorial Drive. Rendering by author for City to River.

Saint Louis: More Progressive than Denver?*

* For the time-being anyway.

Many times, when dealing with intractable problems it is impossible to resist succumbing to the grass-is-greener approach. In Saint Louis, during conversations with a wide array of advocates and transit professionals, the comparison to Denver is inevitable: "if we had a transit district like Denver", "Denver can expend that much per capita of transit because of their political situation", or simply "St. Louis is not Denver". I have always felt that this class of statement exist solely to obviate the responsibility for a lack of progress. Resignedness to the status quo is a protective mechanism for those who have tried and failed.

Who would have thought three months ago that someone in Denver might be saying "if only we had the political courage to support transit like Saint Louis"?

Today Yonah Freemark broke news that transit leader Denver has scuttled plans to approach voters in its Regional Transit District for a sales tax increase. It appears that in the current economy, with heightened pressure from the Tea Party and anti-tax crowd and falling revenue from existing taxes Denver politicians would not risk even putting a sales tax increase in front of the voters. This decision will substantially postpone the completion of the 122 miles FasTracks expansion plan until after 2042. As you might remember, the St. Louis region passed a sales tax increase last week. What can we take away from the situation in Denver?
1. Sales taxes should not form the financial foundation of something as critical as a transit system.
I am inclined to share this view with zealous anti-government critics. As regressive taxes, sales taxes and are extremely vulnerable to economic instability. While there is no golden bullet, relying on sales taxes is dangerous. Other options are not much better: income taxes would be difficult to justify given that those who would contribute the most typically use the system the least, and property taxes place the burden solely on landowners. State appropriations vary based on the political breeze and uneducated rural legislators can easily hold urban areas hostage.

If transit plays as vital role in regional economies as the supporters of Prop M claim, then the least bad single tax option might be a corporate earning tax solely devoted to the development of economic infrastructure and, specifically, transit.

2. Regional Transit Districts are not a panacea for funding troubles.
At a recent City Affair panel discussion the executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit seemed to indicate that the establishment of a bi-state regional transportation district would solve Metro's perennial financial woes. Denver now proves that my skepticism was founded. Casting a broader net adds some stability, but a broader geographic area of support does not change the fundamental unsustainability of the system.
The ideal revenue stream should combine a mix federal grants [new infrastructure] with corporate taxes [for operations], and sales and income taxes [for citizen buy-in].

Only when a balanced funding mechanism is in place for the region can a transit district be successful.

3. Transit organizations have a greater onus to be responsible and transparent in decision-making and operations than charitable organizations .
A commenter to the story condenses the anticipated public opposition to a .4% sales tax increase:

"Nobody trusts the RTD ... The former head got $3 million in compensation ... There's no oversight ... The proposed expansions don't make sense."

These comments should be eerily familiar to anyone following the coverage in Saint Louis. Whether these reactions are the result of true problems or a post-rationalization based on antagonism to transit, it is clear that the RTD must do a better job explaining itself to the public. While Metro in Saint Louis has made great progress in this regard, it cannot afford to rest either.

As Freemark writes:

Denver could learn a lesson or two from its Midwestern peer [Saint Louis]: A bad economy does not improve anyone’s mobility, nor does it eliminate voter hopes for the future of their region. Deciding not to hold a vote this year amounts to giving up on FasTracks’ quick completion without even trying to save it.

Saint Louis: the quiet dawn of regionalism?

A view of the future?
A View of the Future? Image by Andrew J. Faulkner.

St. Louis County approves Proposition A for increased funding of the Metro system by a 62.91% majority

"This is not a political issue," said Metro President and Chief Executive Robert Baer. "This was a matter of the whole region coming together — the north, south, central, west."
-- St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

While the passage of Proposition A, a ½-cent sales tax in St. Louis County, is certainly a testament to the tireless efforts of transit campaigners and the effort Metro has put into recuperating its image, the important story here is the hopeful emergence of a new regional consciousness.

The St. Louis region has long been plagued by intense political fragmentation, and the saga of Metro funding reflects this situation. Unlike cities such as Denver, Saint Louis has not been able to enact a Transportation District to provide funding for operations. Rather, in a state that ranks 35th in transit funding, Metro was forced to turn to the relatively unsustainable method of sales taxes to generate operating revenue. Hamstrung by local political realities, Metro was forced to win separate referendums in both the independent city of St. Louis and in St. Louis County. While St. Louis city passed their ¼-cent in 1998, it took three referendums for the county to pass the other part. The situation of Metro was made more dire by the 1998 loss of $22 million in federal funds with the federal change from operations to capital funding, and the 2008 decision by St. Louis county to change the transit/road tax percentage from 63%/37% to 50%/50%. Throughout this time period, the county rejected sales tax referendums twice.

This year has been different. The coalition supporting Proposition M included John Nations -- the mayor of the municipality synonymous with the perceived values of St. Louis county. Yet Nations has realized what many others have failed to. St. Louis county is now fully developed and greenfield development is far outside its ambit. While disconnection from Saint Louis city benefited the County's edge cities twenty years ago, those aging municipalities must now rely on their infrastructure for competitive advantage. Without connectivity, the municipalities of St. Louis County will not be able to avoid becoming the victim of the same job migration to far-flung greenfield development that created them in the first place. This Metro vote marks the first noteworthy step towards regional functionality; hopefully some day April 6, 2010 will be understood as the first corrective to a much closer vote that happened on August 22, 1876.

With the emergence of spring in the past week, I cannot help but cast the current situation in terms of Luke 8:5-8. St. Louis County is the seed on rocky ground; if it doesn't put down roots it will wither. County residents chose to disregard the divisive arguments of a few and to establish the roots of a new growth. Hopefully it will be the first of a long series of such changes.

Downtown Retail to be Given a Shot in the Arm

Residential development downtown received a major boost with the opening of Schnuck's Culinaria last year as the first supermarket downtown since 1997. While the development of that store resulted in the loss of a significant work of architecture, many hoped that the trade would lead to much more investment. Fortunately this has been the case. Cordish Development announced today its new plans for the Ballpark Village site. Ballpark Village, the site of Edward Durrell Stone's Busch Stadium one, was originally proposed to be a multi-story mixed use office development. Since those plans have fallen through it has sat as a muddy lot and as a combination parking lot and softball field.

Ballpark Village today. Photo by -kj.

While Ballpark Village has been a blight on a vibrant and urban scaled part of the city, the plans announced today by Cordish and the City of St. Louis to locate a Wal-Mart Superstore there hold promise for the similar revitalization of the rest of downtown. Wal-Mart has the ability to fill many needs of urban loft dwellers such as family size packages of macaroni, cheap yarn, and health insurance. When reached for comment Trent Miller, director of strategy for Wal-Mart, stated:
We here at Wal-Mart have long coveted a location in St. Louis City. At this point it is the largest city the United States without a Wal-Mart of Sam's Club. We're excited to partner with the city to bring cheap merchandise and lower prices to all. Furthermore, we think that, given our dependance on inexpensive Chinese labor, we will be a great contributor to the economic future of the City of St. Louis and will support you as pursue your China Hub project.

When reached for interview by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Barb Geisman, deputy mayor for development, discussed the infrastructure upgrades that had lured Wal-Mart.
This is another great example of a great corporation moving to a great location in the city of St. Louis. As everyone knows highways bring development. Some people say that St. Louis doesn't do anything new. Well this is the first time in the country where a freeway exit ramp will directly connect into a Wal-Mart parking lot. Of course we will have to demolish one or two of those Cupples Station warehouses to realign the 9th street exit, but it's been a year since the Brentwood interchange was reconfigured, and if there's anything this city needs, it's more big box stores directly connected to our highway infrastructure.

A unnamed analyst for the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association noted that the Wal-Mart plan was extremely popular in South County focus groups:
Frankly, if we're going to have a successful downtown we have to cater to South County. Residents of Arnold and Lemay are the best barometer of our regional success. They were smart enough to leave when things got bad and their return will mean the city is back. Currently these people are afraid to set foot in the city. By building them a Wal-Mart we can give them something comforting and by connecting it directly to 40 and 55 they don't actually have to drive through the city.

Proposed rendering of Ballpark Village Wal-Mart.

Can Saint Louis be the Next American City?

In recent days, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch has run a number of stories examining what Saint Louis must to to transition from being a formerly powerful industrial city to a successful 21st century city. Of note are the articles challenging Saint Louisans' reliance on organizational mentality and large corporations and difficulty attracting and retaining talent.
As someone who spends a considerable amount of time considering the future of Saint Louis and its potential sustainability, I feel this will prove to be an extremely productive conversation even if the only produce is a heightened a sense of urgency.

I would like to contribute to this discussion by running an as yet unpublished opinion piece that was originally submitted to St. Louis Tableau in 2009.

“The idea of a great city never has occupied a comfortable place in the American imagination”
-- Lewis H. Lapham. “City Lights.” Harper’s Magazine, Issue 285. July, 1992. p. 4.

“If the city were to decline, no one would rebuild it according to the present plan. That alone discloses our own judgement on our cities.”
--Henry Ford as quoted in
“Detroit Vacant Land Survey,” Detroit: City Planning Commission, 24 August, 1990.

American cities have occupied a culturally vulnerable position since the coalescence of our nation. The United States was founded on a doctrine of equality and self-sufficiency. While the urban center had once represented a freedom from feudalism in Europe, American freedom was, from the beginning, predicated on land-ownership and independence of labor. As the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre notes "Urban democracy would imply an equality of places" while the traditional urban ideal of centrality “would produce hierarchy and therefore inequality"1. Urbanized cities were therefore associated with monarchies and empires. It was Thomas Jefferson’s utopic vision of a nation of gentlemen farmers that precipitated a feud with Alexander Hamilton’s urban Federalists; this philosophical difference led to no less than the birth of American political parties. A century later, the eminent historian Frederick Jackson Turner explained the American psyche using a frontier thesis:
“the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.”2
While Turner himself thought that the closing of the frontier would result in “the birth of a new nation in America,”3 Jefferson’s vision still resonates strongly in current debates about suburbanization and in NIMBY resistance to density throughout the country.

The decline of American cities is most commonly attributed to the destructive structural changes of the postwar period. While factors such globalized economic forces are geographically neutral, many other changes were certainly motivated or effected by the anti-urban ethos that has permeated American culture and politics since the beginning of the country. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 spawned the interstate system, decentralized industry, and led to the demolition of significant tracts of every large city. The National Housing Act of 1937 created the Federal Housing Administration loan program. FHA subsidized mortgages reflected the anti-urban convictions of the period through numerous measures including the disinclination for multifamily building loans, prioritization of single-family home loans, and limitation of rehabilitation loans to short durations with miniscule amounts.

The net result of these policies was the subsidization of a climate where it was easier and cheaper for a family to buy a new home in the suburbs than to renovate an existing one in the city. With a clear prioritization away from the city, the population shares of cities within metropolitan areas decreased from roughly seventy to forty percent. Cities such as St. Louis lost over sixty percent. The result of this migration was a declining commercial base combined with a service intensive and poorer population. This caused cities to become more reliant on public revenue. With less power, cities assumed a lower profile in American culture and “Americans [were] thereby inclined to be more accepting of the many disruptions and disparities that engulf them and to acquiesce more readily to society’s dominant interests.”4

The transfer of wealth from the cities left them unable to address escalating problems. Photo by author.

The cultural neglect of cities in combination with an increased population of disadvantaged residents led decreased accountability. Self-interested bureaucracies either grew ineffectual or, failing at traditional redevelopment strategies, desperately grasped for larger and less advantageous forms of development. Most cities entirely neglected small businesses and committed to an increasingly cutthroat gamble to attract and subsidize large corporations. This reactive strategy had its root in anti-urban attitudes and was predicated on an understanding of development as an adversarial game of zero sums.

St. Louis Marketplace, built with generous Tax Increment Financing, is now failing due to metropolitan retail competition. Photo by author.

As Kingsley Davis wrote in 1965:
“In the later stages of the cycle ... urbanization in the industrial countries tends to cease. Hence the connection between economic development and the growth of cities also ceases”5.
The economic gains of the city had to be won from outlying suburbs or other regions, and all political effort should be expended towards these ends rather than fostering growth at a larger scale. These stopgap strategies resulted in an urban core characterized by vast swaths of neglected and deteriorating neighborhoods and punctuated by autonomous complexes and speculative developments.

Resources are withdrawn from deteriorating sections of the city to enable high profile development projects. Photo by author.

It is this form of urban redevelopment that U.S. News & World Report reporter William Allman assessed on his homecoming to St. Louis:
“Coming back to St. Louis after many years ... the city’s surface has changed considerably... [T]hese changes, while putting a shine on the old city, are merely cosmetic. The downtown areas seemed designed primarily for tourists”6.

That cities have suffered extensively in the past decades as a result of cultural bias and legislative subsidization is well established, but where do we go from here? Allman’s assessment still rings true in St. Louis today. One smirking critic derisively assessed improvement efforts surrounding the 2009 All Star Game as “lipstick on a pig”7. Clearly current paradigms are not wholly succeeding, nor are they taking advantage of several assets possessed by St. Louis and many other shrinking cities.

First, the low property values throughout the city and the fine grain of existing development and platting are an asset, not a liability. Low property values mean a substantially more affordable cost of life and greatly increase the potential to cement ties to a community through property ownership. For a small businessperson, cheap rents can mean the difference between failing or expanding to buy the premises. Furthermore, the small scale of neighborhoods and buildings makes renovation and maintenance substantially more manageable and enables more residents to acquire property for rehabilitation and lease. It is counterintuitive given the fragmented nature of urban landholding to continue pursuing large-scale suburban development strategy in urban areas. To do so is to ignore the powerful economic potential for upward mobility and increased tax bases through grass-roots redevelopment. St. Louis’s ravaged but remarkable building stock represents the single greatest asset of the city, and its affordability represents an extraordinary potential to attract the businesspersons and innovators who will shape the next century.

The cycle of economic stagnation described by Kingsley Davis is based on one major variable. His analysis on the decline of urban growth was premised on the cessation of people moving from agrarian areas to the city, for “once urbanization ceases, city growth becomes a function of general population growth”8. Therefore, another potential for city growth in an urbanized society is not based on poaching jobs from other municipalities, but on attracting new immigrants to the nation and to the city. By enabling them to start businesses and facilitating their upward mobility the tax base may rebound from the damage caused by suburban flight. A recent Brookings institute paper studies economic success and the patterns of movement and resettlement in the metropolitan area. The authors note that such upward mobility “may be the most important force operating in metropolitan areas, but urban public policy has taken little account of it”9. St. Louis needs to attract immigrant and young entrepreneurs by making a serious commitment to market its affordability.

The city must connect potential entrepreneurs with real estate opportunity. Photo by author.

Many strategies to attract immigrants and small businesspeople require far less investment than current initiatives. First, an accessible and comprehensive database of vacant and available commercial and retail spaces is urgently needed. If this were coupled with a broad-based homesteading program that would dispose of the approximately 9,300 parcels of land owned by the city Land Reutilization Authority,10 these programs could do more to revitalize the city than any corporate redevelopment. For an example of such a program we need only look down the Mississippi to the small city of Paducah Kentucky. Paducah’s Artist Relocation Program11 combines real estate services with rehabilitation assistance to attract live-work artisanal small businesses to a designated neighborhood. Once entrepreneurs can be attracted to set up businesses, the city must continue assisting them by simplifying permit processes and providing tax incentives to use local suppliers and employees. Finally, the building stock of the city must preserve a range of scales and price points to allow for upward mobility and aging without forcing relocation.

The city can capitalize on its greatest asset, its historic building stock, through a concerted effort to encourage entrepreneurship and immigration.. Photo by author.

The city of St. Louis has a difficult habit of comparing itself with Chicago, but let us examine New York for a change. In a recent article, New Geography reports that a culture of favoritism towards major development interests has led to an increasingly fraught climate for small businesses in America’s most urban city. In a survey of Hispanic business owners “84% believe New York City is no longer a good place for immigrants to open their businesses”12 yet when asked where they would recommend opening a small business the majority still recommended the Northeast.

With an unbiased reappraisal of our assets and a new policy that takes advantage of our low costs, publicizes our opportunities, favors small business creation, and assists upward mobility St. Louis could take over where New York has failed. What are we waiting for?

1 Lefebvre, Henri. The Urban Revolution. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. p, 124 .
2 Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Frontier in American History. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1921. p. 1. Available online here.
3 Turner, The Frontier in American History p. 311.
4 Beauregard, Robert A. Voices of Decline. New York: Routledge, 2003. p. 245.
5 Kingsley Davis “The Urbanization of the Human Population,” in the City Reader, ed. Richard T. LeGates and Frederic Stout (London: Routledge, 2003) p. 30.
6 Allman, William F. “St. Louis” U.S. News & World Report, vol. 107. December 18, 1989: p.49-50. As quoted in Beauregard, Robert A. Voices of Decline. p. 222.
7 Hamilton, Keegan. “Extreme Makeover: All-Star Edition: St. Louis is cleaning house for the midsummer classic, but is it, well, lipstick on a pig?” Riverfront Times. July 7, 2009.
8 Davis, “The Urbanization of the Human Population” p. 30.
9 Bier, Thomas. "Moving Up, Filtering Down: Metropolitan Housing Dynamics and Public Policy." Available online here. September 2001.
10 Montee, Susan, et al. "Audit of the City of St. Louis Community and Economic Development Offices." Available online here. April 2009.
11 For more on the Paducah Artist Relocation Program see
12 Null, Steve. "New York City Closes Shop." Available online here. August 7 2009.

STL: Catch the tale of the TIGER!

A recent op-ed in the Boston Globe by the previously mentioned economist Edward Glaeser outlines the pervasive anti-urban bias in federal stimulus funding.

In 2009, America’s five least dense states were awarded $1,100 per capita in federal recovery grants while the five densest states, including Massachusetts, got $561 per capita. President Obama can change the tilt toward low density. The most urban president since Teddy Roosevelt, Obama needs to fight for cities, not just as a matter of justice, but because cities, and the creativity that comes when humans connect and learn from each other in dense areas, are the best hope for the country.

While Glaeser's Roosevelt assessment is mildly dubious, his summation of funding distribution has been accurate and reflects a lack of organization and coordinated voice on behalf of urban constituents. While it was once easy to overlook the stereotyped urban minorities in the age of cheap oil, in the next fifty years increasingly interrelated energy and economic constraints will increase the profile of urban areas and tilt this balance back towards urban issues. A country strapped for resources simply cannot continue dissipating funding over vast swaths of land for negligible economic gain; whether by hook or by crook, funding will be concentrated in defined areas to maximize investment.

While the 2009 statistics reflect conventional subsidization, there is an emerging shift in pattern that indicates that federal departments understand the allocation dilemma. The recent announcement of the 2010 recipients of the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Grants reveal the changing landscape of government subsidy. Of the top 20 largest grants (ranging from $105 million to $25 million):

FIVE went to Passenger rail and light rail stations and infrastructure
FIVE went to streetcar/express and bus rapid transit projects
FOUR went to complete streets/streetscape Improvements
THREE went to freight rail infrastructure improvements
THREE went to highway redesign/construction

TIGER Appropriation. Image by Rob Vargas/Fast Company.

The city of Saint Louis was passed over for five submitted projects.

The Delmar Loop streetcar (previously discussed here) lacked the distance, development impact, and matching funding promised by the Tucson Streetcar.

The applications for unnamed Chouteau Lake improvements and the rebuilt 22nd street 64/40 interchange were long-shot submittals to bolster long-term speculative projects that could not meet the "livability" paradigm.

Another proposal was for the addition of truck-only lanes on Interstate 70 . Wisely, federal TIGER stimulus was not used on a twentieth century project designed to support the unsustainable "rolling warehouse" supply model.

The final application for TIGER funds was for a dense mixed-use Transit Oriented Development at the Forest Park/DeBaliviere Metrolink station. In this case, the TIGER funding was to extend the development through the acquisition of an adjacent strip mall. While it is impossible to pontificate on what the grant reviewers were thinking, the relatively small scale of this project in comparison to other submissions probably contributed to its unfavorable review.

What can we learn from our failure?
1. Planning cannot be done in a vacuum and projects must be coordinated.
The projects that are now being subsidized are large scale and increase their impact by coordinating development focus across multiple areas.

2. Traditional projects no longer cut it.
To be successful all projects must promote alternatives to the automobile paradigm. One of the criteria of evaluation was “enhancing community livability” and the results seem to have balanced the priority for public transportation to enable automotive dependance and the physical infrastructure that creates complete and walkable streets.

3. Pay attention to your residents
Over 25% of Saint Louis residents do not even own a car, let alone use a car frequently, yet 60% of our most innovative public projects require automobile usage for access and benefit. Is this a responsible vision or the result of responsible oversight and governance?

We must start developing for the approximately 8,900 residents who have no car at all, for thousands more who struggle to afford one, and for those of us who prioritize neighborhoods where you don't need a car to live. Weaning our urban areas from automotive dependance will secure our civic futures. Not only will we be healthier, but a recent report notes that we will be wealthier as well. In the report, Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities, Joseph Cortright describes a direct correlation between walkability and value:

In the typical metropolitan area, a one-point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000 depending on the market. The gains were larger in denser, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco and smaller in less dense markets like Tucson and Fresno.

"These findings are significant for policy makers,” said Carol Coletta, President and CEO of CEOs for Cities, which commissioned the research. “They tell us that if urban leaders are intentional about developing and redeveloping their cities to make them more walkable, it will not only enhance the local tax base but will also contribute to individual wealth by increasing the value of what is, for most people, their biggest asset."

A new round of TIGER Grant is on the horizon. Will we forge intergovernmental partnerships to create coordinated projects that increase walkable streets, enable Transit Oriented Development, and expand a resilient multi-modal infrastructure to support commerce and industry?

The stakes are high and every round we lose puts our metropolitan competition further ahead of us.

A view of the future?
A View of the Future? Image by Andrew J. Faulkner.

Of course, any amount of Transit Oriented Development will be meaningless if we allow our public transportation system to be crippled. If you or your family and friends are a registered voter in Saint Louis County Support Proposition A in April.

City and River Pt. II: TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!

This is Part II of a series advocating for the reconnection of Saint Louis and the Mississippi River.

I have already examined the importance of the Mississippi River to the identity of the City of Saint Louis. But why is this historical identity important?

Identity is important because it is the one inducement Saint Louis currently has to attract new residents.

For its first two centuries Saint Louis has relied on its major transportation routes and geographic location as an economic inducement. With the rise of globalization, this will not suffice. As globalized trade decimated the manufacturing lifeblood of the city, governmental focus turned to finance and technology in order to attract well educated residents and maintain tax bases. However, the digital revolution of the past two decades has broken the location-based restraints for this significant segment of the population. Before this time period you had to live in some proximity to your job; now you can work anywhere a suitable communications infrastructure and well-connected airport exists.

If you could live anywhere in the world, why would you live in Saint Louis?
We must develop a compelling answer to this question to survive, but given the rate of out-migration of our graduates we have not.

The increased level of competition evident in this century is problematic because, as economist Edward Glaeser understands from studying Boston, the "ability [of a city] to regenerate itself is hinged upon its ability to attract residents, not just firms." In short, a reserve of talent is necessary given the increasing vicissitudes of the economy because skilled and educated workers can react more quickly to massive change and prevent urban decay.

If there is one strategy Saint Louis must embrace, it must take strong action to attract and induce new residents to move here. While policy and subsidy may prove effective, we must overcome an overwhelmingly negative national image first. Until recently, the city has focused on strategies of beautification and tourism promotion rather than creating vibrant livable communities. Over twenty years ago reporter William Allman assessed his native city:

“Coming back to St. Louis after many years ... the city’s surface has changed considerably...
[T]hese changes, while putting a shine on the old city, are merely cosmetic. The downtown areas seemed designed primarily for tourists”.
Allman, William F. “St. Louis” U.S. News & World Report, vol. 107. December 18, 1989: p.49-50. As quoted in Beauregard, Robert A. Voices of Decline. p. 222

While this mentality is still present in the city, (one snarky commentator described the visionary implementation of City Garden as "putting lipstick on a pig") the influx of 3,800 new residents downtown in the past decade (a 40% increase) marks a turning point for the city. With a modest residential population downtown and amenities beginning to develop, a bold, unifying stroke is still needed.

As I discussed in part I, the riverfront provides the authenticity and ability to attract residents by differentiating Saint Louis from numerous other competing cities. In addition, the reconnection of city and river has the potential to create an unrivaled amenity by serving as a hinge between the revitalized urban space of Gateway Mall with the Arch grounds/riverfront and the regional Great River Ring beyond. The imperative for connection in this area has been in the news for several years as a result of the Danforth Foundation's plan for a three block lid over the depressed lanes of I-70.

The 3 Block Lid would not change the miserable condition under the elevated lanes of I-70. Image by City to River.

While the lid concept is appealing, it is a band-aid solution to a much larger problem. Lids require expensive retrofitting and engineering and entail increased inspection and maintenance. The lid concept should only be used as a last resort. When we examine the use of I-70 alongside with the plans for the New Mississippi River Bridge, better alternatives present themselves.

New highway routings planned for the new Mississippi River Bridge. Image by Andrew Faulkner/City to River.

An examination of the bridge plans reveals that a four lane interstate will be constructed to carry I-70 from the junction of I-70/I-64/I-44/US-40 at St. Clair Avenue in East Saint Louis. From there a new 4 lane roadway designated I-70 will travel north in parallel with Illinois route 3, cross the new bridge and rejoin the current routing of I-70 around Cass Ave. This routing makes eminent sense as the new corridor will have the potential for eventual expansion to 6 lanes.

With the opening of the bridge, the downtown lanes will become a spur connector and duplicate the linkage of eastbound I-44 with westbound I-70. According to MODOT the downtown lanes are one of the least travelled sections of interstate in the Saint Louis area. Currently the majority of the 73,000 vehicles per day in this section is traveling through Saint Louis to points west. With the rerouting of I-70 it is probable that that amount of traffic could be reduced by greater than 50%.

Given the imminent reduction of traffic on the depressed and elevated segments of I-70, is their contribution worth the depressing effect they have on acres of surrounding property? What could we do instead of maintaining an obsolete eyesore?

We could demolish this section and replace it with an urban boulevard. With synchronized traffic lights, boulevards in many cities throughout the country carry in excess of 40,000 vehicles a day without problems.

Replacing the existing I-70 and Memorial Drive configuration would free land for new development. Image by Andrew Faulkner/City to River.

A boulevard would also be cheaper than the lid concept. The depressed lanes currently feature five bridges and a half mile of elevated viaduct that require annual maintenance. While a boulevard would also require maintenance, it would not be as expensive as the elevated and depressed lanes. Furthermore, the removal of I-70 opens up the potential for revenue generation through new development. Currently, the transportation corridor consists of 4-8 traffic lanes and four interstate lanes that add up to between 200 and 250 feet in width. A sufficient boulevard designed to carry the predicted traffic in this area would only need to be 6 lanes and would only use 70 feet of width (or 90 if it included on-street parking). That would free between 110 and 180 feet per block for 19 blocks. That would create 16 acres of government-owned developable land in a prime location to sell or lease, and this could be used to pay for highway demolition and offset the cost of building the boulevard.

Reopening Our Front Door: Washington Avenue and Memorial Drive. Image by Jeremy Clagett/City to River.

The transformative power of demolishing a highway to reconnect the city and river cannot be ignored either. While Saint Louis is gaining momentum towards walkability, simultaneously reopening our front door to the river and creating an urban and walkable spine downtown will send a message to the region and the nation that this city has finally learned from our mistakes.

The construction of the Ronald Wilson Reagan Mississippi River Bridge and the demolition of the obsolete lanes of I-70 for a more walkable alternative will position our city for a more vibrant and sustainable future. We must take action for the future of the city and


Saint Louis: City and River Pt. I

Saint Louis has had a difficult relationship with the Mississippi River through most of its existence. Obviously, the city owes its location to a sizable bluff in proximity to the confluence of two of the largest rivers on the continent and its storied history to the trade generated by its location. The riverfront was a center for economic activity and a melting pot for many distinct races and ethnicities and a stage for some of Saint Louis's greatest figures. Over time the riverfront became a center of civic identity to the extent that created events like the Veiled Prophet Parade were deliberately intertwined with the setting of the river.

Saint Louis once opened its front door to the river. (1907 aerial view)

The importance of the river began to falter as the city was eclipsed by the rail capital of Chicago. The losing battle for dominance engendered desperation and bold proposals throughout the 20th century. While the clearance of 40 blocks of irreplaceable 19th century cast-iron architecture for the construction Gateway Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Monument was, in the end an even trade, many other decisions were shortsighted at the least.

The demolition of an intact 19th century riverfront in 1940 made way for the arch

Certainly, Saint Louis wasn't alone in undertaking such grand plans. What sets Saint Louis apart was the early date at which it started and the massive scale of operation. As an efficient labor force combined with federal incentives in the postwar period, demolitions for interstate corridors, slum clearance for industry, and the development of massive public housing projects eviscerated the city. By the 1980's over 800 blocks of urban fabric had been erased -- almost 11% of the total land area of the city. The mid-century desire to reinvent the city coincided with the implementation of the The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. While interstates were originally conceived to skirt cities and connect to existing boulevard and parkway networks, powerful interests in the city demanded direct access to lure development. As David J. Masenten writes in his excellent thesis, optimism prevailed and "few thought these elevated expressways would have a serious detrimental effect on the cities they served." This was the case in downtown Saint Louis, where the effort to create a bold new connection between city and river was cut off by the construction of depressed and elevated lanes of Interstate 70.

Interstate 70 blockaded the front door of Saint Louis for half a century.

The existence of Interstate 70 prevented Dan Kiley's masterful landscape from becoming a vital part of Saint Louis. Furthermore, the alternating elevated and depressed lanes have stunted redevelopment on both sides of the highway.

While Saint Louis's front door has been closed for over 50 years, the next decade will be a once in a lifetime chance to reconnect city and river. Three events are converging to make reconsideration of this condition possible. First, The National Parks Service has updated their General Management Plan for the arch grounds. Secondly, the new Ronald Wilson Reagan Mississippi River Bridge will be the first new river crossing since 1967, and will provide a radical restructuring of the current highway network in both Saint Louis and Illinois. Finally, as part of the NPS GMP, an international design competition is underway to rethink the arch grounds and riverfront. This competition, consisting of globally recognized teams of architects, engineers, urban designers and historians will undoubtedly interject some bold new vision into an under-considered area.

As a number of designers and urbanists saw this confluence on the horizon, we formed an advocacy group we call City to River. We successfully lobbied the National Parks Service to issue the following statement in the GMP:

"The National Park Service would prefer and strongly supports the removal of the Interstate highway between Poplar Street Bridge and Eads Bridge at some point in the future. [emphasis added]

NPS JNEM Final General Management Plan p.5-15

We have been meeting with stakeholders ranging from MoDOT to local business associations since that time and have now substantiated our vision enough to present it to the public. We are calling for the removal of 1.3 miles of Interstate 70 to be removed from downtown Saint Louis and replaced with an urban boulevard. Beginning with a presentation at Pecha Kucha STL we have been bringing our vision to the broader community.

Paul Hohmann and I Present at Pecha Kucha STL. Image by Geoff Story.

In the past two weeks, we have been lucky enough to receive coverage from The Saint Louis Beacon, The Urbanophile, KMOV, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Three days ago the Post-Dispatch editorial board formally endorsed the concept of highway removal.

In Part II of this article I will argue for the replacement of the downtown stretch of I-70 with an urban boulevard and explain the potential for highway removal.

Transportation alternatives: walkability and sking to work

Skis on walkbridge over Metrolink tracks, Forest Park. Photograph by author.

One of the hallmarks of our species is the efficient mobility which has resulted from one hundred millennia of evolution. We developed bipedal locomotion to better watch for predators and locate food and this adaptation drove brain development and led to higher intelligence. Over thousands of years we were able to develop multiple modes of transportation from the the taming of the horse to the cart to the bicycle and the steam locomotive. Many populations in extreme climates tailored specialized transportation devices to their environments. Similar inventions in far flung locations arose separately or became globalized through trade networks. What is striking is that through this entire process humanity did not discard previous solutions, but rather added new solutions alongside existing technologies.

That is until the twentieth century.

If I were to survey today, the vast majority of Americans used automobiles as our only means of transportation. To many, anything other than automotive transportation is "strange", "a novelty", or even worse "exercise". While everyone looks fondly back on their college years when everyone walked or biked to class, loves the freedom and leisure that alternative transportation provides on vacation, or sees it as an enticement to visit the land of fruit and nuts we avoid it in everyday life.

While it may be quite easy to naïvely crusade to enlighten people and yank them from their cars, such effort will run into a half century of governmental subsidization. According to Stanley Hart and Alvin Spivak, government subsidies towards automobile manufacturing and usage account for as much as 10% of the annual Gross National Product. The reason that Amsterdam can boast more bicycle trips than automobile trips on an annual basis is that the Netherlands has never skewed subsidy in the way that the United States has. Raising the gas tax will help to close this gap, but we must rethink our entire way of living and doing business and create corresponding policy.

By favoring the redevelopment of existing urban communities and prioritizing dense, walkable infill on brownfield sites we can begin to (re)build the conditions that make multi-modality possible. However, building construction is not the whole answer. We must also devise financial assistance to small businesses in dense areas, adopt form-based zoning overlays for mixed use districts, drastically reduce existing parking requirements, and require creation of complete street infrastructure . While this will require political courage and effort, such changes will also keep cities competitive and attract a new generation of future entrepreneurs and leaders.

To use a personal example I am a member of the so-called "millennial generation", I can attest that, like myself, the majority of my classmates in graduate school prioritize urban life, transit accessibility, and alternatives to driving when looking for places to live. For every few acquaintances who moved to the sunbelt, many more moved to a handful of multi-modal connected hotspots such as San Francisco, New York, Portland, Seattle, or Chicago.

When I chose to move within Saint Louis, I picked my neighborhood based on a combination of known bike routes, light rail accessibility, amenities, price analysis on Zilpy, and geographic analysis on WalkScore. As Jamais Cascio writes in the Atlantic new web-based technologies "offer the capacity to do something that was once limited to a hermetic priesthood. Intelligence augmentation decreases the need for specialization and increases participatory complexity." This could well be the rallying cry of the millennial generation. We have unimagined access to data, and we have the tools to use it to shape our decisions. These developments will result in increasingly bloodthirsty competition between cities for desired demographics; conversely the complacent will swiftly decline.

WalkScore™ of Central West End via WalkScore.

Physical conditions alone constitute only half of the battle of sustainable transit alternatives. The remainder is a battle of hearts and minds. When we examine the neighborhood my priorities have led me to select, we find that it has a WalkScore of 94. According to the site, only 4% of users have a higher walkscore. Yet, when I think of my daily life I do not live like I am in the ninety-sixth percentile for walkability. While I am lucky enough to have a part time position less than a mile away, the bulk of my employment requires a commute of four and a half miles. While I am able to commute there by bicycle often, job demands and weather compel me to drive more than I'd like.

Yet, as someone who advocates for access to alternative transportation methods and tries to minimize my car usage accordingly, I was pleased to be pictured on page A2 of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 8th.

Photo of the author in the Post-Dispatch Image by Dawn Majors.

I was on my way to my part-time job and unable to bicycle due to four inches of powdery snow on the ground. My next instinct was to drive, but my car had been parked in. Since I was lucky enough to live close enough to that place of employment, I grabbed my skis and headed to work. On the way Ms. Majors spotted me and took a series of pictures.

Soon thereafter I received a letter from Gregory F.X. Daly, the Saint Louis Collector of Revenue commending for my "dedication to my employer". While I appreciate his kind gesture, I think that associating non-automotive transit with extraordinary dedication indicates a conditioning antithetical with the wide-scale acceptance of transportation alternatives. Interestingly enough, an identical response occured in comment thread concerning skiing to work in Madison, Wi, while in Alaska a company pays employees to bike, ski, or skate to work . Perhaps a little latitude makes all the difference?

I do not endorse this skier's disregard for traffic law nor the abuse he causes to the bottoms of his skis

In a related note, I have started a statistical microblog at Daytum where I am tabulating my life. Of particular relevance to this entry is transportation. My resolution for this year is to equalize my sustainable transit usage with automobile usage. I hope that by tracking this over the coming months I can cut down on the 152 gallons of gas (and 2900 pounds of resulting CO2) I used last year.

View my life in statistics at Daytum.