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.

0 reactions:

Post a Comment