Downtown Green Space JNEM Media Parks

Post-Dispatch Editorializes on Arch Grounds

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch today editorializes on the discussion about the Arch grounds in an oddly-named article entitled “Top Shelf.” What’s most interesting is that alongside the Danforth plans the editorial discusses the merit of Rick Bonasch’s plan for remaking Memorial Drive, with nods to Steve Patterson and myself (at least in the online version). Once more, grassroots urbanism trickles up. Usually, the ideas get the nod without their source named.

The best part about the editorial is that while welcoming Danforth’s leadership it also calls for inclusion of different vision: “In short, there’s still time for sharp thinkers and innovative ideas. But they must get into the process. And they should be welcomed.”

We must be doing something right.

Downtown Green Space JNEM Parks Planning Streets

Time to Revise Memorial Drive

In my latest commentary for KWMU, I join what is becoming a bandwagon call: “Time to Revise Memorial Drive”.

Kudos to Rick Bonasch, whose STL Rising blog post “The Case for a New Memorial Drive” served as my inspiration.

Downtown Green Space JNEM

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Trust Incorporated

by Michael R. Allen

In their May 8 statement on their conclusions about what should be done to improve the Arch grounds, Memorial Drive and the downtown riverfront, Walter Metcalfe, Peter Raven and Robert Archibald laid out an agenda for year-round attractions and a new museum on the grounds, a lid over I-70, increased number of visitors to the Arch grounds, an international design competition and a 2015 deadline for the goals. Some of those goals are laudable and consensus-builders, like improving access and attendance. Others, like the museum plan and the semantics of “attractions,” are quite controversial.

To this end, the trio of mayoral-appointed advisers suggested establishing “a regional not-for-profit trust should be organized to raise funds for, operate
and maintain the new destination attraction.”

Although the National Park Service’s public comment period on the Arch grounds had not yet commenced, on June 11, Metcalfe, Archibald and Raven incorporated the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Trust. Incorporation documents (available here) state the goals of the corporation as those stated in the May 8 letter. The corporation’s directors are exclusively the three advisers; the Danforth Foundation has no representation.

Downtown Green Space JNEM

Public Meetings Announced for Memorial Planning Effort

From the National Park Service:

Two open house style meetings will be held in St. Louis on June 25 and July 1 to give interested individuals and organizations an opportunity to learn about and comment on preliminary alternatives for the future management of the Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse (Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). The existing management plan has been in place since 1964 and is in need of updating; therefore, a General Management Plan (GMP) to help guide National Park Service (NPS) management of the memorial for the next 15-20 years will be developed from the preliminary alternatives over the course of the next 18-24 months. The two public meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, June 25, 5-8 p.m., in the Trolley Room of the Dennis and Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center (the historic Lindell Pavilion) in Forest Park; and Tuesday, July 1, 3-6:30 p.m., in the Old Courthouse, 11 North Fourth Street.

Preliminary alternatives have been developed by the NPS planning team, taking into consideration previous studies and plans developed by the NPS, the City of St. Louis, and other private and public organizations. These preliminary alternatives have their foundation in the purpose and significance of the Memorial as stated in the executive order that established the Memorial. The five alternatives identified to date are: Alternative 1, no action (provided as a baseline against which the other alternatives are assessed); Alternative 2, Connections; Alternative 3, Expanded Programming; Alternative 4, Portals; and Alternative 5, Park into the City.

“These preliminary alternatives will be refined and modified as the planning process continues,” said Tom Bradley, Superintendent of the Memorial, “then a preferred alternative will be identified. It may be an existing alternative, it may be a combination of alternatives, or it may incorporate new ideas brought to light during the open house meetings. The preferred alternative, then, will form the basis of the GMP for the Memorial.”

Requests to be added to the project mailing list should be sent by mail to Superintendent, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, 11 North 4th Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63102; by telephone to 314-655-1600; or by e-mail. A newsletter will be issued within the next 30 days which will outline in greater detail the identified potential management options for public review and comment. Notification of subsequent public meetings will be made through local, regional, and national media; newsletters and public meeting schedules will also be published online at

Downtown Green Space Housing JNEM Mid-Century Modern Parking

Venturo Capitalism

by Michael R. Allen

Rumors are circulating that the Danforth Foundation has arrived at a surprising plan for the Arch grounds: resurrect the 1970s Venturo House by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen by placing a line of one hundred of the houses on the western perimeter of the grounds. Apparently, the Foundation’s planners realized that without strong connections to a residential population, any plan to develop the grounds would fail. The Venturo House has appeal due to the shared nationality and similar last name of Suuronen and Arch architect Eero Saarinen. (In this vein, the Foundation could ask band Rilo Kiley to perform on Dan Kiley’s historic modernist landscape.)

If successful, city leaders have discussed the potential for building steel frames with elevators on several blocks of the Gateway Mall. Venturo homes could be hooked up to utilities that would run to each level of these towers. When a resident moved, that person could take their home with them and make way for a new resident.

Accompanying zoning and code changes would allow downtown building owners to place Venturo homes or similar modular homes on roofs — or adjacent surface parking lots. The changes would allow parking garages to be preserved and their historic architectural features left intact should they fall vacant. Venturo homes — arranged on special steel shims to adjust for the typical garage floor slope — will allow preservation-minded garage owners to avoid demolition.

If true, exciting news!

Downtown Green Space JNEM

The Arch is Surrounded

by Michael R. Allen

The National Park Service has completed the construction of most of the bollards surrounding the grounds of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (better known as the Gateway Arch grounds). The result? Not as bad as many people expected, but still terrible. While the spaces round spikes improve upon the impenetrable nearly-waist-high temporary concrete barrier around the grounds, their presence disrupts the integrity of the Arch grounds.

The bollards form rows of alien spikes visually dividing the Arch grounds from the sidewalk. This effect is particularly bad given how visually separated those grounds are from the rest of the city. It’s as though, in the name of “homeland security,” the grounds have been given an extra line of defense against the city.

Of course, the grounds really need further connection to the city, and the terrorist threat to the Arch is debatable. I also note that the architectural vision of architect Eero Saarinen for the grounds has suffered a second major blow — talk about the Arch being under attack. The first major compromise came in 2001, when the Arch was lit permanently at night. Saarinen did not want the Arch lit, and instead wanted it to gently reflect back the lights of the city. The unlit Arch was a lovely nighttime monument, although not as easily digestible to tourists and people who are always tourists in their own city. The lit Arch is much less interesting, and the harsh lighting’s glare shows that the surface of the Arch was never intended for illumination.

Perhaps the bollards will be used to keep the grounds from being trampled by the throngs of downtown pedestrians flocking to the proposed new floating islands in the Mississippi River — if they don’t get hit by cars trying to cross Memorial Drive and I-70 first. From those expensive islands, the throngs can declare triumph over the vision of Eero Saarinen and the city leaders of the last century — just as those leaders triumphed over the rich architectural history of the city’s riverfront.

Carondelet Green Space JNEM Mississippi River Riverfront

How Do You Get to the River?

by Michael R. Allen

It’s late in January and I find myself slipping on the ice. I am walking down a deserted city street that runs near an abandoned industrial complex. Few cars travel this street, but luckily one has driven here recently, or I wouldn’t have the fortune of walking in the tire tracks that save me from a fall. Still, I can’t avoid slipping every few minutes.

Why am I enduring this desolate and dangerous walk on one of the coldest winter days of this season? I am looking for access to the Mississippi River in the city of Saint Louis. Such a search requires patience even when one knows where to go, as I do. Beyond the public and dirty river access provided at the levee parking lot at the foot of the Arch grounds, all other access points require a little bit of walking.

There is an almost-inaccessible short promenade at the foot of Bellerive Park, but the last time that I tried to go there I found construction equipment in my way. Technically, that promenade is the only park in the city that offers access to Old Man River. It’s odd that the city doesn’t even post any signs in upper Bellerive Park pointing out how to get to the riverside.

Yet its even more odd that a city with a riverboat on its city seal, that was a pivotal seat in the river-based exploration of the Western United States and that was once a prosperous inland port does almost nothing to point out that the Mississippi River is more than just an iconic legend around here. Even Downtown Now’s new signs, which readily point out places where people can spend money, do not point out how to get to a place where one can sit by the peaceful flow of muddy water that was so important to the city’s founding and commercial development.

Signs really wouldn’t help much, though, because they could only point to access that doesn’t exist. Much of the riverfront in the city consists of concrete floor walls or industrial tracts such as my favorite river-watching spot. And the ostensibly grand civic riverfront of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial has been host to burger barges and a shabby surface parking lot in the last twenty years. City planners have gradually cleared the riverfront of moored vessels, but they have never studies moving the parking lot.

South of the Arch grounds, one can walk though the usually-open gates on the flood wall and get to the river, but then the whole sense of the urban world disappears as one stands between a tall wall and a river. This is a bit more intimate spot than the access offered in front of the Arch grounds and Laclede’s Landing. There are no cars. But then again, there aren’t likely to be any people and hence the experience is rather cold. Engineering thwarts the potential for an urban river outlook.

Elsewhere in the city, people don’t have many choices. The north riverfront trail offers many good vantage points and in a few places provides points of access. These points, however, entail walking down banks and even trespassing. They aren’t fully public. Around the Chain of Rocks Bridge, once can get fairly close to the thicket of trees and foliage growing near the riverbank, but without a machete won’t get too far.

Then there is my favorite place, which I want to keep a secret. This place is not easy to get to, but it provides a clear vantage point far from automobiles and flood walls. I can see the city behind me and the river in front of me, and I can sit down and listen to the river. I don’t feel good about having to keep this place private, but it’s not my choice. Like 96% of the rest of the city’s riverfront, it is not a public space in the eyes of the law. Of course, all of the riverfront is natural public space. The Mississippi is the city’s greatest natural resource, despite its forces removal from the lives of Saint Louisans.

We have turned our backs on the Mississippi River because it no longer is the backbone of our commerce. Like the railroads, the river is a commercial casualty of the interstate highway. But that’s fine, because the river is a natural force that would much rather beckon weary city dwellers to its peaceful banks on a cold January day than be clogged with steamboats and barges. It’s time for us to cooperate.