AIA Martin Luther King Drive North St. Louis Planning Streets

Charrette on MLK Drive this Saturday

This announcement fell into my inbox:

Help plan for the future of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in the Ville Neighborhood! Alderman O.L. Shelton, the City of St. Louis and AIA St. Louis are working together to bring together design professionals, developers and neighbors for a charrette to be held at Marshall School, 4342 Aldine, 63113 on Saturday Apr. 22.

Green input and perspectives are welcome! If you’d like to participate, contact Michelle Swatek with AIA St. Louis at or (314) 621-3489.

Illinois Metro East Planning Southern Illinois Urbanism

Re-Centering Downtown or Doubling Sprawl?

by Michael R. Allen

A new house rises amid hay bales on Red Brick Lane outside of Columbia, Illinois (July 24, 2005). I grew up across the road from this field. Is this development somehow any different or more desirable than what has been built in St. Charles County?

Planning St. Charles County

St. Charles’ Frenchtown Targeted for Redevelopment

by Michael R. Allen

The St. Charles City Council is considering a bill by Councilman and Council President Rory Riddler (D-1st) to create a redevelopment plan for the northern end of the city’s old Frenchtown section. Frenchtown lies north of downtown St. Charles along the Missouri River and was platted in the early 19th century. Its narrow streets form a grid dotted with brick and frame buildings, some dating back to the 1840s and many in side-gabled Federal or Green Revival styles that are prevalent in old parts of St. Louis neighborhoods like Carondelet, Soulard and Old North St. Louis. In the last twenty years, especially after its rail lines and connected businesses went dead, Frenchtown’s economic life has faltered. Empty storefronts and ill-repaired homes stand out. But largely the area is in good shape, and lacks what St. Louisans would call blight.

However, Riddler and developer Griffey Construction of New Melle, Missouri are pushing for a large-scale redevelopment project that would be under the control of Griffey. This project would be empowered to use eminent domain, and early talk indicates that would be used primarily to secure commercial-zones buildings and land along Second Street, a main thoroughfare in Frenchtown. They are talking New Urbanist talk that sounds funny coming from a New Melle-based firm whose specialty is low-density subdivision construction. The things Riddler and company say about Frenchtown make it seem like the area is blighted and will turn into a ghetto if they don’t act.

In reality, the area — and St. Charles city on the whole — needs to regain its job base. This is difficult since so many manufacturing and professional jobs have fled St. Charles for other locations in St. Charles County. Even the city of St. Charles located its new convention center and hotel not in the old core near the river, but to the southwest on the old county Fairgrounds site which had to be annexed first. The sorts of antique shops that city leaders in St. Charles have pushed on downtown’s Main Street and Frenchtown’s Second Street don’t create many jobs, even if they lure tourists and bring in sales tax revenue. If Riddler and Griffey want to extend the antique store district, they are tying Frenchtown’s future to something that will not help current or future Frenchtown residents.

While increasing density along Second Street would be desirable, I am not sure what new construction the redevelopment entails and whether or not Griffey knows how to build thoughtful urban buildings. The architectural stock of Frenchtown is very important and any new construction must be sensitive in scale, materials, style and such.

But a redevelopment plan may simply remake a proud city district into a subdivision. Without good jobs in the city, redevelopment and rising property values could push out longtime residents and the mundane but useful businesses that line north Second Street. Bistros and boutique shops don’t build neighborhoods — they are luxuries that can add a good element to an already-strong place. Frenchtown faces many of the same problems that St. Charles faces, and the redevelopment scheme is a misguided attempt to force a renewal on the district. One thing that Riddler could do to help is to oppose the subsidized development happening elsewhere in the county, stand up for the rights of small businesses that stay in the city like those threatened in Frenchtown and fight for a MetroLink connection of the city of St. Charles (which has enough density to support a line) to the airport. The perfect scenario for redevelopment is impossible but political courage is not. Before rushing to push a whole section of the city into a superficial redevelopment, city council members need to take a stand for the city on other levels.

Downtown Parking Planning Urbanism

Too Much Parking Around 900 Block of Locust

by Michael R. Allen

“Viable real estate development in the Midwest depends in large part on the availability of parking. This is convincingly demonstrated in the Frisco Building, which has been beautifully rehabilitated but has enjoyed less than 50% occupancy since its completion — parking is the missing ingredient for success.”

So wrote Barbara Geisman, St. Louis Deputy Mayor for Development, in an August 29, 2002 letter to Carol Shull, Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, opposing the National Register listing of the Century Building.

This statement came to mind as I thought again about the problems faced by the 900 block of Locust, which contains one of downtown’s largest parking garages and is just west of the one of the largest surface parking lot areas in the downtown core. If parking was the ingredient for success, the block would be thriving. The new Renaissance Grand Parking Garage opened in 2003 and the last building standing in the middle of the surface lots on the 800 block of Locust fell in 2002, creating more spaces. Yet the block is regaining health only with new residents and a new business that will have no reserved parking spaces.

I think the abundance of parking areas actually hurt the block by eliminating businesses that were located in storefronts cleared to make so much parking. The Ninth Street Garage that is replacing the Century Building on this block is a setback. Parking does nothing to create life on a block.