Agriculture land use Missouri Planning Regionalism

Factory Farming in Missouri

by Michael R. Allen

The Joplin Globe published an excellent article on confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Missouri: “Study: CAFOs affect neighbors’ property”. These operations have been replacing traditional animal farms for years — bringing with them debilitating conditions for animals, food packed with growth hormones with unresearched effects on consumers and now problems for neighboring human and animal populations through waste-water run-off. This is not to mention the number of family farms lost through factory farming.

In the St. Louis region, there are many CAFOs in Illinois counties like Monroe and Missouri counties like Jefferson and Lincoln. Urbanists often talk about stopping sprawl through growth boundaries and form-based zoning, but there is a much less frequently-addressed part of the sprawl question. If we stop the creep of the suburbs, what do we want the rural lands surrounding St. Louis to look like? What sort of land uses are sustainable and acceptable, if large subdivisions, strip malls, office parks and the like are out of the question? What jobs will people have?

Healthy agriculture is key to sustaining open land around the metropolis. Currently much of the land within our Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area is devoted to farming. As the energy crisis mounts, that amount of land may not change much. Yet “farming” as we know it has been altered to an unrecognizable world of factory farms, hormones, chemicals and corporations. Does agriculture in current practice serve the interest of a sustainable St. Louis region, or do we want to adopt a model that conserves our rich soil, sustains open space, preserves what’s left of family farms and prevents the poisoning of surrounding land?

Abandonment Regionalism

Magic & Life

What has become of the abandoned buildings mentioned in my whimsical short essay “Abandoned Buildings in Saint Louis: Magic & Death,” published in 2004?

Enright Middle School: Under renovation.

Carondelet Coke plant: Scheduled for demolition.

City Hospital Tower: Already gone then (although it still haunts the dreams of the restless); site still undeveloped.

Armour Packing Plant: Proposed for demolition; site now for sale.

St. Mary’s Infirmary: Purchased for renovation; listing on National Register of Historic Places in process.

These are big changes. In a few short years, the architectural narrative of the region has changed as major abandoned buildings have been renovated or demolished. Urban explorers occasionally complain that there are no “big buildings” left accessible. That’s not entirely true, especially on the Illinois side of the river, but reflects a distinct reclamation by developers. While my theoretical bearings are still formative, I see abandonment diminishing in favor of reclamation as the dominant narrative of marginal property around St. Louis. Reclamation is value-neutral, though, so this shift in the major narrative is no guarantee that the stewards of these places are making wise decisions.

Reclamation demands a counter-movement that clearly and consistently promotes an ethic of architectural stewardship based on a respect for history, knowledge of ecology and an embrace of urbanity. That’s a lot more difficult than waxing poetic and punch-drunk about the views from the rooftops of forgotten factories (although I do that), or automatically celebrating new development because it replaces something troublesome and frightening.

How about a counter-movement that aims to resolve the contradictions of reclamation in order to rededicate St. Louis to metropolitan life? Who’s in?

Unexpected magic lives on, though, as long as there are buildings, full moons and flowing rivers. As I age, I take less advantage of these moments than I did even three years ago — but seek them out as much as I can. The rest of the time I spend on the ideas needed to ensure that no matter how much our region changes we still have the places that fill us with awe.

education Historic Preservation People Regionalism

This Week in Preservation Education

On March 13 and 14, I was fortunate to take part in an interesting architectural education program involving students from O’Fallon High School (Illinois). The 10th grade honors geometry and art students — led by teachers Kelly Wamser and Debbie Raboin — are studying and researching historic St. Louis buildings and architecture with the aid of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. The program this week came about through the excellent work of Lynn Josse.

The goals of the program include research, photography, presentations and — most interesting — 3-d scale models of buildings being studied. The students toured various buildings downtown and midtown with Lynn and historian Mimi Stiritz, and studied information put together by their teachers and Foundation volunteers. At lunchtime both days, the students came to City Hall where I spoke in the Kennedy Room about my work with Landmarks Association of St. Louis and how preservationists are actually architects of the future.

Programs like this are the backbone of effective historic preservation efforts. Without public education, our ideas will never become widespread. That education must be geared toward those young people nearly at the brink of lives spent shaping the world. Notable also is the great collaboration in the effort — two architectural advocacy organizations, a Metro East school, several building owners and St. Louis city government coming together to make something happen shows that at least some people get the “big picture” and are willing to share that view.

I look forward to seeing how these efforts transfer into the students’ work, this year and beyond.