Cincinnati Urbanism

Skybridges to Where?

Skybridges to nowhere in downtown Cincinnati, 2003. The parking garage building that stood here came down, but the convenient walkways remain expectant of a new reason to live.

Martin Luther King Drive North St. Louis Streets Urbanism

Old Easton Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

One of the two remaining three-story 19th-century commercial buildings on the south side of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive just west of Jefferson disappeared last week.

We have no photograph of the building. May someone else have a better memory of the building than ours.

Rob Powers did get a photograph of another great commercial building across the street that came down in 2001. The “Heller Co.” sign and its greatly-altered building still remain in use. This block was one of many thriving commercial blocks on the former Easton Avenue; by the 1930s almost every block of Easton from downtown through the Wellston Loop was chock-full of buildings housing apartments, stores and offices. The street must have been fabulously urban.

Today, traces of the past density remain, especially between Grand Avenue and the city limits. But the vitality is less evident, and certainly less concentrated. Enough buildings remain to make the thoroughfare a likely candidate for future revitalization.

Old North People Rehabbing Urbanism

The Spirit of Old North St. Louis

by Michael R. Allen

Since our stove won’t work until Saturday (needs a new ignition, a part that was hard to locate for a 1950’s Roper), we are still eating out most every night. Last night, with the slushy roads populated by speeding drivers, we did not want to take our chances with driving anywhere. We walked the block between our Sullivan Street home and Crown Candy Kitchen on St. Louis Avenue, taking in the beautiful sight of our neighborhood covered in a blanket of snow.

Crown’s was deserted, save for Mike Karandzieff and three staffers holding down the place. Mike himself waited on us, and we chatted with him before ordering our usual order. It’s great that this place is so dependable and near. Earlier in the day, Claire had walked down to Marx Hardware on 14th Street to take back some wrong-sized cornerbead and to buy a miter box; the Marx brothers took back the cornerbead even though they operate on a cash-only basis and don’t have a refund system. However, we have been regular customers of theirs since before we even moved into our place, and they reward our return trips with generosity.

After we ate — and after we decided to splurge for delicious sundaes as cold as the air outside — we walked back home. Light streamed out of a small storefront on 14th Street behind Crown’s. Inside, a crew of twentysomethings was scraping paint off of a wall while listening to music. This is the future home of The Urban Studio, a community space that our neighbor and fellow twentysomething Old North St. Louisan Phil Valko has created.

We returned home full of hope and good cheer. I was so inspired by the spirit of the neighborhood that I finally found the strength to remove the broken old faucet from our sink so that we could replace it.

Anyone wanting to partake of the Old North community spirit is welcome to join residents for the neighborhood New Village Brewing Company’s holiday beer-tasting tonight at 7:30 p.m.

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.

Central West End Forest Park Southeast Streets Urbanism

Sidewalk Failure

by Michael R. Allen

Have you ever tried to walk on Kingshighway through the I-64/US 40 interchange? It’s almost impossible. On both the east and west sides of the street, the sidewalks are almost nonexistent except of the actual bridge over the highway, where they are built into the bridge. Even there, the sidewalks are no wider than five feet. The other sidewalks between Oakland Avenue on the south and Barnes Hospital Plaza to the north are a travesty. The pedestrian literally has to cross busy on and off ramps with no marked pedestrian crossings — the sidewalks just end at the ramp lane, and continue directly across. There are no signs instructing motorists to behave well toward pedestrians — not even a basic sign stating to slow down and be alert for pedestrians.

Walking through here is dangerous, but safer than one alternative — the pedestrian walk behind the Central Institute for the Deaf. I have heard about muggings on this bridge, which is secluded and only visible to motorists below on the highway — they ain’t exactly in a position to help if they manage to see anything while shuttling by at 65 miles per hour.

The worst problem is that this sidewalk is totally, completely and utterly inaccessible to people using wheelchairs. The sidewalk is not continuous, for one thing. It’s also lacking adequate width even for walkers to pass each other comfortably, let alone someone in a wheelchair. Trying to wheel across an on-ramp lane is probably not the smartest thing someone could do, either.

Oh, and if the pedestrian manages to walk successfully through the intersection on the way to the MetroLink station on Euclid Avenue, it isn’t exactly easy to find or well-marked. The hospital looks like a fortress that starts at Kingshighway, and someone unfamiliar with the station may not assume it would be located where it is — the streets seem to be more private service drives back in the complex.

Perhaps the mammoth BJC Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine should think about this the next time they spend several million dollars on new streetlights, planter boxes and illuminated street signs. How about new safe (and ADA-compliant) sidewalks and illuminated MetroLink signs?

The we can start thinking about what to do with the growing spread of ugly huge parking structures for the complex located along Taylor Avenue.

Downtown Streets Urbanism

Bottle District: Another Wall?

by Michael R. Allen

Renderings of the proposed Bottle District show that it will be pretty spotty on connectivity to the street grid. The aerial map shows that east-west streets through the site will not connect to Broadway, although walkways may follow the street lines to connect to Broadway.

This lack of connection will further the wall-like effect of the hulking America’s Center/Edward Jones Dome complex, which acts as a barrier between east and west between 7th and 9th streets and north and south between “Convention Plaza” and Cole Street. On top of this, the Dome is separated from the very wall-like I-70 overpass by only one (empty and unused landscaped) block. With the Bottle District project immediately north of the Dome, the wall effect will be severe.

With the Mississippi River Bridge proposed to the immediate north, this area could become a very scenic but ultimately difficult to navigate area. Visually, it may not seem intuitive to cross this area even on foot, and so people may not even try.

The burgeoning near north side needs greater connections with downtown. The last thing St. Louis needs in its downtown area is another superblock development. The developers need to redesign the plans to connect streets through the Bottle District.

That said, the architecture of the Bottle District raises other issues that I will address in a later essay.

Central West End Infrastructure Streets Urbanism

Reform the Central West End MetroLink station

by Michael R. Allen

The Central West End MetroLink station is becoming the least accessible station in the system. Once upon a time, the station was quite easy to access — its entrance on Euclid Avenue pt it on an open street, there were a few back paths to the station and all was well. In the twelve years since the station opened, the growth blob of the Barnes-Jewish-Children’s Hospital has engulfed the station with new buildings and a disastrous closing of Euclid between Forest Park and Children’s Place. The station’s visibility has declined and access is not as easy. The only back path remaining is an illegal and unwise walk from the platform to Taylor Avenue, which bypasses ticket machines and validators. This path is no option to disabled persons, either. The main entrance on Euclid is obscured by the street closure, which has created an elbow flow at the Euclid and Childrens Place intersection. This flow has made pedestrian life in this area difficult since people don’t come to the same sort of stop at an elbow as they did at a full T intersection. That is, they don’t really stop.

Lately, a large half-block section of sidewalk on Euclid immediately south of the station has been closed for six months for construction of a new building. A covered scaffold could have been put in palce during the project’s duration but such a pedestrian and transit-friendly gesture is of little interest to BJC planners.

I don’t even have to mention ow the mono-use blob development of the hospital has made life pretty boring around the station — there are no shops, no bathrooms and little visual interest.

What needs to be done to make the station better?

– Re-opening Euclid.

– Creating another station entrance at Taylor.

– Creating some strategic cut-throughs in the enormous and large-scaled hospital complex.

– Placing storefronts in the new hospital building adjacent to the station. (Tenants won’t move in, of course, if Euclid remains closed south of Forest Park.)

The situation at the Central West End MetroLink station is proof that density alone doesn’t make for an inviting and person-friendly built environment. Access and thoughtful design choices are essential to making a big city work for its residents and visitors.


Smart Growth?

On the H-URBAN discussion list, Alexander Schulenburg mentions “a Proclamation entitled ‘Prohibiting New Building or Subdividing of Houses’, which was issued on 7 July 1580 (22 Elizabeth I) commanded people to ‘desist and forbear from any new buildings of any house or tenement within three miles from any gates of the said city of London […] where no former house hath been known to have been in the memory of such as are now living.'”

Historic Preservation People Urbanism

ReVitalize St. Louis

New Grassroots Organization
Committed to St. Louis’ Revitalization
Announces Formation

As you may or may not know, The Rehabbers Club will be celebrating its 5th Anniversary in October of this year. From its humble beginnings as a small monthly support group, our membership now numbers nearly 1400! It is wonderful that so many people are interested and involved in caring for St. Louis’ building heritage.

As the Rehabbers Club expanded in membership, broadened its base, and took on additional projects like the semi annual “Works in Progress” tour and the rehabbers classes, its organizational needs have changed. Handling money, building organizational capacity to manage projects, accepting donations, and sustaining the group require a level of organization above the loose affiliation of the e-mail list we all know and love.

A group of volunteers has been working diligently to lay the ground work for this new organization. So today, with much pride, we announce ReVitalize St. Louis!

We are a diverse coalition of citizens committed to revitalization in the city of St. Louis through historic preservation and sensitive, planned development. We address social, political and economic issues as they impact each of St. Louis’ neighborhoods.

Through partnerships, education, outreach, and support, we hope to create positive change in the urban St. Louis community with an eye towards preserving and rejuvenating the city’s physical landscape and inspiring progressive civic action.

Claralyn Bollinger (Treasurer), Marti Frumhoff (President), Tim Klaas, La’Shonda Turner-Brown (Vice President), Gayle Van Dyke, Steven Wilke-Shapiro (Secretary), and Taron Young.

St. Louis Rehabbers Club: This is a Yahoo! Groups email listserve that boasts over 1300 members – from an original group of 23 just 5 short years ago! This group shares everything from seasoned “how-to” content and where to live, to which local hardware store carries a hard-to-find item and who to contact at city hall for permits as well as a slew of other rehab-related subjects. The group meets once a month in a different city neighborhood with a determined goal of visiting all 79 designated areas over time.

Rehabbers Classes: Created out of a request for in-depth subject coverage from Rehabbers Club members, the classes, begun in 2003, have been a wonderful addition to the rehabbing community. The 14-week once-a-week classes have highlighted diverse subjects like historic tax credits, environmentally-responsible rehabbing, and both mixed-use and urban redevelopment issues, just to name a few.

The Big BIG Tour: This huge city-wide house tour with on-site homebuyer’s fair is enjoying its sixth successful year. It is totally free to the public and is a very popular venue with sponsors and exhibitors as well as the thousands of attendees who have passed through its doors over the years.

The Rehabbers Club won’t change. Those who want to continue to share renovation knowledge and resources online and at the monthly Rehabbers Club meetings probably won’t notice a difference.

However, there will be many opportunities for anyone who is interested to become more involved in reshaping the City. Please consider volunteering for one of the working committees or helping out at one of our many events.

Our working committees are Built Environment, Fundraising, Marketing, and Programming. We hope you will join us in creating the foundations for these committees as they take shape.

Our small and humble website is in the works and if you’re interested in becoming a member, we have membership opportunities available, all of which we’ll be telling you about very soon.

We look forward to your involvement and input as we all move forward together in continuing this great renaissance in the city of St. Louis!


Marti Frumhoff

ReVitalize St. Louis
P.O. Box 63062
St. Louis, MO 63163