by Michael R. Allen
Before the new Downtown Economic Stimulus Authority rushes to order new median planters for Tucker Boulevard downtown, its members should make an inspection of the results south on Tucker between Chouteau and Lafayette. There, the new median planters do more than serve the needed purpose of slowing traffic. The planters are too tall, blocking the view across the street and reinforcing the divide between the King Louis Square development and LaSalle Park. Being made of concrete, they are starting to get scuffed by cars — and even without scuffing are bland.
And, while I am sure that downtown plantings would get more care, the median plantings on 14th Street nearby — more sensibly planted on lower, curb-style medians — are decidedly shabby and overgrown. It’s amazing that in three short years the “beautification” plantings on 14th Street would already be so carelessly untended and the pattern of neglect that plagued the Darst-Webbe project would begin to return. Alas, one cause may be that 14th Street has been narrowed and traffic has been shunted west to the barren Truman Parkway. While broad thoroughfares like Tucker are generally disruptive, narrowed streets with obstacles like 14th Street often become dead spaces due to a lack of traffic. That seems to be what has happened to 14th Street, although it does not excuse the lack of maintenance.
A better idea for both the medians on Tucker and the plantings on 14th Street might be fewer exotic plantings and more native plants, and less elaborate plantings in general. Streets need beautification, but their primary purpose is the movement of people and vehicles. Contrary to city-in-a-garden musings, the street is no landscape. Why not focus instead on the quality of pedestrian experience?
Hopefully improvements on Tucker will be sensitive to the needs of street and sidewalk users, and not showy disruptions.