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Gravois Plaza Less Pedestrian-Friendly than previous center

December 7, 2004 Featured 11 Comments

Gravois Plaza was completely rebuilt from the ground up in the last few years. The old shopping center dated to probably the 1960s and had an interesting courtyard space between a K-Mart and smaller stores. I can’t say it worked well – but it was different than most strip malls.

Basically, K-Mart got the boot in favor of a new Shop-N-Save grocery store. On the whole, the new Gravois Plaza is more attractive than the old. However, what we need to remember is almost anything new is apt to be better looking than something which is dated and poorly maintained. It is this newness that often masks underlying design flaws. Unfortunately, the new Gravois Plaza makes a number of big mistakes for an urban shopping area. First, check out the map link below to see the street pattern:


[ Yahoo! Maps ]

Map of
3861 Gravois Ave
St Louis, MO 63116-4657

Below is a photo looking East on Oleatha at Gravois Plaza – nothing but wall. The entire Western border of Gravois Plaza along Gustine remained unaltered from the old plaza – keeping the unfriendly wall.

gp_01.jpg

Most of the housing around Gravois Plaza is to the West & North of the development. However, entrances from the West & North are not provided except at the extreme corners to the South & East. But, this is one of the better urban neighborhoods so people do walk to the store. Unfortunately, Gravois Plaza was not designed to be accessed by foot.

gp_02.jpg

Walking along Gustine street along the west (above) the pedestrian is trapped between an overbearing wall and passing cars. Note, the sidewalk is right next to the street and you don’t have any parked cars or street trees to give you any feeling of protection.

gp_03.jpg

Above is the Southwest entrance to Gravois Plaza, looking out across Gustine and down Tholozan. If you look closely you see the sidewalk continues along Gustine but doesn’t enter Gravois Plaza. The grass is worn where pedestrians have cut through to create the shortest walk. Let’s turn around and head toward the grocery store.

gp_04.jpg

Above is what the pedestrian is faced with. You cross a large service drive for delivery trucks (where I am standing to take the picture) and ahead is a drive for CiCi’s Pizza. No sidewalk is provided so pedestrians must walk in the path of cars. Real inviting huh?

gp_05.jpg

The view above is continuing into Gravois Plaza as seen from the drive to the CiCi’s Pizza. You can see in this view a pedestrian walking toward the store along the driveway.

gp_06.jpg

Rounding the curve the Shop-N-Save comes into view. Here the pedestrian is forced to walk in the driveway again. But look close, the wrought iron fence designed to keep someone from falling down the change of level forces the pedestrian in the drive – they have no where to escape in case a car comes to close. Clearly, no thought was given to pedestrian access.

gp_07.jpg

The photo above was taken at the same position as the prior picture. This view is looking West & South where we just came from. As you can see by the worn grass, pedestrians have been walking on the tiny strip of grass between the drive and retaining wall. In the background you can see a pedestrian leaving Gravois Plaza with two full bags of groceries – forced to walk in the drive and unable to see cars approaching from behind.

gp_08.jpg

The view above is looking South from the Shop-N-Save with a US Bank branch in the background. Again, you can see how the fence keeps pedestrians in the driveway. Please note, the Bank and daycare center along Gravois were not part of the redevelopment – these remained unchanged.

I’m in this area 2-3 times per week and I have always seen pedestrians taking this unfriendly route. I guess one could take the attitude that people are walking anyway so what is the big deal. However, the message to people is clear – if you don’t have a car we really don’t give a shit about you. Sure, we don’t mind if you walk here to spend your money but don’t expect us to go out of our way to do anything for you.

In the meantime the parking lot is way too big and has so few trees it is almost comical. How is it TIF financing can be used to finance a project that is closed to the neighborhood to the West & North, is anti-pedestrian and is mostly paving? Our city must not have any codes requiring a connection to the neighborhood, pedestrian access and even something so basic as a reasonable level of landscaping.

The old Gravois Plaza, for all its faults, was more accessible to neighbors to the North. People could enter at Potomac & Gustine and enter the courtyard space. So while the new Gravois Plaza is cleaner and features a nice Shop-N-Save store it is less pedestrian-friendly than the old Gravois Plaza.

So what would I have done you ask? Well, I would have destroyed the wall along Gustine and connected the development to the neighborhood by regrading the site. To achieve a true connection to the surrounding neighborhoods I would have divided the site back into separate blocks divided by public streets. Hydraulic Street, the South entrance along Gravois, would be cut through all the way North to Potomac Street. Oleatha & Miami streets would be cut though between Gustine on the West to Bamberger on the East. This, of course, is completely counter to conventional thinking about shopping areas.

With all these new streets plenty of on-street parking could have been provided. Several small parking lots could be provided as necessary. Arguably, less total parking could have been provided as you’d have more people willing to walk from the adjacent neighborhoods. Ideally, some new housing would have been provided above some of the retail stores. Big Box stores like the Shop-N-Save have been integrated into more urban shopping areas in other cities – it takes a willingness on the part of the city to show developers & retailers the way. The smaller stores would easily fit within a new street-grid development.

A substantial amount of money was spend rebuilding Gravois Plaza but the area is not really a part of the city. It is a suburban shopping center imposed upon the city. This could have been so much more.

– Steve

 

Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Michael says:

    You’d be surprised at how rarely Chicago has made big box developments integrate into neighborhoods, even in the midst of the most vital sections of the northside. There are so many anti-urban strip developments in Chicago that I actually think St. Louis city has done better, even if because few chain retailers will locate in the city.

    I have seen some pretty innovative “strip-mall” style developments in New York City, though.

     
  2. Brian says:

    The reaction to K-Mart’s proposed Southtown development at Chippewa-Kingshighway ultimately altered DDR’s site plan there very little. Essentially where K-Mart was to go went three anchors (two only built, PetsMart, OfficeMax) and to the north a new strip of smaller tenants (still mostly vacant), all in similar auto-oriented design. So as to not build another “Gravois Plaza” or “Southtown Centre,” it would be helpful if local urbanists would work now on their visions for redeveloping nearby “Christy Plaza” (old Venture/Frank’s Nursery, current Burlington Coat Factory). Otherwise, you can bet that the new Christy Plaza won’t incorporate any urban design, just as the “new” Gravois Plaza failed to improve upon its auto-dominated predecessor.

     
  3. amanda says:

    Sadly, even if you go there by car (which I sometimes do), they don’t give a shit about you then, either: by far the worst layout for a parking lot I can easily think of (Chesterfield Commons excepted), because in several places, auto lanes meet and there are absolutely no signs to mitigate flow. All around bad.

     
  4. Matt Huff says:

    I was just discussing this with my wife the other day. It was pouring outside, and people walking had to battle with the automobiles trying to get from Gravois to the grocery store. I have always been amazed that there are NO sidewalks. NONE. This is in a highly urban neighborhood. It amazes me that this type of development gets built. (among the many other suburban developments right at Grand & Gravois) It is obvious that some suburban architecture firm laid this out and used their same standards they use for all other strip centers. It is a disgrace.

     
  5. Dan Icolari says:

    As a non-STL’er–a native New Yorker, actually–who is considering joining your exciting urban enterprise, I am impressed, again and again, by the passion that so many of you bring to these and similar online discussions of urban issues in St. Louis.

    Your contrtibutions to these discussions invariably are informed, intelligent and, for the most part, practical. Supporting your passion, there obviously is a great deal of talent, imagination and expertise to draw on in your communit(ies).

    That’s a combination which, in my opinion, should be used to produce the plan that St. Louis’s planners have not. I mean a series of working documents, designed not for endless discussion and debate, but for implementation, in order to address issues such as the ones discussed here:

    •Adaptive reuse of derelict buildings •Pedestrian access and safety
    •Transportation alternatives (including FEET!)
    •Resisting suburban-style developments that destroy StL’s unique sense of place and the sense of community and connection that dense urban spaces tend to foster
    •Promoting projects–and the concepts underlying them–that consciously seek to integrate into existing patterns of neighborhood development

    I could go on, but you know the range and breadth of the issues far better than I.

    My point is, there is a community consciousness in St. Louis that appears to be far more evolved than the consciousness of many in the city’s political and business sectors. And that consciousness is not blindly oppositional. You actually know what must be done, why it must be done, and even, in some cases, how it might be done.

    I hope you will consider taking the next step. Which is to assume responsibility–yes, in addition to everything else you have to do–for the planning and development of your city.

    Sounds grandiose, I know. But after reading so many of your comments, on this site and others; and after reading (kinda) the 2005-2009 Consolidated Plan Strategy document (which is really just a very detailed survey of the built environment), it’s clear to me that the political leadership has no point of view about St. Louis as an urban environment and certainly no overarching vision of what it might become.

    I believe this is an opportunity for an informed citizenry to supply these missing pieces.

    What I propose is a citizens’ planning group, one whose first task would be to outline a set of principles that guide all phases of development, public and private, within St. Louis, so that all development serves the same overall objective, which is the creation of a vital, attractive, successful urban space.

    The organization’s role would be to define ‘vital,’ ‘attractive’ and ‘successful’ and lay out in concrete terms–examples in the StL built environment that embody urban design principles?–how such an urban space can be achieved.

    Following that, the task would be to secure endorsements from individuals, political representatives and community organizations, to build a constituency for the plan. And after that, to press for adoption and implementation by all relevant agencies of government.

    It sounds like a Herculean task because it is. The alternative is catalogued, heartbreakingly, on sites like BUILT ST. LOUIS.

    I know I’m not a stakeholder yet. Maybe I haven’t yet earned the right to say these things. Blame it on my excitement at the potential I see in you and your city.

    Thanks for reading this missive.

    Dan Icolari

     
  6. Claire says:

    I lived pretty close to Gravois Plaza as a kid, before the place was remodeled. While the old model was pretty bad, too, I agree with your assessment of small ways in which it was better then. The courtyard plan on which it was built actually seemed to work pretty well, from what little I remember. One important difference between that and the current model was that once you were off the parking lot and in the area of the stores, you could walk around safe from cars (if not always from very rare human threats). That meant that once we were off the parking lot, my mom didn’t have to watch over us as intensely as she did when we walked through the parking lot. Can you imagine trying to take kids with you and navigate on foot through the parking lot of that new development? That would be horrible, especially in bad weather or heavy traffic. A lot of moms/dads/guardians/etc don’t have anyone else to watch their kids when they go grocery shopping, so they have to take their kids with them. It’s evident that the designers of this new development neglected to think about that when designing the area around the store.

    Oh, and don’t even get me started on speculating how the hell a person with physical disabilities is supposed to navigate a landscape like this one.

    Do you think there’s anyone we could write to and complain..err…offer constructive criticism about the lack of sidewalks and the pedestrian unfriendly design there? If enough people wrote in (perhaps someone could flyer the surrounding neighborhood or wait by the store and give flyers to pedestrians who have to cut through the lot?), called in, and generally made a big stink about what’s going on, maybe we could make a little change. From what you and others have written, it sounds like a few traffic signs and a little sidewalk would even make a significant difference, and those aren’t terribly expensive or difficult changes to make. What do you think?

     
  7. Dustin says:

    Claire, you can email Alderwoman Jennifer Florida http://stlcin.missouri.org/index/contactald.cfm?Ward=15

     
  8. MattHurst says:

    caught this nearby development on your google map. i must say a lot of these problems still remian. since i live close by, but hardly have the impulse to walk considering your astute critique of pedestrian access, i have my fingers crossed they’ll give you the same attention they do at loughborough commons. fingers crossed

     
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  11. Jhonmeadles53 says:

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