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McMillan Seeks to Rezone Property for a Walgreen’s; Ignores City’s Strategic Land Use Plan

mlk_grand - 01.jpgIn what may be one of his last bills as Alderman, Mike McMillan (D-19th) is seeking to rezone a large area for a Walgreen’s to be located at Grand & MLK. The properties facing Grand are already zoned “H-Area Commercial District” but the Walgreen’s suburban design is reaching far back into the block which is zoned “C-Multi Family Dwelling District.” See Board Bill 249 introduced today, Friday the 13th.

If this Walgreen’s is built by Stephen M. Schott of Komen Properties, sole manager of property owner Page Partners III LLC, the area will be further eroded due to this “investment”. Besides the loss of the beautifully detailed structure shown at right, a major corner will for decades loose its urban form.

Since the days of “urban renewal,” a misnomer if there ever was one, government policy has been largely anti-city — seeing the mix of commercial and residential as a bad thing. Dating back to the depression, lending policies largely avoided mixed urban areas considering them too “cluttered.” Hundreds of millions have been spent through the last 50-60 years razing and “reconstructing” large tracts of the city under the false assumption that cities don’t work. We now know that many of these old concepts about cities were wrong and damaging.

Politicians these days don’t seem to care much about the quality of the development, just the total price tag to add to their campaign literature. Never is this more true than in the 19th Ward. At opposite ends of the urban quality scale are great new housing developments (where poorly planned “projects” once stood) and really horrible new sprawl-based strip development. McMillan seems unable to distinguish between the good development and not good development. He likely takes on the city’s low self esteem approach of ‘any development is good development.’

The building at right is located at 1408 North Grand (map) and it stands in the way of parking for a new suburban-style Walgreen’s. Since this area is not included in either a historic district or even a Preservation Review District, the city’s Preservation Board will not review the demolition permit. It will become one of the many thousands of urban buildings that are razed so suburban thinking can continue its invasion into a once urban city.

But the land where the above building is sitting, facing Grand, is not at issue for a zoning change. It is the land behind the building, currently vacant, that needs to be rezoned to permit the sprawl to happen. Rollin Stanley, director of the city’s Urban Planning and Design Agency, made a big deal about creating and getting approved a new “Strategic Land Use Plan.” Indeed, it is a tremendous effort. Sadly or perhaps expectedly, it is ignored like so many other plans that line corners of city hall. It is ignored because it has no teeth. It is completely unenforceable at this point. More good money down the drain.

The area where the Walgreen’s is to spread its asphalt is in two designated areas, Neighborhood Commercial Area and Neighborhood Development Area. These follow the current H-Area Commercial District and C-Multi Family Dwelling District for the area in question, respectively. If we look at the phrasing of the Strategic Land Use Plan which was passed by the Board of Aldermen you’ll see it is clearly attempting to take the city back toward its urban roots:

Neighborhood Development Area

Residential /non-residential areas with substantial amounts of vacant land and abandoned buildings suitable for new residential construction of scale/associated neighborhood services, respecting stable properties that may be considered as part of any new development. Opportunities for new housing construction/replatting at critical mass scale defining a new neighborhood character over time.

Neighborhood Commercial Area

Areas where the development of new and the rehabilitation of existing commercial uses that primarily serve adjacent neighborhoods should be encouraged. These areas include traditional commercial streets at relatively major intersections and along significant roadways where commercial uses serve multiple neighborhoods or where the development of new commercial uses serving adjacent neighborhoods is intended. Mixed use buildings with commercial at grade and a mix of uses on upper floors are an ideal type within these areas. These areas may include higher density mixed use residential and commercial and may initially include flexibility in design to allow ground floor uses to change over time e.g., ground floor space that can transition from residential to commercial use as the local demand for retail goods and services strengthens in the area.
[Note: picture at right is actual picture used by the city in conjunction with this land use designation]

mlk_grand - 03.jpgLooking North up Grand from the site we see existing structures maintaining the urban form along Grand. However, with each new notch in McMillian’s investment belt the urban form is replaced with suburban forms. Well, at least commercially. Let me explain.

mlk_grand - 09.jpgAcross from the proposed Walgreen’s box is a typical suburban strip center currently under construction, also by Komen Properties of Clayton. While the former buildings were nothing sacred architecturally at least they held true to the street. These new developments look more like something you’d see in a new suburb than in a city. But this is simply building upon the sprawl center across MLK built a few years ago.

mlk_grand - 11.jpgMLK Plaza is a typical big box strip center ungraciously plopped down in the city. Bounded by Grand (sorta, see the map link above), MLK, Page and Spring it offers the area shopping choice but nothing else. It certainly does not build upon the areas urban form. The center turns its back to Spring Ave, a fairly busy street in the area. While this does offer better pedestrian access than say Loughborough Commons or Gravois Plaza, its auto centric origins are clear.

mlk_grand - 12.jpgAlong Page Ave many residents in the area, often unable to afford a person car, are pedestrians and users of mass transit. However, the suburban planning behind the MLK Plaza doesn’t really consider pedestrian access beyond a couple of limited access points. The development, at roughly 4.5 acres, is focused on the auto and its parking — not on pedestrians and urban form with parking behind or adjacent. The public street is ignored while the private parking lot is worshiped. A public street was closed as were a couple of alleys for this project.

Pedestrians have made some “adjustments” to the fencing in order to gain access and egress from the site where most convenient. The grass is worn and ground compacted due to the high number of pedestrians coming and going from this area. This shows a couple of things. One, the retail was needed in the area as it was long starved for quality choices but more importantly that many people access this retail via foot. Rather than reinforce the original urban form of the neighborhood and support the many existing pedestrians this project instead imposes the suburban value system upon the city.

mlk_grand - 14.jpgThese buildings which face both Page and MLK and are just south of the proposed Walgreen’s may be next to fall for the sprawl machine. Who’d want to invest the money to make these into lofts when they are being surrounded by nothing but sprawl. Had McMillan led his word toward a more urban vision it might bode well for fine buildings such as these.

But all it is not bad in the 19th Ward. McCormack Baron Salazar is remaking the area formerly occupied by the Blumeyer housing project.

mlk_grand - 23.jpgJust a couple of short blocks east of Grand & MLK where the new Walgreen’s is proposed and where sprawl abounds is a handsome new senior living center. While not perfect, this complex of buildings holds to the odd street grid, reinforcing it rather than rejecting it. Entrances are well placed and the overall design is one that embraces the public street and sidewalk, a big departure from the old housing projects in the area. McCormack Baron Salazar should be proud of the project — how it reinforces the street grid and adds to the walkability of the community. They should be a little more than upset how a couple of blocks away the area is being suburbanized, negating much of their efforts.

The folks over at John Steffen’s Pyramid Construction should have checked out the plans for this project before moving forward with their disastrous Sullivan Place project.

mlk_grand - 32.jpgAlso by McCormac Baron Salazar is the Renaissance at Grand, new housing where the “projects” once stood. At right we looking north on Compton with the above senior project at the termination of the street at MLK. In this project they’ve returned the walkable street grid that was removed during the days of urban renewal and failed housing projects. Again, another commendable project.

The point of this is to demonstrate the area is receiving substantial investment, much of it through incentives, which helps reinforce the urban pattern and to create a walkable community. It is just blocks from all the sprawl commercial being constructed in the area. This is what happens when you don’t plan for an area, or you ignore a good plan like the Strategic Land Use Plan, and then allow just any development. Sometimes the result, as shown here, is quite positive. Other times, the sprawl that is engulfing Grand/MLK/Page, is tragic and conflicting with the strong inroads being made. We the public are helping to fund both.

We need political leadership that can help bring these urban residential projects in the area together with urban shopping environs. This does not mean a ban on Walgreen’s or other stores but fitting them into the fabric so that we have both a walk able urban environment that accommodates those in cars as well. It can be done, it just takes some effort and vision.

The good thing, I suppose, is McMillan can do little urban damage from the License Collector’s office. Unfortunately, his hand picked replacement for alderman will likely offer more of the same.

Komen Properties of Clayton, in addition to the sprawl here, had proposed a Home Depot for Goodfellow & I-70 (see prior post).
Additional photos available on Flickr.

[UPDATE 3:50pm: It should be noted I am a bit biased in two areas. One, I love cities and hate sprawl. Second, I am a very minor consultant to Mike McMillan’s opponent in the race for License Collector.]


Currently there are "34 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brian says:

    The public will have two chances to comment on Walgreen’s– first, at the HUDZ committee hearing of McMillan’s bill, and second, at a conditional use hearing by the Board of Adjustment, since not even commercial zoning permits the drive-thru found at all stand-alone Walgreen’s. However, if neighbors want the jobs and services that Walgreen’s provide, you can bet few neighborhood opponents, if any, would attend either hearing.

    But there doesn’t have to be a conflict between working-class folks just wanting jobs and services and gentrifying urbanites pushing for more urban design, if the strategic land use plan would have actually taken the effort to get more community buy-in on the importance of urban design. By lacking that buy-in, our land use plan not only lacks teeth, it fails to even explain why mixed use, pedestrian orientation and active street walls are even important to everyone’s quality of life.

    As a result of this planning failure, how can you expect the common man to demand anything more than just jobs and services? Without real planning, the City will just continue to develop ward-by-ward, hearing-by-hearing.

    Urbanites likely know the quote by Allan Jacobs that says “if you plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic.” But I’d like to say if you want a plan to have “teeth,” you need to sell your “menu” to the public, so that it appeals to their “appetite.”

    Right now, many City voters are so starved of development, are you really suprised that many see any development as good development? You have to make the case why only urban development boosts urban living, otherwise what is urban planning but adding toothless plans to dusty shelves?

    [UR — Agreed! I had high hopes for the Land Use Plan when approved in early 2005 but despite the good foundation it seems neither the elected officials nor Rollin Stanley have had the political will to see it through. From the plan’s intro page:

    Adopted by the CityÂ’s Planning Commission on January 5th, 2005, this straightforward Land Use Plan will become the basis for additional planning and development initiatives involving collaboration between elected officials, City departments, neighborhood residents and developers, to overlay more fine-grained visions of the broader framework presented by this Plan. These future initiatives are expected to include public improvement plans, detailed neighborhood level plans, and tailored rezonings.

    It all sounded good but it was simply more lip service rather than real action. The true actions are demonstrated by the sprawling mess being littered across north St. Louis. The people there simply want jobs and a decent place to shop. They don’t have time to worry about the long-term viability of the area. That is why we have elected officials and a planning and urban design agency. We just need them to actually do some good. The plan has no teeth and the old zoning lives on.]

  2. Driving down MLK from Kingshighway to Grand is depressing enough. The vacant lots, abandoned storefronts, and once great collapsing buildings, accompanied by liquor stores and auto repair shops, make for a true ‘St. Louis Skid Row.’ You can tell the people in this neighborhood have seen better days. Only look into their eyes and you see the story. The once strong working class urban neighborhood is largely a wasteland of neglect and depression. There are signs of hope yet projects like these put them into jeopardy.

    Traveling further east to Grand one is instantly greeted by the above suburban projects. I can only wonder how the locals appreciate this style of development as it makes their lives even more difficult. Not only street barriers but also seas of asphalt divide this area. Residents of this area, or any urban area, should be able walk right off the sidewalk, into a store, in less than a few seconds. The trek across this parking lot takes minutes. This is an unnecessary barrier to essential goods that sends the message that these individuals are second-class citizens. Why would we promote suburban design when many of the local residents travel via mass transit or by foot?

    The buildings on MLK between Kingshighway and Grand could be rehabbed through the same Economic Development tools like TIF’, abatement, historic tax credit, 5k forgivable loans, and other sources of state aid. The above suburban projects could have been redesigned and connected to the street grid. A trolley or streetcar system could connect Grand South Grand to the New North Grand. Yet the lack of innovation and basic principles of common sense seem to constantly evade the politicians and developers of St. Louis. These mistakes are eliminating the potential which this area still has and must not lose.

  3. Urban Reader says:


    These “mistakes” are dramatic improvements to neighborhoods rife with abandoned buildings, decades of disinvestment, and a near total lack of neighborhood services.

    The Komans have been leaders in bringing back neighborhood commercial services to difficult to developer areas including North City and East St. Louis while everyone else stood on the side lines.

    To now disparage these risk taking, enterprising developers for bringing milions of dollars worth of new development and neighborhood commercial is way off base.

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    . . . sounds like the alderman is taking a pragmatic approach to a difficult site – a boring, suburban chain store won’t win any design awards, but it will serve the needs of his constituents and it will look a whole lot better than the dead Chop Suey place . . .

    [UR Hmmm, what exactly makes this a difficult site? The fact is it located in a city? The fact is is a predominently poor and minority neighborhood? If this are the crutches we are going to continue to use we might as well just write off much of the city now and forever condemn it to becoming a suburban hell.

    How about this definition of pragmatic found online:

    Relating to or being the study of cause and effect in historical or political events with emphasis on the practical lessons to be learned from them.

    Well, it seems we’ve not learned lessons about revitalizing urban neighborhoods. It is not done through suburban sprawl.]

  5. Adam says:

    well, they certainly are dramatic. and they might be improvements over abandoned buildings in that abandoned buildings don’t sell groceries. but “dramatic improvements” they certainly are not. why didn’t the Komans go for an urban design in an urban area instead of a suburban design in an urban area? the answer: don’t really care about the community. doing just enough to make all their money back quickly and then reap the profits.

  6. equals42 says:

    I usually agree with Steve on these matters, but the MLK/Grand area is a general blight. Other than a slow drive down Florissant, Grand Ave from MLK to I-70 is the easiest tour through St Louis’ slums. Almost any developement in these areas is welcomed (besides Pawn, Popeye’s and Check Cashing shops). I believe it would be better to wipe clean most of those areas which are rife with abandoned, decaying buildings and empty weed-ridden lots and rezone for light commercial and industrial parks to bring in tax revenue which could be used for other areas of the city which are salvageable.

    While I hate to throw in the towel, you can’t save everything. Within a new area of light industrial, you could still save many important streetscapes. The flood of lunchtime workers would enliven quite a few blocks of Grand where delis and sidewalk coffeeshops could cater to cubicle dwellers.

  7. Kara says:

    Sure, developing the area with light industrial and commercial purposes would help to enliven it, but not if these developments are designed as car centered office parks. People will have to get into their cars during lunch time to get lunch and will never get out of them because they need to go through the drive through to save time (which they already wasted by needing to drive).

    Practical things like offices, commercial services, and industry don’t have to be ugly and car centric in design. These things can easily be integrated with homes and sidewalks and be built on a human scale. It’s really just a matter of changing the shape and positioning of the buildings.

    If money, time, and effort are going to be spent on developing North St. Louis, then it should be done right the first time. To do it any other way is disrespectful to the residents and employees in these places.

  8. Urban Reader says:


    Is that USF a’la University of San Francisco?

    Are you familar with St. Louis?

    Are you aware of the demographics of the census tracts adjacent to the site Steve describes?

    These buildings are vacant and abandoned for a reason.

    The market has bottomed out in these areas.

    Going negative on the developers who are willing to risk investments in these areas is really a load.

    And then to have the gall to suggest that they are just trying to make a quick buck is just plain laughable.

    [UR — These developers are not non-profit, they are there to make a buck. It is probably safe to say they are not about investing for the long-haul eihter, say 20-30 years. So yes, they are out for a quick buck. But, that is OK with me.

    I personally believe they can make a quick buck and we can build at least slightly more urban so that in 10-15 years when these current projects have run their course they can be supplemented with something better.

    An example would have been if the MLK Plaza was oriented to the adjacent streets rather than internallly, buildings could have been designed so that additional floors for offices or residential could be added later. Or, even with an internal parking lot the project could have been platted and designed such that later buildings could be added along the streets.

    It is not all or nothing. It is all incremental and right now we are inching our way from vacant to suburbia. I don’t like either. The city and developers can and should do a better job of inching us toward a vibrant urban existance. ]

  9. Kara says:

    I’m very familiar with north St Louis. I once lived in St. Louis for 27 years. It truly saddens me to see these photos of strip mall developments in a place that has been holding on to only a glimmer of hope for so long. Developments like this send the message that there is no longer hope for St. Louis and that I and others should just give up now and move to Denver.

    I know it’s shocking to some natives, but many people (many from outside St Louis) look at north St. Louis and see a lot of potential. A lot of the architecture that is still left standing is amazing and irreplaceable. It contains a perfect urban grid with most of the infrastructure already in place and it has a rich history that needs to be respected if redevelopment is going to occur and be successful. Bulldozing it and attempting to build suburbia in its place will not work. You will not fool anyone from Chesterfield by doing this.

    I don not believe these developers really care or they would be building something that has a chance of offering long-term stability. The individuals that are moving in and rehabbing one building at a time, putting down roots, raising families and starting businesses are the ones that really care and have respect for the place. It’s too bad the local politicians aren’t more willing to bend over backwards for them like they are the national chain retailers.

  10. Urban Reader says:


    Does a strip mall on Olive in UCity sadden you?

    How about one in Belleville?

    Imagine me (a fictitous north side resident), desiring to have amenities in my neighborhood similar to what other places have.

    I’d like a new strip center, and another, and another. Lots of new stuff.

    New stuff we haven’t had in 60 years.

    We like it.

    But it’s not “urban enough” for the urban snobs of this website…

    Do you think we care?

    We don’t.

    [UR — You are right, they don’t care. They want a place to buy toilet paper when they are out and not have to drive 5+ miles to get it. But folks in Chesterfield don’t really care about their environment either — they have the country’s longest strip mall. BFD.

    It is, however, the place of our elected officials and our city staff to look out for these issues. We have zoning and other controls for a reason. But, our zoning and process still promotes the destructive urban renewal way of thinking.

    I did some driving around today in North St. Louis and noticed earlier suburban attempts from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. What do they all have in common? Many are boarded and abandoned. Only they don’t look as charming as the chop suey place does. These suburban developers meet only a short term goal — money for the developer, a project costing x-dollars for the alderman to list on a campaign sheet (as well as for the mayor) and a place to shop until the company has decided they’ve sucked all the money out of the community and they close up shop as their tacky building gets tired. This is all very short sided and ultimately destructive.

    We’ve yet to rebuild a single St. Louis neighborhood around a sprawl project. Not one. It is time we end this 50s-era mentality of one failed suburban experiment after another and return to building a real city.]

  11. Exactly.

    Suburban sprawl has a record of failure in the City and its quite horrible that citizens, developers, and politicians don’t get the message.

    This horrible website has examples of those failures. Look into the archives.

  12. Jim Zavist says:

    A “difficult site” is one where you need to beg companies to make an investment. Walgreens is taking a calculated risk in agreeing to build here – they expect to make enough money to be profitable. And part of that calculation is using a suburban model that generates higher sales numbers than an urban model.

    In many ways, Walgreens is the ideal “case study”. They operate in many types of retail locations, and have the data to support their design decisions. They operate urban stores in downtown locations. They (used to?) operate stores in shopping malls. They operate stores without drive-thrus. But, they’ve figured out that, yes, their customers want a drive-thru, so when they build in a new location, it’s pretty much a given that they will require a drive-thru. That’s why they spent over a million dollars building a new store at Hampton Village, and I’m sure their increased sales there have justified their decision.

    The fact that this location is in the city is a non-issue – Walgreen’s is building both in the city and out in the suburbs. The fact that this is a “predominently poor and minority neighborhood” is certainly an issue affecting likely profitability (and the fact that it does or does not get built), but apparently not an insurmountable issue since plans to build are apparently moving forward. The basic issue is urban form – what is “acceptable” from an urban design perspective versus what is “profitable” from a business perspective.

    There are two apparent givens that appear to be major hurdles to goodness in urban design, the need/desire to provide free parking and the need/desire to offer drive-thru service to their customers. As healthy young adults, it’s easier to argue that we don’t need no stinkin’ parkin’, just like it’s easy to say we don’t mind treking thru the store every six months or so to pick up an occassional prescription. The reality is that Walgreen’s is, at heart, a DRUGSTORE! Many of their customers are sick, elderly and disabled, either permanently or just briefly (knocked out by the flu or surgery). By making it easier for people to pick-up their prescriptions than the competition (be it the neighborhood drug store, Target with their new ergonomic bottles or Wal·Mart with their dirt-cheap prices), they gain a competetive advantage, attract more customers, make more money and can afford to locate in marginal economic areas!

    Bottom line, if you want to see a new Walgreen’s on this corner, you’re gonna have to take both the parking anmd the drive-thru. Sure, you can push to reorient the parts, but you need to keep them. You can put the parking and the main entrance “in the back” and you’ll end up with the drive-thru (and its drive aisle) on the corner. You can put a fake entrance / storefront window on the corner, put the main entrance to the right, along with the parking, and the pick-up window around the corner on the left. But you won’t get a Walgreen’s with its main entrance facing the corner unless you do a Hampton Village and pull the building back 80′ along both streets and put parking in front.

    As I said in my original post, it boils down to a simple, pragmatic decision – do you want (to encourage a) Walgreen’s (to locate) here, or not? If you want them, you need to remember the golden rule – he who has the gold rules! The alderman is working from a position of weakness. If he says no, or creates too many restrictions, Walgreen’s can and will just say no and find a different location. And yes, Walgreen’s is a good addition to any neighborhood, especially a poor one, since it does meet certain fundamental needs we all have . . .

    Which, in a roundabout way, gets back to an ongoing concern of mine, too-small wards and too many aldermen. Since each alderman’s fiefdom is so small and since aldermanic courtesy is so pervasive, our aldermen individually actually wield little real power when it comes to pressuring national chains. They can’t hold a more-desirable site hostage to gain concessions on a less-desirable site. Until this changes, along with a more-realistic planning process, we’re going to see Walgreen’s dropping their standard boxes on sites all around town . . .

    [UR — Jim, your comment has a single flaw. Planning & development for the city is done on a project by project basis. A developer buys property, comes to the alderman who of course says yes, and thus we have a new project. MLK, Grand & Page should have been planned — setting up a vision for the area that would be both walkable and accessible by car. Traditional Neighborhood Developments are creating such town centers all over the country. Given the millions being invested a couple of blocks from this site on TND housing it would certainly have made sense to follow through with appropriate commercial development.

    And if you are sick and going to get your medicine it really doesn’t matter too much if the Walgreen’s has parking or not if you don’t own a car!!!! Why must we continue to place the burden of auto ownership on every member of society, especially those at the lower end of the economic scale who can least afford to use their wages for such a luxury.

    At this point, with the MLK Plaza, the new strip center and now the Walgreen’s I’ve personally written off that entire area. I see no hope for rebounding the adjacent parcels now. The middle class, regardless of race, is not going to flock back to this neighborhood because a Walgrees with drive-thru is going up on the corner.

    A thoughtful planned commercial area at this intersection of a three major streets would have had a chance of succeeding in lifting the overall neighborhood. Small apartments over storefronts could have provided affordable housing while nearby townhouses could have provided middle-class housing. But not now. This area is condemned to be a wasteland for the next 30 years.

    Look at the pattern. We’ve been down this road before. The center opens with promises of bringing back the area but after 5 years or so the original tenants move out. After 10 years the maintenance goes. After 15 years very shaky stores are in half the spaces with the other half vacant. Then the storefront church buys the place. Eventually it goes under or builds a bigger building elsewhere. We keep repeating the same cycle and not learning from past mistakes. How is that pragmatic?

    I love some of the buildings to the north at Grand & St. Louis Ave. The storefront buildings are great and the old Carter Carburator factory is stunning. I could envision a complete TND remake of the area — keeping most buildings and infilling where needed. But would I do it? Nope. Why? Because I’d hate to scoot down Grand and go through the suburban hell now overtaking the street at MLK & Page.

    I avoid suburbia and what nothing to do with it, in the city or further out. The more of the city overtaken by this crap the less of the city I want to be in. I plan my routes to avoid these areas. Eventually the city will force me to leave altogether as a couple of blocks of Washington Ave or Euclid are simply not enough.

    The notion the suburban model of commercial development will save these areas is false. It hasn’t worked and will not work. It will provide services to people until they are financially able to leave. Period. We are not investing in these areas, simply making it easier to remove money from the community. It is appauling.]

  13. Bad Neighbor says:

    Chinese restaurants have developed a bad reputation in some low income, minority neighborhoods.

    Residents complain about buying poor quality food, passing their money through 1 inch plexiglass drawers or iron bars.

    In most cases, residents could care less about the demolition of this building for a brand new Walgreens.

    How many times have the urbanists frequenting this website purchased a meal through iron bars?

    [UR — Oh geez, now we have the same ole tired ‘either or’ argument that goes something like this, “If we don’t build a [insert proposal] we will be stuck with [insert current condition] for ever and ever.” Sorry, that is complete BS. Comprehensive planning for revitalizing the area is where we should be going and maybe that includes a Walgreens with a sea of parking. Maybe not. Until we actually do some planning we are left with the single project at a time that will get us somewhere eventually, we just don’t know where or when that will actually be. In the meantime if we need to save money we might as well eliminate the Planning & Urban Design staff as they appear to be doing nothing positive.]

  14. Doing It says:

    Where did I read the comment that “we’ll take the little victories where we can get them”?

    There’s a presumption that this MLK project is sprawl development.

    Can development in the city of St. Louis, whether residential or commercial, be “sprawl development”?

    Well, that depends on your definiton of sprawl.

    If you subscribe to the definition that sprawl development is the type that extends the metropolitan area to the point where residents can no longer participate in community life, well, then no; it’s not.

    A trip to a Walgreen’s on Delmar in the city is not going to prevent someone from attending a parent-teacher conference or a neighborhood meeting.

    If anything, one could make the case that this new Walgreen’s is precisely not sprawl development and is in fact a very good thing.

    [UR — This is not a little victory, it is a big future problem. Sprawl development, as I am using it here, is the transplanting of a development form that you would see on the far extremes of a region being built in the core of a region, without modification of any significance. If you like, call it auto-centric. Call it a wasteful use of land. Just don’t call it a victory.]

  15. Jim Zavist says:

    Steve – look at my last paragraph – we’re saying much the same thing in two different ways. The alderman is all powerful and wants to “deliver the bacon” for/to his constituents. Due to aldermanic courtesy, whatever professional planning that happens downtown can and is sacrificed on a whim or a pretext to get a deal done. And since the likelihood is pretty high that Alderman X will only get one chance to “bring home” a relatively-desirable (especially in an “economically-challenged” neighborhood) investment like Walgreen’s, it don’t take no rocket scientist to figure out that “arrangements” and changes will be made . . .

    Where we do differ is the old “bird in the bush” argument. Is a drive-thru Walgreen’s the highest and best use of any street corner? Probably not. But urbanity is much more than architecture. As you like to point out, in many ways, it’s messy. True urban areas are always evolving, some for the better (CWE), some for the worse (around this site). What is critical is creating some sort of critical mass, and for all intents and purposes, you’re not starting with much here. Yes, there are major streets, but that’s about it. The adjacent residential areas don’t have a lot of disposable income – it’s pretty much devoted to the basics and just getting by.

    Conversely, someplace like the “Boulevard” in Brentwood has a lot of “urban” characteristics, but it’s nowhere near being urban. The same goes for New Town St. Charles. Yeah, you can walk to your mailbox, but you gotta drive to work, drive to the grocery store and drive to school. Architecture, for better or worse, is a reflection of its time, and our time now is autocentric. Businesses want to satisfy as many potential customers as possible. Just because pedestrians fall into a distinct minority, doesn’t mean that Walgreen’s or others don’t want their business. What it does mean (and you don’t like to hear) is that, yes, the auto-borne consumer truly is king. And, the more mainstream the business, the more likely they are to cater to auto-consumer. You can afford to be quirky if you’re an art gallery or a trendy restaurant (and succeed in a converted storefront). It’s a lot harder to justify the challenges (and yes, the added expensees) when you’re being compared to 200 or 2000 competitors in the same chain!

    Bottom line, it is all about choice. Consumers vote with their feet, butts and wallets. If the street-hugging urban experience was a sure (or even a break-even) bet to increase sales, guess what, you’d see street-hugging urban buildings popping up everywhere (and you are, to a limited, plastic degree, in places like the Boulevard here and at Belmar in Lakewood, CO.). But given a lot of hard-earned (and lost) pragmatic data, the suburban model works for most businesses in most cases. If we don’t like it, we and all our like-thinking friends just need NOT TO SHOP THERE! Simple – no sales and they’re gone. But the reality remains that, yes, this model succeeds financially, if not urbanistcally or architecturally, so given no financial reason to change (a.k.a. “see the light”), we’re “doomed” to have to live with versions of this model for the forseeable future . . .

  16. Adam says:

    unfortunately though the “not shopping there” part isn’t much of an option when, say, walgreens has driven the alternatives out of business and replaced them with autocentric stores. so now i can either 1) support the nearest autocentric walgreen’s or 2) drive to one of the few urban pharmacies left in the city, thus defeating their urban purpose.

  17. Adam says:

    … unless i happen to live down the street from one, of course.

  18. Jim Zavist says:

    Especially in the world of business, life ain’t fair. Walgreens has figured out how to offer a product that’s more attractive to the customer than the local drugstore. Plus, a lot of “old school” pharmacists are tired of the long hours, increasing federal regulations and the low profit margins of owning their own businesses. It’s a choice to either shut down or to improve service, shopping environment, product selection and/or lower prices to stay competetive. When a Walgreens comes to your neighborhood, they’re dropping $1 million + just to open their doors, while the corner drugstore (should’ve) amortized their start-up costs years ago. If the local guy or gal can’t be competitive “coimng out of the gate”, there probably is a reason they should be closing!

    Don’t get me wrong, I try to support local businesses. A week ago, I tried to buy some butt door hinges in a not-so-popular finish. I saw what I liked at a chain, but they were clueless on how to special order it. I go to the manufacturer’s website and identify the local vendor. I go to the local vendor on my lunch hour and am told they don’t have any at that location, go up the road to their retail location, and they’ll call ahead and have them ready. I get there, they haven’t been called, don’t have any in stock, either, but can order them and maybe have them in 10 days. I go back to the office, go online, order exactly what I want and UPS delivered them yesterday! I have no idea if it cost me more or less, but it was all about service. Too many esatblished, local businesses simply are unable or unwilling to compete in a global economy. But the local ones that do, (Schlafly comes to mind immediately) thrive. Local and established may get your foot in my door, but bottom line, it still is all about “What can YOU do for ME today?”!

  19. Adam says:

    i think walgreens dropping 1 million dollars to open their doors is tantamount to me dropping a ten dollar bill on the ground. sure it sucks but i’m not going to starve to death. unless i do it a LOT.

    i agree business isn’t fair. and ultimately the choice rests in the hands of the consumers. but at some point maybe we should stop asking “What can YOU do for ME today?” and start supporting a business model that doesn’t funnel 99% of the wealth to 1% of the population. if that means waiting ten days instead of two for a door hinge then it’s worth the wait. also, you can’t generalize about poor service at every small retailer — i’ve certainly received great service at more than one small business and terrible service at more than one chain store.

  20. Adam says:

    sorry, one more thing:

    Too many esatblished, local businesses simply are unable or unwilling to compete in a global economy.

    why should every business HAVE to compete in the global economy? just to save me a dollar on toilet paper? i’d rather buy less stuff, spend the extra dollar on the things i need, and support a healthy local economy.

  21. Jim Zavist says:

    You’re right – it is a choice – with winter coming, I chose to get the hinges to get the door up and reduce my utility costs. And I probably would’ve ordered the hinges locally and waited a few more days IF I hadn’t wasted a half hour chasing a worthless lead. Bottom line, if the company couldn’t deliver on the promises they’d already made that day, why should I trust them to deliver the hinges in 10 days and not 20 or 30?!

    It’s easy for elitists to bash the big boys, the “faceless corporations”. The reality remains that, in many cases, they are simply better at what they do than the “mom and pop” places we all allegedly cherish. The reality remains that if we spent more of our money at Straub’s and less at Whole Foods, you’d be seeing more Straub’s and fewer Whole Foods.

    I’ve had both relatives and clients who have owned small, local drugstores. Their income from prescriptions has been hurt a lot more by big medicine (insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid) and grocery-store pharmacies than by a Walgreen’s (or an Eckerdt’s or a CVS) opening. Typically, Walgreen’s will do a better job on general merchandising, as well, but in the typical corner drugstore, the prescription side is what paid the bills and kept the business afloat.

  22. Jim Zavist says:

    I will concede that one area where the chains do get a big leg up is that they’re viewed as “new” and somehow (more?) deserving of incentives. There is an unfortunate tendency by government at all levels to focus more on attracting new businesses, and doing little or nothing to retain existing businesses of all kinds who have been integral parts of and have contributed to a community for years. Walgreen’s kind of walks the middle of the road – in many cases, they have served the community for years, and when they want to redevelop in urban areas, they’re not bashful about asking for and utilizing “favors”. This does put the “mom and pop” operations at a disadvantage (since they usually don’t have the resources to redevelop), but so do a lot of other things (road construction, weather, poor health) that challenge every retail business. It also points out the futility and the idiocy of focusing economic development, both locally and regionally, on attracting the new guy from somewhere else. It’s almost always easier (and cheaper!) to keep an existing business healthy than it is to attract a new one to fill a void. Unfortunately, with this site, the “horse left the barn” many moons ago, so the alderman is essentially starting from ground zero, and needs to attract whatever he can to breathe some life back into an important corner . . .

  23. Adam says:

    true. if it becomes 20 or 30 days that’s getting a little ridiculous. some things you can wait for. some things you can’t. so if it gets to be that long you take your business elsewhere. i still don’t think you can generalize about the customer service at small businesses based on one or even a few incidents.

    The reality remains that if we spent more of our money at Straub’s and less at Whole Foods, you’d be seeing more Straub’s and fewer Whole Foods.

    i agree completely.

    It’s easy for elitists to bash the big boys, the “faceless corporations”.

    i’m not saying that every corporation is evil. but it’s not “bashing” to state that the majority of profits generated by chain stores are not put back into the local economy. it’s just true.

    and yes, the larger corporations are indeed “faceless.” they’re designed that way to protect their shareholders. and as a corporation grows it becomes easier to blame the guy on the bottom rung. why is it elitist to disagree with this business model? i’m not saying i’m better than anyone else. but i am saying there’s a more equitable way to do things.

  24. Kara says:

    The issue isn’t if Walgreens should exist in North St. Louis or if it should be accessible by car, with parking nearby. I agree all of these are good and positive things in North St. Louis. Access by car is good, in and of itself, but when that access prohibits traveling to a place on foot or bike, it is not really so positive after all. It is possible to design buildings that accommodate many modes of transportation.

    Here is an example of an urban drive-thru from the archives of urban review:

    If we are really going to consider the demographics of this area we should note that many, if not most of these people do not get around by car. I would guess that many use the bus fairly regularly. If we are truly interested in enhancing N. STL then we will consider the real needs of people and not just have this “beggars can’t be choosers” attitude.

    Limiting a building type to be useful to only those who drive is incredibly short sighted. As I mentioned before, suburbanites (those who like to drive as much as possible) are not going to move to N. StL anytime in the near future, no matter how much it resembles suburbia. But those who desire an urban environment (often those who like to walk, bike, etc) would move there if it were being built as such.

    Urban Reader, strip malls are frightening everywhere, but they are especially upsetting when urban cores are destroyed and replaced with them. I’m not suggesting that all areas of the world should be urban, I’m only arguing to keep the city urban.

  25. Urban Reader says:


    I spend a lot of time in North St. Louis. I have alot of friends there.

    Neighborhood residents. Office workers. Kids, parents, and grandparents.

    Guess what? Every one of them who has a job drives a car! And most of them drive to South City or St. Louis County to shop!

    Go figure.

  26. Kara says:

    Urban Reader,

    Like I said, it’s good to have a Walgreens in North St. Louis. But after the current proposal is built your north st louis friends will still be driving to it, even if it’s a 1/4 mile from their houses, because it will be placed far from the sidewalk behind a sea of parking. It would be much nicer if they had the option of walking to their local walgreens.

    The few cities in America that don’t require car ownership to accomplish basic tasks have the highest property values. Go figure.

  27. Adam says:

    ok so “all” those people you know (who apparently can afford cars) won’t have to drive as far to get to walgreens. what about everyone else? there is no argument for building auto-centric crap instead of developments that accomodate both cars and pedestrians. period.

  28. Jim Zavist says:

    Adam – there are a few problems with your argument that corporations don’t return profits to the local ecconomy. One, St. Louis is the home to many corporations, some pretty big, that do reinvest heavily in the community – Anheuser-Busch, Enterprise Rent-a-car, St. Louis Bread Company, Hardee’s, all three local grocery chains (Schnuck’s, Dierberg’s and Shop-n-Save), Build-a-Bear and HOK Architecture, to name but a few, plus major operations for corporations not located here (Chrysler, GM, Monsanto). Should these folks be told they’re not welcome because they’re bringing in profits from elsewhere? I don’t think so.

    Two, you need to earn a profit before you can reinvest in a community. Businesses close because they’re no longer making a profit. Just because many corporations are better at playing the game of business (ie, profitable) than some local businesses are does not mean that they’re evil. It just means they’re doing a better job of satisfying their customers.

    Finally, corporate operations are not simple to classify. Many local “chain” stores are actually franchises, where a local operator invests their money in the local community and pays a fee to use the national brand name. Yes, some profits flow back to the franchisor, but the bulk of the profits stay here, paying salaries and taxes and (hopefully) making the owner rich. Similarly, larger corporations have many local stock holders who benefit passively from the corporations’ financial success, and they too spend locally. Probably the only part of the equation that you don’t like is the “price of admission” – it takes money to make money, and unless you have access to capital, you can’t invest in either corporations or local businesses . . .

  29. Jim Zavist says:

    Autocentric architecture may be less “welcoming” to pedestrians than curb-hugging architecture might be, but it’s not either-or. Yes you have to walk an extra 80′ or 100′ to get to the front door, but after you’ve already walked a half mile or so ±2600′ (on average) to arrive on foot, and you’ll be walking another 100′-200′ inside the store, what’s the big deal? Let’s do the math:

    2600 + 2600 + 150 = 5350′ (if the door’s at the curb).

    5350′ + 100′ + 100′ = 5550′ (if you have to cross a parking lot.

    5550/5350 = 1.037383 (a less than 4% difference in distance travelled)

    Plus all us auto drivers are concerned about walking, too – we want to be able to get from the store to our car without getting mugged or carjacked! 😉

  30. Kara says:


    First of all, a “walkable” distance is usually defined as being around a 1/4 mile. This is what the average person is willing to walk before they will try to find another option.

    Second, the parking lot in your example is a smallish one. Sure Walgreens doesn’t tend to have huge parking lots, but strip mall developments do and when they contain a big box they can be between 1/8 to 1/4 of a square mile in size. This significantly increases distance for a walker.

    Third, distance isn’t the only factor in walking. Safety and pleasantness are equally, if not more important. It is awful to walk across a field of asphalt or to walk down a street lined with multiple fields of asphalt. Add the sun beating down on you and it gets even worse. These things contribute to a landscape that is completely uninviting and downright ugly. It also feels incredibly unsafe as cars are whizzing by on such streets when walking along the puny sidewalks that might be provided. Walking through a parking lot also feels quite unsafe as this is a no-man’s land for pedestrians.

    Fourth, strip mall and big box developments are not physically oriented to the residents who surround them. They often have the back of the store facing residential property. One might live directly across the street from one of these things, but because of the way it is designed they have to walk two full blocks out of their way, then across a large parking lot to reach the front door.

    There are many more examples of how such developments are hostile to pedestrians, but I will stop here.

  31. Jim Zavist says:

    I generally agree with your observations. The one component that makes the biggest difference for any pedestrian, after the obvious one (an actual sidewalk to walk on), however, is tree cover, whether you’re walking along an urban street or a suburban road. Unfortunately, most business owners, including those with buildings built to the sidewalk, are more than willing to sacrifice trees for better visibility of their signs.

    The other part of the discussion is where your front door is and where the store’s front door is. Move one and it will be, by definition, either closer or further away. For probably 40% of the nearby people, a new strip mall will move the business front doors a block closer to them (and a block further away for other 60%).

    And, unfortunately, yes, most people arrive at a business today by vehicle, be it a bicycle, scooter, car, truck or public bus. Pedestrians, people who actually walk a ¼ or a ½ mile to get to anything, are pretty rare, and businesses know this and cater more to needs of the majority of their customers. The Americans with Disabilities Act has improved things on a micro level for pedestrians (making it a federal requirement to provide pedestrian access between bus stops and a business’s front door), but the only way to make things more “urban” on a consistent level is to push local communities to enact zoning requirements to require good pedestrian access and a pleasant walking experience.

    A really big challenge will be dealing with the drive-thru’s that more and more businesses, not just fast-food restaurants and banks, think need to install to stay competetive. St. Louis Bread Company is testing one in Wentzville. Starbucks really wants to see them on their new stores. Obviously Walgreen’s wants them, so their competitors (as in grocery stores) will want to start adding them.

    Drive-thru’s are the anti-solution to urban architecture, since businesses that have them essentialy have to have multiple sides available for vehicle access – one (or more) side for parking, a front door and pedestrian access, one side for the drive-thru and another side for deliveries and trash. I’ve seen a grocery store outside Louisville, KY, where they took out a store in a strip mall so they could put in a drive-thru! The other part of the equation is that most municipalities don’t factor in the space consumed by the drive-thru (and its stacking lane) when it comes to determining required parking, so more of a site ends up devoted to serving the car, further reducing densities and creating a more-suburban feel. The simple answer is to ban drive-thru’s. The economic reality is that most communities will be more receptive to the economic arguments made by businesses than the aesthetic and quality-of-life issues made by their residents . . .

  32. matt says:

    the key here is to retain all of our urban minded people in missouri and convince them not to flee (and stay) to portland, chicago, etc. (or come back) it’s amazing how many expatriate urban minded kansas citians and st. louisans have left. there is enough left to keep ’em, they just need to be convinced. in the future, we will need many more people pounding home the idea that mindless demolition and throw-away autocentric design ANYWHERE in the city is completely unnacceptable…

    but i digress.


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