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Tearing Down Public Housing

November 30, 2006 Planning & Design, Travel 9 Comments

IMG_3479.jpgAll over St. Louis we are seeing the demolition of 1940-60s public housing projects.  The picture here, however, is the demotition of similar public housing in Toronto.

While I was in Toronto back in July I made it a point to seek out such areas.  All in all they don’t look much different although the population is more racially diverse.  Physically, Toronoto seems to have followed that of many other cities by creating mid & high-rise public housing that had little to do with the street, having a greater relationship to the parking lots.

Like St. Louis and so many other cities, Toronto is razing these structures and replacing them with more urban low-rise housing.  It is funny though, back when the middle class were seeking out single family detached houses we built public housing (which was originally targeted for the middle class, btw) as high rises.  Now that high rises are increasing in cities such as St. Louis and Toronto for the upper classes we are building low-rise public housing.

No matter the form, the public housing areas seldom get complete neighborhoods — walkable with a retail center.  The planners of these developments still assume a very suburban separation of uses philosophy.  Where is the new urbanism town center to create real viable neighborhoods with our public dollars?

 

Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. tone rodent says:

    Steve,

    Don’t you think we’re doing a pretty good job in St. Louis with the HOPE VI conversions of old public housing into mixed income neighborhoods?

    At King Louis Square, the Town Center could be identified as Lafayette Square.

    And at Blumeyer (If I have my geography right), the commercial center is nearby along N. Grand.

     
  2. Ultimately, the HOPE VI redevelopment area has great public transportation access and is within walking distance of Laffayette Square and Soulard. I think the appropriate solution would have been to redevelop Choteau, Lafayette, and Park as more pedestrian commercial districts connecting east-west through to Soulard.

    In my opinion, the questionable design and physical planning decisions will hinder the long-term economic success of the HOPE VI redevelopment more than the lack of viable internal commercial uses.

    Without going into a full critique of the designs of the buildings at King Louis Square (rental apartments) and La Saison (Phase IV homes), I will say that for the most part they fall into the trap of this sort of faux historic replica St. Louis seems to love. As with most of this type, they end up looking much more faux than replica – misshapen and awkward mansard roofs, undersized and underdetailed cornices, odd looking Fypon door and window surrounds, short brick returns at the sides, odd spacing between buildings, no windows facing the back yards, strange brick colors, I could go on and on. My favorites are the styrofoam “sunburst” pieces stuck to the brick facade above some of the entries and the double archtop windows where the brick goes partway up between the windows and then just stops!

    Not to mention the 14th Street medians that were overgrown with weeds the first year after they were built.

     
  3. Kara says:

    Whether public housing is built in the form of a large modernist apartment building or as a quasi-historical “traditional” neighborhood, these developments always appear set apart from the surrounding urban fabric. It may stem from the attitudes of the city governments and developers that the people that live in these places should be segregated because they aren’t seen as regular citizens with the potential to contribute to the city. Until the poor are viewed as people and given a chance to integrate into society, (including having ownership and a stake in where they live) public housing will continue to fail, no matter what its form.

     
  4. GMichaud says:

    The problem with integration of the Hope VI project with the urban environment is a lack of understanding by St. Louis officialdom on how to create a viable development. Steve Wilke-Shapiro cites some problems in his post.
    This lack of ability in urban design is impacting the Georgian Condominiums at the old city hospital site, which apparently are not selling well.
    In turn they have now begun to demolish buildings across Lafayette Ave facing these condos. I would assume so they can have a luxury development to make the Georgian Condos more desirable. (I have not seen plans, so I’m only guessing that is what is happening)
    Ultimately the negative impact of poor planning and lousy architecture spirals to affect development in the surrounding area.
    City officials have not yet caught on to the importance of good design and proper urban planning; although they probably thought the grotesque mansard shapes were good design. An exciting urban design concept could have overcome most of the architectural shortcomings.
    Nor do I question the prejudice against the poor, but I think Hope VI and related projects are a result of a lack of skill (and concern).
    I just read on archinet that Los Angeles has started an urban design studio within their planning department, such a bold move would be welcome in St. Louis. It is important such debate about the urban environment is part of daily activity. This ongoing debate should include the citizens as well for the best results.

     
  5. elephant in the room says:

    Isn’t Pyramid the leader in ugly faux historic architecture in the city?

     
  6. Jim Zavist says:

    Commitment to urban design needs to begin at the top and needs to be embraced by the local politicains below the mayor. From what I can tell, Rollin Stanley is trying hard but is hamstrung by the provincial efforts of too mant members of the Board of Aldermen.

     
  7. Jeff says:

    Steve – on this post and the KFC post, the pictures are on top of the text, making it impossible to read paragrpahs of your posts. I don’t know if this is a browswer issue or what, but I thought you should know. (I am on a PC, using IE)

     
  8. Jacob says:

    Referer…

    Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little childre…

     
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