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Mixed-Use Project in Bay Area A Good Model for St. Louis

December 28, 2006 Planning & Design, Travel 15 Comments

Yesterday I checked out a recent mixed-use project in the Bay Area, an excellent combination of large grocery store, smaller chain stores and restaurants along with some adjacent apartments. It is still far more suburban than I’d chose for myself but the form and connections are very suitable for nearly anywhere in the St. Louis region.

Now, before you go to the comments to tell me that St. Louis is not San Francisco you are correct, that is why I said this is in the Bay area. The “Shops at Waterford” is located in the town of Dublin — a good 35 miles from San Francisco near the intersection of two major interstates, the 580 & 680. This is part of an area in the East Bay known as the Tri-Valley which also includes Pleasanton, Livermore and San Ramon.

So, what is so great about the Shops at Waterford? Well, it is a new kind of suburban model of urbanity that places a high priority on pedestrian connections in a highly auto-centric area. It is neither old urbanism nor the new urbanism.

Here is the arial of the area (image1), with Waterford in the center of the image, at the NW corner of Dublin Blvd & Tassajara Rd (see map):


Both major streets are 4-6 lanes with zero on-street parking. As you can see, this is the first development on the intersection. Out parcel buildings are not some tiny Starbucks drive-thru but larger structures placed up to the streets.

The large roof you see is a large Safeway grocery store. To the top of the site are apartments built around a central parking garage, to the left are townhouses and then single family houses. From above it looks pretty conventional, but on the ground it is quite different than your typical shopping area in St. Louis.

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2) Above: The view looking west along Dublin Blvd. This is pretty common for much of this area, street trees help separate pedestrians from the passing traffic. This wide boulevard includes a bike lane and in this area a right turn lane into the residential area.

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3) Above: The opposite view looking East along Dublin Blvd. over toward the intersection with Tassajara. At left is the building which “holds” the corner. Again, street trees help improve the pedestrian experience as well as give the area a more pleasing appearance. The drives out to the street are only two lanes — one in and one out. This keeps the pedestrian crossings short.

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4) Above: The pedestrian connection from Dublin Blvd. is quite well marked. This clear pedestrian path is welcoming.

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5) Looking back to Dublin Blvd. we can see the first of many bike racks. Note the generous width of the sidewalks within the private development.

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6) From this same spot we can look over toward the parking lot and see the nice walkway through to the building at the corner of the site. Of course, this also creates a pleasant pathway for those arriving by car.

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7) Above is the same walkway seen from the parking lot.

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8) From the crosswalk we can look North into the development. At left you can see the two entrance/exits for the Safeway with the apartments in the background at the far edge.

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9) Standing in front of one Safeway entrance looking North we can see the second entrance (the green tower) and another bike rack. I like that the bike rack is not some cheap design meant to hold 20 bikes and squished up against a wall in a dark corner. Also note the stone wall that screens the extra shopping carts from view.

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10) Continuing past the Safeway we can begin to see how the apartments relate to the shopping area.

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11) Above is the second of the walkways out into the parking and smaller out buildings. More bike racks and benches.

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12) Looking back where we’ve been, the generous sidewalks and adjacent parking make a decent place for outdoor seating.

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13) The corner where the one-story shops meet the apartments is great for a restaurant with outdoor seating. I’m not sure you can get real Texas BBQ in Northern California but that is a subject for another blog.

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14) This view back to the South gives us a nice overview with the Safeway store dominating the center of the buildings.

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15) Looking to the West we can see the buildings do not actually meet. The strip with the Safeway on the left stops short enough to leave a generous walkway to the adjacent residential neighborhood. Apartments with ground-level retail are on the right.

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16) Above is another view of the same corner. To the right is an entrance to a parking garage for apartments residents and to serve as additional parking for the shopping area. The apartments surround the garage so you don’t see it from the shopping area.

The bright colors of synthetic stucco are par for the course in California, something I don’t care for too much. But, my point is not to look at those issues but look at the form of the buildings.

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17) Turning to the East (Tassajara Rd.) we can see more of the retail spaces topped by apartments.

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18) As we walk along by the retail/condos we look back to the South and on the right we can see where we walked with the Safeway in the center. On the left is an out building that we’ll get to later. Once again, note the very clear & inviting pedestrian walkways within the project.

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19) Looking back to the West we see the how the apartments relate to the internal sidewalk and parking area. We are now at the East end of the project at Tassajara Rd.

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20) At Tassajara Rd. we look to the North and we can see how the condos continue for a good distance, the shopping center walkway is to the left. Street trees between the sidewalk and street improve the experience for those walking from their apartment to the store. But let’s head back South along Tassajara Rd. toward Dublin Blvd.
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21) The pedestrian crossing here could have been done a bit better, pushing it back away from the curb a bit. This would have reduced the width a pedestrian has to cross.

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22) Crossing the entrance we see a sign indicating that recycled (gray) water is used for the landscaping irrigation. This is a very effective way of using non-sewer water, such as rain water. This lessons the load on the sewer system.

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23) OK, we’ve crossed the entrance/exit heading South along Tassajara Rd. This is an out building yet it doesn’t give a blank wall to the sidewalk, Stacey’s restaurant has their patio along the sidewalk. A bit of trivia, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams is the owner of Stacey’s.

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24) From the same spot we can look back into the project, we see more bike racks and additional outdoor seating for Stacey’s restaurant. Through the system of walkways we could get to Safetway from here without having to cross through a parking lot.

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25) And for context we look back at the apartments.

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26) Further down the sidewalk we turn back again to see Stacey’s patio and the condos across the entrance.

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27) Back on track heading South along Tassajara Rd. toward Dublin Blvd. we see on the right the out building that contained the Stacey’s restaurant. At the opposite end we see a Blockbuster Video. This is actually the back of the store but it has windows to break up anotherwise empty facade. The sidewalk, while not the urban ideal that I prefer, is about as pleasant as it can be along a 6-lane arterial roadway.

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28) In the background is the corner out building which, like the one we just saw, has windows and other features to make it interesting from the main streets but entrances face the parking lot. This is a great way to design for both pedestrians and autos.

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29) I didn’t head down to the corner, instead let’s walk back into the development next to the Blockbusters. We will see how these out buildings relate to each other and to the rest of the development.

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30) Above we are looking North back toward the apartments. The entrance to the Blockbuster is on the right, the Safeway is to the left across the parking.

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31) As we walk back North toward the apartments we can see this area actually has two separate out buildings, the Stacey’s/Blockbuster on the right and another on the left.

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32) At the opposite end of this walkway we look back to the South. The Stacey’s is on
our left.

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33) Looking back to the East (Tassajara Rd.) we see the opposite view of #24 above.

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34) Above is the view looking East toward the main strip center.

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35) Continuing on the same path heading back to the main center we see the opposite side of the walkway shown in #11 above.

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36) Turning to the North we look back at the apartments and the walkway shown in image #18. Throughout the entire project generous walkways guide the pedestrian from store to restaurant and either back to their car or their residence.

I rejoined my father and brother who had finished their shopping while I was taking pictures. Once back in the car, we headed around back to check out the loading dock area for the Safeway.

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37) Here we can see the back of the store, not great but I’ve seen considerably worse.
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37) Safeway’s loading dock, above left, is well screened. The sidewalk is likely not used much due to better access that I will show you shortly. This “attached” sidewalk is minimum width with little for the pedestrian. For drivers the view is not bad for the back of a major grocery store.
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38) Townhouses across Glynn’s Rose Drive back up to the road, just as the Safeway store does.

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39) Above, at the intersection of Glynn’s Rose Drive and Roscommon Way we can see the wide walkway into the corner of the shopping center shown in image #15. The apartments at the corner here have a view down the street but also the loading dock area at right.

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40) Turning to the East we can look down Roscommon Way toward the new single-family houses. Again, I’m not a fan of attached sidewalks but it does get the job done. Clearly, the families living in these houses have a pretty easy walk to the store.

From a 2003 Business Journal article:

Shea Properties, the Orange County-based investment real estate division of J.F. Shea Co., which designs, develops and manages commercial and residential developments in California and Colorado, was eager to spearhead the development because it tries to specialize in unique projects.

“This project is a first for our company and groundbreaking as well for suburbia – having a vertical, mixed-use development in a place like Dublin,” said Bob Burke, Shea’s general manager of Northern California operations.

“We have 47 (residential) units per acre, which is twice the average in Dublin,” Burke said. “The apartment complex consists of four-story buildings surrounding a parking structure, which is a novel approach to achieve higher density in the suburbs. Doing something like this in suburbia is unique.”

The master planning and some architecture was done by SPGA. A BART station (Dublin/Pleasanton) is a couple of miles away from this project, a bit too far to walk but not bad for a short bike ride.
As I indicated at the opening, this development is not even close to being urban enough to entice me to live there, but that is OK. As suburban development goes, it does not get much better than this project. People from the surrounding municipalities can arrive easily by car while those that live in the immediate area have only a short walk. All can easily walk throughout the project.

In the City of St. Louis I think we need to be more urban than this project, with true urban buildings facing streets with on-street parking. However, in more auto-centric areas such as near our highways or highly abandonded areas this might be a good model. Couldn’t Loughborough Commons have had such a well-designed relationship? Shopping on North Grand could have had such a connection to the new Hope VI housing.

Nearly every other place in the St. Louis region, especially those developed in the last 50 years, could benefit from such a well-designed project. The question is, do we have the will to demand quality developments such as this that are accessible by foot, bike or car?

For additional photos of this project click here.


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. john says:

    Particularly impressive is the priority given to walking for safety and convenience. Even the parking lot is designed with sidewalks so pedestrians can feel safe and not worry about dodging SUVs and other autos. The sidewalks are wide and offer much greenery, both of which are greatly needed here.

    Also impressive is the design and painting of the bike lanes. Bottom line, the designers gave consideration to a variety of users and it shows. Good luck to them…

    Although this is not a high-density design, it is better and more thoughtful than anything here. Just imagine if StL’s #1 shopping area (on each side of Hwy 40, between Hanley Rd and Brentwood Blvd), which is much larger, could have looked like. Our bottom line?: Divided local leadership favors TIFs over consensus, autos over pedestrians/cyclists, big box over diversity, etc. Is there any doubt why we get a lower quality of life and depopulation?

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    I agree, it’s a pretty decent development. Why did it happen? One, the community demanded that these levels of amenitities be provided on all new projects (no favoritism). Two, higher densities spread these higher infrastructure costs over a lot more square feet, thus reducing their cost-per-square-foot impacts. Three, when you’re seeing average sales price (in the Bay area) that are what, four to five times what they are around St. Louis, again, the cost-per-sqaure-foot impacts drop dramatically. And four, commuting in California sucks a lot worse than it does around here, making (relatively) closer-in areas like this more attractive, and as such, able to command higher prices on the open market. Bottom line, it’s still all about the bottom line! We’re constrained here by a market that is unwilling to pay the higher costs that this and other projects encompass in booming, coastal areas. Should this constrain us from pushing for these levels of amenities? No, of course not! But until developers can afford to pay for these amenities (through much higher sales prices, higher densities and higher rental rates), we’ll continue to get what we’re getting now . . .

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Dublin is not an overly progressive community, from what I have seen.  It has no main street or downtown at all.  It does appear that pedestrian and bike connections are simply an assumed by the city, citizens and developers. 

    Yes, given land costs in California it makes sense to build more dense.  But even without the apartments, the shopping center demonstrates how internal walkways can be planned so as to facilitate walking within the project.   Developers and municipalities need to raise their standards.] 

  3. oakland says:

    Bottom line, it’s still all about the bottom line! We’re constrained here by a market that is unwilling to pay the higher costs that this and other projects encompass in booming, coastal areas. Should this constrain us from pushing for these levels of amenities? No, of course not! But until developers can afford to pay for these amenities (through much higher sales prices, higher densities and higher rental rates), we’ll continue to get what we’re getting now . . .

    Where does that money to pay “much higher sale prices” come from, or are we just going to price out all but the lucky ones?

    From the developer’s website, information about these apartments. A unit of comparable size in St. Louis rents for a third to half of that, and the beauty of St. Louis is that a 1 bedroom condo doesn’t cost $300-$400,000. Unlike California, St. Louis is not a haven for tech jobs that leave people flush with that kind of cash.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — It is easy to look at California’s housing prices and assume they are rolling in dough.  In reality you must look at incomes relative to housing prices.  Land cost is why so many homes cost what they do in the bay area.  Our incomes and housing costs are both lower, that does not mean our standards must be lower.  

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Looks can be deceiving. Just because a town may not have a history of any/good urban design doesn’t mean that they’re not demanding it now. Check out Dublin’s websites: http://www.ci.dublin.ca.us/DepartmentSubLevel2.cfm?PL=exp&SL=comdev&dsplyID=426, http://www.ci.dublin.ca.us/sitedevelopmentreviewguidelines_brochure.pdf, http://www.ci.dublin.ca.us/pdf/Dublin_General_Plan.pdf

    Sidenote – the median sales price for a single family home Dublin in in June, 2006 was $695,000 and the median price for a condo was $569,000, making them “available to above-moderate income households”.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, home prices are high in the Bay Area, incomes are higher too although not what you think.  These are actually on the lower end of things, many average looking homes are in the low one millions and it doesn’t take much to be at $2 million.  A $800K St. Louis house might be a $3 million place out here.  Dublin is very much an average to slightly above average place, it is not a Beverly Hills area.]

  5. Jim Zavist says:

    I wasn’t saying that this is a luxury area – I’m sure that most residents are hard-working middle-class folks, like around here. I’m also well aware that salaries, while higher, aren’t keeping up with the cost of housing out there – the majority of their annual planning board report deals with trying to encourage housing affordability. My point was that government-mandated amenities, of any sort, increase the cost of doing business for a developer. If they can recover the cost of providing them because the market is at a higher level, they’ll get included (and marketed to potential residents). If the developer can’t make the numbers work, either the amenities get eliminated or the project simply does not move forward – no sane business person would proceed with a project that wasn’t expected to be profitable. We’re in that boat here. We all know what we want/desire, but many people around here simply don’t make the kinds of salaries that are needed to include the amentites we (say we) want on most projects around here. A bike rack costs $X whether it’s shipped to California or Missouri. A tree may be twice as expensive when it’s planted out there, but when the house behind it is selling for four times as much, sure, go ahead and plant a half dozen more trees. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not poor-me’ing us for living here – I like our older affordable housing stock, especially in SW city, the CWE, Webster, U City, etc., etc., and am willing to work for less here in the heartland in exchange for some sanity in my life. Yes, there are many design elements that are pretty typical out west (like bike lanes and more respect for pedestrians) that could (and probably should) be incorporated around here, but until they probably get dictated at the state level by MoDOT (much like CalTrans has their standards), there’s little incentive for any city to make things more onerous for developers, especially when their neighboring cities are salavating for a chance to steal one of their retail projects! It gets back to economics and a willingness by the typical home buyer or retail shopper to pay a bit more for a better urban (or suburban) experience . . .

  6. Craig says:

    Although these types of developments cost more I think we’ll be seeing more like them in the St. Louis area. But, I wouldn’t expect to see very many of them in St. Louis. As Mr. Zavist said, it all comes down to money, and much of the land in St. Louis is way too cheap for a developer to consider a dense project. Only in areas in the central corridor, where land is more expensive, will we see this type of dense development. I don’t even think we’ll see much of it on the periphery of downtown where the next big/medium box stores will be built. The land is too cheap.

  7. joe b says:

    Steve, one thing I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned more about are wide sidewalks. If anything screams pedestrian accessibility and invitability (is that a word) are wide sidewalks.

    Examine any good current pedestrian development where people are gathering, loitering and walking and you will notice wide sidewalks.

    Hell, the fatter we get, the wider the sidewalks we need!

    Seriously, I would argue the wider the sidewalks, the more pedestrians you will see, if the layout is good.

  8. anon says:

    The first picture is all you need to see: the east side of Tassajara Road is farmland. Dublin = suburban sprawl!

  9. Chris Grant says:

    Wide sidewalks, benches, patios — where are all the people? The place looks like a ghost town.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Good question.  We should not confuse this type of development with a true main street.  I will do posts on the main streets for nearby Pleasanton & Livermore –they were quite lively. 

    I was here at 11am the morning after Christmas, half the stores were closed.  It was also cold (by California standards) and windy.  I would imagine during normal times it is busier.]

  10. Jim Zavist says:

    They’re all at work, trying to make the big bucks it takes to live here!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — It seems very few people were working this week, the highways were very light.]

  11. “7) Above is the same walkway seen from the parking lot.”

    Forgive me for missing something, but why are the trees staggered? So that people can’t walk in a staight line? Not that there are any people walking there, at least in these shots.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I too would have preferred a straight line as well but the space is not wide enough for trees on both sides and a walkway in the middle.  It seems like a reasonable compromise, especially when you consider that around St. Louis they either don’t provide any such walk or if they do it is plain concrete.]

  12. john says:

    Whether or not a development builds well-designed pedestrian and othe auto-alternative designs is primarily a function of how they view the demands of the potential customer base and zoning codes. These additional features are costly but such are de minimus relative to overall expenditures. Lease rates, relative to land/development capital, determine budgetary issues and not the average price of homes in the area.

    Obviously home values (one variable in many) provide financial insight in determining the profitable level of design expenditures but have more to do with the type of lessee (eg. Cartier versus Zales). Using CA real estate prices as an indication of insight is highly misleading. Bank lending policies are much more aggressive than anything here and many areas of the state are prospering in ways people here have a difficult time understanding. In addition, Dublin subsidizes home purchases by offering loan programs up to 15% of home values to a maximum of $781,000.

    By most commercial lease standards, many areas in StL are more than competitive with Dublin, especially in the areas in Clayton and along Hwy 40 as previously described.

  13. Paul Hohmann says:

    Nice example of what a development like Loughborough commons could have been like with a simple set of guidelines for basic requirements from the City! I think we as citizens of St. Louis should demand that such simple guidelines are enacted. Most of what we see here doesn’t cost a lot of money, its more about good planning.

    What blew my mind was how much of a clusterfuck the entire area around this bay area example is! The intersecton of a 4 and 6 lane road baloons into TEN lanes in each direction, including TRIPLE left turn lanes. Can we say engineers gone wild.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, the auto-centric nature of the area is amazing.  Double left turn lanes are common and I saw quite a few of the triple turn lanes.  The wider streets you mention are likely areas where it widens for turn lanes both left & right.

    Clearly it is possible to do attractive auto-centric projects which also do a nice job accomodating the pedestrian and cyclist.  As you indicate, St. Louis (city & entire region) should be looking at standards to make such connections mandatory.]

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    An underlying issue in this whole discussion is where the power for design lies. My experience, around the country, is that developments like this happen when the elected, governing body a) decides that they want higher-quality development, b) is willing to pay the upfront costs of laying a groundwork for a thoughtful, reasoned, well-defined urban design vision for an area, c) hire enough planning staff to promptly and thoroughly review incoming plans, and then d) step back and let the professionals butt heads with the developers and their architects and engineers. Where we seem to have our biggest diconnects, especially in the city, is that we don’t have comprehensive design standards (except in historic districts) and most aldermen think that they know just what defines good urban design in “their” ward and/or “what their constituents (actually a vocal minority) want”! Until we get past some of the misguided micromanagement / invesing in token gestures while missing the bigger picture efforts of our local elected officials, we’ll continue to get brick bus shelters instead of walkable sites (Chippewa & Kingshighway). As an architect, I chafe at having to fit a design into a highly-specific design standard / pattern book (administered by a professional planning department), but it beats the alternative of trying to hit a moving target of negotiated design “compromises” that typifies working with many elected officials, especially those who represent smaller constituencies (although, as a “trained professional”, I’m many times better-equipped to keep them focused on the small stuff, to the benefit of my commercial clients).

    In many ways, New Town St. Charles represents locally what is both good and bad about this development in California. There’s a coherent vision, there’s attention to detail, and there’s consistent implementation. It’s not my taste, it’s not my style, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be living out in the middle of what’s now a bunch of farm fields out past the industrial park. But as a design exercise, especially as an urban design exercise, it works pretty well. Whittaker Homes has the luxury of total control of the site, something the city of St. Louis rarely does. Plus St. Louis struggles with very different economic dynamics across the city, making it difficult to implement and enforce citywide design standards that won’t kill development in its more “economically-challenged” areas. The answer, as has been pointed out in previous master plans, probably lies in overlay zoning and overlay design standards. The trick, as always, will be balancing the political dynamics needed to “get the ball rolling”. It’s going to take an investment, both financially and politically, in establishing more strict and more detailed design standards in the “better” parts of town, in hopes that their successful implementation will filter down to the more challenging sites. Continuing to design to the lowest common denominator will just result in us getting more of what we get now!

  15. The entire project is sexy and would fit nicely along a metro line in St. Louis County.


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