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St. Louis’ International Award-Winning “Strategy for Renewal”

December 18, 2006 Events/Meetings, Media, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy 16 Comments

Two weeks ago this Wednesday St. Louis won a “World Leadership Award” in the category of Urban Renewal for its submission entitled “Strategy for Renewal.” The mayor’s website was full of excitement and the RCGA sent out a glowing press release. I was sceptical as nobody knew what we submitted. On Friday I received a paper copy after submitting a request under Missouri’s Sunshine Law. Here are a few tidbits.

Mayor Francis G. Slay sent a letter accepting the invitation to submit an entry on April 1, 2006. In that letter he writes,

“I am writing to let you know that we do plan on submitting an entry, and we would welcome the favorable publicity that we would receive if we won or even if we were a finalist.”

Our entry was submitted to the organizers on July 10th, 2006. Here is a quote from the opening page:

After losing 500,000 people in 45 years, the City of St. Louis has reversed the trend and become a model for “rebuilding” cities around the world. New residents are returning; businesses are starting to meet the growing market; and we have initiated education reform to make our public schools again, schools of choice.

Education reform? Since when is criticizing the school board education reform?

We have turned the corner. After decades of record population loss, growth is occurring. The U.S. Census Bureau ranked St. Louis 43rd in percentage population growth over the past year. I believe our strategy has become a model for other cities to follow.

While I will agree the massive droves of people fleeing the city has stopped I don’t know that we can say the city is growing. I’d say more like stabilized. Furthermore, I don’t know this is due to any policies enacted by Mayor Slay or simply the fact we hit bottom. And I find it rather amusing this strategy that is supposed to be a model for other cities had to be obtained via Missouri’s Sunshine Law regarding open documents.

The document talks about a number of objectives and strategies, some which have been done, some of which are in process and others that I am not aware of any effort to complete. One area that seems a bit of a stretch is around the city’s Strategic Land Use Plan. From the Strategy for Renewal:

A critical stage in our Great City renewal strategy was to provide a concise roadmap to direct public and private resources to where we needed them most. Until 2005, St. Louis operated under a Master Plan conceived in 1947.

That plan called for wholesale demolition of 35% of the City, coinciding with demographic changes. Conceived before the loss of 500,000 people, the Plan offered no strategy for addressing wholesale urban disinvestment. The Strategic Land Use Plan adopted in 2005 has changed how we think and do business. We have identified those parts of the City where public investment is most needed, to help stimulate private investment that builds on our strengths.

All levels of City government act in a coordinated manner to create nodes of growth. Subsequent efforts then connect “these nodes”, creating corridors of positive change. From a new housing project; a loan to a small business owner to repair a building; grants to remove lead paint from the schools and homes to enhance the welfare of the children; a combination of small incentives helps to stabilize declining neighborhoods.

Gee, last time I checked we still operate under that 1947 plan. Yes, the land use designations have been updated but our archaic zoning is still in place. Earlier this year, when arguing before the city’s “board of adjustment” regarding the McDonald’s drive-thru issue, I suggested the South Grand the area was to have certain character, as described in the land use plan. They told me, in a public hearing, the land use plan does not trump zoning. The mayor can tell people in London all he wants about this land use plan but in reality until we have new zoning it is worthless. The implimentation page for the land use plan admits as much:

Zoning designations are continually problematic in the City, and more often than not new development requires a variance from the existing zoning code. It is anticipated that once this plan is adopted zoning designations will be modified to conform to the plan and “overlay districts” may be developed and adopted that are specific to the character of specific neighborhoods and development areas.

While the mayor and his staffers are flying off to London to accept awards we are still waiting for meaningful action. Why we’d go to all this trouble to enter a competition and then not share the winning entry is beyond me, unless the mayor and his staff didn’t want to be held accountable for their strategy?

But you don’t need to take my word for it, I’ve uploaded the original submitted for judging and the presentation for your review.

  • Strategy For Renewal (34-page PDF, 1.4mb)
  • Presentation from 12/6/06 (49-page PDF, 2.9mb — I believe the actual PowerPoint would have had some video clips and such, I will likely request the actual PowerPoint as this PDF file seems incomplete. Plus you will need to rotate it to view)

Check them out and share your thoughts below. Even better, ask your alderman what he/she thinks about the objectives, strategies and current progress!


Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. I was actually very excited when I read Callow’s PR, however not so much anymore.

    St. Louis’ leaders wanted wide scale demolition way back in 1947, which was before Team Four? No wonder the City has declined! Too bad Slay forgot to mention that he demolished McRee Town and the Century Building irregardless of the 2005 Plan. I guess the corridors of positive change are elusive.

  2. irregardless says:

    Slay didn’t demolish McRee Town or the Century Building.

    Nor did he build Botanical Heights or the OPO Garage.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — You are probably right, it must have been Mayor Rainford and/or Mayor Geisman behind those projects]

  3. Inaction equates to action.

    Lets not forget photographs of groundbreaking ceremonies.

  4. Hans Gerwitz says:

    Check out the Delmar/Kingshighway rendering on page 14 and the Schnucks planning map on page 28.

    I’m sorry to see the silly riverfront plans were considered important enough to appear.

  5. Hans Gerwitz says:

    (I should have specified that I was citing in the presentation PDF.)

  6. LisaS says:

    “That plan called for wholesale demolition of 35% of the City,”

    Data from page 4 of the presentation: 33% loss of units.

    It sounds like their strategy was successful.

  7. john says:

    Writing a misleading document should not be the basis of an award. This story is worse than I originally imagined… to think Slay & Co. thought they could enter this contest without public scrutiny and stand proud, is another example of “Democrats Gone Wild”! How shameful… how typical StL. I suppose whoever proof read this document must have graduated from the SLPS… note in 1970 the City experienced a population change of a positive 622,236.
    The “Great City Urban Renewal Strategy” document outlines good objectives but is more of a marketing piece than an accurate portrayal of the facts. To become a first class city again, StL should concentrate its resources on improving the fundamentals for success: improving the business climate, reducing crime, repairing the SLPS, and addressing infrastructures issues. In each of these areas, the City woefully falls far behind its peers. Until the City is able to elect leadership that can articulate a vision, expect more of the same.

  8. Andrew says:

    Two observations: in the rendering of metrolink on page 14 – i’m curious why they put a bum complete with cart in the rendering.

    also, the caption in the image of Forest Park says it is the largest functioning urban park in America. Is this true? and what
    does that even mean?

  9. CK says:

    Slay’s population increase declaration is simply a hoax.

    Consider this:
    The total population increases cited by Slay over the past couple of years is only a few thousand people.

    The International Institute says there are about 10,000 new immigrants coming to St. Louis every year.

    Do the math.

    Look for the 2010 census to reveal the truth. Unfortunately, this comes after the next mayoral election.

  10. LisaS says:

    The largest park thing is a St. Louis myth. Yes, it’s bigger than Central Park, but not by much, and NYC has two other parks that are larger. In my research a year or so ago I found a list at the Trust for Public Land, but it’s not available right now–I think this is a copy: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0933260.html

    Forest Park is down the list a bit–around #40, if you exclude state/regional parks within urban areas, #51 if you don’t.
    While I can’t speak to every park on the list, the ones I’ve explored seem to be functioning. White Rock Lake Park (#36) in Dallas doesn’t have a skating rink, golf course, zoo, or museums within its boundaries, but it does have a lake big enough to sail a small boat on, and several nice playgrounds. We lived near Burns Park (#45) in North Little Rock when I was in high school, and it had several nice playgrounds, a kiddlie amusement park (now dismantled, I think), a golf course, a nice tennis center as well as free courts, playing fields, a campground, and access to the Arkansas River.

    Of course, the argument could be made that both White Rock and Burns Park are technically suburban parks, although located within the city limits. Depends on definition, I suppose. Both are surrounded by housing on the outer edge of their respective cities.

  11. A. Nonymous says:

    From what I’ve seen Forest Park is the largest urban park of its kind. Places like the Presidio in San Francisco simply serve a different function. Forest Park is a city park, it’s just HUGE. All the other parks on the posted list are smaller or of a different nature. I wouldn’t have used the word “functional,” but maybe “urban”.

    By the way, Central Park is 843 acres and Forest Park is 1293 acres. I’d say that’s quite a bit larger.

    At 1,000 acres, Stanley Park in Vancouver is touted as the third largest city-owned park in North America. When some similar claim is made about Forest Park, some St. Lousian always dismisses it as a myth or unwarranted civic boosterism. No wonder I grew up hours from here and never heard of the park.

  12. john says:

    According to the “Strategy” report, one objective was “to create a seamless network of parks,…” I’m not sure what is meant by seamless but here are my thoughts on Forest Park.
    I love FP and quite grateful to FP Forever for their numerous accomplishments. Depending on the criteria, FP may be the largest but it may not. The one certainty is this: like other StL assets, the financial strains are growing faster than the tax base.
    Also large chunks of FP are major road arteries which include a highway. As such, large parcels are divided and/or used for atypical purposes. Favored activities in this area of the park include auto racing, crashing and the creation of traffic, noise and pollution. Also true is the StL area lags its peers significantly in expenditures on parks per capita, acreage per capita and even percent of the city dedicated to parks. I’m just glad that over 100 years ago, some local leaders placed a higher priority on enjoying the outdoors than current leadership.

  13. A. Nonymous says:

    “StL area lags its peers significantly in acreage per capita and even percent of the city dedicated to parks.”

    St. Louis = 3,000+ acres of parks
    Chicago = 7,300+ acres of parks

    Would you like to say that this represents a significant shortcoming for St. Louis in park area per capita. And do you not think portions of Central Park are busy roads?

    Sadly, just another St. Lousian that looks down at their own city.

  14. john says:

    Interesting, somebody thinks StL is in the same league as NY and Chicago. Having lived in/visited these cities, they are not our peers. The annual budget for the parks in NY is $600 million, Chicago ($396) and StL is about $18 million. Of course those cities are much larger so let’s be fair and compare this data on a per capita basis: NY ($74), Chicago ($138), and StL is $52 per year. Of course the StL figure would be lower if tax paying county residents were included in the ratio.

    In cities more like StL, total parkland as a percent of city land area places us in 8th with a percentage of 8.5 lagging behind such auto-centric cities as Cincinnati (13.9%) and Dallas (9.9%). Much more data is provided by the Center for Park Excellence and from the parks’ web sites.

    This issue concerns much more than acreage as it is activities and the vitality which defines the attractiveness and urbanity of the parks,… but of course this is a matter of personal preference, not facts. Large sections of FP acreage are designed for non-park like activities and other sections are poorly managed and segregated. If StL wanted to regain world-class status, the New I64 plans would return the land to the park. This is a grand opportunity being wasted due to local attitudes. Obviously most locals prefer highways more than parks and that defines our priorities. The only seamlessness here is in the highways… neighborhoods and parks are disconnected.

    As stated, I’m a real fan of FP, its amenities, and other outdoor venues in our area. However, let’s be real and accurate… attempts to use sophistry, bizarre claims and inaccurate portrayals of others’ comments is a waste of time and space. Facing the facts does not automatically make one anti-StL. Must leave now to be in Chicago and next time I’m in NY I’ll check to see if a highway has been built in Central Park. Things happen quickly there, but I doubt if New Yorkers would allow that to happen to such a valuable asset.

  15. A. Nonymous says:

    “If StL wanted to regain world-class status, the New I64 plans would return the land to the park. This is a grand opportunity being wasted due to local attitudes. Obviously most locals prefer highways more than parks and that defines our priorities. The only seamlessness here is in the highways… neighborhoods and parks are disconnected.”

    Yes, let’s spend 100’s of millions of dollars to bury three miles of an Interstate to gain about 20 acres of parkland. Smart.

    As you travel you’ll notice that highways are generally seamless – think about it – it just makes sense.

  16. john says:

    What makes great cities just that? Of course many things including the priority given to green space. A park-rich metropolisis helps us stay physically and mentally fit. Too bad locals here prefer obesity, diabetes and highways. Yes park assets need to be properly managed, fully funded and even Mayor Slay believes that “seamlessness”, whether with highways or parks, is an objective. Which one is “seamles” here?

    To think that 8.5% is to be bragged about demonstrates the narrowness and lack of vision of locals. A great city like Paris has 450 parks, which is about 30% of its land, and aims for even more. Instead of handing out TIFs for more revenues, Parisian leadership campaigns on the pledge of more acreage for new parks. In Chicago, scientists found that each year trees removed over 440 tons of environmental pollutants. In StL will build more highways and parking lots so that we can give preference to those who create more, not less, pollution, noise, and accidents which creates the need for more emergency services. And then locals wonder why we continue to lose jobs, budgets are stressed, and our quality of life declines.

    Just imagine the difference of real estate values in Paris or more closely Chicago, relative to StL, and perhaps even locals may pay attention to the obvious. Locals continue to elect myopic leaders who continue to give priority to self-destructive tendencies.


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