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1960’s: Model Cities Not Such a Great Model

May 4, 2007 Books, History/Preservation 25 Comments

In 1966 the federal government enacted the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act, commonly known as model cities.  In large part, the federal program was based on programs being tried in New Haven Connecticut by Mayor Richard “Dick” Lee (1954-1970).  Mayor Lee championed the efforts of urban renewal and creating a model for other cities to follow.  Sadly, many cities did.

A few years ago Yale did a nice look at the era and produced an exhibit and website.  From the site:

The Ideology of Redevelopment

Urban renewal offered a chance for architects, city planners, and other experts to enact their ideal vision of a city. New Haven became a testing group for top-down, Modernist theories of urban design. Instead of neighborhoods in which the people lived, shopped, and worked, planners wanted to separate housing, retail, and industrial uses. Dense, irregular city streets gave way to highways to accommodate the automobile.

Especially in the first years of urban renewal, planners thought that new buildings would make new people: that renewing the city physically would solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, and racial antagonism. As the 1960s progressed, it became clear that these difficulties would not be overcome solely with new construction alone, and the Lee Administration pioneered a number of social programs.

The arguments were pretty much the same from city to city.  To solve problems we must erase the past.  To many the slums were home. One of those interviewed for the exhibit said this, “You could classify Oak Street back then as a slum, but it was a thriving slum…”

This was the part the planners and architects of the era failed to understand.  These slums may not have had hot water or toilets but they had good human interaction, an economy, and local services for residents.  The slums were functional, unlike the projects that replaced them.

The Yale site, in one section, said:

President Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Labor called New Haven’s efforts “the greatest success story in the history of the world.” But by the end of his tenure, Lee said regularly, “If New Haven is a model city, God help America’s cities.” 

Indeed.  Mayor Lee realized, by 1970, the failure of the urban renewal programs in New Haven yet they continued throughout the USA.  In the early 1970s, the model cities program was folding into the new CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) program.  Unfortunately, many planners and architects trained in this way of thinking are still in positions of power.  We’ve not fully learned the lessons of the past.

The Yale site called, Life in the Model City: Stories of Urban Renewal from New Haven, is highly recommended.


Currently there are "25 comments" on this Article:

  1. Yes, and it is sad that North Side Aldermen, our Mayor, the Lieutenant Governor, and finally the State legislature, are pursuing the same failed policy of slum clearance. This time instead of Pruitt-Igoe we shall have wonderful New Urbanism. To save the community it must be destroyed and recreated. When in fact the community will be destroyed and gentrified. The same thing happened under urban renewal. Slums near downtown were relocated far away from the CBD in order to capture that valuable land. As suburbanization has failed, developers are looking for land within the core. We will eventually see the halt of sprawl due to gas prices as well as the ever increasing importance of global warming and energy efficiency. Developers need to diversify and they want to stay ahead of the curve. It has already been proven that urban living is popular among professionals and old people. Why not replicate the popular Winghaven in order to capture those with families? Where do we go? The North side due to its limited political capacity due to the Team Four Plan. Existing residents can live elsewhere and the aldermen are easily coerced. In the end, with good PR, McRee Town proved it can be done. The greatest good for the greatest number is the maxim which justifies the dirty deed. With the $ 100,000,000 tax credit proposal, Paul McKee gets it done dirt cheap!

  2. john says:

    I look forward to reading about “the Kremlin”, American style! Oh it’s so nice to be back to UR topics!

  3. Jim Zavist says:

    There ARE parts of St. Louis that could benefit from wholesale renewal. Once you reach a tipping point where 50% or 70% or 90% of the “homes” in a community are vacant, boarded-up, demolished and/or unfit for human habitation, there’s little chance of “coming back” anytime soon (see East St. Louis). Better to start with a “clean sheet of paper” than to do nothing, or worse, throw good money after bad at the “problem”. There are also many other parts of the city that aren’t at the tipping point yet, that given a change in perceptions could bounce back stronger than ever. And the one component that seems to be somewhat unique to the St. Louis region is a perceived need to bulldoze whole neighborhoods to create more shoping centers – these have nothing to do with any Model Cities program, just a blatant pandering to the sales tax god!

    Were model cities the right answer? Obviously not. And I doubt if cartoonlike New Urbanism will be, either. Urban renewal needs to be viewed as a tool, not a solution in itself. Demolition needs to happen if you want to replace any structure. The nuance is whether it’s voluntary or coerced. Tapping government funding is another component of “urban renewal” – it may be the only way to get a project moving. Again, it’s in it’s how it’s used – it’s cash, not a design decision.

    Many words are loaded with multiple meanings, perceptions and political baggage. One man’s slum is another man’s neighborhood. When we focus on the spin, we’re missing the problem. Lack of running water IS (was?) an issue and a sanitary concern. We’re past that now, for the most part. You didn’t need to tear a structure down to add a bathroom (but it sure was a good excuse). Times have changed and solutions have evolved. Across the country, “projects” are being replaced by mixed-income housing. It’s better, but only time will tel if actually the “best” soultion.

    The real challenge is addressing the “need” for affordable housing. Not enough jobs? Not enough good-paying jobs? Lack of education? Teen pregnancy? Rising housing costs? Discrimination against tenants with rents subsidies? Discrimination based on race? immigration status? sexual orientation? Messing with supply & demand (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/03/AR2007050302232.html) – limit supply and costs inevitably go up? There are many, many hard-working members of the middle class that can afford a wide range of desirable housing in this area. Why, in this time of alleged prosperity, is there still a need to subsidize such a basic human need?!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I think we pretty much agree but I want to split hairs a bit. Renewal doens’t have to mean changing the street grid. I think we are past the days of planners trying to do cul-de-sacs everywhere but the new projects still have too many closed streets. Gone are the corner stores which help increase pedestrian traffic and keep eyes on the street.

    Yes, many areas are nearly gone — way past the tipping point. But we can still look at what remains and make judgements about what can or should stay. A block with only one home left on it can do find with the one house remaining — if it is worth saving why not?

    I have lived in two places that, back in the day, were likey considered slums because neither had bathrooms originally. In hindsight we know now that we could have renovated many of these areas with new plumbing, electric and such. Doing so would have kept the neighborhood intact rather than breaking up social networks. Clear cutting was not and is not the right answer.]

  4. Dole says:

    It’s a tough call as to whether or not whole areas should be bulldozed and started over.

    I remember in the 80’s, as a kid growing up in the suburbs, hearing my liberal parents say things like “The city shouldn’t be demolishing those old structures, they should fix them up and give them to homeless people.” I believed that until I actually spent time in some of North St. Louis north of the Central West End. I saw streets where 8 out of 10 houses were abandoned and/or burned out. Some of them are gems that could be saved while others must be demolished.

    What I propose as a method of urban renewal is this…
    (1) Create strict urban design standards, and if developers are willing to follow them, give them title to some of these troubled properties.
    (2) Lower the taxes for businesses that create jobs in troubled areas.
    (3) Leaders should focus less on huge ‘silver bullet’ projects and focus instead on the aspects that create great neighborhoods. Improve the schools, lower crime, and raise the population,

  5. TM says:

    While I regret many of the losses that took place in the 1960’s under urban renewal, I think it’s caused many folks to jump too far into the preservation camp. I think cities like St. Louis could actually stand some urban renewal, but instead of replacing decayed areas with roads or low-income housing blocks, replace them with decent new middle class housing (120-200K). Botanical Heights should be the “model” for this type of development, though I know the houses there don’t exactly fall into this price range. You could look at the benefits of this from several angles and this might determine who if anyone would be responsible for making the land cheap enough for developers to offer housing in this price range. It could be seen as an economic development tool to help lure businesses to the city (a big complaint right now from business is that there’s not enough affordable housing for a their employees in cities). It could be seen as a traffic mitigation measure (people won’t be forced to look in the exurbs for modern homes at middle class prices) and thus the state or federal government could fund it. In the last transportation bill I believe something like $130 million was budgeted to help cities deal with traffic mitigation by installing things like toll booths to charge congestion pricing in downtown areas. That money may be better spent creating workforce (middle-class) housing near the core of our region, while at the same time giving us a means to get rid of the worst of the worst neighborhoods – those with high crime, high rates of tenant turnover and absentee landlords, and questionable architectural value.

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    Steve, I agree, “Renewal doesn’t have to mean changing the street grid.” Like I said, demoltion and urban renewal funding are tools to accomplish a larger goal. There’s nothing inherent in either that says the existing street grid and infrastructure need to be wiped clean. The other component is the planning process and the assumptions behind it.

    Back in the ’60’s alleys and blocks were perceived to be truly “old school” and equated with much of what was wrong with the cities and good about the suburbs, so it’s no surprise they weren’t included in new developments. We’ve learned a lot since then (see New Urbanism). The core issue is planning, good and bad, not the tools used to implement the planning!

  7. TM says:

    “Especially in the first years of urban renewal, planners thought that new buildings would make new people: that renewing the city physically would solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, and racial antagonism”

    It’s funny, we think we’ve learned our lesson but you see the same type of thinking from the New Urban crowd – that design can fix the lack of community in our society (from a New Town ad: ‘imagine a place where the vendor at the local farmer’s market knows you by name’…I’m getting misty eyed) when the degredation of “community” (to the extent that it’s even a problem) is the result of social forces far beyond the realm of design to fix. In fact, I would argue the degredation of our physical environment is more of a result of these social forces than a cause of it. Again, to the extent that these places are pretty to look at and let people walk/bike to their daily needs, they’re probably better than conventional suburban development; but to try and sell people “community” for the price of a 250K brick rowhome, like it’s a product you can buy off the shelf, seems to me to be stretching it.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I don’t think good design can overcome social problems, certainly something that was thought possible in the past.  I think for the New Urbanists you get the realization that bad design (typical subdivisions) can certainly lead to isolation and other social problems.  I was so thankful as a kid that I could bike to various stores even though we lived in a 1960s subdivision lacking sidewalks.  I would have gone crazy if I would have depended on my parents to drive me to the store.  

    Realize that every marketing person and real estate agent out there marketing new subdivisions calls them “communities.”  New Town is far closer than most of what is in St. Charles County.] 

  8. GMichaud says:

    Actually good design can solve social problems. A major failure of America is the lack of realization of this truth.
    Without getting into a major thesis, good design combines economic opportunity through small business development. The streets and squares at one time were the places of business. All the pieces work together, markets, corner stores, stores in the middle of the block, transit available to all, which help feed these economic areas, in short the city itself was a business incubator, now, in our new age, regulated to a building established with a grant or two and a few people taking advantage of the services.
    If you read Ron Fagerstrom’s study of Mill Creek Valley before Urban Renewal, you see a community, while not wealthy, was without the dysfunctional traits of today’s society.
    Urban renewal in many ways is the harbinger of many social problems.
    Redesign of the city into one where zoning is free so that economic activity is not the exclusive domain of the upper classes and creation of a transit system, complete, available to all, and as easy to use as an auto, would the first steps in a redesign of the city that would start to correct social ills.
    If good design cannot overcome social problems, then this blog is a waste of time. We’ll spend all of our time talking, working with social worker and therapists and the rest of the bullshit of modern America, when what is needed is a working city.

  9. Wood says:

    You need to work on the history. Model Cities was not simply based on the New Haven urban renewal model. It reflected instead a more inclusive approach to citizen involvement and a broad of array of programs, including urban renewal but also encompassing social and educational programs and improvements to basic infrastructure–building new schools and rec centers in Model Neighborhood Areas. Nor was New Haven entirely (in any sense) the initial Oak St. project noted in the Yale exhibit. The city was a pioneer in urban rehabilitation with the Wooster Square project, and with subsequent efforts in Dixwell and Newhallville. There’s lots to question about Mayor Lee’s efforts in New Haven (I’ve written about it myself). But the commitment of the Johnson adminstration to Model Cities was a real advance in citizen planning and neighborhood renewal, not clearance.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The Yale exhibit also mentions Wooster Sq and Dixwell in addition to Oak St.  Yes, Model Cities was a change from past programs but from what I’ve seen the results were not really better than before.  Further study may change my perception of the program.]

  10. Interventioniste says:

    Another challenge regarding doing small architectural interventions in abandoned neighborhoods is the market. If you add on $50,000-$100,000 in renovation costs to that one brick house that survives on the block, who’s gonna buy it if it has less than 1000 SF AND you’re the only house in what is essentially a really depressed area?

    That’s a difficult sale, I don’t know if there are some rehabbers that can speak to this. Even if you did it, what would your holding costs be, because you know that thing would probably sit on the market for two years.

  11. TM says:

    GMichaud, good design has it’s place…and that place is to be employed as an alternative to bad design, but one of the lessons we get from looking at Modernist interventions in cities in the 1950’s and 60’s is that design (the Modern ideal of sunlight and green space) alone was not able to fix problems that were rooted in larger societal forces. Likewise, the supposed breakdown of community in modern life has many causes: economic globalization, newer and ever cheaper consumer technology that allow for an ever more “personalized” daily experience, a wealthier middle class where people no longer have to rely on their neighbors, etc. Likely these changes would have occurred whether we all lived in houses with front porches facing gridded streets or not. Now while I don’t believe good design can “fix” the lack of community in our lives (a point I still believe the New Urbanists stress too much) I would allow that bad design *may* exacerbate negative social tendencies that are already present in people.
    Regarding the role of “community” in New Urban developments, the folks that move into these places seem like a rather self-selected bunch, that is, they’re people looking for community and would create it no matter where you put them, so I question whether or not it’s the design that’s causing them to behave this way. Community in the old fashioned sense develops over time, it’s made up of people who have lived in the town or neighborhood their whole lives, kids who have grown up there and now have their own kids…and due to the larger social forces I mentioned above (not least of which is the frequency with which people change jobs nowdays) I see this being the biggest challenge to creating a “community” in a place like New Town. What I believe the New Urbanists need is a stronger public policy position to go along with all those cute design books they have; but of course, trying to get legislation passed for low interest loans so that folks can fix up their existing neighborhoods (I’m not talking high-end rehabs here) or buy their rentals, create community centers and, god forbid, address schools in the inner-city is a lot less sexy than putting a bunch of brick rowhouses up against the sidewalk with a corner store and calling it a day. In other words, until the New Urbanists take on the problem of the American inner city, a problem that will take a design *and* public policy solution, they’ll be remembered for what they are now – a charming anachronism, to be thrown on the planning dust heap along with Howard’s Garden Cities and Le Corb’s La Ville Radieuse.

  12. GMichaud says:

    Good design and its positive impact on society is what this blog is about, or so I thought. No one is gong into people’s homes to try and change their lives in a positive manner. Rather the goal is to create the environment enhances lives and allows citizens the freedom and opportunity to succeed. This discussion has absolutely nothing to do with New Urbanism. New Urbanism is isolated experiments with some value. This discussion is about the City of St. Louis, model cities and urban renewal and the complete failure of understanding how cities function.
    Again Ron Fagerstrom describes in his study of Mill Creek Valley how a viable neighborhood, albeit poor, was destroyed, in the manic slum clearance era, that impacted New Haven and many other American cities. (His study has been available at Subterranean Books in U. City)
    While good design will not necessarily solve all social problems, it will lay a foundation of success so that positive social change can occur.
    Thus suburban style development reinforces class differences. Retail for instance is generally controlled by major real estate companies, the entry fee is high, the retail tends to be chains and the retail only serves those who can drive.
    In contrast the classic city as developed over centuries allowed for businesses to open in many different buildings, it was possible for buildings of all description to become a business, in addition there are markets and streets that turn into places economic activity to accommodate even smallest retail entrepreneurs. In addition the classic design of cities made walking a real option and transit is designed to be as convenient as using an auto. In any case design allowed the potential that all citizens could participate in the economic and social milieu.
    The failure of model cities and urban renewal is that classic city building principles were abandoned, partially because of new theories of modernism by Le Corbusier and others, but also because of the greed of a few trying to direct laws and the very planning of the city to become the tool of their economic success.
    That is where America is at today, malls, strip malls, the compliance of government, highway departments and the like supporting these developments to channel wealth to the very few. The city is no longer an open, democratic, economic experiment.
    The result is America has the largest prison population in the developed world. Will good design stop teenage pregnancies?, of course not, but good design will help overcome social inequities, allowing much broader segments of society to thrive.

  13. TM says:

    As an example of the belief that design can fix social problems (in this case the lack of “community” in modern life) and for its potential to tackle the problem of the American inner city where the model cities movement failed, New Urbanism is safely on topic.
    While good design (call it new or old urbanism or whatever you like) can allow for flexibility in building programming, and perhaps transportation options, I don’t share the belief that it alone is some great social equalizer. If it were, than I would ask why Washington Ave. has roughly the same demographics as Kirkwood, or why North City has those of…well, North City. After all, there are plenty of affordable storefronts with low “entry fees” on the north side, so independent businesses should be thriving there right? In other words, how are these areas any less economically segregated than a suburban development? Obviously there are larger social forces at work here, and that’s where I think public policy is at least as important (a point you allude to actually, GM).

    So if New Urban design philosophies can be used as a tool to help inner city neighborhoods recover through infill (something most folks think is a no-brainer), they’re going to need to form lobbying groups to educate legislators on good design (if they’re not already), or maybe get involved in politics directly…In short, form a public policy that dovetails into their design beliefs. Now, perhaps city schools are out of their realm, but one thing I could see them getting involved with is a tool to make land assembly easier in blighted city neighborhoods; actually I believe there was some legislation in the MO house not too long ago looking to do just this. So I’m not sure why city officials and New Urban developers aren’t jumping on this potential, but it does bring up an interesting question: would people be more in support of eminent domain if it were used to create a New Town-type infill development on the North Side? I think if you asked the residents of these neighborhoods they’d be all for the use of ED for infill, as well as for loans to help them buy and fix up their rentals. This is the type of New Urbanist public policy that I’m talking about, and something that, along with their design philosophies, might actually do well by urban neighborhoods where Modernism failed them.

  14. GMichaud says:

    The problem with New Urbanism is that it is a construct for wealthy or upper class individuals. The root of New Urbanism is classical city planning principles. There is no point being diverted with discussions of New Urbanism and the baggage that comes along with that term.
    As far comparing Washington Ave with Kirkwood, that is the point exactly, while there may be pockets of good design, city planning by definition requires comprehensive inclusion of many factors, especially transit in modern society. There are plenty of cities around the world that have integrated transit with city planning i.e. good design. When government policies have devastated an area such as North St. Louis, it is a little much to expect isolated storefronts to thrive.
    Good design is not going to solve all social ills, although Finland, with its well designed cities and countryside, with excellent transit, with numerous street and square markets serving even the lowest ends of the economic ladder, has no slums. There are other factors of course, but the fact 80% of the people coming to the center city travel by transit, the fact around 50% of the people in Helsinki don’t even own a car points to a whole different approach to city and state planning than we have in St. Louis and in Missouri.
    This is not to say Finland does not have social problems, but again there are no slums, crime is low etc. (It is a country about the same population of Missouri, just think about the ramifications of no slums)
    As for as a land assembly act in North St. Louis, the proper way to proceed should be to see what a cooperative process of city planning that includes residents might suggest. Tax credits would be helpful, but why should they be targeted only to wealthy individuals? It raises the possibility of small scale development and encouraging small and minority owned businesses to develop. If there is a proper city plan to follow, land assembly would not be such a major issue.
    Here is a link to San Francisco, illustrating how the citizens are actually included in the planning process. http://www.sfgov.org/site/planning_index.asp?id=25164.
    Good design and comprehensive, sustainable thinking, can have a positive impact on peoples lives all over the region. It is not a magic wand, by any means, but it would be a major step in improving the City of St. Louis, in making the City desirable to a diverse range of people and by extension the school system and other attached elements will begin to improve.
    The City of St. Louis had these elements, especially transit in the fifties, it was upon dismantling the classical city planning principles that the decline of the city occurred. Refer to especially the Land Use Plan of 1956, by the St. Louis City Plan Commission (pages 8 and 9) which shows the intention of eliminating the network of small corner stores in favor of centralized commercial facilities.
    Just as the attempted giveaway of tax credits to Paul McKee on the Northside, this 1956 Plan was designed to serve narrow interests. A ruling mafia if you will, laid the groundwork for the demise of St. Louis.

  15. Jim Zavist says:

    New Urbanism is a mixed bag. It’s intentions are (were) great, including bringing back walkability, smaller lots, alleys and a diversity in housing types and styles. It also pushes for better execution of architectural design through pattern books. The two problems with it are that it IS popular/successful, which allows developers to charge higher prices initially and for residents to see significant appreciation when they sell on down the road (supply and demand), and that, like nearly every modern development, it has a limited, albeit “better”, architectural vocabulary.

    Whether it’s Seaside or New Town St. Charles, the result ends up looking a bit cartoonlike because it’s a) actually better than what’s being built elsewhere in the area, b) it’s usually plopped somewhere where little development has happened previously, c) its execution using contemporary materials to recreate traditional details can come off as too plastic, and d) it ends up being populated by affluent true believers.

    It also gets back to scale. The original Seaside is relatively small, even if it’s relatively dense. New Town St. Charles is still a long way from full build-out. Given a large-enough community (along with some mature landscaping and patina), it does start to all pull together. The challenge remains economic diversity. Whether it’s housing or retail, the cost of entry will remain significantly higher for at least a decade.

    Bottom line, we need to quit taking pot shots at whole classes or styles of development and planning, and focus, instead, on what works and what doesn’t and how the best ideas can be applied here to address our somewhat unique challenges. No one answer is or will be totally right or wrong. And while design is a part of creating community, so are good jobs and reasonable commutes. If both parents are on the fast track, working 10 hours a day and commuting an hour + each way, there’s little time left for family, much less community.

  16. john says:

    The attitudes of our elected leaders and their agents have changed little in the last fifty years. StL is the model city of how NOT to conduct planning as proven by such projects as Mill Valley, Pruitt-Igoe, etc. The fallout from such poor decisions is evident in depopulation and the continuing failure to address job losses. The New 64 proves that little has been learned since.
    The StL spelling of charrettes is charade as public input is easily discarded. In the StL region, planning centers around moving people in cars and thus the perceived need of bigger highways and bigger parking lots. Inevitably neighborhoods are divided and then so are communities. “Divide and conquer” is alive and well! It is the StL culture.

  17. the dude says:

    I think the City of St. Louis has a good example of repairing the damage done by the model cities initiative mentality in the redevelopment that has taken place at the site of the former Darst Webbe housing project. Although it isn’t perfect (brick on all four sides, townhomes instead of single family), it repaired the street grid, created dense mixed income housing, and it’s clean and looks nice.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes and no.  The new/newer construction on the former Darst-Webbe high rise projects is a start.  However, only portions are all brick — although I don’t think brick or lack of brick should be what we base our judgement on.  Remember, the projects themselves were all brick.  They’ve put in a partial street grid but nothing to connected.  Setbacks from the street are way too much.  Separation is still the mentality with apartments separate from houses which is separate from senior living.  Classic neighborhoods mix these elements along with storefronts and small flats over the stores.  We’ll be clearing the site again in 20 years.]

  18. the dude says:

    I think you are splitting hairs. It’s really tough (and expensive) for a developer to integrate all the elements you are talking into one unit and do it well. As for storefronts, there’s only so much retail a neighborhood can support. If you had a storefront on every building, half your space would be vacant. The retail going in south of Lafayette is within walking distance of the entire neighborhood and is also compatible with contemporary retail standards (lots of space for loading, parking), which makes it easier to lease. It’s a joke to say “we’ll be clearing this site again in 20 years”.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Nobody said all the types I’m talking about have to be in a single unit or building. Storefronts are great at corners. The Live/work type of building is also useful for various professionals or perhaps someone that wants a small retail space. I cannot possibly imagine every steet in St. Louis that needs new construction getting a retail space — that would indeed be overkill. But we need to build neighborhoods based on variety of sizes & housing types — not all of the same thing. Sadly, too many developers and their consulting firms (dude, like the one you work for) take things to the extreme and don’t fully understand how complex an urban neighborhood is and should be.

    And hopefully the retail south of Lafayette will be confined to the currently vacant land and not be taking any of the existing buildings — that would indeed be a waste of resources. Not all commercial/retail space needs to be 50K sq ft with massive loading docks. Neighborhoods are built at a much finer scale — something many did not understand back in the 60s and that many today still don’t grasp.

    Sorry, it is not a joke to say we’ll be clearing the recent development again on the old Darst Webbe site. It may not happen due to the economy being in the drain due to peak oil but it will not be a desirable place in time — way too many shortcomings in the architecture and planning. Few thought when Pruitt-Igoe was completed and winning awards that it would turn out to be a disaster. Check back in 2027 and we’ll see who is right and who is wrong.]

    [UrbanReviewSTL — One more thing, remember the words of Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”]

  19. the dude says:

    Your comments are disingenuous and are reflective of an ignorance of the market reality. When was the last time a true corner grocery store was built? (City Grocers does not count) I mean, I really think they are cute but where do you park and where and when do you load the goods? Remember, there are people living upstairs, across the street, and in back. I’m all for dense, quality urban neighborhoods but you still have to make the numbers work. Like I stated before, the development in question isn’t perfect but I think it represents a serious attempt to integrate different uses and the surrounding community. Opinions differ on HOPE VI and how it should be implemented, but I drove around it last night and think it’s a good effort. In response to your additional comment, my salary actually depends on my understanding it.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Who mentioned “grocery” stores on the corners?  True, the small little mom & pop stores are gone for the most part (although not in Toronto).  Anyway, you certainly read things into statements to justify the type of work you do.  I love that you cite all the people living around a corner store and then wonder where you park.  Duh!  You WALK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    We can have corner storefonts without grocery stores — yes that is a reality I understand.  There is this little thing called the Live/Work unit and the “Live Within” that can utilize storefronts in small doses, at least until the market need for more retail arises. 

    The development along the old Darste Webbe site is too separated by types — not enough mix.   This is reflective of a number of failed policies, including Hope VI guidelines.  Maybe you should get out of your car more and walk around.  Maybe over in that blighted area of Clayton?]

  20. GMichaud says:

    Storefronts mixed in with residential units depends on many factors. Soulard had numerous corner groceries in the seventies and eighties, they were successful because of the dense nature of Soulard. Most of these were abandoned when the owners died or moved out and changed into housing by big developers or into bars. For instance Llywelyn’s used to be the Mike Schmitz market. A little grocery and meat market. (The spice shop in Soulard Market is still run by the family, ask them about it)

    New developments such as Darst Webbe are not generally designed with enough density, nor is transit utilized effectively (true anywhere in St. Louis).
    In the case of Darst Webbe, about the only thing that succeeds is the scale of the buildings, generally the buildings are unattractive, poorly sited, and a grand opportunity was missed (again) to enhance this portion of town.
    Corner stores is not a discussion that has validity unless all other elements of the surrounding city are considered. The role of transit, of public space, of street grids, of density, of the configuration of the buildings, of traffic calming features and on and on.
    The problem is that the city and it’s planning arm is supposed to coordinate these elements, create a framework and have a vision of the future. Instead, piecemeal development occurs, creating dysfunctional relationships between city neighborhoods which leads to a stand alone areas such as the old Darst Webbe site, where, even with attempts at copying old architectural styles, feels as isolated from its surroundings as the old high rises it replaced.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Thanks, well stated. 

    First, to clarify, I stated storefronts — not stores.  One is a form type and one is a use.  These storefronts might be used as “live within” units where the resident uses the space fully as residential or perhaps has a home-based business.  The idea is that over time the architecture can accommodate demographic changes.  People like “the dude” get hung up on specific uses and if the market doesn’t exist (or think it doesn’t exist) at the moment they are preparing their “professional” opinion they fail to think about form and forms of the city and how these might be flexible to allow for change to occur as it will.  Real Estate Agents, contractors, management companies, lawyers, medical professionals, graphic designers, financial consultants, accountants and such can all operate out of small storefronts.  These are future demands but current reality.  But again, my concern is on urban form not getting all bogged down in specific uses.]

  21. the dude says:

    Well, to be honest, I misunderstood your comments regarding “storefronts”. I assumed you were advocating structures be built with the intention that actual retail businesses might occupy those spaces. If you are talking about the importance designing buildings with facades that appear like storefronts or that can be used by small service providers, more power to you, it looks cute.

  22. GMichaud says:

    It is possible, with all of the right elements in place to put retail businesses in storefronts. Joe Konen, extension specialist at Ohio State University says, “Higher Density Development contributes to the viability of a wider range of businesses, resulting in more destinations for residents to walk to
    7 units per acre or higher support a small corner store;a small supermarket requires 18 units per acre” Success has to do with many other factors mentioned above, the point being, it is possible for a corner retail store to succeed. And as I pointed out there were a number of corner grocers in Soulard based on these higher densities.

    It all comes down to what kind of city people want to build. One with big box stores and you drive up to a massive parking lot. Or a small scale, creative, individualistic city were the business reflects personal philosophies of the owners, rather than corporate philosophies of big capitalists.
    This is a simplification of the issues, but a warranted summary. It is exactly where model cities and urban renewal fell apart. Even today, many in city government still have not advanced beyond the model cities mode of thinking. Clear evidence is the clearing of the old small ammunition plant on Goodfellow with the stated purpose to attract a big box store. Is this the best use of the site?, I don’t know, but it is not like any other possibilities are considered.
    To quote Joe Konen again “Higher density development contributes to the viability of a wider range of businesses,
    resulting in more destinations for residents accessible by walking.
    Because of the residential density, shops, houses, restaurants and schools may be located close to each other, allowing people to walk a reasonable (5-10 minute) walk.”
    This is an alternative approach to massive box stores and parking lots.
    What is the city to become? What is the philosophy of city building in St. Louis?, or is there one?

  23. john says:

    Perhaps not a philosophy but a set of priorities does exist… I believe at the top is PARKING LOT.

  24. the dude says:

    GM makes an excellent point regarding corner or small scale retail in St. Louis. The Central West End, Soulard, The Loop, South Grand all have corner or small scale retail. Why are these locations succeeding in today’s market? I think that one reason which is often overlooked is the availability of parking in these areas. The West End has one public parking garage and is getting another, South Grand has the parking behind Breadco, The Loop has a massive parking lot behind Blockbuster and a garage. The second reason these locations succeed in today’s market is that they are not dependent on just the neighborhood itself. People come from all over the metro area to visit these locations. These areas aren’t true neighborhood retail, they are destination retail. People come to these areas for the experience, not for convenience. It is true that if you have enough density, neighborhood retail storefronts can be successful, but you can’t plunk Manhattan down on vacant land. City building is an iterative process and density doesn’t and cannot occur overnight. You can try to build structures with foresight to expand to accomodate additional density in the future like (I think) Steve was advocating, but these structures also have to be financially viable in the short term if they are to be built.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, true neighborhood retail takes a lot of density to support retail businesses.  However, storefronts occupied by resident/grahic artists or financial advisors is not density dependent.  Furthermore, this does not require costly parking garages or large scale surface parking lots.  Where we lack in parking is for 2-wheel vehicles.

    The inclusion of some storefronts in the old Darst Webbe area would have enabled this area to potentially provide a destination for people outside the area — and potentially provided a few more jobs.  Instead we go the same old thinking of separation of uses — no mixing of retail, office, apartments, houses and senior living.  Just because it has some red brick does not necessarily make it appropriate in a city neighborhood.]  

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