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Saint Louis’ Former Pruitt-Igoe Site Should Be Developed as a Green Neighborhood

June 13, 2007 Downtown, Environment, North City, Planning & Design 13 Comments

The long abandonded site of the former Pruitt-Igoe urban renewal project, imploded in the early 1970s, should be redeveloped into a LEED-Certified green neighborhood. Yes, 35 years after being vacated and imploded, the majority of the site remains vacant (excluding weeds and trash).

For those not familiar with the new green lingo, LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and is part of a rating system created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Originally started as a means for rating new buildings, the USGBC (in conjunction with others) is developing a program known as LEED for Neigborhood Development.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Many, if not most, of the readers here have seen the above image, the classic symbol used to argue the failure of modern architecture and of high-rise public housing. To me it is more importantly a symbol of the failure of modern urban planning where compact, connected, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods were replaced with disconnected superblocks, unpleasant to those who traversed the area. This post is not about debating the design or causes of failure of the Pruitt-Igoe complex that once occupied nearly 60 acres on St. Louis’ near north side (google map), this is about what should happen on the site now.

As the headline indicates, I want to see the now overgrown site developed into a “green” neighborhood, following the USGBC’s LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System, still in a pilot stage at this writing (download 157-page PDF here). In these rating systems they have required items for all projects and then a point system to determine at which level the project is certified. Here are some highlights (various terms quoted from full document):

In the area of Smart Location & Linkage points can be earned through brownfields redevelopment, reduction in auto dependence, bicycle networks, proximity of housing to jobs and schools. Under the area of Neighborhood Pattern & Design prerequisits include open community (no gates) and compact development. Points can be earned through diversity of uses, diversity of housing types, a portion of the project as affordable housing (rental and for sale), a reduced parking footprint, walkable streets, access to public spaces, universal access, and even local food production. Additional points can be earned by having certified green buildings, building reuse and adaptive reuse, minimal site disturbance in both site design and construction. Points can also be given for the solar orientation and advanced technologies such as district heating & cooling. These are all explained in great detail in the full document.

In each of these areas they outline the number of possible points that can be earned toward certification and at what level. In each area they spell out an intent, the requirements and the various submittals necessary to obtain certification. As an example, under ‘Walkable Streets’ within Neighborhood Pattern & Design the intent is to,

Provide appealing and comfortable pedestrian street environments in order to promote pedestrian activity. Promote public health through increased physical activity.

The intent is straightforward but the requirements are lengthy and include many project-specific calculations. However, a few of the requirements among this list are pretty logical:

a) A principal functional entry of each building has a front facade that faces a public space such as a street, square, park, paseo, or plaza.

c) Continuous sidewalks or equivalent provisions for walking are provided along both sides of all streets within the project. New sidewalks must be at least 4 feet wide. Equivalent provisions for walking include woonerfs and footpaths.

d) All streets along non-residential or mixed use blocks within the project, whether new or existing, are designed for a maximum speed of 25 mph.

St. Louis’ Mayor Slay should take a bold step by sending out a RFP (Request for Proposals) to develop this embarrassing site into a mixed-use LEED-certified neighborhood. In a somewhat related matter, the Missouri legislature recently passed legislation aimed at large scale redevelopment of areas in need (75 acre minimums) without any real development criteria other than the minimum size. The state needs to revisit this issue, incorporating many of the guidlines for development encouraged by the drafters of this rating system.

Click here to visit the USBGC’s website on LEED for Neighborhood Development.


Currently there are "13 comments" on this Article:

  1. john says:

    Perhaps a step in the right direction but insufficient. The “green” area would be surrounded by a transportation system that favors highways over boulevards, parking lots over people-friendly squares, polluting autos over other alternatives, etc. A more important step would be require that all roads are built as Complete Streets and then we could actually begin to live green. Otherwise the green investment in homes alone would be overwhelmed by other factors. The critical variable in becoming green rests with transportation infrastructure… that is where the solutions will be found. Currently our neighborhoods and properties are being designed to conform with a transportation system that guarantees more noise, pollution, waste, obesity, expenses, etc. and lowers the quality of life. At the same time many believe that the auto-dependent culture is unsustainable and may financially bankrupt many. This is the issue that defines our future much more than the LEED movement.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, transportation is very important.  Read the full rating system and you will see sections on transit with more points awarded based on the number of daily stops within a certain radius of the stops.  The is currently served by buses and with enough density could see an increase in service.  The proximity to downtown and say the Union Station metrolink stop is quite good.  Travel distance to A.G. Edwards (soon to be Wachovia) is not that much.  New lofts and condos are within a few blocks of the south edge of the site.]

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    Is there really a market for a project like this here? (Remember, for many people, perception is reality.) And/or a large enough site (or the potential and the will to assemble one) to create its own market? If not, I’d vote for focusing the city’s limited resources on more-viable proposals.

    Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with the city attaching reasonable (or even unreasonable) expectations on any project where it acts as a partner with a private developer (TIF’s, cheap land, infrastructure, etc.). LEED standards are the future, and being green can be a successful marketing tool. But we continue to struggle with ill-conceived and poorly-thought-through projects in the city (see previous posts, including the one five or six down from here). We walk a fine line between optimism and folly, and our money needs to (continue to) be invested in our successful parts of town as well as in chasing dreams. Like they say, a rising tide raises all boats . . .

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system talks about many factors of neighborhood design such as street design speed, sidewalks and such.  And maybe the market doesn’t exist — I was suggesting the city issue an RFP.  Maybe nobody is interested but maybe some developer, perhaps even from out of state, would be interested in taking on the project.  Like other large projects, it could be phased in.  It is very close to the emerging downtown west area and just west of a nice Hope VI project.  With talk of tax credits for a big development just to the north that potentially razes existing buildings and uses eminent domain it makes more sense to me to develop that which has been vacant for several decades.]

  3. James says:

    I’m betting there is a market. Paul McKee isn’t assembling Blairmont-world for his health. He sure thinks there is a market for something. Unfortunately experience has shown that even when he thinks he’s doing the right thing (Winghaven) it still pretty much sucks.

    I visited New Town St. Charles over the weekend. My wife absolutely loved it and said that if it were in the city she’d move there in a heartbeat. While I don’t quite agree with her sentiment, I think she might be on to something. While I think a place like that is a self selected market, it sure seems to be hot and in demand.

    What I did notice was that besides the inherent compactness and alternative transporation concerns in a new urbanist development, there seemed to be no thought given to sustainability in New Town. A LEED-ND/New Urbanist approach might be exactly what is needed to reinhabit the north side.

    New Town shows me there is demand for traditional looking housing and new urbanist planning. McRee town shows me there is a demand for new-construction housing in the city. The lofts show me there is demand for housing in and on the edge of downtown. EcoUrban Homes shows me there is a demand for sustainable development in the city. Let’s mix them all together and see what we come up with.

  4. Encoded says:

    It’s still a bit early in the game but I’d go a step further and say I’d like to see an infill-specific formulation of this rating system so that neighborhoods could integrate it into an enforceable part of their building code. It seems that given its focus , it could be just as defensible, if not more so, as form-based code.

  5. McRee Town was and is urban renewal! How can you cite this as success?

    In a June 18 1964 issue of the Globe Democrat, a 1964 GAO Report notes that in the Mill Creek Valley, and Koscuisko Urban Renewal Districts, hundreds of people were relocated to similarly substandard housing. Thus, even the goals of those projects were not attained. We we do know is that huge redevelopment and relocation plans simply do not work.

    How about an “infill development plan” for the North Side!

    Why do planners and City Officials have to categorically judge what already exists, and is completely viable, as substandard? We do not need large New Urbanist projects in the North Side. These large projects belong in areas where there is no existing infrastructure. The only area big enough, in the City, to support a larger project is Pruitt-Igoe. That site was created through the destruction of DeSoto-Carr which was also considered “substandard.” Soulard was also considered substandard! Why don’t we consider how far that “horrible area” has come?

    Besides a New Urbanist/LEED project in Pruitt Igoe, the rest should be rehabilitation of existing housing and also new urban infill construction. Yet, even though McKee has billions at his disposal, we can bet that he will qualify most of the North Side as “substandard.” He will receive much praise by City Officials as he bulldozes those neighborhoods which are viable and could be rehabilitated with monetary incentives.

    McRee Town set the stage and proved that politically urban renewal can be done in the City of St. Louis, even though that policy lead to the City’s current state of decline. In effect, the Citizens of St. Louis have bought into a scam which has already been proven a horrendous failure.

  6. M says:

    He didn’t say McRee Town was a success if you read the post, he said it shows there is a demand, which is 100% true. The houses have sold fairly easily. Whether the planning and design is a success, well that is clearly up for debate.

  7. Kara says:

    I think a green neighborhood is a great idea for this site. As part of being green an electric streetcar line could be installed, starting at Jefferson and Cass and heading South, then turning left and heading East along the length of Market St. This would link the green project to a project to redevelop Market and Chestnut (which would need to happen if the new Mall will be a success).

  8. Tyson says:

    Very nice idea. Given the site’s history, I’d like to see the project go for as many LEED points as possible through low to moderate income housing. I’d also like to know the specifics of what all it would require to clean up the site to get it ready for development. Is the soil contaminated by anything? I believe some the building foundations are still in the ground and may need to be removed. It would be nice if our Uncle Sam would partner with the city to make the land developable since they had a large hand in creating the current mess.

  9. Chuck Truck says:

    This is still kinda on-topic because this is an aspect of green development. Speaking of streetcar lines, St. Charles is in discussion of installing a streetcar line that would connect New Town to historic St. Charles, the St. Charles Convention Center, and the Ameristar Casino. They won’t connect to the larger, regional network but it looks like they’re making a sensible move internally.

  10. James says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, M. You are correct, I was just pointing out demand, not a comment on the quality of McRee town.
    I think Douglas is exactly right that the area needs preservation of existing buildings plus urban infill. But we’ve all seen plenty of suburban style infill, especially in the north side. I think a new urbanist style new development at Pritt-Igoe could lead directly to good urban infill.
    We belong to the New Roots CSA and drove west on North Market for quite a stretch last Friday. Sure seems to me like there’s going to be more fill than existing for most of that area. Vast areas of clear land already.

  11. John W. says:

    I am not certain that Mr. McKee owns this parcel (LRA owns these 34 acres of the original 57 acres of land if not mistaken), but a sustainable development in the spirit of LEED-ND (or the front sections of LEED-NC or LEED-H) is certainly plausible and in order. It may be best to not categorize all new neighborhood developments with proper urban form as New Urbanist, but only simply because this counterproductive (and not deliberate) conflation with Duany’s now co-opted Neo-traditionalist term obscures the goal. DPZ will continue their practice of historicizing planned communities based upon everything we learned in school about Radburn et al, but the so-called New Urbanists penchant for grabbing many contiguous acres of previously undeveloped greenfields in the hinterlands and avoiding the challenge of urban infill on brownfields will not soon change. The New Urbanists are apparently content to repeat the experiment ad nauseum across this country, and layout frighteningly over-ordered ideal towns replete with strict axes and obelisks and superfluous water canals. None of this however dimishes certain basic formal language of neighborhood development that is time-tested and proper. The basic streetscape diagrams and building densities are shared with simply good urban form throughout history. DPZ doesn’t own a patent on these principles nor are other urban development efforts devoid of these very important qualities. Jane Jacobs, Charles Jencks, Christopher Alexander, Lewis Mumford and all the others had already shown us all what the truest qualities of good urban form are about long before Duany and company planned Seaside.

    The Pruitt-Igoe site should absolutely be considered for a new sustainable development at the neighborhood scale, and the many blocks immediately to the north surrounding St. Louis Park should be included in this discussion. A PUD may be the only way, considering the vast area needed to control housing unit types and the attendant mixed-use amenities so vital to community sustainability, and as an overlay a carefully zoned PUD could provide a framework for just the type form-based compact development we all know is what our city so badly needs. The North/South corridor metrolink extensions will be years in the making, and getting ahead of the eventual transit lines would help this area around Pruitt-Igoe in the near north side be large and trend-setting form-based neighborhood with some critical internal TOD. Now, if we can just get enough volunteers with machetes and lawn mowers to clear away that overgrown wilderness we’ll be moving in the right direction. Maybe a documentary film could be made chronicling the transformation of this formerly infamous site and even have Philip Glass compose the score.

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