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SLU’s New Pedestrian Mall to be an “Urban Oasis”

August 24, 2007 Midtown, Pedestrian Mall, Planning & Design, SLU, Transportation 16 Comments

Saint Louis University is continuing its quest to completely screw up the city’s historic grid system of streets by closing yet another street. From the sound of it, the city could solve our crime problems simply by removing streets. Here is the full press release:

August 21, 2007

Matt McEuen

Green Space, Flowers to be Added to Medical Center
Saint Louis University soon will increase beauty, safety and accessibility to the Medical Center with a new pedestrian mall.

The area along Vista Avenue between Grand Boulevard and Carr Lane Avenue will be transformed into an urban oasis that mimics green space near the Doisy College of Health Sciences building as well as parts of campus north of I-64/Hwy. 40. The section will be bordered by the School of Medicine complex on the north and the building that now houses the department of neurology and psychiatry on the south.

Pedestrians will be welcomed to the mall [by] one of SLU’s signature red brick monuments, and beautiful landscaping, trees and flowers will provide a parklike atmosphere. Safety also will be enhanced, as city streetlights will be replaced by upgraded lighting that will shine brightly on the mall.

In addition, SLU’s design and construction team is extending the “green” attributes of the Edward A. Doisy Research Center to the mall project. By removing heat-soaked pavement and adding more grass, the area will become more environmentally friendly.

Work on the new pedestrian mall is scheduled to begin soon and has been approved by both SLU and St. Louis City. In preparation, Vista Avenue between Grand Boulevard and Carr Lane Avenue will close permanently the morning of Friday, Aug. 24, and all parking meters will be removed. Parking still will be available along other city streets, and patients visiting the neurology and psychiatry department may park in the rear of that building.

I’m not sure where to start exactly. I know, let’s start on Vista Avenue a couple of blocks to the East.


While these blocks have had some demolition, most likely by SLU buying up properties and razing the buildings, the area is solid and enjoys lovely tree-lined streets. You don’t think you are in the CWE by any means but it is pleasant enough.

However, the institutions are invading the area. Rather than use the neglect tactic offered by Paul McKee, SLU and others use the cut of their street access method to de-value an area. Vista, the last remaining street between Park and Chouteau open to Grand, is the 5th such street to be closed. Earlier projects have eroded the grid and forced traffic onto other roads. With each closed street the power and control of a single institution grows and neighbors can see the writing on the wall — don’t bother investing in the home and neighborhood because we will be next. And so it goes…


Bicyclists and others that prefer low-speed side streets are increasingly forced onto bigger and bigger roads. Motorists too are forced onto the same streets as well, adding to congestion that at one time was mitigated by a variety of choices. So now cars that might be on seven east-west streets have only two. This is why suburbia doesn’t work well — all the traffic is forced onto big roads. With each street closing we make our city less and less bike friendly. The above cyclist, with his helmet tilted too far back and not protecting his forehead, is riding northbound on Carr Lane Ave (yes, Lane + Ave). The block of Vista to be closed is the background.


Above, this woman walked along Carr Ln as did many others — all heading to the above entrance where Carr Ln used to continue north.


Again, many are headed into this “front” entrance where Carr Ln once existed. As you can see, many arrive by bike.

Rather than remaking Vista into an “oasis” it would be nice to see somebody do something with Carr Ln. Above is looking southbound from Vista. This is one block east of and parallel with Grand. Carr Ln gets considerable bike & pedestrian traffic yet it is a horrible street — rough pavement and lacking sidewalks on both sides! It seems many SLU Medical school folks are parking on Park Ave for free rather than use SLU’s oversized parking garages.


OK, I lied. Carr Ln does have a sidewalk on the west side of the street, shown above. I’m sure as people continue to walk in the street, soon to have more traffic due to the closing of Vista, they will be comforted knowing that on Vista they will have flowers and a ubiquitous SLU brick marker.


They walk in the street because the debris from SLU’s retaining wall and overgrown weeks block what little remains of the one sidewalk.


Getting closer to the corner with Vista the plants are quite large and the sidewalk area is completely un-passable. No wonder people walk in the streets. But, I can’t see SLU or the city fixing this small section of street as it is likely next on their list to close. Like McKee they have a master plan kept hidden from public view.


Vista Ave, above, is an ordinary street. Nothing special about it really other than it serves its purpose of connecting people and places. Removing the street and adding in a wide sidewalk and some greenery is not going to make it special. Improved lighting is good but without people passing by on cars or bikes the pedestrian is vulnerable. Security would be enhanced by improving lighting and having actual building entrances onto the street. This block contains 19 short-term and convenient parking spaces.

The above building is on the south side of the upcoming oasis. This modern building is attractive enough but the side facing Vista is lifeless. The side facing Grand is lifeless too —- the entrance has been closed off.


Yes, in one of the classic ways to kill a street the entrance has been cut off. Both sides of Grand have seen entrances removed for years — gradually removing people from the sidewalks.


Signs, such as the one on the above entry, encourage you to use the parking lot entrance. Nice.  Yesterday, the day before the street closing, no signs were posted alerting the public about the planned change.  It will likely come as a complete surprise to many. 
Very deliberate actions have been and are being taken which reduce pedestrian friendliness, make cycling less accessible, force cars onto fewer and fewer through streets and signal to neighbors that they are next to be forced out. All this is done in the guise of improving an area and making it better. Over a long period of time this university’s “investment” is welcomed by everyone. Clever, very clever.


Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jimski says:

    Oh, God forbid we have a campus that looks like a campus instead of a street that looks like a ghost town.

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    I guess this is just another example of doing things the “old” way – since this is/was public property, shouldn’t there be a more public and transparent process?!

  3. Nik says:

    Hate to nit-pick on a good post, but it’s Carr Lane Avenue because it’s named for William Carr Lane, first mayor of St. Louis.

    [SLP — Thanks, that helps explain the name. It certainly doesn’t help explain the condition and the fact very little of this street is left.]

  4. LisaS says:

    Judging from the process of vacating Buckingham Court here in the CWE–a very well-used street which was handed over to Opus for their new loft building adjacent to the Park East Tower and construction of the Joseph Roddy, Sr. Parking Garage (I kid you not, that’s it’s name, look at the sign)–there were probably signs posted and a hearing held that nobody noticed. Not that it would have made any difference anyway–the deals were already cut. Ah, the joys of local control.

  5. r. willis says:


    As you know, I am a transportational cyclist and a sometimes strident advocate for the needs of transportational cyclists. And I am not wild about allowing a private, sectarian university to control the public space.

    However, in this case I am not quite on the same page with you (and frankly I do not understand your gripe with pedestrian malls generally). There are not so awfully many blocks between Chouteau and Park, and very few cyclists would want to enter Grand in that interval anyway — certainly not to scurry across six or eight lanes and a median barrier to connections that do not connect directly anyway on the other side. Pushing auto traffic to the larger through streets is a good thing, and the quieter side streets (it seems to me, but maybe not — you are the real estate guy, not me) should be more amenable to residential property values. It is remotely possible that the entire streetscape project will include cleaning up Carr Lane Avenue.

    [SLP — You happen to be a very skilled cyclist and like myself, a League Cycling Instructor (LCI).  We are both comfortable riding in traffic situations.  But the beauty of a grid system is that someone can meander through less traveled roads and eventually reach their decision.  Sure, a few blocks here and a few there are not big deal but combined it is a big deal — the complete dismantling of an effective street grid.  Once broken down, as we see in the CBD, it takes very little for congestion to occur.]

  6. Mary E. Homan, MA says:

    So much of this is about safety!! When I was a freshman in the physical therapy program, we’d take the Grand shuttle from North campus to the med campus. We were always harassed by random people. They started closing off the Grand entrances after hours then. There were always people walking over from the hospital and trying to get into the building. One of my good friends is a 4th year Med student and on more than 1 occasion have had guys (not med students) wander in, sleep, eat, whatever in their student lounge. Now the rules are that you’re not supposed to walk down there alone, especially if you’re a girl. When my mom was on the top floor of the nursing school some 20 odd years ago, it was really unsafe for her to wait outside of the building and then Caroline was closed off a couple years later. And to say that area is nice is ridiculous!! Yes, there are some well-kept houses and nice folks but it is not somewhere I would ever walk around by myself. I use the LRC library often and I would never think of parking on Vista–even to quick run in and pick up a book. There are a number of loose dogs that run around there as well as the fabulous drug pushers. Vista and Carr Lane is an ugly spot and it’s been that way for the whole time I’ve been on SLU’s campus which is 25 years. More power to SLU for cleaning up a really rough area.

    [SLP — I believe that SLU has continually made the area around their campuses less safe through closed streets, gates and other measures.  This hostile treatment to those around them sucks the life out of them — making them good prey for criminals and eventually the biggest criminal — the university which sweeps in and picks up the properties for a song so they can be razed —- continuing the cycle.  The fact remains is that pretty flowers doesn’t compensate for an active street.  SLU’s closing of streets for years has cut down on what used to be active streets.  But the only ones left are those going to a SLU building and those that seek to take advantage of that fact.]

  7. Maurice says:

    SLU did not bring that area down. Mary is right in that 20 years ago, the area all around (and for many many many blocks) was unsafe at all hours.

    Years of neglect, high crime, flight, drugs brought down that neighborhood.

    Was that SLU’s fault? I think not.

  8. WWSPD says:

    “[SLP — I believe that SLU has continually made the area around their campuses less safe through closed streets, gates and other measures. ”

    Do you have any crime statistics to support your belief?

    [SLP — How does the saying go?  “There are lies, damn lies and statistics!”  We can take the same data and likely prove the area is safer now than it has been in the past or prove the opposite.  Perception and reality might be different.  People see houses that are not in perfect condition, occupied by people of color and often assume the worst.  I’m a believer in Jane Jacobs and William Whyte — more people, not fewer, make streets safer.  The 14th Street pedestrian mall was done to make the area safer for shoppers but even when the stores were open the vastness of the space did not feel as safe as a street that had people driving down it, parking and putting money in meters.  Safety in numbers! 

    Can you or anyone else support the idea that it is because of closed streets that the area around SLU is now safer than it was say 20-30 years ago?  Can you show that, due to those efforts, the area is safer than it would be had those measures not been taken?  How do we know the area is not safer simply because we have a couple hundred thousand fewer people than before?  Is the entire city not safer overall today than it was 20 years ago?  Is this supported by statistics and public perception? 

    I think the act of investing in public streetscapes helps improve an area’s perception and in reality may keep criminal activity away from the area.  I’ve visited many urban campuses in other cities that manage to create a beautiful campus-like environment without closing every street between their combined property holdings. These areas are far more vibrant and offer goods and services to the general community as well as the campus they are mixed with.  SLU and say the BJC medical complex could have, in my view, kept many streets open but done new sidewalks, trees, lighting and other amenities we expect along public streets without actually closing them to through traffic.  Streets can be narrowed at campus borders to communicate a change and to slow traffic.  SLU could take this block of Vista and give it a makeover that still retains some on-street parking and through traffic while sending a message that someone cares.]

  9. john says:

    Already “been approved by both SLU and the City”… how convenient! The “environmentally friendly” claim is particularly funny. I suppose SLU just wants to join the club to further destroy value by closing transportation routes, especially for cyclists and pedestrians. This MO is so common and prevalent here that most of the community finds it acceptable and quickly defends it. Let’s hope that the execution is better than the process.

  10. WWSPD says:

    So, basically what your’e saying is your belief that the area surrounding SLU has been made LESS safe by the closing off of streets is anecdotal and you don’t have any crime statistics to show that crime has reduced over time in the surrounding area.

    Just because statistics can be massaged to show something else doesn’t completely negate their use. Just making a claim that you believe SLU has been making the area unsafe and reciting Jacobsian principles isn’t very compelling. You have Mary Homan, MA telling you her personal experience and the experience of her own mother that it’s not safe.

    You’ve said it yourself time and time again, putting down new pavers on crosswalks, fancy historical streetlights, new trees along the sidewalks, and planters with flowers doesn’t bring people to a community’s downtown. Why do you think doing the same thing along Vista would bring enough ‘eyes on the street’ to make the area safer?

    I’m not advocating one way or the other, I’m honestly trying to discuss these issues and your arguments formed around beliefs based on Jacobsian principles isn’t quite enough.

    [SLP — Mary believes, based on her experiences, the area is safer.  We do not know if this is reality or simply perception.  I believe, based on my experiences, the area is safer but not due to closing streets.  Neither has stats to support the effectiveness of the street closures being the key rather than simply an increased presence of security, additional lighting, clear investment in sidewalks and other amenities. 

    Everyone is simply willing to believe that it is the act of closing streets to motor vehicles that makes all the difference in the world — that keeping the street open but giving it a make over, new lighting and increased security isn’t critical — it is the removal of cars.  I do know that car thefts along this block will be significantly reduced by the mere fact that cars won’t be there to steal.  Look, an instant drop in crime stats!!!  Actually, car theft is a major type of crime in St. Louis so if we simply banned cars from within the city we could show a 100% drop in car theft.]

  11. STeel says:

    After working for SLU’s department of public Safety for over 3 years I can honestly say that safety isn’t the real issue here. The majority of the crime that occurs in and around this area of campus is property crimes (auto break-ins, auto theft, property damage); The vast majority of which occurs on the streets surrounding the closed-off area of campus. Sure the there are several drug dealers, but they rarely interact with and SLU-affiliated people unless its students purchasing some weed to help cope with rigorous coursework. Also the majority of the property crime could be eliminated by the victims taking extra steps to secure their vehicles and/and remove or store out of sight any valuables.

    I feel that by closing off streets and creating campus pedestrian malls SLU creates more victims than it prevents. Let me explain: By creating these suburban-style “pedestrian oasises” SLU is removing the reality that they are an urban campus. I have heard several people say when walking down the West-Pine Mall they can’t believe they are in the middle of the city. The suburban feel created by these malls provides a false sense of security for its patrons. The reality SLU is an urban campus, it is not located in the safest area in town, and there is nothing stopping any predators entering its boarders. All faculty, staff, students, and visitors should act as such. Part of not becoming a victim is being aware of your surroundings.

    Now on to the design aspects: Part of what drew me to SLU originally was the fact that it was an urban campus. One of the great things about an urban campus is that often the community in which they reside shapes them as much as they help shape that community. Unfortunately for SLU this is not the case. Instead of embracing the community in which its a member, SLU closes off streets and puts up gates and fencing, making it an island unto itself. This acts negatively in both directions. SLU fails to help the community deal with current problems, and essentially strangles it by literally blocking avenues of improvement. Likewise, SLU doesn’t allow any part of the surrounding neighborhood to help influence its development. Just look at the architecture of SLU’s buildings- certainly not reflective of what is/or once was surrounding the campus.
    Pedestrian malls are not negative design ideas, however they should be used in moderation. Simply closing off streets in order to increase your area of control is not good practice. This is provincial thinking on part of the University and St. Louis city for allowing it. Closing these streets affects all people who would be using them to navigate the city. This in turn can affect traffic, commerce, and crime in the surrounding areas
    There are plenty examples of safe college campuses located in inner cities that have chosen to be part of the community where they reside, instead of quarantining themselves.

    SLU’s pedestrian malls are nothing more than a power play, furthering their development plans to amass as much of midtown as possible. I honestly believe these malls have very little to do with the safety of its patrons. Once you close off these streets they are gone for good. They are no longer public space. This is what needs to be carefully considered by those approving the plans. At what price does the city of St. Louis sell our public property to private institutions?

  12. Steven Smith says:

    That is what they did on the main campus while I was there. They would cut us off of the neighborhood with the fortress that SLU became, with the outer perimeter gates and limited entrances. Then instead of teaching street smarts, they used scare tactics to keep us out of the adjacent neighborhoods which increasingly became economically depressed and detached. Then the Univesity sucked up the properties. It was sad and, even more so of a missed opportunity to revitalize the area. Instead, midtown is a high end only artsy destination with minimal student life. So sad.

  13. john says:

    Universities are damaging neighborhoods and destroying the revenue tax base at the same time? As tax-free institutions, when our worshipped and revered local universities buy up neighboring properties, the tax base is destroyed as these properties no longer generate property taxes. Therefore the financial burdens on the rest of the community are increased so as to compensate for the lossed revenues.
    Even in Clayton, WashU buys up homes valued at between $1 to $2 million each. Each of these properties previously generated real estate property taxes of over $12,000/year. Now? Everyone else must pay more having a tax-free institution as their neighbor. Land grabs by free-riding institutions have a long and sordid history… now that our local free-riders are learning how to play the game, will StLouisan’s roll over and play dead? These free-riders should be legally required to pay taxes (especially on their residential units and research labs) and/or build up, not out.

  14. Mary E. Homan, MA says:

    To come back to this issue again, I (totally qualitative here) believe there a very different culture between North (Frost) campus and the Med campus. My office is even further south at Grand and Lafayette.

    I do appreciate the former DPS officer offering their experience. I do think that students on Frost do forget they’re in an urban area and do really stupid stuff like leaving backpacks out, cars unlocked, dorm doors open, stumble home drunk, etc. I was one of those undergrads who despite having lived in the City my whole life had to remind myself that just because I was shielded didn’t mean I was necessarily protected. However, that is definitely not the case on the Med Campus. Caroline needed to be closed for a lot of reasons. One of the best being the allowance of nursing and allied health students running back-and-forth across Caroline to get into the LRC. Then when they built the parking garages and closed off the alley, people weren’t afraid to walk to their cars. —-end of qualitative here—-

    I went to the SafeCity website to look at the service calls being made in the last 8 mos in just a 1/2 mile radius–basically the whole Med campus.
    There were 1996 calls made in these months and the following classifications:
    2 Murder
    4 Sexual Assault
    28 Stolen Autos
    17 Weapons
    13 Neighborhood Issues
    68 Peace Disturbances
    5 Crimes Against Children
    16 Kidnapping
    Granted these are raw numbers and not rates which would be based on one of 3 things: 1. denominator consisting of total population living in area; 2. denominator consisting of total “at risk” population of whole area; 3. denominator consisting of total population living and/or working in area. So I’ll spare the statistics and leave the raw numbers.

    Nobody had done anything with that ugly piece land at the south entrance to the LRC. Maybe it’s just my anecdotal experience or my indignation that statisticians lie (I don’t lie in my profession).

  15. STeel says:

    “I went to the SafeCity website to look at the service calls being made in the last 8 mos”

    The problem with the SafeCity website is it only displays the “calls for service” This means that if there is one gunshot 10 different call could be made for that incident. It also doesn’t show whether these calls for service were legitimate or unfounded. I do feel that the the Med campus has greater risk for crime however, the Department of Public Safety’s crimes stats do not reflect this.

    The big thing here is that there are much better ways to deal with crime than closing off streets. But then again, I doubt crime has much to do with the University closing off these streets.

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