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What Local Control Gets Us In St. Louis

Yeah, Rep. Rodney Hubbard saved the day by requiring local control over any development receiving a huge state tax credit (at least in the version passed by the state house). So, if passed by the Senate and signed by Gov Blunt then Paul McKee will have to make political contributions to aldermanic campaigns, not just those of the Mayor and President of the Board of Aldermen. With contribution limits back in place it really shouldn’t cost him much. For all 28 aldermen that is less than ten grand. Pocket change.

And for anyone that thinks that magically the development we’ll get will magically be better due to local control think again. Here are a few reminders of local control in St. Louis:

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New sidewalks between residential areas and mass transit lacking street trees.


Massive parking lots but no ADA access route.


Once great urban mixed-use buildings dismantled for the used bricks.

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Pretend pedestrian entrances leading to a drive-thru and fence.

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Beautiful buildings replaced with generic Walgreen’s stores.

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Strip shopping centers that ignore pedestrians, forcing them to create their own entryways.


Prominent corners in emerging commercial districts paved for parking, lacking a single pedestrian entry/exit from parking lot forcing those who use it to walk in the auto drive.


So suburban of housing the suburbs no longer build such stuff.

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Officials parking on the sidewalks.


Taxi stands placed on the sidewalk at pedestrian crossings to a convention center.


Parking garages on nearly every corner of the CBD (Central Business District).

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Ugly stairs intruding into the public right of way.


Building entrances planned that block the public sidewalk.

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Poorly planned subdivisions left unfinished over political squabbles.

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Poor planning which accelerated abandonment and decay.

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Lack of design review which leads to windowless appendages on prominent buildings.


Paved front yards.


More unfinished suburban development in the city.


Lifeless parking garages.


Brick markers awaiting their role to close off areas where buildings once stood.


Razing of historic and urban structures for anti-urban surface parking.


Crosswalks that don’t align with ramps.


More parking.


How about a big casino? Money from gambling will solve our social problems.


Blank walls and no trees.


A drive-thru separating pedestrian from entrance.


Abusive valet companies, little to no enforcement to keep them from taking an entire block.


Proliferation of advertising on more parking.


New housing with no relationship to old housing.

Horrible environments pretending to be Architecture.

Razing historic mansions for promised development.

Razing the 1960s solution for the newer solution. Earlier solution cleared existing neighborhood.

Razing hundreds of buildings to create a useless open space. Revisiting dead zone every ten years to attempt to fix problem.

Copying suburban ideas, expecting them to work in the urban core.

Buildings razed for parking but parking banned on excessively wide streets.

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Anti-urban senior prisons.

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Streets closed for more useless plazas. Traffic congestion created as a result of so few through streets.

Spacing between new houses as wide as the houses themselves.

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Threats of a big hole left if subsidy is not given.


Garages and driveways consuming backyards.

I have thousands of additional examples. We’ve had plenty of local control over the years. Our local officials don’t have a clue how to create a vibrant city. In fact, they seem quite skilled at doing exactly the opposite. OK, so McKee can’t get his tax credit until the Board of Aldermen pass some legislation approving a plan based on their standards. I’m not hopeful.


Currently there are "48 comments" on this Article:

  1. ohthehumanity says:

    I think I just threw up a little in my mouth …

    Steve, this photo essay could start your own list of “50 Things I Won’t Miss About St. Louis.”

    Come join us in Chicago, where such mistakes are far outweighed by real progress.


  2. wow says:

    That was depressing. Maybe I should move to new city.

  3. dutchtown says:

    Talk about teeing it up and hitting it long. Ouch! There’s something in there for everyone.

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Steve – you’re on a roll with this one. But what’s the alternative?! If it ain’t local, it’ll be non-local control! What do you want? Some bureaucrat in Jeff City doing long-distance zoning approvals?! (see St. Louis Police as one example.) If you can’t stand da bums, throw them out! It has to be possible, otherwise there would be absolutely no good stuf happening anywhere in this country!

  5. WWSPD says:

    Let’s not get hung up on mistakes from the past. I think the tone of this post is negative and gives up on the ability of local control to be effective. Perhaps you should follow this post up with a more constructive one outlining a process that could improve local control when it comes to new development. Preferably something more substantive than “just replace all the elected officials with new ones.”

    [SLP — The past? You mean like the houses under construction I saw this past Sunday? We have more of this on the way.  At the root of the problem are our elected officials and the accepting attitude of our citizens.  The current form of local control is completely ineffective.  I have indeed given up on the collective bunch to create a positive city.  Our only hope now is some enlightened developers.]

  6. Josh says:

    I agree about the negativity of the post, but I also think there’s a very valid reason for it. If something isn’t done soon, what progress the city is making (even despite all these blunders) will be for nothing. We, as the citizens of this city, need to stand up and take action. That’s how things get done. I don’t know why it’s so hard for wrongs to be righted if so many people think things are being mismanaged. Is it apathy? Is it that we’re “too busy” with the rest of our lives to worry about such important things as the condition and planning of the city where we live and work? I’m sure there are processes of removing inept “leaders” from their positions. And sure, I think you have to be careful and responsible about “throwing the bums out”. These people were elected democratically, and some (although it seems like only a handful) are worthwhile leaders that have the best of intentions. The others, I say, sure, get enough people together to toss them out on their asses, and let’s get people in there that are going to make sound decisions for a city that has the potential for greatness, but an equal propensity for dooming itself if it continues down this path.

    I also agree that a positive post would be a good way to complement this negative one, because there are plenty of good things happening that are worth mentioning.

  7. GMichaud says:

    The only successes, Soulard, Lafayette Square or the South side in general are areas barely touched by recent local control. Even in downtown, success is measured from a previous era. If there was not the semblance of an orderly urban plan from a previous era, it is doubtful a modern replacement would be of any value.
    Where is city planner Rollin Stanley in all of this? I feel like I’m asking Where’s Waldo? Maybe Rollin Stanley, fabled city planner from Toronto is a myth, and I will find him in the next children’s book that contains puzzles for preschoolers.

    [SLP — Yeah, we got a new land use plan in 2005 but the zoning changes to add teeth to the land use plan have never appeared.  Too busy placing sculptures on the Gateway Mall I guess.]

  8. Brian says:

    Since my move to Charlotte, I’ve often used the Photography section of the Urban St. Louis forums to show folks in the New South what great urbanity is back in St. Louis, a built environment I now miss. But thank you Steve for putting together the best photo collection illustrating what I don’t miss about St. Louis– its sorely lacking urban policies.

    As many regulars know, my new home and employer is formerly pro-sprawl but now turned pro-smart-growth City of Charlotte. Charlotte of today is at a crossroads, finally changing its overwhelmingly post-1950, auto-dominated landscape with increasingly adopted sensible growth policies. Such policies range from an overall strategy of targeting density within planned transit corridors to the important details of building two directional wheelchair ramps on each corner of new intersections and no more back-of-curb sidewalks unless there is on-street parking, bike lanes and/or tree wells. The new standard of six- to eight-foot minimum (depending on density) sidewalks on even low-volume local streets (and city policy explicity calls them “streets,” since roads are for cars, while streets are for everyone) also require eight-foot minimum tree lawns or equivalent furnishing/planting zones.

    Meanwhile, the City of St. Louis is largely an urban environment only by default, in that it was built mostly prior to the auto era. But if St. Louis City policies continue to be more suburban than even the many progressive suburbs in the St. Louis region, then St. Louis is at risk of losing much of its unique identity, especially in its many neighborhoods without high rents/values or protective historic districts.

  9. LisaS says:

    These photos make me wonder why I even care, when it is so apparent the direct descendants of those who made this City great a hundred years ago have no pride or interest in retaining their cultural legacy. It’s really sad.

    The security word is “challenger”–and that’s what those who want to live in an urban way here in St. Louis have to be: directly challenging the last 60 years of conventional wisdom, and creatively combining it with the wisdom of the centuries that came before.

  10. john says:

    “The ability of local control to be effective” … too funny! To ignore the past will get us more of the same. Your essay is not negative enough to be accurate. What fools… throw the scoundrels out! Brian, Josh, Lisa, and Steve are right… the city is rapidly destroying itself, especially if history and trends are honestly recognized. The list of examples illustrate destruction and an attitude of acceptance by locals of the status quo. Are you starting to reach the breaking point? Spread the money around… that’s the socialist mentality, StL-style!

  11. You forgot the Century Building and the Ambassador! We can’t forget the Kiel Opera House and Auditorium or the old Arena!

    How about bus stops with no benches or shields from the sun?

    What about McRee Town? Destroying viable housing because of crime for new suburban housing, thus eliminating our historic built environment and displacing the criminals to other neighborhoods.

    What about Craig Schmid not allowing Steve Smith to open a bar and invest more of his time and money in our City?

    What about Jennifer Florida and the South Grand McDonald’s backroom deal?

    This City is ran by idiots. I am in favor of local control however this presupposes those with control have common sense and understand what it means to live in a City!

  12. Josh says:

    Damn. I was looking at some old drawings of the real st. louis today. You know, before that massive tombstone we call the arch was built on the site where we burried our beautiful city long before it was actually dead.

    I appreciated your photo essay… while I do what I can to contribute to local business and awareness about these types of issues here, it reminded me how little I will miss about this place as a city whenever I do go somewhere else.

  13. shocked and in awe says:

    Steve, this is a brilliant post. I hope your readers attempt a change in their wards or communities. I know many of our St. Louis politicians don’t give a damn what our streets or buildings look like – Mayor Slay, are you there?. But if you tell them WHY it is important, they might listen. Let’s all be a “pain” in our elected officals behind. ((i’m suddenly feeling like Elliot Davis here))

    They will learn to listen.

  14. shocked and in awe says:

    I think, Steve, it is time for a shift in your approach. When, posting past or current mistakes in photo, you might want to show positive or inspiring solutions as well.

    I feel the politicos will not grasp their errors if they don’t know how we should solve urban environments – writing about it is only part of it. I think illustrating succesfull urban solutions, in photo essays, can be powerful.

    just a thought..

    [SLP — Agreed!  It was just so easy to grab these images.  Finding recent examples of good planning in the city is nearly impossible.  I was just looking through my 25K+ photo collection to see about some positive attribute to illustrate what I’d like to see our spaces look, feel and function like.]

  15. WWSPD says:

    Thanks, shocked and in awe.

  16. Matt says:


    You know that I think St. Louis greatly needs an “urban review.” Posts such as these confirm that. The pictures you present show, in some cases, awful oversights or downright ignorance as to sound, sustainable planning for urban environments. That said, and in furtherance of what was said by wwspd and shock and awe, why not do more about it than create a blog? I get the sense, from your passion, that it is your civic duty to do more than use a blog as your banner. Yes, I know you have written several articles. Yes, I know that you ran for alderman in the 25th Ward. Where is the Urban Review that hits the streets? Where is the active citizen’s group in each Ward that forces meetings with developers who create monstrosities and the aldermen who approve them? Ultimately, our leaders have to respond to the will of the people. Here, on Urban Review, you are preaching to a crowd of ravenous urbanists.

    Why not start a newsletter in your ward, which will reach an older crowd with less intensive internet access? Why not work to convince the residents of St. Louis that their city is worth living in? If all you want is notoriety and gadfly status, you’ve earned it. I think what you need to develop is a position of advocacy FOR sound urban planning rather than a hellbent path against the negative. It surprises me that with all the press this blog has garnered and with the Alderwoman Florida controversy that you have not capitalized on this and portrayed yourself more as a community builder rather than an Oklahoma renegade bent on destroying the defunct St. Louis political hierarchy. The ruination of that old beast comes from the bottom up. I truly believe that.

    Invite all of the 30 people who regularly leave comments to a public meeting, called Urban Review, if you will. Have someone put together a newsletter. Have Ward correspondents. Have these correspondents aggressively track aldermanic movements and offer input where necessary. With a watchdog group such as Urban Review materialized into breathing bodies, rather than an amorphous blog.

    The message is right. Its the conveyance that needs help. You are totally right. St. Louis is in dire need right now. In order to truly turn a corner, we need an advocate that can motivate people who populate the streets that are being systematically ravaged by an archaic power structure.

    Plant the seeds for that movement, and the power structure’s legs will give.

    [SLP — Matt I hear you but you need to understand where I am coming from.  I was in your place once — early 20s and eager to fully realize the potential that St. Louis had and still has.  But this city sucked that life right out of me in the 17 years I’ve been here. I’m at a different point in my life.

    The fact remains that I have roughly 24,000 unique visitors per month — a far greater number than I could reach with a printed newsletter and far more than I ever imagined this to be.  Sure, most are lurkers but many are from city hall and places where decisions are made.  And from the comments you can tell I am not preaching to the choir, many disagree.  However, the feedback I receive from individuals that are inspired to take some action is very encouraging.  I can’t be everything to everyone.  In the end I have to do what I want to do with my considerable time spent on this site.  I spend as much behind the scenes if you will helping others in their own neighborhoods as well as pushing politicians to be more progressive as I do on the part you see.  I feel I’m doing more than my share.

    But like everyone else I have to earn a living and, as you know, I am working on a Masters in Urban Planning & Real Estate Development at SLU.  Once I complete that endeavor I may be open to starting some sort of organization meant to mobilize the troops.  Notoriety is interesting but when it comes to getting stuff done you still have only so many hours in the day.  I can only accomplish so much in a single day and I’m the only one that determines my priorities.]

  17. GMichaud says:

    The only two streets that I can think of that reflect a decent job of local control are Sutton, south of Manchester in Maplewood, and the extension of the U City Loop into the city. Both streets have multiple buildings that at least try to recognize there is an urban environment that surrounds them. I’m not sure if the city of Maplewood or St Louis demanded development to respect these streets or not, in the case of St. Louis it was probably Joe Edwards.
    Other than the historic districts, it seems as you point out “enlightened developers” are the only way a cohesive urban environment can be built. What is really scary, beyond the streets themselves is that the planning for a transit orientated, commercial and residentially dense neighborhoods seems to be out of the question.
    I’m afraid you’re right also that the political arena is one that is simply bought by whoever has the money. Not only bought to do as asked, but also for the government to donate money to their cause. For developers like McKee, it is now so bad taxpayers are paying him to cut grass on his property. What is amazing is how the Rodney Hubbard’s of the world stand up and act as if all of this is okay with a serious face. Citizens might be able to stomach this corruption if everything turned out nicely, but as your photos illustrate, that is not happening.
    In fact it is astounding to me the pervasive corruption is taken for granted, by the press, by the feds and even by many citizens. I guess the feds won’t clamp down on it since it’s how they do business also.
    There is no respect for the people and the culture we live in, its a leadership that will grab, steal and con any way they can to line their pockets. And then they wonder why a 15 year old does not respect the cops and the city he lives in.
    The political and corporate leadership can’t find the money for social programs, health care, transit or many needs of the people, but hey, Paul McKee needs to cut the grass at his property, and next thing you know, the state legislature and Governor Blunt are there to serve him.

  18. dude says:

    it was good to see the american flag on pic2. really, it should have been in all of them.

    [SLP — That was only there for opening day.  They do not fly the flag otherwise.]

  19. So this is your answer to all the people who question you about your pursuit of supposedly trivial issues like valet parking, sidewalks, etc? Well said, and much more persuasive than just saying “Look, it all adds up, y’know?”

  20. WWSPD says:

    “I was in your place once — early 20s and eager to fully realize the potential that St. Louis had and still has. But this city sucked that life right out of me in the 17 years I’ve been here. I’m at a different point in my life.”

    So what concerns me now is that we have someone that is jaded and bitter from working in St. Louis and not seeing anything he deemed progressive enough develop in the 17 years that he’s been here. By your own admission and to many people in the planning program, you DO NOT work well with others. You do not work well in groups. And you are in an urban planning program. This raises a few questions for me.

    Why are you in an urban planning program at all if you don’t work well in groups?

    How did you expect to be a competent alderman if you don’t like working with other people?

    In these 17 years, have you ever tried to educate or do outreach on the behalf of progressive development that didn’t include bullying, name-calling, insulting, video recording, or the subtextual threat of posting someone’s name all over your blog?

    Idealistic young people like Matt are living and working in St. Louis right now and they know St. Louis has a long way to go and they want to effect change. Unfortunately, the progressive principles they may share are represented by your blog in our region. Why unfortunately? Because while many people would agree with your design principles in general, those same people bristle at your bullying tactics. I know for myself that I do not want the urbanism that I know to be represented only by an urban-elitist who inevitably reduces every conversation on development into an Us (hardline Jacobsian urbanist) vs. Them (evil sprawl-loving, SUV-driving suburbanite.) Neither should urbanism be left to a few ‘enlightened developers’ to save all of us hopeless St. Louisans. I also get the sense that there is this growing specter of fear surrounding you. That people do not cross Steve Patterson or he’ll rip you a new one on his blog. Well, I don’t want a new era of progressive urban development in St. Louis to occur under a banner of fear and ridicule. But that’s the tone of almost all of your posts. Your jaded and bitter self shows through in every paragraph.

    You have an opportunity to truly educate and persuade and change people’s minds about what is possible and needed in the City of St. Louis and I think you are squandering that potential by being exclusive. You mock ‘local control’ and instead of investigating possibilities for making it most effective and advocating, you immediately throw your hands up and effectively say, “Don’t bother. It won’t happen.” Is that really the attitude that’s going to generate collaborative solutions? I honestly hope you make a turn toward more responsible stewardship of this blog because if you become any more like ‘Jimmy Justice’ you’ll be isolated to the domain of amusing, wacky gadfly and nothing more. No one will care save your ardent few fanboys/girls.

    [SLP — LOL. My response to Matt was that I am not in a place where I want to start an organization — attempting to coordinate many people and put out some sort of print paper. That, while an option, takes a considerable amount of time to be done right. I could not continue to write, to work and to attend grad school and do that. Once I finish at SLU, more options are on the table. However, I am not interested in changing the minds of the blue-haired set.

    It is true, I do not work well in groups where the thinking is so naive as to believe that a thick bound compilation of data constitutes a plan for the future. The planning profession, just like architecture and engineering, has done a number on our cities over the last half century or so and you are not going to put me in a group of people continuing what I consider to be mistakes of the past. Rather than endure that, as well as force the group to endure my protests, I’d rather just work alone or in groups with like minded individuals. I have been invited to work in groups and that can be quite effective. And believe it or not, a planning graduate doesn’t have to work at some municipal planning department held by a short leash by a chain smoker in the mayor’s office. I will be 42 when I get my masters so I am not seeking the same work experience as many others.

    In my 17 years since architecture school I’ve volunteered with numerous groups, been a neighborhood board member, produced newsletters, and tried virtually all the known methods for change. About seven years ago I got involved in a group called New Urban St. Louis — a collective group of professionals and interested parties that were wanting to bring about change. Not quite six years ago I co-authored a very polite letter to the editor of the RFT about Paul McKee’s Winghaven with with two others from this group, a SLU planning alum and an architect (click to read letter, the middle of the three). The letter, and the group, were ineffective. The individuals in the group were and are quite interesting and in their own projects are helping to bring positive change to St. Louis. Collectively we didn’t make an impact and in fact much time was spent figuring out when and where we’d meet each month. It was nice to get together and preach to the choir but that doesn’t shift development patterns. This group has not met in over five years.

    Since I have been blogging, nearly 3 years now, I’ve organized a couple of meetings with some intent on having a group to bring about change. It was quickly apparent to me that managing group dynamics would consume much of my time. Another group, that I am not a part of, has started as well but like many others considerable time was spent just trying to get a name and mission statement. These types of groups are often driven by the passion of a single person seeking to build an organization as well as bring about change. Metropolis was once about change until they lost their edge. The late Marti Frumhoff was the most effective local community leader, spearheading the Rehabber’s Club and other projects. I applaud these efforts while continuing to realize that leading such a group is not the best use of my time.

    Perhaps I am a bit jaded and bitter. After beating your head against a wall so many times it starts to get tiring. And bitter? Maybe, that perhaps at 23 I decided to live in a city with great architectural potential rather than a quality urban lifestyle? So I am a bully and people fear me? Well, except for the “fanboys/girls.” I also have city employees telling me their ability to bring about change from within gets easier when I focus on their area. Others from various neighborhoods seek me out to look at walkability and design issues in their neighborhoods. I have still more people telling me about their elected officials bullying them. I have proven to be effective at leveling the playing field a tad and changing dynamics and public discourse. At this point I don’t care if the developer includes an ADA access route to their project because it is good planning or because they fear my wrath if they don’t — as long as it gets done I will be pleased. If an alderman brings in one of our city’s urban planners to help out on a new publicly funded project out of fear then so be it.

    Sorry if my methodology offends your sensibilities. Activists are seldom loved by those who are on the receiving end of the activism or those who will not or cannot be as active. By design, you don’t know all the people I am talking to — I don’t share the private lunch meetings, the phone calls, the emails and such that take place behind the scenes. Over the last three years things have changed dramatically in my life and with this blog. My tone, writing style and level of information has evolved over time and will likely continue to do so. Stewardship of the blog is really about stewardship of my personal and professional life so while I hear everyone saying what I should and shouldn’t do I have to say that I do what I think is best for me and what I think is best for the city in the long-term.]

  21. Jim Zavist says:

    Now that everyone’s had a chance to vent, I’m going to repeat what I know about a place that seems to be doing a better job of “getting it” – Denver. Compared to St. Louis, it has a bigger population (500,000 vs. 350,000) yet has a city council that’s half the size of the the board of aldermen here (13 members versus 28) but with both a competetive salary ($73,500 versus $32,000) and a two-term term limit. The result is that you get motivated candidates who are willing to both push specific agendas and to empower (and to expect concrete results from) city staff:

    Term limits require turnover every eight years – you don’t have dinosaurs that serve 20 or 30 years. Incumbency is tough to beat, especially at the local level (most of Denver’s council members see only token opposition after 4 years), but it’s even tougher to beat when it becomes institutionalized like it is in many wards here. The per capita salary costs are actually less with fewer members making more money, yet it allows (and attracts) talented people in the private sector to leave good-paying jobs to lead the city.

    Yet, in all reality, we don’t need to change the structure here to change outcomes. What really needs to change are attitudes and expectations. The cost of living is less here, so the salaries, while low, are not stupid-low, like in many other elected and appointed positions. Term limits would help, but we still have elections for each seat every four years – we can elect better leaders. We apparently have a Planning Director who has great credentials and likely has great ideas. What he apparently doesn’t have is a mandate from the BoA to “go forth and do good” – it takes not second-guessing / micro-managing / circumventing every decision the planners make. It takes funding viable streetscape and infrastructure improvements that benefit the city as a whole, not just spending equally in each ward. It takes having a vision of where we’re headed, not knee-jerk pandering to developers. It’s not all about race and past slights, it’s about “a rising tide floats all boats”.

    I know the standard responses – “That’s the way we’ve always done things”, “The alderman knows their ward better than anyone else” and “We can’t cut back on city employees”. Bull – the results speak for themselves. Until we get past those attitudes, we will just continue the current cycle of voter apathy, lack of accountability, back-room deals and more of the same . . .

    [SLP — Careful there Jim, you are being negative on St. Louis!  You might offend people with the truth.]

  22. WWSPD says:

    The planning profession is not directly tied to working in municipal government but it is by its very nature a profession tied to assembling stakeholders to bear on community development. It’s something you’ve advocated on this blog through the leasing for Hudlin Park among other city development decisions. It involves bringing residents, more people to the table to make decisions. But you don’t advocate for that in your own practice, as you say, we’re not privy ‘by design’ to see all of your ‘behind-the-scenes’ phone calls and luncheons.

    You caricature architecture, engineering and planning as hopeless means to your progressive development and planning professionals as ‘pets’ to ‘chain-smoking’ bureaucrats. It’s obvious you have little respect for whole professions that work in the development process.

    You left the question about your aldermanic race unanswered. But it probably didn’t need to be asked at all. There is no way you would have survived six months in the position because it actually requires that you deal with diverging points of view.

    You are not too unlike Fr. Biondi. You both have strong ideas about how things should be done and you can’t be bothered by dissenting opinions. And as long as things develop to your liking, you don’t care if the means is through consensus or threats and fear. If by fear, then so be it.

    Also, don’t be too self-congratulatory in lumping yourself in with all activists. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Theresa were all activists and they upset and challenged the establishment but they weren’t bullies. You’re more closely aligned with the Jimmy Justices and Greenpeaces of our day.

    [SLP — Yes, it is true — I do not share every detail of every meeting and conversation I have.  And yes, that is by design — otherwise many of the conversations would not happen.  I’m often, on a one on one basis, talking with a decision maker (or those that influence them) about improving our process to get it more open and to have better design.  Would I prefer these conversations to happen in a town hall meeting or panel session for all to see and hear?  Sure, but I am realistic enough to know that you take opportunity where you can.  When the people that can bring about change want to sit and talk, I sit and talk.  Do I sit and yell at them like Jimmy Justice?  No, of course not.  Do I nod approvingly at everything they say?  Hell no.

    Had I been elected alderman in March 2005 it would have been a very different situation.  My blog was only five months old at that time with nowhere near the readership of today.  Despite what you may think, I would have survived very well thank you.   I can, for example, carry on conversations with those that I might differ with — I in fact had a pleasant enough conversation this morning with two persons working for Mayor Slay.  We seldom see eye to eye but this morning’s topic was a complete agreement.  However,  I most certainly would have introduced legislation supporting the planning staff in working on a new zoning code to compliment the new land use plan.  That type of bill, however, would not have left committee but I would have let all the world know about it and tried to rally the troops to get pressure to get it out of committee.  Without question, the last 18 months would have been completely different for me had I been elected.  I wasn’t so I don’t dwell on the past and what might have been.  I suggest you do the same.]

  23. Jim Zavist says:

    And from the Rocky Mountain News’ Saturday, August 25th editorial page, by Shepard Nevel:

    My wife and I have been struggling the past few months with whether to stay in Denver. . . . As my wife and I immersed ourselves in other cities — visiting schools and special education programs, scouting houses and neighborhoods, speaking to families with special-needs children — we learned a lot about how other states treat their disabled. And we learned a thing or two about our hometown as well. . . . So here is this road-worn traveler’s Top Five Reasons to Like Denver:

    1. The People. We found nice people in all the cities we visited. But Denverites are distinctively friendly and unpretentious. Even the “rich, powerful, and famous” in Denver are for the most part very approachable and down-to-earth. Perhaps it’s the altitude. There’s little tolerance for people who have airs about them.

    2. The Politics. In most central cities, politics is a bare-knuckled sport, requiring years of in-the-trenches gamesmanship. Our city and state politics in contrast is uncommonly cerebral, accessible and pristine. Call it the Revenge of the Policy Wonks. Our mayor is a geologist-turned-restaurant entrepreneur who began his long-shot campaign by studiously visiting 15 cities and taking notes on best municipal practices. Colorado’s speaker of the House and state treasurer both ran for state office as highly respected public policy professionals and our lieutenant governor jumped straight from leading a child advocacy organization to the state’s second-highest office. And it’s hard to wax too partisan, even in a heavily Democratic town like Denver, when Bruce Benson, the Uber-Republican oil and gas guy, has been at the forefront for years of major efforts in town to improve the public education system for Colorado’s most disadvantaged kids.

    3. The Business Community. Other regions can boast of civic-minded business leadership. And the business community, it is always important to note, contributes mightily to every metropolitan area in our nation as the primary source of opportunity, creativity and dynamism. But Denver’s top business advocates are a special breed with a refreshingly broad and inclusive agenda. An illustrative example is Joe Blake, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, who can be heard rhapsodizing about the strategies of Saul Alinsky, the legendary and radical community organizer.

    4. The Grass-roots Community. If the business leaders in our state often sound like community organizers and social activists, the opposite is true as well. Colorado’s nonprofit and advocacy organizations are led by strategic individuals who are temperamentally inclined toward finding solutions and framing even emphatic criticism within civil discourse. “You don’t see the anger and conflict that exist in other cities,” commented Fred Siegel, the renowned urban affairs writer, during one visit to Denver. Metro Organizations for People, encompassing more than 30,000 families in low-income neighborhoods, is a national model. Their meetings attract several hundred residents, they politely and resolutely exact specific commitments from Denver’s top political leaders to their agenda (which currently includes education, health care and public safety), and they always follow up.

    5. Tolerance. Denver’s history of tolerance and fairness is a priceless spiritual asset. Sixty years ago, Denver’s Mayor Quigg Newton established the city’s Commitee on Human Relations to acknowledge and address racial and ethnic discrimination. Newton also advocated for fair housing decades before it was on the mainstream political agenda. “Denverites give everyone a chance,” former Mayor Wellington Webb says, “regardless of their skin color.”

    Shepard Nevel, an attorney, lives in Denver.

  24. Josh says:

    Steve, I appreciate all that you’re doing, and have done, to at least bring some attention to these important issues. I think it’s fantastic that various groups have organized and tried to bring about change. And it’s unfortunate that many of them have fallen to the wayside. That said, I think times are different now (especially on the South side; the North side is a whole other conversation…). Back several years ago when things were a lot rougher in the city, it was probably a lot harder to bring people together and actually affect any meaningful change. People were worried more about being shot or robbed than about how many trees lined the streets of new developments. Now, the city’s population has stabilized, mass rehab has occurred (and continues to occur despite a down market), and the city is becoming a more viable place to live. We’re at a crossroad and a lot of these issues of urban planning become so much more important to sustaining and improving on the gains we’ve made. I think the idea of an organized campaign would be great. Whether it’s through a new publication, a new website or through more, better organized meetings designed to debate the issues, we need something that people can latch on to and be a part of. At my neighborhood meeting, they don’t allow debate. They don’t talk about solutions to problems of any scope or breadth. Nothing gets done. There’s no leadership. There’s so much stuff I could write about all this because it’s all very vital stuff. Would anyone be interested in starting an organization to begin actual meaningful dialog about the issues facing us, and come up with actionable solutions? I would be willing to donate some of my time to help organize it if others will as well. I am an art director/graphic designer and could certainly lend my marketing, print design and web design skills to help put an underground movement of sorts together. Flyers, website, fund raisers, print materials, whatever… If you get enough people together, you can make a difference, and they can’t ignore you. My email address is jsensedatum@yahoo.com for anyone that’s interested. Drop me a line and we’ll talk.

    Josh Schipkowski

    [SLP — Josh, yes things have certainly changed over the years. The perception of the city is much better than it has been in years! While I don’t want to discourage you or others from organizing on a bigger, city-wide scale, I suggest that perhaps you work on that neighborhood group of yours that doesn’t allow debate. You are not alone! I ask that everyone reading this site speak up in their local groups. A city-wide organization is not going to penetrate every neighborhood group. As others suggest, look for a bottom up grassroots approach. Put your skills to use. A good example is how Steve Wilke-Shapiro started 15thWardSTL.org to have an impact in his part of the city. I’m all for a city/regional group — I’m just not in a place to spearhead such an effort.]

  25. GMichaud says:

    There is certainly a need for larger organization capabilities. This is what happens, political leadership fails and new leadership arises to “take it’s place.
    What neighborhood group does not allow debate Josh? I never heard of anything so ridiculous. I guess they are preparing to become aldermen. Although that is the nature of power, those who have it think they have to grasp it to maintain it. The Tao Te Ching says
    “If we could renounce our artful
    contrivances and discard our (scheming for) gain, there would be no
    thieves nor robbers.”
    and further on
    “If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to
    effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The
    kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He
    who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp
    loses it.

    The course and nature of things is such that
    What was in front is now behind;
    What warmed anon we freezing find.
    Strength is of weakness oft the spoil;
    The store in ruins mocks our toil.

    Hence the sage puts away excessive effort, extravagance, and easy

    Change will occur to be sure, the political establishment has already sown the seeds of their own failure. It seems to me there are many efforts already underway, it may be more important to unite various groups and strengthen communication. Perhaps the 15th ward site is expanded to include a few more surrounding wards for instance. It might make more sense than having 28 separate ward blogs.

    [SLP — My current thinking is we need many people eating away at the system in many fronts.  We have many factions, some who are new in office, some long overdue for replacement.  I’m not saying we need 28 ward based efforts but I think there is plenty of room for change within political committees, non-profits and such.  But hey, I’m for whatever will work and right now we don’t really know what that might be because we’ve not succeeded.]

  26. GMichaud says:

    JZ, when the mayor of Denver visits and takes notes on best practices in 15 American Cities (I doubt St. Louis would be one), he is illustrating his leadership. He is the type of new leader needed in St. Louis.
    As Brian points out from his Charlotte post above, Denver is not the only city striving and attaining a higher level of government. In my own research and travels I have also seen many cities do a far better job in urban planning, citizen inclusion and in just about every aspect of running a city.
    Cities are complex to be sure, but there is something about how St. Louis is run that is placing it at the bottom in urban design and livability opposite it’s high murder rate (they couldn’t be related could they?)
    European cities make liberal use of architectural and urban design competitions. It is an excellent way to achieve high caliber ideas and help avoid the standard St. Louis disease of handing off key projects to insiders, no matter what their talent.

  27. Jim Zavist says:

    GMichaud – as an “outsider”, I’ve tried to understand how things run here. My take is that government is indeed insular and, in many ways, stuck in the past. While it’s always possible to look at changing the physical structure (fewer wards, stronger mayor, etc.) the fundamental challenge remains one of attitude. If each alderman remains the primary neighborhood leader / expert in everything that happens in their ward AND is supported by a closed democratic “machine” AND is unwilling to share any resources with other wards, we will continue down the path that’s apparently been followed for the past 50+ years. Efficient and responsible government these days relies more and more on hiring trained professionals, giving them goals and a budget and holding them accountable for everything from urban planning to garbage collection. It also requires creative use of limited resources and consensus building. One big reason metro Denver was able to approve more than doubling their sales tax to support mass transit was that its transit district had established a track record of bringing projects in on time and on budget AND had reached out to and listened to constituents in all parts of its service area, and developed a comprehensive service plan that will improve service for nearly everyone (sometimes with very unequal amounts being spent in various local areas).

    Too much time and effort here is spent doing two things, spending token amounts to bring some type of (usually little-needed) visible public investment to each ward and chasing after “new” sales taxes via TIF’s and pandering to the developers of retail shopping centers. We’re a city. Services need to be delivered where they’re needed the most and in a comprehensive manner. Streets need to be paved when they’re worn out, not when a constituent (or a campaign donor) complains. We can set higher urban design standards. But if we do, we need to apply them equitably – we can’t let “friends” get a pass. And, as a region, we need to figure a way out of the zero-sum chase for sales tax revenues. Would building a Target in Rock Hill bring any more taxes into the region? No! Would it help Rock Hill? Yes, for a while, but at the expense of Kirkwood’s and Maplewood’s revenues. Add in the fact that there would be significant costs TO EVERY TAXPAYER with building a new center and propping up the two older ones and it looks stupider and stupider on a regional scale! Bottom line, it’s attitudes – until they change, we get what we deserve!

  28. BeanCounter says:

    If you want to fight for urban planning on a political playing field their needs to be a formalized organization formed. That organization should work towards building a coalition of organizations and individuals that have a stake in the urban environment. Then actively work for and against elected officials and companies that further the goal.

    This is obviously not a simple solution, but building lists of what is wrong is not solving the problem.

    1. Identify people with the drive for change.
    2. Break down the larger planning problems into smaller solvable pieces.
    3. Identify stake holders of the smaller pieces and plan how to motivate them to change.
    4. Organize people and money to action.
    5. Repeat steps 2-4 until the larger problem is solved.

    The upside to this formula over the photo essay is that you can have a victory party when you win.

    I believe that the elected official who allow poor planning either don’t know what their decisions mean long term or don’t care. So out with those that don’t care and educate those that don’t know.

    Saying that the political system is broken and can’t be fixed is analogues to saying that what is built poorly cannot be fixed. If the roof of your house leaks a smart person won’t move out and say the property is broken. A smart person will work towards patching the roof correctly and continue their life.

    [SLP — Strong grassroots efforts are seldom done via a top-down formalized organization. That said, I think a multi-prong approach is what will take to break through the stranglehold in St. Louis: strong individuals, small groups and a larger umbrella group. I’d like to see existing groups like the Landmarks Association, the American Institute of Architects and foundation like the Danforth & Gateway foundations take on this broader coalition role. Any one of these organizations could take up this banner and fight for urban design.

    However, the AIA missed this chance with respect to the Century building being razed for a parking garage — its past President was leading the design team for the new garage. Landmarks has been heavily reliant on city funding. Countless community development corporations (CDCs) are also dependent upon their alderman for funding. What would it take to build a strong coalition, as you suggest, that would actually stay on mission and not get bogged down? I know we currently have a lot of money going to a lot of organizations and paying a lot of salaries for staff. The return on investment in these organization has been low in my estimation.

    Again, if someone can make it happen then more power to you. Start something organized and on target then I will be right there with you in support.]

  29. john says:

    OK JZ you touched the third rail (SLAT: the “StL- Attitude”)! Yes the major problems continue because of the SLAT. The belief of citizens that they receive more benefits due to these smaller units, whether they’re wards in the city or municipalities in the county, is costing the region plenty. The redundant cost structures are obvious to all but other issues like the ones Steve outlines are even more damaging. The local powers (particularly the elected leaders, unions, and developers) benefit from this political structure and self-destructive urban strategy. In the last ten years, the universities have learned how to influence this situation to their advantage but to the disadvantage of the public IMO. These trends will overwhelm the extra benefits received from a few loft developments downtown, ballpark village, etc. Particularly destructive are the failures of regional leadership in the design of our largest public projects (runway, Page ext., MetroLink ext., the New 64, etc.), their refusal to address autocentrism, and how to make our communities more liveable and prosperous.

  30. oldguard says:

    BeanCounter is correct, however, BC doesn’t talk about a couple of things. First, many have tried and failed to create organizations to address the problem. It takes a monumental amount of time and effort to create meaningful change, and most people just aren’t that committed to the task. At the same time, there are already countless numbers of existing organizations working to improve St. Louis, one neighborhood at a time – and they are succeeding. In our modern, ADHD-challenged culture, too many people try to reinvent the wheel, are uncommitted to long-term projects/goals/challenges, and do not acknowledge the people and organizations already engaged in the task. In St. Louis, you get more done by fitting in, than busting out. I suspect that is true in most places.

  31. oldguard says:

    John-there are way more than a “few loft projects” downtown. Despite all the caterwauling on local blogs, downtown is undergoing a remarkable transformation that is turning heads nationwide.

  32. Brian says:

    ^True, but no thanks to the current occupants of Room 200. Edwards, Heller, the Gills and many others are all the real leaders making change happen, not our electeds.

  33. john says:

    Etc. means more than what was stated. “Turning heads”… which way? Are these turned heads moving their corporate headquarters here? Please list your examples og. Or are these turned heads watching how local familes/businesses are selling out to foreign entities and saying “gee I want to do the same”? I guess in your view the SLPS wants to be emulated by other school districts? Does your remarkable transformation view include Steve’s examples? Or do most of these problems get buried in the sand of collective heads that prefer the mantra “we’re #1” no matter what the facts may be? Until locals admit the numerous historical errors and change the political structure, I’ll bet that progress will be elusive at best.
    Yes many here believe that more highways, more cars, more sprawl, etc. solves our communal problems. Underwriting “escapism” has never solved anything on the home front. However og you may know a lot more about this so name me just one other city that has lossed over 500,000 residents and then rises from the ashes with a smaller set of residents while being so family-unfriendly… can you?
    To suggest that local leadership (given Steve’s examples) has “turned heads” due to their extraordinary efforts and accomplishments is to continue to believe that Lambert is an international hub.

  34. oldguard says:

    Well, for starters, in the midst of a nationwide downturn in housing prices, St. Louis is one of the only markets in the country to show increasing home values. Our drinking water rated best in show at a national conference of US Mayors, and urban planner Neal Pierce called the recovery of downtown St. Louis amazing. Others agree.

  35. publicpolicy says:

    ^ That link has a quote from Eric Vickers qustioning whether the city’s revitalization will be inclusive. Here’s a link to a group that is trying to make sure it is. What about the readers at Urban Review? There’s a lot of time spent here discussing architectural design, but when it comes to urbanity, it’s much more than the placement of buildings…

  36. BeanCounter says:


    “First, many have tried and failed to create organizations to address the problem.”

    True, but that is not an excuse for not trying again.

    “At the same time, there are already countless numbers of existing organizations working to improve St. Louis, one neighborhood at a time – and they are succeeding.”

    Depending on your definition of success: Steve just gave us over 40 glaring failures. If it is true that there are countless organizations I would say their successes are far apart because of their countless agendas. If some of these many organizations could work in concert, or consolidate, more could be done.

    “…too many people try to reinvent the wheel… you get more done by fitting in, than busting out.”

    This is all about reinventing the wheel! St. Louis has been a sinking ship. The political leadership became experts at finding any sloppy way to patch the holes.

    Now the city has stabilized and we need to fix the crappy patch jobs and get ready for smart growth.

  37. oldguard says:

    Prediction: (BeanCounter…don’t take this personally, it may not even apply to you. However, the same prediction does apply to many of the voices heard commenting at UR…) BeanCounter (or another anonymous pseudonym poster), sounds like a bright, young, energetic person, maybe even an architecture or urban planning student. He/she came to STL for school or a job, and fell in love with the historic neighborhoods and old urbanism found here. At the same time, he/she learned about the many faults of STL and yearns for progressive change seen elsewhere. BC has many friends/colleagues who hold similar views. In time, many of them will give up on STL, and move to other areas, preferring their progressive politics, better job opportunties for urban planners, beaches, proximity to parents/baby sitting, who knows. But STL will still be here, just like she has for over 250 years. And she will still be peopled by those who love her, and want to make this place their forever hometown. It’s a beautiful thing.

  38. GMichaud says:

    The Mayor of Denver exhibits new attitudes in striving for knowledge when he studies 15 American cities to find the best practices. So yes JZ I agree attitude is important. You describe what is happening in St. Louis well, yet even though the faults are known, nothing is done.
    And I agree Steve that we need many people eating away at the system on many fronts, but at some point it has to become a unity if it is to form a new system itself. Like you and Jim I feel change in attitudes need to occur in nonprofits, business organizations and other areas of cultural life, not just government.
    Who knows where the whirlwind of change will come from? It could be a major oil crisis that brings St. Louis to its knees with the realization that a more balanced city and urban environment will help alleviate the oil addiction that has shaped the city for the past 50 years. It could be the Paul McKee banditry on the North side of the city, or it could be thousands of smaller issues as you have illustrated so well in this thread.
    Whatever the case, I think Barack Obama has it right, people are hungering for change.

  39. josh wiese says:

    Those in positions of leadership can alter the conversation and attitudes – work to get those people in positions where change can happen or do it yourself. The City is in dire need of some fresh ideas across the board

  40. Jim Zavist says:

    Cleveland is looking at making their City Council smaller, for the same reasons we should . . .

  41. Chris says:

    Woah, time out Margie; Chicago is FAR from perfect. I travel up to the Windy City at least five or six times a year, and get out into the neighborhoods outside of the touristy areas. Chicago is taking its rowhouses for granted–blithely demolishing beautiful single family houses for those awful, awful cinder block four flats that soon are covered with graffiti. It’s a slow drip, but in fifty years people will be wondering what happened to the historic streetscapes of Chicago

    Likewise, River North is being obliterated for luxury condo towers, at the expense Victorian period architecture. The oldest and most endangered part of the city is as good as dead, the victim of post-modern condo excesses.

    And finally, millions for the stupid and banal Millenium Park, when those dollars could have fixed countless miles of Chicago infrastructure.

    And need I mention that lack of left turn arrows at 95% of the busy intersections in Chicago…?

  42. I agree with your post on 95% of the conent. As for the “Streets closed for more useless plazas. Traffic congestion created as a result of so few through streets.” statement…well, no.

    At least in the example from the photo, the building to the left is the Federal reserve. As such, they had to protect the entry from potential car bombs (as sad as that is, that is the reality of the world in which we live).

    Even though mountains of mistakes have been made in the past, as an outsider (from colorado originally), I see huge amounts of potential still left in the city.

    The battle hasn’t been lost yet.

  43. ben says:

    certainly a depressing post. i’m here for school from dayton, oh. dayton’s a smaller city but certainly has fallen prey to poor planning like this, though i think the future may be brighter.
    something that really bugs me about this city is the sidewalks. instead of trees we have lightpoles right in the middle, making bike riding nearly impossible in these areas. i doubt it promotes pedestrian traffic either.
    i’m guessing that its the result of widening streets, though i’m not sure.

  44. Jim Zavist says:

    Ben – you shouldn’t be riding your bike on the sidewalk, you’re not 8 anymore. But I agree with your overall analysis . . .

  45. Jimmy says:

    Oh Jesus. You’ve been spending a lot of time at built st louis haven’t you? i can agree with some of your points, but to think a pedestrian can’t manage his way across a Starbuck’s drive-thru is idiotic. It’s a building with a drive thru, cars drive around the entire building. People like you obviously think that the city’s own citizens haven’t got a brain. “oh, help us good sir Steve! Save us from ourselves!” You’re reaching on a lot of your points here. Spacing between buildings??? Fuck, you’re an idiot.

    Elected officials parking on sidewalks. Hmm, sounds familiar. Aren’t you the one championing scooters parking all over our sidewalks wherever you want? Sure, there’s a big difference in vehicle size and it isn’t the fairest of comparisons, but i never park my bike on sidewalks because it’s just rude. And it takes up space and annoys people no matter what vehicle it is. Plus you look like a circus bear on a tricycle on your stupid little Honda.

    As for bitching about new construction, give me a break! I don’t like siding any more than you but what do you want??? These houses are generally in poor areas and the cost of doing brick on all sides is WELL out of the budget of the potential buyers in these areas. Again, i agree that it’s a shame to tear the old buildings down and put up ugly new ones but it’s a better alternative than open green space with no life.

    I’ll stop here. Asswipe. Please don’t run for Alderman again. Kirner sucks and doesn’t do a damn thing but you’re just a butthole.

    [SLP — Nice, get this cyber-harassment out while you can.]  

  46. scott says:

    As I read this I think I need to watch an old Love Boat or Fantasy Island or call my grandma just to talk me off the ledge…. sooo depressing. Our downtown is a joke. Cities that preserve work. I am going to move to Greenland.

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