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Six Years and Counting

Like the “where were you when Kennedy was shot” question from an earlier generation, we all know what we were doing as we watched on live television the unfolding of events on 9/11/2001. There I was in the living room of a client I had just met, watching that second plane hit the other tower of the World Trade Center. Any doubt about the first plane being lost in the fog was gone. I think what I remember most was the courage of those in the fourth plane, knowingly facing their own deaths, thinking of others on the ground — preventing the deaths of so many more.

In the weeks prior a friend and I had booked an exciting 17-day trip to the east coast — Washington DC, Pennsylvania and New York. Our flight to DC was October 19th. I had been to DC before but this time was obviously different — the Pentagon had a huge hole in the side. Still, people were out and about in the various neighborhoods. The Washington Monument, as you might suspect, was closed to visitors. We had planned a road trip from DC to New York via Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water in rural Pennsylvania and thus had booked a rental car. Getting off the city bus at National Airport was weird — the place was a ghost town as flights were still not being permitted in or out. My first time in New York was surreal. Hotels and restaurants were eager to kick start the local economy so tourists were welcomed. As you approached “ground zero” as it was becoming known, the smell hit you. Neighbors in nearby Battery Park were hosing out the filters on their ventilation systems. The skyline I had seen my entire life in pictures was different, the Statue of Liberty was closed. We walked through the upper east side on the day a person died of anthrax poisoning on the upper east side. Stores had signs indicating they sold the anti-anthrax drug.

I visited New York again in the Fall of 2005. By then the debate about the future of the 16+ acre WTC site was in full swing. It should become a memorial park, it should be rebuilt as it was, and we shouldn’t build targets anymore were among the numerous viewpoints. Others advocated for much needed housing rather than simply replacing vast quantities of office space. Still others sought to return to the long abandoned street grid.

When Minoru Yamasaki was selected to design the World Trade Center his Pruitt-Igoe public housing, designed a decade earlier, was already troubled. When the ribbon was cut for the WTC in 1973 St. Louis had already begun to implode Yamasaki’s insensitive work here. In the 50s and 60s there was little opposition to such large scale projects save for Jane Jacobs. Today the debate over the 16+ acre site in lower Manhattan continues. Such a massive site in NYC is a rarity.

Back in St. Louis 16 acres is nothing to us. The Schnuck’s City Plaza development at Natural Bridge & Union is 20 acres, the Southtown Plaza strip center (former Famous-Barr site) is 11 acres. The old arena site, now called The Highlands, is 26 acres. The remaining Pruitt-Igoe site is roughly 33 acres. At 30 acres, Loughborough Commons, the Schnuck’s/Lowe’s albatross, is nearly twice as big as the WTC site. Yes — Loughborough Commons is 87% larger than the World Trade Center site! Wow, they are debating how many blocks and streets as well as how much office, retail and housing they can squeeze onto their 16 acres while here just getting the ability for an ADA-compliant sidewalk clearly takes more than action by the Board of Aldermen.

Thousands lost their lives six years ago and many more were strongly impacted by the loss of family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and simply a smile from a passing stranger no longer with us on the subway. Decisions made about the future of the WTC site, as well as development sites here in St. Louis and throughout the world, will too have an impact on people’s lives, although in a different way. We must ask ourselves why we are not creating places beyond just the short-term — a place to buy a cordless drill or get a latte at a drive-thru window. Architecture cannot made us better persons but our environment can and does impact how we all engage each other in our daily lives. We must do better. If not, we are simply funding a self-inflicted form of long-term terrorism.


Currently there are "24 comments" on this Article:

  1. Craig says:

    “We must do better. If not, we are simply funding a self-inflicted form of long-term terrorism.”

    That’s a bit strong, isn’t it?

  2. Julia says:

    I agree with Craig. Today, of all days, that comparison is not valid.

    [SLP — I think today, of all days, it is especially important.  Take a look at how we’ve terrorized our own landscape.  The millions of people all over who were simply pawns in planning theory.  The destruction of the WTC, and the bombing of the federal building in my hometown of Oklahoma City, were shocking due to the suddenness and total devastation.   But far worse, in the long-term, is the slow destruction we label progress.]

  3. James says:

    Ok, then, I’ll take it on by almost quoting James Howard Kunslter’s TED talk. (and with no political bias on my part)

    Our sons and daughters are dying in places like Iraq and spilling their blood in the sand. Ask yourselves what their last last thought of home is. I hope it’s not the curb cut between the the Chuck E. Cheese and the Target store. Becasue that’s not good enough for Americans to be spilling their blood for… We are creating places not work caring about and when we have enough of them, we’ll have a nation not worth defending.

    (back to me)
    And yes, I think it is that serious. We’ve degraded our public realm to the point that we are no longer a nation of citizens, we are a nation of consumers. Citizens have obligations to one another, consumers do not. We must do better.

  4. Craig says:

    Developers and politicians don’t intend to inflict terror upon others through their design decisions. To miss that distinction shows an inability to engage in critical thought.

  5. potentator says:

    “We must do better. If not, we are simply funding a self-inflicted form of long-term terrorism.”

    “But far worse, in the long-term, is the slow destruction we label progress.”

    Wow, so, to paraphrase, progress = destruction?

    There’s no conceivable way that poor planning is the same as terrorism. I understand the importance of good community planning in encouraging social interaction and communion. It’s absence, however, does not terrorize us in the way that the events of 9/11 terrorized us.

    Also, please read and edit your posts before you post them. You’re first sentence is not really what you mean to say: “Like the “where were you when Kennedy was shot” question from an earlier generation, we all know what we were doing as we watched on live television the unfolding of events on 9/11/2001.”
    I guess we were all watching television?

  6. Dan Icolari says:

    I grew up ten blocks south of Pennsylvania Station in New York. It was an enormous, hulking, square-block mass that, like Grand Central Station to its north and east, made rail travel seem impossibly glamorous and important.

    School trips to Carnegie Hall and the diamond horseshoe at the old Metropolitan Opera made clear the value our culture placed on certain musical forms. As a New Yorker–even one from an immigrant, working-class family–I saw myself as an inheritor of and a stakeholder in these institutions and the glorious buildings erected to represent them.

    What replaced Pennsylvania Station had nothing to do with architecture or transportation or civic pride or even commerce. It was always about nothing more than real estate speculation and quick profit; the notion of civic pride wasn’t even on the menu. The only good thing to come out of it–though no one I know would willingly trade the former for the latter–is that Penn Station’s demolition (and the threats to Grand Central and Carnegie Hall) gave birth to the historic preservation movement in this city and nationwide.

    Banal and disposable from the day it opened, Penn Station’s replacement, called One Penn Plaza, is a municipal embarrassment–one that the city is trying to atone for through the creation of a substitute Beaux Arts rail transportation palace carved out of the old Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue–the one whose entablature reads, “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

    The entablature, like the building itself, is two city blocks long. You can imagine the grandeur of this place. And you can imagine what it was like when Pennsylvania Station–even the back of it, with its granite-block ramps for limousines and commercial cabs)–stood directly across the street.

    Growing up with these sorts of presences in your life–and there are a remarkable number of parallel presences in St. Louis–doesn’t prepare you for the patterns of social and commercial organization in the suburbs, whose failings don’t need recounting here.

    I’m not an architect or a designer; did not study, did not train. My passion for this stuff comes from having grown up with it and lived with it all my life. I understand that the buildings referenced here are products of a different time. But as Steve implies, what is possible and necessary in our own day is to set the bar higher; to insist that municipal architecture, public and private, elevate and inspire the people who live with it and use it.

  7. Expat says:

    If Steve feels this strongly about our crumbling & neglected places, so be it. That is how he feels. No need to dismiss his feelings as not worthy of 9-11. We all have real & different feelings about 9-11 and it annoys me when people piously imply that others aren’t as patriotic or don’t understand the power of that day.

    The cheapening of America is sad. It is not wrong to expect our country and city to be the best possible. This country and this city is worth fighting for. Our forefathers, our heroes, and our children deserve that from us.

    Thanks Steve. Keep up the good fight for what you believe is right. This is a difficult day for me and I appreciate hearing how different people handle it and how it has effected them. And, I enjoy hearing how people want to create a better place & future.

  8. LisaS says:

    Food for thought: an alternate definition of terrorism, from a Google search on define: Terrorism:

    Terrorism involves the use of coercion, including the use of force, intended to intimidate or coerce, and committed in support of political or social objectives. (italics/bold mine)

    Note there that coercion is the key part of the definition, not violence. Think about all the times you’ve seen footage on the TV news about “random shootings” and crime in the City–you’re the next victim, it seems to say. If the constant media barrage of anti-urban ideas over the last 60 years doesn’t qualify as “coercion in support of social objectives”, then no threat from Al-Quaeda does.

    There are lots of interesting implications of James’s last sentence to consider ….

  9. newsteve says:

    Craig, Julia, Potentator – The comment is not too strong, and is as valid today as any day. Poor planning is justifiably and equally perceived as terrorism by many. Think about the people in North St. Louis, once living in a neigborhood that was strong, which has now been sytematically turned into a virtual wasteland, with rundown properties, unkept yards, unboarded up abandoned buildings, creating nothing more than a breeding zone for criminals. Ask those people who have hung on, who can’t afford to go anywhere else, how they feel about the destruction of their neighborhood. A destruction that apparently has the blessing of both local and state governement. When you say that “developers and politicians dont intend to inflict terror upon others through their design decisions” while I agree they might not intend to do so, the reuslts to some can be devastating.

  10. Steel says:

    The comment isn’t too strong (its true). It is just bad segway into a comparison of of two things that aren’t related. As pointed out earlier its two definitions of the same word.

    If you don’t feel that being forced to live with shitty development because of politics and poor planning is a terrorism, then you must support the people that allow it to happen.

    On the back-end…perhaps if U.S. cities weren’t so sprawled and auto-centric we wouldn’t be fighting for oil.

  11. Howard says:

    This conversation confirms my belief that the United States needs to reinstate the draft, include men and women, get rid of education deferments, get rid of don’t ask don’t tell. We need to do this because we’re raising generations of Americans who know little of the sacrifices of war because they are so far removed from its horrors. We’re in a war right now, and the wrong one to boot, because too many people aren’t personally affected. The misuse of terrorism in this thread is similar to the travesty of language found in Nazi and Holocaust becoming a euphemism for any old thing you want. In the generations that lived the nightmares of World War, Korea, and Vietnam, the words of war meant something. Today, words are redefined to suit the purposes of the selfish. Inanimate objects cannot be terrorized, only people can be terrorized. The fact that some here think that the landscape can be terrorized and it doesn’t have something to do with scorching by bombs and chemicals the homes, businesses, farms, houses of faith, community centers, health institutions, native surroundings of living human beings is deeply disturbing. One of the reasons we are as a society loathed in so many countries is our inability to grasp that words have meaning, have consequences. Go to just about any country and misuse the word terrorism the way it has been done in this conversation and the response by the locals will range from pity to anger. Do places with much older cultures think what we do with land and to our architectural heritage is sometimes nuts, foolish, gaudy, wasteful? Yes. But they would not compare it with a suicide bomber and neither should we.

    [SLP — It is my believe that your senseless destruction of our cities has had a devastating affect on our society.  Racial and economic isolation fuels many of our current social ills.  As far as the draft goes, I don’t disagree — check out a commentary from my brother on July 4, 2006 entitled Freedom Isn’t Free.  My brother, btw, is a 24 year veteran from the U.S. Navy.]

  12. Becker says:

    Six years later and the stakeholders in New York have not been able to agree on what to do with this important, valuable, sacred, small (as you point out) and vital piece of land.

    This despite that fact that the project has seen millions of dollars spent on “planning”.

    And we want to emulate this?

    I get your point Steve, but the WTC site is not exactly a prime example of sensible planning.

    [SLP — I never once said the WTC site was an example of sensible planning.  In fact, it illustrates quite well what happens when you have too many stakeholders and nobody in charge.]

  13. RK says:

    ^ So-called sensible planning is tough in a democracy. You have the developer who wants his office space back, a public that wants the site memorialized, and a space controlled by various public entities vying for jurisdiction…it’s inevitable that someone’s vision is going to be compromised. I’m sure planning in a communist country or a monarchy is easy, whatever the ruling party/ruler says goes!
    The word terrorism as applied to urban development in recent decades is of course a little too harsh – that’s the point. It provokes discussion and thought. Developers don’t “intend” to harm folks like terrorists do, but the cumalitive effect of thoughtless development is to degrade the landscape and civic pride in a way that no single act of malicious terrorism could achieve.

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    In my opinion, equating what gets built in the local contemporary urban environment with terrorism is too much of a stretch. We get what we get because the majority likes it, tolerates it or simply doesn’t care. In contrast, I don’t hear too many people clammoring for more terrorist acts, especially in “our” country, state or city. Sure, we “enlightened” folks know that there are better options out there, but our “will” isn’t being squashed out of some grand plan or jihad to torture us, we’re simply a minority suffering our fate at the hands of an uninformed and complacent majority . . .

    [SLP — This is why I said it was self-inflicted…]

  15. Craig says:

    Self-inflicted terrorism. Very Freudian.

  16. GMichaud says:

    I’m a Vietnam Vet, Mekong Delta, 9th Division 1968-69 and I happen to agree the destruction of American cities is a form of terrorism. It is no accident that General Motors, Firestone and Standard Oil formed National City Lines and bought up most of the streetcar systems in America and shut them down. It is no accident that the City of St. Louis has been systemically degraded and destroyed. It is policy, under the mantel of progress. Look at how full the pockets of the wealthy have become. And it still is occurring today.
    It is naive to think the American people are not under assault by their corporations and government. Everyone pretends that political donations are not bribes. We have a culture of pretending. We pretend their is no potential crisis in global warming or in energy and merrily build the Loughborough Commons crap and hand them 17 million public dollars to insure their pockets are very full.
    With a government owned by insiders and whoever can purchase their favors, there is definitely terrorism in the United States. It is not the same type of deadly bombing terrorism that is in Iraq, but it is a political/corporate terrorism that laid the groundwork for the failed Iraq invasion and continues to undermine the American people. The press, the Post and the insipid St. Louis TV stations pretend everything is okay.
    Yes 100 million for Paul McKee is no problem, even though most of that money will go into his pocket and not into North St. Louis. Yes let’s pretend the 100 million or so for Ballpark Village is a good thing, even though billionaire owners are involved.
    Meanwhile there is no money for police, for health care, for housing, for mass transit, or for viable cities.
    If you can’t see the terrorism, you are pretending, pretending until the wheels come off and you have to fight wars to protect the interests of the insiders. Welcome to the real world.

  17. ^And if you are not either angry, depressed, or a borderline alcoholic, then you are not paying attention to reality. The City was and is being underdeveloped and people act as if this was a rational choice. Suburbia, that being a box of shit sold as the golden goose with a pretty little ribbon and wonderful packaging, is as Kunstler says our biggest mistake. Many think it is some idealistic life where everyone is free from the “evils of the City.” But it is what it is: a prison where one cannot even walk to get amenities! Moreover, many of our current urban post industrial problems intensified through this suburban flight and divestment. The exodus of the tax base and also exclusionary zoning in suburbia means we have the poor but lack the money to provide the services they need. By the time suburbia really began after World War 2, there were no more dead animals on sidewalks with sewage being dumped nor did St. Louis have so much pollution one couldn’t see. These problems were solved by technology, thus this stigma against the 19th Century Industrial City were no longer valid. This City didn’t exist. Yet the real estate and banking lobbies, along with government, played on those old fears. The government actually gave loans for people to leave the City, while these loans were denied for rehabbing the homes of City residents. Thomas Jefferson and his agrarian (slave owning) iconic lifestyle was resurrected and we were told that Cities are evil and not the place to raise a kid. Well, the City was much better off before the suburban tragedy. You can’t fix what doesn’t work and what doesn’t work shouldn’t be brought into an environment, the City, which, at its purest form, has utility that suburbia cannot match. We have suburbanized our once great City enough and it needs to end. It is an idea which does not attract residents and does nothing but alienate those who live here.

  18. Jim Zavist says:

    Doug & GM – one word – autocentric. Prior to to the Model T and the widespread access to personal motorized transportation, “old” St. Louis was a great model. But there’s that one big reason why the city continues to be suburbanized – it’s really hard to pry most residents’ hands off of their steering wheels, and the majority continues to vote with their butts for more freeways, single-family homes, off-street parking, strip malls and parking lots! As a community, it’s probably not sustainable or wise, but I doubt very many “ordinary” folks feel “terrorized” by the process . . .

    [SLP — True enough.  I think that somewhere along the way we passed a tipping point — that point where many people would think they could make due in part by walking, bicycling or taking mass transit.  At this point, I don’t think it is as much a strong desire to use a car for every single trip as many just don’t know anything else.  We have at least a couple of generations now that don’t really know that you can actually get from A to B without a car — that owning and using a car is not necessarily mandatory in all cities.]

  19. GMichaud says:

    I have to agree with Steve, people don’t realize a car is not needed. As I said before if someone asked the average person which language they like better, Russian or English, everyone would take English because that is the language they know. By the same token the language of mass transit is no longer spoken in St. Louis, nor most American cities.
    Few people understand that a properly run mass transit system coupled with proper urban design (a walking environment with amenities such as small shops, parks, and the like) is a comfortable, graceful and enjoyable way to live.
    The autocentric culture has been shoved down the throats of the American people with numerous policies and by abandoning city building principles that foster different lifestyles.
    And while ordinary folks may not feel terrorized by the process, in fact the underlying frustrations of the culture, the high murder and incarceration rates and other social problems are reflections of policies that are not working. (The failure is obvious, yet nothing is done)
    Nor is there leadership on any level making the necessary changes in urban life to prevent looming problems of global warming, energy shortages and war. Citizens are driving their cars into a terrifying oblivion.
    Even without a potential crisis, it makes sense to tame the auto, to bring it into conformance with human life, to create a balanced existence that creates alternative lifestyles.

  20. The discussion of does a car give more freedom than transit comes up in many of my classes. While our transit system is substandard, cities where they work, I say there is much more freedom than the automobile. If anything, transit is yet another option instead of the car. So, by living in cities, even in St. Louis City, one has many ways to get from point A to B, thus I define a multitude of choices as greater freedom than only one. You can walk, bike, scooter, drive, use the bus or Metro if you live in the City or a suburb like U City. But non streetcar suburbs and exurbs, this choice doesn’t exist. So, having more options, for me, is freedom. Not being solely dependent on one mode of transportation, that is freedom. If my car dies I can walk to the bus and get to work. That is excellent and one of the ways that traditional urbanism is superior to suburban development.

  21. Howard says:

    “It is my believe that your senseless destruction of our cities has had a devastating affect on our society.”

    I grew up in the home built by my great-great-grandfather. It’s still occupied by my family. I rehabbed a 100 year old home, roof to basement, before I was 24 and did so while I was going to college, working two jobs, and raising a family. Because I want old brick in my life and a lively pedestrian lifestyle, I live in an historic district, with 24 hour activity for the initiated, a neighborhood saved from the wrecking ball by the youngsters of the 60s who, like myself, remain active in the neighborhood in order to preserve it.

    This city was saved by the people who stayed and worked their behinds off. They didn’t move around the country for ego sake or because of the need to get a higher paying job to pay off credit card bills from reckless youth. Some almost became divorced over the decision to stay, others actually did because one partner was not as committed as the other. They either had roots here and stayed or they established roots here and stayed. This place is about being connected to others, commitment to family, traditional or nontraditional, committed to neighbors and friends. It’s about pride and loyalty, that thing that makes us admit, yes, we have problems that need resolved but, no, we wouldn’t live anywhere else, and if you don’t like living here, move, do it now, don’t wait.

    If you don’t have a reason to stay here, then don’t. Don’t keep whining about how your elders screwed things up for you and how we don’t do enough for you to compensate for what you believe are our mistakes. Just go. Either that or become a part of the solutions, at the neighborhood level and in the democratic process, and know it is a very long term commitment, no instant gratification, and that it takes up personal time. Stay and do something other than talk. Each one of us can make a difference. The problem for a lot of young people is that it’s making a difference in an unglamorous way and, most often, without recognition. People do selfless positive things that make a difference each day and most don’t even realize their contribution.

    As for our society’s ills, how many of you have bothered to contact your U.S. congressman or senator about this money pit of a war and its intended consequences against our freedoms, our energy and environment polices that do more harm than good, or our pitiful excuse for a health care system?

  22. GMichaud says:

    Howard, talk is part of the solution, not the total solution to be sure. But it is probably the most important aspect of democracy. Without this forum, most of what is discussed would be buried underneath the avalanche of the corporate media prejudices.
    The pen is mightier than the sword. I refer you to Alexander Solzhenitsyn who wrote a number of novels and memoirs describing life in the Soviet Union. The Soviet dictators chased him his whole life, harassed him, bugged him, followed him until they finally expelled him at age 55. All Alexander Solzhenitsyn did was talk critically of the Soviet Union. (He was a Zek, a prisoner in his youth).
    The Declaration of Independence is nothing but talk. The Soviets were clearly afraid of talk and the founders of this country set in motion the foundation of the country with talk. So talk apparently has meaning.
    I don’t get people who claim speaking out is not action. They join a few committees or clean up their alley and they think everyone else should do the same thing. And to tell people to leave St. Louis because they do not do what you tell them to do is the height of arrogance.
    This forum along with several other forums have become important platforms for citizens. The major media outlets such as the Post heavily censor whatever the citizens send their way. Senators, Representatives and the President ignore whatever they disagree with.
    Speaking out is a basic right that needs to be exercised to protect democracy. And thankfully Steve Patterson has created the forum for that to occur.
    No one would hear voices of dissent otherwise.

  23. Howard says:

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote from experience about a tyrannical system and he won a Nobel. No one writing here has written here anything similar. Writing about your anger or disappointed about your government is different from writing about your government persecuting you and others for your political or religious beliefs or acts.

    Once upon a time, you did not pass sixth grade without learning about the Declaration of Independence to Articles of Confederation to Constitution chain of events in a civics class. The Declaration of Independence is more than talk. It was the Resolution adopted by the Second Continental Congress announcing the colonies were separating from England. It was our founding document, a declaration of war, our first foreign policy statement. They were words that had consequences. The Declaration was published in both English and German and as a large flyer for distribution in the colonies and in Ireland and England. July 6-18, 1776, it was published in 24 newspapers in 7 of the 13 colonies. The Declaration and blogs have two things in common, consonants and vowels, can’t think of anything else.

    [SLP — Interesting. Consonants & vowels only?  How about wide distribution to the masses — the easiest available given the technology at hand?   Yeah, our words are not as eloquent but it gets the point across.  I blame television.] 

  24. GMichaud says:

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn did express a great deal of anger and disappointment about his government, try reading the Oak and the Calf. But you are missing the point Howard. The first words Solzhenitsyn wrote did not make him a Nobel Prize winner, nor did the first discussions of the founding fathers become the Declaration of Independence. You belittle talk, especially by commoners, but in fact talk is the basis of action, future and current. All Solzhenitsyn did his whole life is talk and he shook the foundations of the Soviet Union. All the founding fathers did was talk and it shook the foundations of America and the world.

    Perhaps, as you say, no one with the stature of Solzhenitsyn or the founding fathers is participating in this blog, but that remains to be seen. What is certain, discussion and talk is as a valued enterprise, especially in an organized, focused blog such as Urban Review. We are not merely discussing the planting of daisies, or the best way to wash dishes, but urban issues of importance to the community.

    A public forum is extremely important, I have rehabbed many buildings, been involved in many organizations (and still am on the board of an organization in the 22nd ward), but this forum and other forums offer new opportunities for communication, analysis and hopefully for improvement of the city environment. Talk is not meaningless consonants and vowels as you suggest, but rather an extension of the principles of the Declaration of Independence converted into electronic media. The connection between the Declaration of Independence and the Urban Review is clear and real.
    To quote the Declaration of Independence. “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
    If Urban Review had a mission statement, it might include such sentiments. So I don’t believe either Solzhenitsyn nor the Declaration is so far from current circumstance as you might suggest. Nor can the consent of the governed come from anything but talk and the use of language.


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