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St. Louis Board of Aldermen Recognizes Rollin Stanley

January 25, 2008 Board of Aldermen, Planning & Design 19 Comments

Today the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed Resolution #323 thanking Rollin Stanley for his five years of service to the city.  Many aldermen expressed thanks for his help in planning assistance in their wards. Stanley indicated he left with a heavy heart, indicating he is more proud of his work in St. Louis over the last five years than his prior 21 years in Toronto.  Stanley is leaving his post as the Director of the Planning & Urban Design Agency to take a similar position with Montgomery County, Maryland (see prior post).


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. Thor Randelphson says:

    Now that is laugh out loud funny.

    If the Alderman were so grateful, so desirous to honor Stanley, one would think the far better way to honor the man would have been to actually allow him to put some of his planning skills to work.

    The anti-urban design of Loughborough Commons is far more indicative of what the Alderman really though of the ideas Stanley brought to St. Louis than some hollow resolution.

  2. northside neighbor says:

    Was Stanley opposed to Loughborough Commons? I’d say he’s proud that he was part of an overall effort to bring St. Louis back to life.

  3. dude says:

    I missed the chance on his leaving post but… I admired the man and he is missed. He responded to my, and even some friend’s, emails on city planning. I know that’s his job and all but with Steve’s pics taking one’s job to heart around the city isn’t always lived up to. I’m thinking of numerous cross walk paint jobs. He also was very respectful and polite when I saw him in public ‘off the job’ even probably when he knew he was leaving.

  4. Toronto is a planning mecca, the economic capital of Toronto, and arguably the most diverse city in North America. I’m sure his experience in St. Louis was superior.

    [SLP — Much of what makes Toronto great wasn’t actually planned — it developed organically over a time prior to the dominance of the auto.  They simply didn’t throw away all that St. Louis and other cities did.]

  5. John W. says:

    We’ll know if St. Louis is ready to move forward with progressive city planning if they replace Rollin with someone of equal or higher value, and allow this individual’s work to be a visible part of the city agenda. Allowing someone of Rollin’s ability to leave (or leaving him little choice) when he was already here, presumably doing the work that city really needs, tells me the city does not yet put much priority to urban planning nor implementing plans already existing. The talent of designers and groundwork by at least the few that believe in setting St. Louis on a positive revitalization course cannot be a part of the city archive- it needs to be big part of city’s progressive future.

  6. northside neighbor says:

    St. Louis is a big city with 78 distinct neighborhoods. Does the good work going on downtown get negated by a someday hoped for, suburban-style IKEA at 44 and Hampton? Are hip and progressive Eco-Urban infill homes in South City negated by vinyl sided, brick accented new homes near Palm and Clara? Do most Urban Review readers even know where Palm and Clara is? Would they buy a home there? If someone wants a suburban styled home on a vacant lot in a severly depressed part of the city, with vinyl siding and a front entry garage, should an urbanist protest the project? There has been much kvetching in blogs about urban action, and now moaning about losing a good planner. Look in the mirror o ye urbanist throng. What physical difference are you making to make St. Louis a better place? One more question, as an urbanist, do you spend much time talking to the average, non-urbanist, taxpaying city resident? How do you set development goals when locals disagree with your urbanist ideals? Maybe move to a more welcoming neighborhood? Perhaps celebrate the outcomes you support? So much of the urbanist tone is a shrill, in your face, we have all the answers, you’re a dummass sort of message. It’s hard to win converts when you start out from a position of we’re right and you’re wrong.

    [SLP— OK, 78 neighborhoods.  That was how the lines were drawn in the 80s so the press could identify where crime was happening.  The lines could be drawn a myriad of ways.  I’ve argued that Ikea doesn’t belong in the city — it is suburban indeed.  The “average” person, if you could find one, has bought into the auto-centric lifestyle lock stock and barrel.  While I suppose that is fine “out there” somewhere I don’t think we need to turn the bulk of the city into suburbia.  We tried that with the 14th Street Mall — failed.  We tried that with St. Louis Centre — failed.  We tried that with St. Louis Marketplace — failed.  The city needs to be a real city — not just another suburban bedroom community connected to Clayton via highways.  And frankly it takes getting in people’s faces to have them wake up from the suburban sleep mode they’ve been in for decades!]

  7. northside neighbor says:

    I guess I learned some new things today: the media came up with the city’s 78 neighborhood boundaries so it could report on crime by neighborhood. I never new that! And IKEA would be better across some imaginary urban boundary outside the city. How could I not have known that? I am such a dummass! Somebody please tell me where I can gain more truthful knowledge? St. Louis makes me feel like such a dummass! Maybe if I lived in St. Charles County people would not be so critical of me? But I like living in the city, and I like it the way it is! So I guess that makes me a real big dummass? Sorry.

    [SLP — The city developed the neighborhood plan so the media could single out places where crime was happening — saying, for example, Shaw rather than simply the south side.  While you might like things the way they are today we must all realize, dumbass or not, that cities change and evolve over time.  Right now I see much of the city changing and evolving into more of the same that we have for miles in any direction.  I don’t want to live in that muck out there and I don’t want to live in it closer in either.  You may be content but many others are not.]

  8. northside neighbor says:

    Today I drove extensively around West Pine/Euclid in the CWE/Midtown area of the city. It’s spectacular, and evolving into something wonderful. Steve, do you have a source connecting the city’s effort to name neighborhoods with the media’s desire to pinpoint criminal activity? Who’s responsible on the city’s part?

    [SLP — It was not the media’s desire, it was Mayor Schoemehl and the source is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dated Sunday October 15, 1989 (News, P4b).  Quoting from the article, “”There’s this impression that north St. Louis is some monolithic area that’s unfit to live in,” Schoemehl said. ”Frankly, there’re some very good neighborhoods in north St. Louis, as good as any around. But when you hear about a murder or a rape or some other crime occurring in north St. Louis, all the neighborhoods in north St. Louis  become tarred with the same brush.” The identity crisis has sparked a campaign, beginning this week, that stresses neighborhoods – 74 to be exact. No longer will there just be the North Side, the South Side, the Central West End or downtown.”  Satisfied?] 

  9. John W. says:

    “If someone wants a suburban styled home on a vacant lot in a severly depressed part of the city, with vinyl siding and a front entry garage, should an urbanist protest the project?” The simple answer to that question is yes, an urbanist should protest suburban sprawl pattern creep into the city. This type of development not only perpetuates the most unsustainable, auto-dependent lifestyle (for everyone, not just city or sprawl dwellers), but threatens the very character that we all recognize as the city of St. Louis. When buildings of inferior materials and architectural quality, or just simply non-responsive to the native context are introduced into a historic fabric, this damages the potential quality of a historic neighborhood and can eventually hurt all property values. Should homebuyers who desire a newly constructed home that is affordable and in the city be denied that right? Of course not, but if they desire to live in a neighborhood, especially one of historic quality, they should be aware of the context and build to a pattern becoming of that neighborhood. This is all part of a stewardship obligation to our history and character that involves everyone.

  10. northside neighbor says:

    Schoemehl may have pushed the idea of promoting neighborhood identities to help correct misperception of crime, however, most neighborhood names in St. Louis go alot further back than 1989. Nonetheless, Schoemehl’s points then about perception are as true today as they were then. Thanks for citing the source.

    [SLP — Two years later when I moved to Old North the area was still being called Murphy-Blair as a reflection of the housing project on the south end of the area.  It took a few years to get it officially changed through all the channels.]

  11. northside neighbor says:


    There are places where the historic character of the neighborhood has been lost. And I don’t know about you, but I, and most other city residents, own cars. We drive them less, but we do drive. It doesn’t matter what your house looks like in deciding how much driving you do. All my friends in Soulard own cars, as do all my friends in Hyde Park, the Central West End, Tower Grove, and every else. Steve is the only person I know who’s car free. City residents are less dependent on cars, but we still like to drive!

    [SLP — That is all good and well, people will continue to own cars.  That does not mean we must make everything to mandate owning a car.  We know how to make good pedestrian friendly neighborhood that still accommodate the auto — but we are not doing that.  We should reinforce the urban pattern to support those that walk and use transit while still having provisions for those that use cars.]  

  12. John W. says:

    northside- suburban patterns of development PROMOTE the use of the auto, and it’s form is the result of DEPENDENCE on the auto, whereas the city form throughout history, until and including the last 60 years, has been a slow-growing, pedestrian and then mass transit-oriented process. It’s physical nature reflects this, and is distinct from the indistinguishable out in the sprawl in suburbia. Rollin Stanley was a celebrated city planner coming into the position 5 years ago, being as highly-regarded in his field as one could expect, and what he advocated for the revitalization of St. Louis is precisely what is described as strong pedestrian and mass-transit oriented urban design reflective of the history if its organic growth. Perhaps you could take up your argurment with him.

  13. Jim Zavist says:

    What we really need is an IKEA store.

  14. northside neighbor says:

    Let me paint a little mental picture for you. It’s sometime in the mid-90s, and a group people – neighborhood residents, union leaders, elected officials, government representatives, others are gathered around for a ribbon cutting. A block or so away, a gang shrine is tied to a telephone pole. Broken trees, vacant lots, abandoned houses, but mostly vacant lots fill most of the neighborhood. What owner occupants that do remain are mostly elderly. They have lived through 40 years of decline. Now a minority owned small business wants to build a new home, and a local community organization supported by the alderman is helping. People are working together to bring investment back to the area. Dreams are big, but reality is starting with this one first house. There is no “market” in the traditional sense, so public subsidies are high. There is no local historic district, so design requirements are standard BOCA for new construction. The builder has finished a single family, suburban style house with a front entry garage. People are gathered for the ribbon cutting. Public subsidy has made it possible for a young minority family to become first time homebuyers, and they are in the middle of the group, getting ready to cut the ribbon. Everyone present is celebrating. Would snarky urbanists chide the house design? Better questions: Were they volunteering on the board of the local community organization during the predevelopment phase of the project? Were they participating in neighborhood meetings when local priorities, including bringing new homes to the area were being discussed? What standing do they have to criticize the project after its built?

    [SLP — Yes, I would have argued against a front-facing suburban style house in the city — I don’t care if it is the only sign of hope — it is the wrong sign.  Pinning your hopes on a suburban model in an old urban city is a fruitless exercise.  I was on the board of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group — helping to plant street trees and working as best we could toward what is now an exciting project.  These things take time but had we let Old North become suburbia the current project wouldn’t be worth doing.]

  15. northside neighbor says:

    The people of Old North set a vision, prioritizing historic rehab and urban infill. That’s what’s happening. It’s got historic districts. What about Wells Goodfellow? The West End? (Not CWE).

  16. John W. says:

    northside- Let me paint a mental picture for you. It’s sometime in the spring of 2007, and a catastrophic F5 tornado has decimated a small town of 6,000 inhabitants in rural Kansas. Homes, business, churches, schools, the post office and public pool. Gone. The residents of the small community who were insistent on remaining in their town were quickly acquiring mobile homes and otherwise temporary shelters to replace their destroyed homes. Seeing that a lot of resilient townspeople were determined to remain in their hometown in the tornado’s wake, but fearing the result of a directionless, hasty and non code-compliant pattern of rebuilding the mayor decided to act fast. The mayor, allied with the governor of the state, announced to the mostly remaining townspeople a comprehensive plan to rebuild the city with proper town form, and in a sustainable manner. The plan would involve the input of the townspeople, and be assembled by a consortium of planners and designers knowledgeable in town building and sustainable design. The work of rebuilding the devastated town would begin immediately. The mayor quickly recognized that without planning for proper town form, the fast-emerging pattern of impromptu settlement of ad-hoc trailers and other structures, borrowed or cobbled together for the sake of immediate refuge, would no longer be stopgap measure but permanent fixture. The mayor may likely have invoked actions to limit the placements of the crisis-mode housing or time of its occupation by townspeople, and this is not certain, but what is certain is that without vision and action disarray would ensue. Once protracted, this disarray would be difficult to reverse, leaving the once proud town of strong tradition and vernacular a discordant muddle. Northside, I don’t believe there are many who could find fault with the action of the mayor to circumvent a second major disaster to hit the small town following the devastating storm. A few may argue that interference in the right of the townspeople to rebuild their homes amounts to insensitivity and arrogance, and at least initially this argument is understandable. However, I believe it’s clear that the action to be undertaken will place the town on a path that can be followed to restore its former identity. Like Old North St. Louis, there are people trying to set a vision for the decaying and vacant expanses in many other old, historic neighborhoods, and it will take quite a lot of time because there is so much to do. Without an overarching sense of realizable goals through measured plans that are actionable, these neighborhoods will be left to the piecemeal process that has installations of terribly inappropriate form clashing distastefully with the historic urban fabric. While there are many examples of new infill construction in these neighborhoods, and many of these examples are what many would describe as suburban, most have been of marginal to poor quality. While the new single-family homes built on the cleared land in McRee Town recently, for instance, are of a reasonably good density (5-6 DU/acre on tight lots, and better on the blocks between McRee and Blaine Streets than the others) they are disappointingly of a suburban architectural style. The historic context provided cues that could have easily been either followed or referenced, but were not. The detached garages are accessed from the rear alley shared by the north and south sides of the block and this is of proper urban form, however the detachment provided an opportunity to build an accessory rental unit atop the garage that was missed. Though an accessory rental unit is presently disallowed by the single-use occupancy zoning ordinance currently followed by the city (and most other American cities), a variance could be granted by adjustment. There are many other examples in the city similar to McRee Town, but I believe the illustration is clear. Some urban infill has proved that there is a market for reconditioned or new residential property in the city of St. Louis, but most has failed to follow good urban form. When urbanists are faced with infill development that follows a pattern unbecoming of good urban form and dismissive of its historic context, they are likely to protest. Northside, you ask what standing urbanists would have to criticize a project after is built. I would say urbanists would prefer to not have to protest because the infill development follows good urban form, but this is unlikely without realizable neighborhood goals through measured plans that are actionable. Most who have posted on this blog recently on the topic of Rollin Stanley recognize his talent, but lament the fact that his efforts have apparently been met with the incapable power of city hall. No urbanist is trying to prevent long-depressed neighborhood residents from having what is deserved, but they believe what is built can just as easily follow good form as it unfortunately most often does not. Though we may not have the mayor of that small, tornado-stricken Kansas town leading a revitalization effort where it is badly needed here, we can only rely on the existence of the urbanists in this city that care enough to demand good form to act to ensure it, with or without snarky, chiding comments. Urbanists can hope that Mr. Stanley’s shoes will be filled by someone with equal commitment and talent, and ultimately provide the kind of leadership that will set these historic neighborhoods on a path that can be followed to restore their former identity.

  17. northside neighbor says:

    Old North is a small piece of north city. It represents maybe 2 or 3 percent (at most) of the north side’s land mass. It has long standing historic districts (unlike most of the city), and residents which work together to preserve its remaining vacant historic buildings (also not a given in many city neighborhooods). Just ask: How many Southampton residents opposed the recent demo of a two-four family near Lawn and Chippewa? Any? Nor was said demo much mentioned in the built environment blogosphere, even though it was the first decay-driven demolition in the neighborhood. And the SoHA building was in much better shape prior to its demo than most ONSL LRA buildings the neighbors there are protecting. Why compare ONSL to Southampton? To starkly make the point that every neighborhood is different. Markets, building stock, political environment, demographics, neighborhood sentiment, neighborhood priorities, incentive resources (Southampton isn’t on the National Register, a resource which might have saved the Lawn Ave demo), and so on. Most urbanists get amped up about the building stock. However, the building stock is only one small piece of the overall set of forces driving neighborhoods. Getting “standing” has to do with knowing the array of those forces, how they impact on one another, working with people at all levels of neighborhood growth, and then helping to deliver on an overall agenda of positive, community-driven, goal oriented change. That takes time. What makes us urban is much more diverse and complicated than simply our beautiful architecture and historic neighborhoods.

    [SLP — What made us urban was the form of the public streets — created by the buildings. Adding to that was a dense and diverse crowd of people largely relying on public transportation.  The more we destroy the urban walls of the street (be that in Old North or South Hampton) and the lower our density gets the further and further we erode our level of urbanity.  For many we are past the breaking point and they simply move on to cities that understand a block or two of urbanity here and there simply is not sufficient to maintain a pedestrian/transit-based urban lifestyle.  This urbanist will be at the Preservation Board tonight opposing the demolition of a corner building at Page & Union — one that a church wants to turn into parking and “open” space.]  

  18. john w. says:

    northside- Obviously what makes us urban is much more diverse than simply our beautiful architecture and historic neighborhoods, and that knowing the array of all of the civic forces in play when considering the impact of a development proposal is necessary. Your posts seem to indicate that “most urbanists” are simply enchanted by urban architectural remnant, and consider no other factor of the complete civic array of forces, or that most of us urbanists are so goo goo-eyed regarding the detailing of 89 year-old buildings that we’re blinded of all other possible forces acting on a place of interest. Clearly, market forces differ from some areas of the city to others, and this will be reflected in the vigor of building activity in differing areas as well as context-specific architecture. Markets reflect a response from consumers. If a vendor offers consumers one product that proves to be in demand, that vendor could rest comfortably if never challenged by competition. If another vendor or vendors see not only opportunity to challenge the first vendor of that single product, but further seek to demonstrate that the alternative product is better for any number of reasons, then that is simply participating in the market in an enterprising manner. If the challenging vendor or vendors are able to demonstrate that the alternative to the first vendor’s product is in fact better than the first, and the consumers then register their preference for the alternative, it would be hard to argue that the market failed to operate as intended. I believe most urbanists have sympathy with any market effort that challenges bad development form, and especially if that bad development form threatens to become prevalent. Consumers will consume what is available in a market, and if bad form is the sole unchallenged product then those consumers will choose that bad product. Urbanists wish to challenge bad form and present better precedent for future growth. Good parents wish to instill in their children proper habits that are healthful and [moral] in their formative years as to avert any future deleterious effects that result from bad stewardship, for instance. I believe it would be of best practice to learn of the political environment, demographics, neighborhood sentiment, neighborhood priorities and incentive resources (including historic registry, but even more), prior to expecting a development proposal to simply be embraced. This should not present much obstruction as the common methods of information gathering are well documented. I do not have much experience in these pursuits but am interested in learning. Perhaps you have experience and can be instructive. This information gathering would constitute the market research necessary to challenge the vendor purveying the unchallenged, bad product as mentioned above. I would absolutely agree that setting an overall agenda of positive, community-driven, goal-oriented (insert any additional hyphenated buzzwords that I may have missed) change is what should be in place prior to action, but also know that the change goals of that agenda must be actionable or are of little value. Reducing Rollin Stanley to a role of engaging orator but ineffectual practitioner is a recognized example of such inactionable agenda. This must change, and many urbanists are beginning the work of this necessary change. Urbanists are interested in preserving strong patterns and form, along with the historical fabric of our once vibrant past. Urbanists are also interested in establishing patterns of new development that not only complement what is good in the existing, but also set forward patterns of future development that are sustainable. Urbanists are interested in the cessation of suburban sprawl pattern development for all the reasons we all now know well, and will continue to protest developments or projects that fail to contribute to such sustainable patterns. Urbanists believe good urban form is superior where urban form is the historic precedent, and believe new, actionable codes for future development that are form-based should supplant the sprawl inducing single-use zoning laws that are in current practice.

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