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Citygarden Dedication Today

At 10am this morning (Tuesday 6/30/09) Mayor Slay will dedicate Citygarden, the new 2-block long sculpture garden downtown.  Before I get into the garden I want to talk about what existed on these two blocks previously.

The two blocks (bounded by Market St on the South, 10th on the West, Chestnut on the North and 8th on the East) were the last two blocks to have their historic long-standing structures razed for a grand vision of a Gateway Mall — a vision of a long green spine that dates back to the early 20th Century (map).  The city was vastly different then — it was populated, dirty (coal was still burned for heat) and anything but uniform.  Early planners sought to clear away a section of the city to offer some relief and to bring some order to a bustling chaotic city.

The problem is city leaders over the decade became addicted to demolition as a solution.  That new order would invigorate the city, they thought.  But it was the unplanned chaos that gave the city life.

In 1993 two city blocks remained to complete this ordered new vision.

Last days of the Western Union Building in 1993
Last days of the Western Union Building in 1993

Stunning huh?  But in a city with more open green space than people to occupy what we had it was decided we should create more.

What we got was two more passive (boring) city blocks.  I argued with the city’s head architect at the time but it did no good:

Unlike some older mall blocks, particularly ones west of Tucker Boulevard, Royse said, the new ones “will be inviting and attractive . . . and
people should use the mall more.” (Post-Dispatch of July 16, 1993)

Royse, now retired in Seattle, was in town recently.  I saw him last Thursday at the Loop Trolley forum.  He had not yet seen how his two blocks of the mall, the last two, had been altered.

January 28, 2008
January 28, 2008

But the two blocks were not inviting, unless you wanted to be alone with nothing to do.  The buildings surrounding these two blocks have been uninviting since new. Blank walls, raised entrances, parking garage entries.  The stuff that sucks life out of a city.

And now, these two blocks are once again recreated.  They are the opposite of the 1993-2008 blocks — a good thing as Martha Stewart would say.

Image source: citygardenstl.org
Artist rendering of City Garden. Source: citygardenstl.org

From what I’ve seen from Citygarden so far it is interesting, complex (requiring exploration),  colorful, and a delight to the senses. With a permanent cafe on the Eastern block you can stay and enjoy the space.  There is seating throughout.  We shouldn’t have razed the old buildings but once they were gone we should have created dynamic space.  Instead we got 16 years of dead passive space added to the many acres of additional dead passive space we’ve had for decades longer.

While I like the Citygarden I don’t like the process that led to today.  I wrote the following just over 2 years ago (see post):

In a classic St. Louis move, the city’s “leadership” is already moving forward with a plan the public has yet to see. Mayor Slay, Aldermanic President, Alderman Phyllis Young, and Downtown Parnership’s Jim Cloar last week talked of the newest concept as a done deal even though we the public have not seen anything yet. Typical.

The public open house is scheduled for this evening, Monday June 11, 2007 at 6:30pm in the rotunda at City Hall. This is one of those meetings designed to give the appearance of public participation without any actual participation. The usual round of types — officials, business executives, etc… — have already approved of the plan on our behalf. How big of them to do so. I assume tonight will also be a chance for all these folks to congratulate each other on a job well done. I’ll be there simply because I need to see what sort of disastrous plan the city has drafted this time. Any comment forms will likely be a waste of paper.

Hopefully these two blocks will serve as an example of the level of excitement necessary as we look at the remaining blocks of the Gateway Mall.  I’ve got a good relationship with Patricia Roland-Hamilton, the person in charge of The Gateway Mall Project.  We’ve had ongoing conversations about the qualities needed along the mall.

Once inside I’ll do a full review of Citygarden.  Again, I like it already.  But I have noticed a few details I would like to have seen done differently.  These can now serve as lessons for when the remaining blocks are addressed.

– Steve Patterson

 

Currently there are "13 comments" on this Article:

  1. It’s still green space in an alleged urban environment — not a tax or activity generating mixed-use building. Without more residents in 10 years this will look as tired as Twain or Keiner Plaza.

    The single use office space lined Gateway Mall desperately needs new buildings not green space, an aquacenter, or better views of the Arch.

     
  2. G-Man says:

    Very nice, but I’d still rather have the Western Union building.

     
  3. Brian S. says:

    I’d rather have the buildings back too, but City Garden is way cool!

     
  4. Reginald Pennypacker III says:

    “The single use office space lined Gateway Mall desperately needs new buildings not green space, an aquacenter, or better views of the Arch.”

    Then build some.

     
  5. Jimmy Z says:

    “A permanent cafe on the Eastern block”? Hopefully they have deep pockets and/or a recognizable name – the restaurant business is notoriously tough, and, like you, I hope it’s successful here. And until I can see it in person, I’m going to reserve judgement on the park itself. The one concern I do have is safety – from what I’ve seen driving by, there do seem to be places to lurk, and that could easily scare people off, especially after the new wears off . . .

     
  6. Brady Dorman says:

    It looks like an attempt at St. Louis’ mini Millennium Park with the snake like pathway at the bottom right corner reminiscent of Frank Gehry’s pedestrian bridge. It looks intriguing, much better than what is there now.

     
  7. Brian says:

    “Then build some.”
    ^Exactly, the City could have sold these blocks to private sector interests willing to “build some(thing).”

    Market Street also needs to be right-sized. It’s way too wide, even for parades. But if worried about keeping that pavement for the next Cardinals World Championship, how about some angle parking? On-street parking is the only sign of life in the pictures.

     
  8. Brian S. says:

    The original plans for what is now Bank of America Plaza included a second office tower on what is currently a vacant (but landscaped) lot at 10th and Market. I’d love to see a new tower spring up there in the future, as well as infill on the useless green space across from the Eagleton Courthouse.

     
  9. GMichaud says:

    No matter what they do the half mall they built ruins the space of the mall. If a mall is what they wanted, they don’t have it.

    The Western Union building is a reminder of the follies of St. Louis, if anyone needs a reminder.

    As another poster points out, Market Street is junk and the buildings facing the mall in general are not people friendly, but rather corporate statements of ego.

    The City garden could be nice, maybe, but everything is so piecemeal in St Louis it becomes a mishmash of urban potential. The same inept practices are repeated over and over.

    How many attractive walks are there to get to this park? Market Street is like crossing the Sahara Desert. Blanks walls, blank walks, very little commercial dominate the area except to the North and even North has been chopped up terribly.

    The walk from the stadium is dull and uninviting. Some people will make that walk to be sure, but there nothing to pull people into downtown for a nice evening.
    “Hey get in your car, might as well get out of town you know, have to find a place to park again.”

    The constant planning mistakes are costly to St.Louis, a few insiders are patted on the back and entertained, but as Steves’ previous blog about the conceptualization of this project points out, the park was a done deal when it was presented (click on Steves’ post above).

    It is a nice park, but the leadership of St. Louis has failed once again to include broader planning concerns along with a transparent process that includes the citizens.

    The funny thing about this is that these people who consider themselves leaders are costing the City millions in entertainment and retail dollars through their senseless and incompetent urban planning.

     
  10. Brian says:

    The original plans for these two blocks included two more Gateway Ones. I’d much rather have the Western Union building, Buder, etc. back too. Still, I’d rather have a Gateway Two and Three than this wasted space. If the Gateway Foundation was so bent on re-doing two blocks of The Mall, they should have re-done Kiener.

     
  11. Tom says:

    The new park looks amazing from the pictures I saw on STL Today. I don’t understand all the negativity in the comments here, but I’ve been away from St. Louis for 6 years and living in DC. My experience in living in downtown Washington is that great parks in a city or neighborhood are key additions to having quality of life. Washington has of course the National Mall but it also has many other great parks downtown that are not as grand but offer different amenities which I go to more often. As an outsider now to St. Louis, I see pictures of City Gardens and I want to visit it. The park looks very unique, especially for a downtown setting. I haven’t been there so I may be too quick to judge, but I definitely plan to visit the park when I am in St. Louis in August. I think it is over simplification to say that buildings make a great city. Many people would say that Central Park is an important factor in making New York a great city and I would say that some of my favorite experiences visiting New York have been going to Washington Square Park. Thus, if you live in downtown St. Louis, go to City Gardens and enjoy it, give it some personality.

     
  12. john w. says:

    Tom,

    It’s not simply a matter of parks in urban fabrics, but instead the CONNECTION of the parks to the BUILDINGS and other hard fixtures that make encounters with civic amenities such a rich city experience. If you’ll recall, Central Park is bounded by cityscape buildings that have very strong relationships to the park edge (5th Avenue, C.P. West, 110th and 59th Streets) sidewalks and invite the sort of vibrant activity that is expected in a great city like NY. The new City Garden is surrounded by impenetrable prison walls, with a smattering of uninviting openings to parking garages and the like. In order to enjoy this new park a visitor must travel to the park from elsewhere, because the occurrence of chance interaction with this green space because of the type of functional overlap that occurs in lively, vibrant cities won’t occur at City Park. They won’t occur until the surrounding buildings are made to invite the curiosities of those skirting the edges of the park, and of course the otherwise curious wouldn’t be there anyway because there is nothing there to interact with. No shops. No restaurant activity spilling onto the street with cafe seating, etc. There is only parking garage entries and a misplaced city park. This is reason for the negativity you read in the comments above your own.

     
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