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St. Louis’ Planning a Mess on so Many Levels

September 23, 2009 North City, NorthSide Project, Politics/Policy 27 Comments

Paul McKee’s NorthSide project may, eventually, be a good thing for the City of St. Louis and the entire St. Louis region.  But by that time most of us won’t be around.  We’ve had a 60+ year decline (1940-2000) and it will take at least 60 more to recover (2010-2070) from numerous past mistakes.

Looking at unused land (Pruitt-Igoe, 22nd Street Interchange, etc) as potential job centers connected by tree-lined boulevards and transit is sound urban planning.  But good urban planning in the community is best done by the community, not the private sector.

Famed planner (engineer actually) Harland Bartholomew guided much of the destruction of the city during his tenure, 1916-1950.  He rejected everything Jane Jacobs valued in cities.

The destruction continued after he retired his city job in 1950, guided by his 1947 Comprehensive City Plan.  Big picture planning basically stopped after he left.  Planning became seeking federal Urban Renewal & Model Cities money. In 1973 the Rand Corporation issued the report St. Louis: A City and Its Suburbs:

A summary statement of the research findings and policy implications of a series of studies conducted under the St. Louis project of the RAND Urban Policy Analysis Program. Three possible futures for the city are posed: continued decline; stabilization in a new role as an increasingly black suburb; and return to a former role as the center of economic activity in the metropolitan area. The analysis argues that without major policy changes beyond the local level, the city will most likely continue to decline, and suggests that, among the alternatives open to the city, promoting a new role for St. Louis as one of many large suburban centers of economic and residential life holds more promise than reviving the traditional central city functions. However, new resources, available to the city from sources outside the city, are essential to any improvement. Several mechanisms are offered for consideration: (1) a more substantial federal revenue-sharing program; (2) a state revenue-sharing program to support selected public goods; (3) a metropolitan revenue program, sharing revenue generated by industry in the metropolitan area; and (4) a metropolitan earnings tax.

This report shocked city leaders. The planning commission hired a consulting firm to update the 1947 Plan and to reverse the decline cited in the Rand Report.  The draft 1975 INTERIM COMPREHENSIVE PLAN was the city’s response.

The Interim Comprehensive Plan was introduced to the public as a replacement of the 1947 Comprehensive Plan . The City Planning Commission claims that the planning needs of St. Louis had changed over a period of thirty years and therefore the comprehensive plan for the City should change as well. This draft document was written for citizen review. The overall focus of this comprehensive plan was to provide citizens with the highest quality of life, socially, economically, and physically. The plan contains policies and recommendations for land use, transportation, public facilities and housing, all of which are aimed at establishing a quality residential environment, job opportunities, economic development, and expanded opportunities for the disadvantaged.

This never adopted draft plan is best known for the firm the wrote it, Team Four. The Team Four plan was urban triage — cutting off municipal services to those areas deemed too far gone.  Save what can still be saved.  Today this approach is applied to shrinking cities.   Back in the day it was viewed as a plot to drive black citizens out of the city. Many still feel that was the intent or would have been the result if the plan would have been officially adopted.

After the backlash against the Team Four plan the City of St. Louis got out of the big picture planning business kicking off the second 30 year period without a plan.

We look to the government to provide services where the private market has failed or those for the common good, such as fire protection.  But three decades of government being out of planning the primate market reversed the roles and developed their own plan.  Of course the private market’s main goal is profit.

Today’s residents, many not born when the city gave up on planning, are not willing to turn over community planning to a private business.  I don’t blame them.  So the first part of the mess is the city’s abandonment of planning.  Next is the realization that a businessman from St. Charles County wants to do the planning the city should have been doing.  Of course, the city has a poor track record of planning.

But the citizenry had an ideal of community planning so when McKee purchased thousands of properties people naturally got suspicious of his intentions.  Numerous meetings this year announced those intentions but poor community & media relations has made a bad situation even worse.  Myself and others of the media were barred from a meeting, a discussion board was set up by McKee’s company only to be taken down due to a mountain of criticism.  Uh, duh.

Tonight McKee is asking for public TIF funds to help finance his project yet a few days ago, at a public meeting, he objected to his statements being recorded on video.  In decades earlier deals could get done without such documentation by the public.  But it is 2009, not 1959.  Cameras are a fact today and public meetings are subject to being recorded.  Holding meetings in private to circumvent this reality is even worse.  Our elected leadership is not equipped to manage the conflict.

Parts of McKee’s plan are sound: developing the vacant Pruitt-Igoe site, using wasted land at the 22nd Street Interchange, planning for jobs at the landing of the new Mississippi River bridge, narrowing Jefferson Ave, and building a streetcar to tie the near North side into downtown, filling in gaps in the urban fabric.  Had these ideas come out of a community planning process most would be on board today.  Instead we have a huge mess with a substantial section of the city hanging in the balance.

I’m not sure which is worse; Harland Bartholomew’s highly planned destruction of 19th century neighborhoods, a 30-60 year gap in planning, or planning serving private interests.  None will lead to the city I envision St. Louis becoming.

See Matt Mourning’s excellent post With NorthSide Project, the Villain is in the Process for more thoughts on process (this sentence added 9/23/2009 at 7am.)

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "27 comments" on this Article:

  1. Rob says:

    The “Team Four” plan actually wasn’t viewed as racist until much more recently. At the time it was drafted, North St. Louis was shrinking but was not yet majority-Black.

  2. Rob says:

    Sorry — that isn’t true. I just checked and what I actually read was that the area was not majority-Black at the time the population decline started, which I guess would’ve been close to 1950.

  3. John M says:

    Mr. Duckworth, I like the way you asserted yourself, (see PD today) despite the criticism you received. Somebody needs to ask the questions, and your were there to record it for the rest of us. Thanks again.

    What is so secret that it bothered him so much, very bizarre behavior from my perspective, and adds to the suspicion of the whole thing. Thanks to everyone spending time looking at this, as I only have had time to be one meeting so far.

  4. stannate says:

    A question that has yet (to my knowledge) been asked of Paul McKee is that of corporate succession. He’s 63 years old, and if he were to magically get his way and have his project start tomorrow, he would be anywhere from 78 to 83 years old at its completion. What plans would McKee and McEagle have to carry this project past his death, or will the entire project pass away with him?

  5. John Regenbogen says:

    As a native Clevelander, I note how different the development process is between the two cities. A primary difference b/w the two is the much larger role community development corporations play in Cleveland. The CDC’s are often overly connected with the elected councilmember, which causes certain problems, but I do believe the Cleveland model does do a better job of incorporating citizen input. Brookings did a good comparison of development methods in Saint Louis, Cleveland, and Indianapolis (which has a greater level of foundation influence) a few years ago.

    [slp — Cleveland is fortunate to have had a decade of planning leadership with Norm Krumholz from 1969-1979.]

  6. Jimmy Z says:

    Matt’s observations seem to be pretty accurate. And while I support the concept of and the need for good urban planning, I’m going to beat that dead horse – show me the money! Stuff is getting neglected, torn down and replaced with suburban crap because that’s all the local market is willing to support. Sure there are pockets where like-minded people are rebuilding the city, and other areas where a fragile stability continues, but in too many parts, especially on the north side, the jobs are leaving or gone, property values are in the toilet, retail is focused on subsistence businesses catering to poor residents, and, except for McKee, there’s no real reinvestments being made that will help the city regrow. We can plan and legislate until we’re blue in the face, but we need investors willing to risk their own money on a much larger scale than a building or a block at a time. So we now face a very uncomfortable choice, either continue with the status quo, and hope that a better plan emerges, or we run with McKee’s, warts and all, and hope that it succeeds. Or we can just punt, and spend another ten or thirty years “studying” things . . .

  7. Chris Grant says:

    What do people think of the possibility thatMcKee will build-up the areas around the new bridge and the I-64/22nd street interchange, and then ask for a highway to be built between the two areas, through Pruitt-Igoe, connecting I-70 and I-64. This highway would roughly follow the route that was proposed some 40 years ago. I know that McKee’s renderings don’t show this. But, if his plan is to build distribution centers, he will want highways.

  8. Ben says:

    Interesting. Harland Bartholomew and associates is the firm that worked on my city’s (crystal city) first comprehensive plan.

  9. Becker says:

    So when does the broken record of complaining about a lack of public-sector urban planning end? When will a unified group of concerned citizens propose a better way to the powers that be?

    When does badgering the alderman turn into drafting a new system with the aldermen?

    When does lamenting the aldermen who will not help turn into actively campaigning for new aldermen that will?

    When will those who complain about a failure of leadership make the commitment to lead themselves?

    This isn’t directed solely to you Steve but this whole community.

    Just wondering: When does the talk stop and the action start?

  10. Tim E says:

    Jimmy Z has said it and I would elaborate on it, show me the money on the scale of $350 million for public infrastructure. For some reason, no one is discussing what the alternatives are when it comes to public infrastructure.

    – Fed Stimulus funds, guess what? It is spoken for and what is left to be obligated has a lot of local governments lining up. We could probably gain a million here and million there. Realistically, not much else. Especially if we don’t put something forth ourselves.

    – Missouri is a low tax state and tax credits will be the most likely economic development tool for the foreseeable future. Historic credits has helped St. Louis big time. The politics have set aside another $100 million plus for a project of this scope. Use it or lose it because we will not see a State Capital outlay of any significance nor anymore tax credits because of the economy and declining state revenue.

    – The city puts up the bonds to fund and rebuild infrastructure itself. Mayor and Board of Alderman won’t touch that for a very long time. Nor do I see southside supporting such unless a big chunk is spread throughout the city. That would require the city to back even a bigger chunk of bonds.

    – Assess current property owners. As noted, the current state of northside and property values would never support this alternative because the remaining owners could not afford the assessments needed to generate $350 million. Assessments for repaving a street are tough enough when you got a street full of houses and middle class incomes.

    – Finally, a citywide sales tax. I think that would have the same political support as the city seeking out bonds itself.

    – Don’t even entertain A Transportation Development District in this area because the revenue generated won’t come close to what is needed to support what is being proposed. Heck, the Loop TDD (an area populated by a strong business community and apartments full of people) won’t even fully fund the loop trolley operation if it is built.

    McKee is proposing a workable plan in which the Mayor, Darlene Greene, and the Board of Aldermen have the final say. I suspect that most people in City Government, even the Feds and State, view McKee’s plan as the most plausible chance to rebuild a big chunk of the city. If done right, city backing bonds on streets, sidewalks, sewer, public buildings is not a bad outcome because the investment will have to be made and the downturn in commercial construction has resulted in some of the most competitive bidding/pricing in a long time.

    Their is some good parts as Steve noted that should be a priority in my mind. First, replace the 22nd street interchange and reinstate the city street grid (this doesn’t encourage a freeway – it eliminates it). Second, I’m in favor of a Tucker Ave. realignment. The new Mississippi Bridge is coming. Its time to tackle this area in a big time and provide the best possible downtown access from the new bridge. Finally, I think the most recent changes is reflecting the fact that McKee needs to protect the current residents. Its up to the Board of Aldermen to clarify the line.

  11. john says:

    As he states, “We have no means of either stopping what he takes from the built environment or influencing what he puts in, is it his fault? Or is it a horrible broken process that denies citizens due influence over the outcomes of major decisions affecting the built environment?” Yes to both.
    – –
    To create successful projects requires leadership (political, corporate and grass roots) and the public on the same page. Corporate leaders appreciate this and perhaps this is one of the main reasons he doesn’t want recorded presentations. Requests for TIFs and other government subsidies should require a public vote and only approved with a super majority. Instead we are governed by TIFs and Eminent Domain abuse (ie. political leadership with numerous conflicts of interest coupled with private profits-socialized costs) and divided we fail.

  12. GMichaud says:

    Ultimately it is not “show me the money” as JZ suggests, but rather the development of a comprehensive plan that creates an environment that is desirable and different than the McMansion suburban crap. People buy into the suburban crap because there are no viable alternative approaches. (This is proven to be so in some American cities and other cities around the world).

    While Matt is correct the process is screwed up, this is already understood and has been mentioned numerous times by numerous writers on this blog. For instance in a number of previous posts on Urban Review I have suggested the planning process in San Francisco to have merit
    In addition the Unitary Plan of London is a much more effective method of planning than the ubiquitous land use planning. In my view it would be transformational for St. Louis to develop a similar Unitary Plan.
    Finally Becker has a complaint that nothing is being done to take action. But in fact the blogs are an end in themselves, they are discussion, education and reporting on issues. Eventually there will be new elected officials, my guess is sooner rather than later, but it is wrong to expect the blogs to be responsible for more than the starting part for discussion.
    It is certainly an improvement over the recent grim past where the political establishment along with their buddies in the major newspapers and TV stations controlled the debate and directed it any direction they cared to go. In fact that is the process that has created the shabby city of today.
    They still dominate and can care less about the citizens and their ideas, but they are no longer the only voices heard. It is a great achievement to have this talk at all, the virtual town hall, action will occur in due time.

  13. barbara_on_19th says:

    Steve, thanks for the lovely post. We went into this thing knowing that the “product” was a done deal, but aspiring to influence the process. We need better planning, and specifically a better planning *process*. I like the high-level vision of the Civitas plan too, but not at the expense of my neighbors’ livelihoods and family generational assets. Why can’t we have both? Equitable development takes thoughtfulness and intelligence, but is not beyond our abilities. We just have to try harder, or for those who gave all this week, recharge the batteries and keep trying.

  14. Jimmy Z says:

    GM – Most zoning regulations and comprehensive plans define goals and set maximum allowable densities; few set minimum densities. Until setback lines become build-to lines, maximum heights become minimum heights, floor area ratios set minimums, not maximums, and parking ratios define maximums, not minimums, all we have are wish lists. Sure, in a perfect world, we can “create an environment that is [much more] desirable”. The real challenge is having the development community, and their end users, embrace our vision. The real-world challenge is that if we define minimums that are “too high”, aka hurdles that don’t make sense financially, the Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in, big time – instead of good/better development, we get NO development!

    If, for example, a rent-to-own place can make money by moving into a vacant Lincoln-Mercury dealership (as on Kingshighway), what should the city’s response be? Say no, we “need” a multi-story building to replace what’s there? And likely end up with a multi-year vacancy? Or say yes, and “accept” that something is better than nothing, especially at this place and at this point in time?

    Density happens because land becomes too valuable for less-dense (“suburban crap”) uses. Value comes from what people are willing to pay. You’re seeing high-rise buildings replacing low-rise buildings in downtown Clayton because it makes sense financially – Centene (and others) sees the value of having a lot of employees densely packed in one place, even if it costs them more than locating in a suburban, low-rise office park. CVS is building their store on Gravois (and replacing a gas station) because it makes sense, to them, financially. “Should” they be building a more “urban” building, one that “respects” the corner? If you’re writing the checks, maybe. But the hard reality is that you’re not, they are! They don’t see a market for and/or don’t want the added hassles of including residential or office uses here. Should the city be dogmatic, stand on principle, and say no, we’d rather wait, for 5, 10 or 30 years for the “right” project? Or should the city say yes, and assume that small steps (and in my world, a CVS is a step up from a BP) are better than none? That if things continue to shift in a positive direction, that in 20 or 30 years the land will become more valuable, things will become more appropriate/denser, in time?

  15. GMichaud says:

    JZ, the problem is if you keep building crap, you’ll have a crappy city. The point of a well executed comprehensive plan would in fact encourage the creation of density. For instance make TIFs available only if certain densities are created.
    If we allow the free market to determine the shape of the city, what we are really allowing is insiders who think they know an easy way to make a buck determine policy by buying government favors. That is what is known as the free market in the United States.
    If in fact St. Louis had a good planning process, that alone would make land and the city more desirable. To imagine that in some far away future, by allowing useless crap to be built over and over that the city will be finally be successful at the other end is pure nonsense.
    The way to revive the city is to determine what the city is going to be and then formulate policy to conform with that vision. Then all developers coming into St. Louis know what is expected of them. It matters not who writes the checks, the public interest is put ahead of corporate requirements. You try to work with them of course, but they have to understand how
    they fit into an overall scheme.(although I would not be surprised is CVS is getting some government money ie we are writing the checks)
    Do you think people visit Paris because they allow a CVS to be built across from a Walgreens? Why is Toronto successful?, or New York or San Francisco?, they all have built desirable urban environments.
    No development is a better solution than crap, the crap lasts a long time and further undermines a recovery to a true urban environment.
    And of course the backdrop to all of this is not just the creation of a livable city, but the absolute need to begin to recreate sustainable environments and curtail oil dependency, global warming and associated problems.
    The time to act is now, not 20 or 30 years from now. This is not an academic exercise, rather finding new urban forms for the modern age is a question of survival.

    In the end a well though out, well executed urban plan would attract new development. St. Louis would have a purpose, a direction and new meaning. That would attract development.

  16. john w. says:

    Thank you Greg. Our city suffers so much crap BECAUSE of libertarian attitudes toward property ownership and our built environment.

  17. studs lonigan says:

    As the City of St. Louis revitalizes, its new energy manifests itself in a number of ways, some very positive, others less so. As historic buildings are demolished and replaced under the classical banner of “progress”, many St. Louisans are mollified by some of the replacements that are seen. There was relatively little outcry over the loss of the Ettrick. The PB voted to approve it. There was little hand wringing or vocal public opposition. Why? Because it was going to happen anyway, people figured. Because the demolisher is the city’s largest employer and can do whatever it wants, sorta like AB InBev and Fr. Biondi. Finally, perhaps, and most significantly, because the Ettrick, unlike the San Luis, was to be replaced with something BIGGER, BETTER, and MOOOORE. I think this is still problematic and does not make the loss of this historic building more palatable. I am not strictly against “progress”, at least when that’s what it really is. I am against making the City of St. Louis look like Houston. Or a listless suburb of Atlanta or Phoenix. The effect of distinctive and/or historic architecture being erased, particularly in prominent and thriving areas like the CWE, is to irrevocably alter the character, scale and soul, if you will, of what makes our neighborhoods distinctive places. They do not look like anyplace else. It is not an inconsequential detail that to some extent at least, they are getting to look like everyplace else. These losses are certainly offset somewhat by the retention/creation of new jobs, enormous investment in the urban core, new facilities/services, blah blah blah, but what is too often overlooked is the aggregate effect of transformation, bit by bit, as what we know as “Old North” or “the CWE” assumes a character far removed from its historical “feel”. Neighborhoods are constantly evolving and changing, for better or worse, and that cannot be stopped. A commitment to preservation for the sake of preservation is needed. Like virtue itself, preservation is its own reward.

  18. Jimmy Z says:

    GM – I don’t disagree, “if you keep building crap, you’ll have a crappy city” – duh! My question / conundrum is how do we make that NOT happen? Our existing zoning, in the city, doesn’t prohibit good design or, in many cases, appropriate “urban” densities. We’re getting what we’re getting NOT because we don’t have the right vision, we’re getting what we’re getting because that’s all that makes sense financially, for those (few?) people willing to write the checks!

    I agree, “Why is Toronto successful?, or New York or San Francisco?, they all have built desirable urban environments.” I’d also add Chicago, Denver, Portland and Seattle to that list. The BIG difference is that people are willing to pay a LOT more to live in any of these cities – not so much here, and money talks. Crap is cheaper to build than good stuff, and higher-density, multi-story stuff, including parking, costs more to build than single-story stuff. Add in the “incentive” of being smarter and more efficient with more-expensive dirt, and density starts to make sense. But, when you can buy land, pretty much anyplace around here for, pardon the pun, dirt cheap, density makes a lot less sense – if enough dirt costs less than doing the same thing in a parking structure, then guess what – you get surface parking!

    It doesn’t matter if some plan says there “should” be a six-story building on this corner. If it only makes sense, financially, for a CVS, then you’re gonna get a box in a parking lot UNLESS our politicians have the cojones to just say no, it’s not good enough! And the ONLY way they’re gonna do that is if they have a hint of something other or better than a CVS is out there, and given the way we hand out TIF’s, that’s a RARE occurance.

    Which brings me to where we obviously disagree on one core point – “No development is a better solution than crap.” We have way too many examples around here of “no development”, aka disinvestment. The problem with no development is that you end up looking like East St. Louis or Wellston or much of Detroit, and the desolate landscape becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most real change is incremental. We need to stop the bleeding first, save the patient. We need to create more reasons for people to want to be here, and, YES, better urban design is one (small?) way to do so. But so are jobs, recreation, schools, housing, taxes, transportation and entertainment. The hard reality is that “no development” strips the city of the resources the city needs to address all the other issues – money talks!

  19. anon says:

    Random thought – “Nuisance Coordinator” has got to be the worst job title ever created. What do these people do? Coordinate nuisances? Like moving drug houses and abandoned buildings as if deck chairs on the Titanic? I don’t want my nuisances coordinated; I want them removed, finito, terminado, rausmittem!

  20. GMichaud says:

    JZ, you miss the point once again. you can’t on one hand agree building crap causes crappy cities, then turn around and act like a St. Louis politician: when someone shows up with a pocketful of money you kiss their feet.
    It is also true education, entertainment etc attract people to a city, but we are talking about urban planning and its ability to attract people. The successful cities cited, and there are many additional ones around the world, generally have one thing in common–overarching urban goals that developers must comply with. Surprise, corporations and business want to be in those cities even if they can’t demo the surrounding block for parking. In fact the irony is that urban standards make those cities more attractive than St. Louis.
    Without some sense of urban design standards, you get the St. Louis of today, chopped up; becoming more chopped up; half suburban and half urban; and if you get your wish, it will continue as the guys with the money come in and call the shots at the expense of the citizens, the city and its future.

    If you don’t understand how urban design criteria can precede the developer and development of the city, let me know, there are numerous references on urban planning I can cite that illustrate why and how the city is built, not to kiss the developers ass, but to serve its citizens.

  21. Jimmy Z says:

    GM, I repeat, “My question / conundrum is how do we make that [suburban crap] NOT happen?” And no, it’s not a rhetorical question nor a libertarian position, it’s a very pragmatic and relevent question. Strict development guidelines only work when there are willing consumers – see New Town St. Charles for one rare local example. It’s also just simple economics – if you can’t sell or rent what you’re building at a profit, you won’t be developing anything for very long!

    We all know how well “Just say No!” works with sex and drugs; why should we expect anything better when it comes to real estate development?! Especially here, where many large potential redevelopment properties in the city and inner-ring suburbs linger on the market for months or years? When it seems like every crappy suburban-style development requires multiple government subsidies before anything happens? When every crappy new development actually finds enough buyers or tenants or shoppers?

    I get it. Good design creates a better built environment. I spent a lot of years “in the trenches”, attending multiple meetings and pushing for these outcomes in Denver. It ain’t easy and it ain’t quick. But it does take consumers willing to pay a little extra to make it all happen AND it takes a government willing to demand better. We don’t seem to have either here, and I have no idea which group is going to be easier to convince! The poster child for McKee’s Northside development is Denver’s Stapleton redevelopment. Yes, there was heavy planning that went into it, and yes, and there are multiple levels of design review and design requirements. But the two big reasons it’s a success are location and price – it’s an infill project, in between downtown and DIA, and homes are selling for multiples of what they’d sell for here (http://stapletondenver.com/data/uploads/PRF_Aug_web_0.pdf). There’s both a market and government support there, not so much here.

    I also take exception with your characterization that I “turn around and act like a St. Louis politician: when someone shows up with a pocketful of money you kiss their feet.” Stating the current economic and development realities isn’t “kissing their feet”, it’s clarifying the simple facts of life in St. Louis, although it may also be bursting your idealistic bubble. Which gets to the fundamental question – just what sort of design “standards” do you suggest that will actually make what’s being built today in St. Louis “better” (and by whose standards)? It’s much like a line a Denver talk show host favors, “And I wish I were taller”. Zoning regulations invariably set maximum building sizes, minimum setbacks and minimum parking requirements. Even if the regulations were made more “urban” (allowing bigger buildings, smaller or no setbacks and less parking), what will drive anyone to build to these “better” standards? It’s not that the existing standards are too restrictive or onerous, there’s just apparently no financial reason to approach their limits!

    Using one of our favorite examples, the Walgreen’s at Kingshighway and Chippewa, the existing zoning clearly allowed a multi-story department store, yet all we have now is a generic single-story box surrounded by parking. What could the city have done differently there, really, to get a new multi-story, mixed-use structure here, instead of a Walgreen’s?! The site had been vacant for years. Politics is all about the art of the possible. There obviously was no market there for more density (the old density went away and no one was willing to outbid Walgreen’s for the site), and based on the store’s apparent success, it’s filling a retail need for the local community.

    As you allude to, “Surprise, corporations and business want to be in those cities even if they can’t demo the surrounding block for parking.” The key word is WANT! St. Louis doen’t have a Rodeo Drive or a Michigan Avenue drawing both name retailers and shoppers from surrounding states. Our corporate headquarters are downsizing, moving out of state or being absorbed into foreign entities, and we’re not attracting many new ones. And where we obviously disagree is the relative importance good urban design plays in these decisions. Is Chicago more attractive because of Millenium Park or O’Hare Airport? Did Chrysler close their Fenton minivan plant because there’s better urban planning or cheaper healthcare in Canada? Is Dallas more attractive because of their mansions and culture or because the state has no sales tax? Until we attract more and better jobs, we’re going to face an urban reality that’s closer to Paris, Kentucky, than to Paris, France . . .

  22. john says:

    Which comes first, smart leadership or a smart electorate? What desperation-division looks like:

    Weak finances means: JZ “The BIG difference is that people are willing to pay a LOT more to live in any of these cities” (ie. successful corporations and good job opportunities means higher salaries).

    Local attitudes means: sl says “little hand wringing or vocal public opposition. Why? Because it was going to happen anyway, people figured. Because the demolisher is the city’s largest employer and can do whatever it wants” (ie. don’t criticize as it may mean your job).

    StL leadership: GM “If we allow the free market to determine the shape of the city, what we are really allowing is insiders who think they know an easy way to make a buck determine policy by buying government favors.” (ie. over 90 county municipalities means TIFs, zoning exemptions, Eminent Domain abuse rules in the region and dominates the City).

    All true and forgive me if I misapplied your explanations. Divided we fail.

  23. GMichaud says:

    JZ, I’m surprised, (or maybe not) you take exception to my statement that you are similar to politicians who kiss the feet of any developer who walks through the door.
    Every post I have seen you make you apologize and justify the actions of developers in so many words “because they write the checks”.
    Since you are an architect I would have expected someone who believed in the power of design and art to help move culture in different directions.
    You seem to be focused on markets and money, which is fine, but it is exactly why America is so sick right now.
    St. Louis, and America need a different direction. Christ, how much evidence do you need. Yet you offer the same tired solutions of let the market determine the direction.
    There is no real free market of course, but without getting into that discussion, lets take Kingshighway and Chippewa as an example.
    If it was designated as a major node and density and storefront presence was emphasized, that could be encouraged with the free market devices of TIFs and many other incentives. Thus if Walgreens was rewarded for creating greater density and rejected if they didn’t want to, then an overall plan could be formulated connecting important values of density that support transit, walkability etc.

    We can’t design the city in this post, but this is much different discussion than the artificial regulations for New Town in St. Charles.

    I recently read an obscure MIT Press book on Vallinby and Farsta, new towns built around the sixties outside Stockholm. Vallinby was built first and parking was carefully integrated around the town center, tucked away, not dominating human interaction. Farsta, built later, to the south of Stockholm (Vallingby was to the North) had a town center with a large parking area, (the photos reminded me of the Galleria or worse).
    Stockholm city officials concluded that such a parking experience was the wrong way to go in the development of public space and that the Vallinby model was one they should follow.

    Such nuances are of course lost on St. Louis leadership, but it indicates a whole new level of thinking and planning St. Louis is not even close to achieving.
    Handing responsibility for development to the Walgreens of the world, because they would naturally do something else if land values were high is a false premise, period.
    It is as Moshe Safdie says in his book the City after the Automobile, “developers are generally indifferent to the notion that if combined with other developments, the sum might be greater that the individual, and in most cases, isolated parts. Thus each development is unto itself: a world with its own rules.”
    And as you take exception to my comments, that is exactly what you are advocating, that the development and developer, whose only goal is to make major money off the project, determine the fate of St. Louis in a piecemeal manner, destroying meanwhile the historic integrity of what was one of the great cities of America.
    While I appreciate your pragmatism, we need no more apologies for the status quo. The status quo is not working and has not worked for a long time.
    The economic system is not working.
    The political system is not working.
    There is no urban design concept or art as a foundation.
    There is limited inclusion of citizens in the process.

    All we have right now are various officials, bureaucrats and associated trades (such as architects) kissing the rings of those with money.

    It is not the way to build a new St. Louis. Building an attractive St. Louis is not going to be accomplished by shrugging your shoulders and saying Walgreens or CVS write the checks, so they should do what they want.

    I cannot empahsize what a total failure our way of doing business has been, the result has been the decimation of St. Louis, the enrichment of the Paul McKee’s of the world, who in turn try to cash in as “saviors”.

    It is way past time to overthrow this current system of corruption and replace it with something that is responsive to Americas people and needs.

    So if you take exception, I’m sorry, but read your writings, you have brought it upon yourself.

  24. Jimmy Z says:

    I’ll say it again – a plan without any possibility of the resources to implement it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. We can argue all we want about “Make no small plans”, but there is a threshold, hopefully a moving one, where things get built and where it simply makes no sense, financially, to make the investment. Our “problem”, in much of the city, is that we’re simply not building anywhere near what is already allowed or desired (by many of us). We have the plans, we have plenty of rules, we just don’t have the critical mass of people actually willing to, or clamoring for the opportunity to, risk their money/make the needed investments! And, no, “TIFs and many other incentives” are NOT “free market devices”, they’re government welfare that gets manipulated by developers to build projects that would never be built in a true “free market”!

    It’s not my fault, as an architect, since I’ve never had Walgreens or CVS as a client. It IS partially my fault, as a city resident, since I, like most of my neighbors, actually regularly shop at (and, horrors, drive to) Walgreens and Target and Shop and Save. I also go to restaurants in the CWE and to events downtown, and I don’t shop in New Town St. Charles. I think I’m pretty normal. So, if you think that “It is way past time to overthrow this current system of corruption and replace it with something that is responsive to Americas people and needs”, so be it. I’m going to continue in my plebian ways and support those businesses willing to invest and reinvest in the city, even if they could’ve done a (much?) better job of fitting into my/our ideal for an urban environment. The alternative of no new investment, or outright disinvestment, and neither is acceptable nor sustainable in the long run.

    Finally, as far as “All we have right now are various officials, bureaucrats and associated trades (such as architects) kissing the rings of those with money”, I plead guilty. I like what I do and I like to eat – architects design real projects for real clients. We may not always agree with their goals, but most of us accept the harsh reality that if we turn down the work, it doesn’t mean it won’t be built, it just means someone else will prepare their plans for them, and hopefully get paid for doing so. I prefer to see my role of making whatever I design fit as well as it can onto the site I’m given – incremental improvements won’t bring back streetcars and shop windows, but they’ll minimize the worst design transgressions that characterize suburban “crap”. You can call it selling out, I call it pragmatism and my career!

  25. GMichaud says:

    The New Towns of Vallingby and Farsta outside Stockholm are great examples of urban plans that attract resources. These new towns were built on virgin ground. They included provisions for trains, transport, walking to work, a town center, industry, commercial enterprises, pedestrian paths, parks, housing and on and on. Both Farsta to the South and Vallinby to the North were able to attract major for profit department store tenants in addition to many smaller businesses and industries.

    It is true the primitive land use/zoning style of planning used in St. Louis is almost useless, however viable planning does attract resources as happened in Vallinby and Farsta.
    And yes Tifs and other incentives are part of the free market as it operates today, but you must be unbelievably naive to think even without those incentives corporate insiders would not be manipulating government for their benefit. Free markets are a figment of the imagination except perhaps at the level of small scale business.
    If an architect designs a worthless, nonfunctional, overpriced building he or she would soon be out of work. In the same way on a larger scale, urban planning in St. Louis is generally worthless and dysfunctional. That is why resources go to towns such as San Francisco or Chicago or even Kansas City rather than St. Louis.
    No one is going to come into St. Louis because there is “nice parking lots”, or because there is a Walgreens on every corner.
    As Safdie points out in the quote above the developer does not think beyond his project, it is the role of government to lay down a framework that every development fits into.
    This is a task the City of St. Louis is not performing. The neanderthal planning process in St. Louis is hurting development, allowing crap to be built meanwhile because it is expedient.
    Capitalism is supposed to be innovative, following the exciting and innovative ideas, that is not happening.
    Instead we have a fatalistic and hidebound approach, “if you write the checks, you call the shots”. This attitude, which we all know so well, is translated into “screw the people and the larger goals of the city and society.”

    The failure of America is almost universal at this point, the people writing the checks have given us failed cities, failed energy policies, failed transportation systems, failed economies, failed environments, failed health care, failed agriculture, failed banks and on and on. A few benefit fabulously of course, but it is at the expense of the health of our cities, our lives and of the country as a whole.

  26. john w. says:

    …pretty much.

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