Home » Guest »North City »NorthSide Project »Planning & Design » Currently Reading:

Chicken or the Egg? Business or the home?

October 6, 2009 Guest, North City, NorthSide Project, Planning & Design 7 Comments

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  People with too much time on their hands have laid out a detailed argument here. For this post I am more interested in a question similar in nature.  Which came first, the home or the business?

The reason I pose the query is because a recent news story on my favorite radio station once again mentioned “job centers” with regards to the NorthSide development.  From what I have heard and read, McKee and associates plan on concentrating on job centers to begin the massive project and work on residential in the future.   I do not understand why.  If their goal is truly to redevelop north city, I do not believe job centers are where to begin.  Residential is where they should start, because to answer my own question, I believe the home came first.

I base my view on what I have observed spending a lifetime in suburbia.  A look back at the history of the region sees that the homes almost always come before businesses.  North county grew in the post war years due to massive amounts of housing developments.  The businesses moved in after.  Just compare north Lindbergh between now and twenty years ago. The migration of the suburbanites to St Charles county preceded the explosion in retail.  To understand what I am talking about, try driving down Highway K, which was a two lane road fifteen years ago.  West County filled in with soccer moms and SUVs before Target and Best Buy decided they needed stores in a flood plain.

There is easy explanation for why businesses will always follow homes.  In the words of Mr. Gekko, “Greed is good.”  Businesses are for all intent and purposes greedy entities.  They are only open of the pursuit of money.  Otherwise they are called non-profits.  Stores want to be where the people are located so they can make as much money as possible.  Which is they Home Depot has a store on Highway K and not Cass ave.  Businesses do not need tax incentives to open in locations where there is significant money to be taken from consumers.  Entrepreneurs know that if they don’t open a store in prime locations, their competitors will.

A perfect example of my theory in work in an urban environment is downtown.  Union Station and St Louis Center are illustrations of business development of the past that failed to revitalize the area.  They lead to no growth in the city.  On the other hand, the Washington Loft district exemplifies how businesses move in once there is a critical residential mass.  Downtown even has a grocery store for the first time in decades.  (author’s note:  I know of the now defunct City Grocers.  Just rubbing some loft residents.)

This view of the world leads me to conclude that the starting point for the NorthSide needs to be massive residential development.  I am well aware that homes currently exist in the area.  Obviously these are not homes a majority of people want to live in.  If they were, they would have premium pricing, not rock bottom.  However, an immense fill-in of new family housing would be impossible for greedy businessmen to ignore.  Job/retail centers would be easy to develop without much government assistance when Trader Joe’s wants a store in the area.   Set those areas aside for future development when it is needed.

I assume that the residential development would be an urban style and walkable, but those details are moot.  What is important is the size.  Repeat the example set forth by the suburban subdivisions and build hundreds of homes at once in an urban setting.  View it as a giant planned community.  Few people want to be the first on the street staring at overgrown lots with a promise of more to come.  Seeing homes being built all around would ease some of those fears.  This would only help the existing residents as they see their home values rise.  (In my world it is done the right way, without taking peoples homes, but rather building around them.)  An example of this done on a small scale with success can be seen in the West End just north of Delmar on Enright and accompanying streets.  Now I don’t agree with some of the design choices that were made, but a group of new homes were built and sold for a premium price.  This demonstrates that there is some demand for new housing in the city.

I am aware that the planned job centers are intended to have mixed residential sprinkled in the plans.  However, from everything I have heard and read I get the feeling that the mixed use areas are not Paul’s prime concern at the outset.  Lets just ignore that city schools are currently a hindrance to any residential growth and concentrate on whether McKee should spend time building job centers or homes.

– Kevin McGuire


Currently there are "7 comments" on this Article:

  1. john w. says:

    The logic of linear progression in your argument is clear, but there remains a perception problem with north St. Louis that the hinterlands are not burdened with. Perhaps a coincident mixture of chicken and egg would be best for NorthSide, instead of simply a large, precedent residential PUD or a few concentrated ‘job centers’ without an array of housing type choices awaiting the following chicken or egg. As most progressive urbanists will agree, building TO the historic artifact, rather than OVER it, is most desirable on a few levels, and identifying pockets of viability (adjacent to or very near major corridors) to capture for much smaller scale development is a winning formula for NorthSide. A partial or full block, or a few blocks with some commercial anchorage adhering to a form-based pattern (rather than the current model of zoning) could provide the confidence needed to secure, first, the pockets which then grow outward at a rate commensurate with its success.

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    To parse things a bit further, there is a difference in what a “business” is – office uses are different from retail which are different than manufacturing. The hard reality is that residential is also a net consumer of government services (polices, schools, EMS, etc), while businesses are typically net tax generators (the logic behind TIF’s and new shopping centers). If your point is that you need rooftops to justify new retail you’re absolutely correct. But you also need more jobs and better-paying jobs before there will be much of a market for any sort of “massive residential development”. People need to be able to afford the monthly payments, and minimum wage jobs, even time two or three, simply won’t cut it!

  3. Kevin McGuire says:

    Jimmy, I agree that better paying jobs are always good for an area. But I disagree that they are necessary to start a revival of north city. If I am understanding correctly, your point is that the people in the area will need better paying jobs in order to afford the new homes. I view it as the city needs new homes to attract the people who already have better paying jobs. Assuming that the residents of the city already have a place to live. Building new homes will just relocate them from another part of the city. I would rather attract a young family who was looking at Wildwood, Chesterfield, or Wentzville for their new home back into the city. The suburbs have shown you don’t need a jobs attract residents. Once these people move in, I beleive the jobs will follow. And that will help the existing residents. Most importantly I do not want any of the existing residents displaced, but we’ll see how that goes with the powers that be.

  4. john w. says:

    …so, you build them concurrent to one another instead of ‘build it and they will come’.

  5. Dave says:

    I disagree with your argument. All of your examples are based on retail business development, not office business development. Jobs create residential growth which creates retail growth. I believe that before we see significant retail on the northside we will need to see significant residential growth.

    Now, while I disagree with your argument, I do agree that there should be residential and commercial development happening in parallel. Let’s face it, the city still holds a large percentage of the region’s employment and a lot of those employees don’t live in the city. I believe there is a market for quality residential infill that could presently be met just by the companies already based nearby (see Washington Ave. loft development). Adding additional job centers should encourage further growth in later phases. IMO, the city should only back bonds IF McKee is on the hook to develop office AND residential in the first phase. Otherwise there is no guarantee that north city will truely transform by a new 22nd street office redevelopment.

  6. equals42 says:

    Nicely argued post. My preference would be for commercial (not retail) and residential to be built in parallel. The retail will come with the population.

  7. Richard Pointer says:

    To back up what Kevin said and to refute Dave: If you build commercial business centers but no homes, those new workers will have to come from somewhere and live somewhere. No homes, nobody around after dark. They will purchase mortgages on homes elsewhere and will be less likely to move. New homes in the area would be mismatched from those who work in the area.

    I think the problem with thinking about homes or businesses first is that I think it is both. This is a classic complexity problem or as “Out of Control” by Kevin Kelly would analogize it, it is an ecosystem. It is full of tipping points, unpredictability and chaos. Planning such a large scale success is not possible because of the number of points at which things must happen to have a stable neighborhood. It is an emergent order, not a planned one.

    Indeed, you can think of vibrant neighborhoods with plenty of mixed use as rainforests, and uniform suburbs or strip malls or the like as planted fields. While you might get some variation over time in these homogenized districts, those are like the weeds trying to problematize that homogeneity.

    To say the least, I am not hopeful for the Northside project. It must have an organic nature and element for it to be successful. That is, it must be a collective effort as in each community member working to make the place work, in whatever way that is for them. One developer bodes really poorly for those prospects – I asked this question of someone with a deep knowledge of the project and he said no other developers were willing to go in at this point and put up their own money.


Comment on this Article: