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Blank Walls Kill Sidewalks

August 26, 2010 North City, Planning & Design, Zoning 14 Comments
ABOVE: NW corner of Page & N. Kingshighway

Like so many other areas, the intersection of Page & North Kingshighway suffers from disinvestment.  Yet, at one point in the last few decades, the 1904 building on the corner received new investment in the form of street facades featuring blank walls and mirrored glass.   The building next door, also from 1904, has a blank facade where windows and doors should be.

I’m not saying this corner would be lively if the corner building hadn’t gained blank walls during the unfortunate new skin with blank walls. But, the blank walls make improving the vibrancy of the sidewalk today impossible.  A new pro-urban formed-based zoning code would prevent future blank walls to the sidewalk.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:


    People fear it, and commercial owners and tenants, who typically are away every night, choose fortification (blank walls) over vulnerability (doors and windows). Fix both the perception and the reality of crime, especially in urban areas, and you'll see more connections to the street.


    Which comes first? Chicken or egg? With more people driving and fewer walking, biking and transiting, sidewalks are emptier. Front doors move to where the people are, and the parking is, and if more/any are/is in “back”, then that becomes the new “front”. (I see no on-street parking here – blame at least some of it on the bus stop.)


    Artificial lighting and A/C both argue (at least until recently, with LEED) for solid walls and less access to the variables the outdoors bring. It's simply easier to design for an unvarying box than for one that gets lighter and darker and hotter and cooler, every day.

    Finally, current retail interior design and marketing trends.

    Show windows are becoming increasingly irrelevent, and for many retailers, are actually viewed as negatives, not positives. They find that print and/or electronic advertising is a much better investment, and that it's a better business decision to just have blank walls. Branding gets people in the door (or to the website – notice that we're having this discussion online, not face-to face), not merchandise sitting in a window facing the sidewalk.

    The built environment relects how people choose to live their lives – this is 2010, not 1925 or 1950 . . .

  2. Blank walls are a problem and I'm not sure how to address the ones already in existence. Maybe just adding windows would be enough in some cases?

    I've been pondering the Metro bus garage on DeBaliviere for some time. It's not going anywhere any time soon, but as development stretches down Delmar and around the corner to meet up with development trickling up DeBaliviere from the MetroLink station (hopefully, hopefully), that garage is a big problem. Standing at the intersection of Delmar & Goodfellow, looking west along Delmar it forms an endless, sidewalk-adjacent blank wall. I see it as a barrier to street vitality but I'm not sure what the solution is. Any thoughts?

    Check it out here.

    • Adam says:

      maybe remove the median and cut delmar down to 2 lanes + turn lane. then build shallow storefronts abutting the street-face of the garage? if that part of delmar is to become pedestrian-oriented, the street is going to have to be narrowed anyway.

      • JZ71 says:

        I'm pretty sure the bus garage is there because it was a trolley barn in its previous life. A better solution would likely be to relocate the bus garage further out in the county and to redevelop the current site as a contemporary mixed-use developement.

  3. JZ71 says:

    Expanding on my first coment – these days, the two commercial uses that seem to value windows are restaurants and offices, while many retailere seem to favor blank walls. This creates a challenge for neighborhoods, since the goal for many residents is walkable retail, not offices or a bunch of restaurants, or, to put it another way, be careful of what you ask for . . .

  4. Jimmy Dolan says:

    The AT&T building on Delmar is a good example of this problem. I hate looking at it every time I visit the loop. In my opinion, it's one of the bigger reasons the strip on the East side of Skinker has trouble developing/attracting attention.

    • JZ71 says:

      But the AT&T Building doesn't present a blank wall to Delmar – it does have doors and windows. What it doesn't have is people – the operators from days of yore are long gone, and the building is essentially only occupied by equipment (with the occasional service technician). It's really a use “problem”, not an architectural one.

      The same issue occurs a couple blocks further south on Skninker, where multiple churches on one corner have few people during the week, yet are pretty good, architecturally. Without people, any sidewalk will look (and be) pretty forlorn.

      Delmar, in the Loop, is a great street because it has activity. People choose to be there and the businesses are doing well – it's a great symbiotoc relationship. Steve's example is the opposite – a small medical office building will only generate, at most, a dozen pedestrian trips an hour, and it doesn't realy matter if there's a plate glass window with closed blind behind it, or a solid brick wall, either answer will be pretty “dead” . . . .

      • rbeedee says:

        I think the problem with the AT&T building is less the face it presents to the sidewalk and the lack of operators, but the parking lots on either side. If there are only a few service technicians in the building, why are there such large gated parking lots on either side? Seems like developable land AT&T would want to sell.

        Blank walls make an area feel unwalkable even if, geographically, it's not. Windows and doors, even if they're not being used, help add to a feeling of activity. The residential streets of the CWE are not bustling with activity (at any given time there are only a handful of people on the street) but still feel very walkable. I think a street as busy and walkable as the Loop can handle a few blank spots here or there without making the entire strip feel unwalkable, but the fact that this block is 80% dead, combined with the giant Church's lot across Skinker, the gas station across Delmar, and the vacant lot across from the Thai pizza place combine to strip activity from this sub-region of the Loop. The AT&T building itself is not the main culprit in the dead feeling here; not every building has to be bustling to give a feeling of walkability.

        • rbeedee says:

          One more thing: I would also say that the Grove, despite many vacancies, still has a very walkable feel which is less about the activity level and more about the way the buildings relate to the sidewalk.

          • JZ71 says:

            Agree on both points (empty parking lots and suburban, autocentric businesses), but don't really have any good answers. AT&T likely has no big incentive to either sell or redevelop, and both Church's and the gas station do good business, mostly to non-pedestrians.

            I understand the value of street-level glazing, but I struggle with the concept of requiring show windows/street level glazing in commercial structures without some parallel requirement that they be maintained as windows, and not converted to billboards or just blocked off on the interior of the structure. There are multiple examples of “dead” windows, everything from the AT&T building to the new retail center at Rock Hill and Manchester to the new strip center at Lindenwood and Chippewa. In the last two examples, the core-and-shell designers did a lot of things right (putting buildings next to the sidewalk, with significant glazing), but the tenant-finish architects mostly just ignored/covered over the glazing facing the street. Yes, it looks a little bit better than a solid masonry wall, but it's still “dead”, ignoring what's happening on the street and sidewalk, in favor of putting the “real” front door facing the parking lot “in back”.

            Unfortunately, the only places I've seen this intent executed successfully, outside of established urban neighborhoods, is at places like New Town St Charles and in lifestyle shopping centers, where the overall goal is well defined and a single developer has the clout to force compliance. Most cities are too narrowly focused, dealing with single properties and trying not to say no too often. Throw in the apparent power of our aldermen to oiverrule any design decison or recommendation made by our professional city staff, and you have litlle incentive, and fewer real tools, to change the current dynamic . . .

  5. Rich says:

    Jane Jacobs, Si! Blank walls, No!

  6. The building next door, also from 1904, has a blank facade where windows and doors should be.

  7. Blank Walls Kill Sidewalks


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