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Much Of The Region Should Be Walkable, Not Just The City

December 27, 2010 Planning & Design, STL Region, Walkability, Zoning 13 Comments

Late last week I posted about the lack of walkability at a subdivision in the western suburb of Chesterfield, These McMansions Will Be Hard To Give Away A Decade From Now.  As I expected I got this viewpoint in the comments: “I get it – you love urban living, but not everyone else does.  One size does not fit all, and commuting is highly personal, and for an increasing number of people, no longer includes the CBD.”

For the last 3 years I’ve lived downtown, just west of the central business district. The prior 17 years I lived in the CWE, Old North & Dutchtown/Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods.  I commuted by car to jobs in Rock Hill,  North St. Louis and Kirkwood.

The St. Louis MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is 16 counties — 8 in Missouri and 8 in Illinois.

ABOVE: STL MSA. Not shown: Bond, Calhoun, & Macoupin counties in Illinois & Washington in Missouri. Click image to view the WikiPedia entry on the region

So? Our region is quite large geographically.  In 2000 we had 2.8 million living in 8,846 square miles.  The City of St. Louis represents only 66.2 square miles of the total area – less than one percent.  Even looking at St. Louis County & City only, the city represents only 11% of the total area.

We can’t all live in the city so I expect much of the region to be walkable.  That is, a person living in a developed area should be able to walk to a store.  Their kids should be able to walk to school.  The fact is this is already a reality for many throughout our region.  The concept of walkability shouldn’t be limited to within the city limits.

Yes, most will drive to reach their places of employment.  But for those living in walkable areas like downtown St. Louis, New Town at St. Charles, Ferguson, etc.  the many non-work trips can be done on foot. Many of the people I know who live downtown don’t work downtown.  They live here, in part, because it provides a walkable lifestyle for everything other than getting to/from their jobs.

Back to that McMansion subdivision in Chesterfield, those residents must drive everywhere.  They have no choice. Every no-work trip will be an auto trip.

There is nearly 20 miles from the street I mentioned before reaching the western edge of the City of St. Louis.

I don’t have figures on how much of the 8,846 square mile region is urbanized (developed) vs rural.  Parts of the city are, unfortunately, auto-dependent.  Some of the region outside the city is at least somewhat walkable.  But how much of the total area isn’t auto-dependent? Maybe 1-2%? I’d like to see that be 10% or more.

But please, don’t assume that I’m speaking of the city vs the remainder of the region when I write about walkability.  Walking knows no political boundary.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "13 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    Both low density and segregation of uses factor into the equation, partly from zoning/NIMBY mandates and partly from providing the parking most of us demand, at home, at work, at school, where we shop, where we worship and where we recreate. Walking a couple of blocks is one thing, walking a couple of miles is another. TOD defines the ideal as less than a 1/4 mile, with a 1/2 mile being the practical maximum for most people. Just adding sidewalks doesn't make an area walkable, although it definitely helps. Denser, mixed-use construction is also critical.

    • Many factors have created the current auto-dominant mess. When these municipalities realize folks are leaving for areas where they have the option to walk for at least some of their daily trips they will begin to act. It is already happening elsewhere as shown in Retrofitting Suburbia: http://www.cnu.org/node/2548

  2. Robby Dodson says:

    This makes sense to me and is neither unreasonable or undoable.

    Not only would growing the reach of walkable communities increase the quality of life for every citizen, but those folks who literally weigh every use of the car due to the cost of a fill up would see a tremendous quality of life increase as well.

  3. Beatnikblonde says:

    I moved from West County because of lack of walkability. EVERY time I needed to do anyting, I got in my car. I was not used to this. AND, get this, I moved to W. Co from HOUSTON, TX., a city devoted to the automobile. Hated the lack of community from no walkability I found in W Co.

    This is not a city vs county thing. It is a density issue. It is also an economic thing:

    My marketing prof in 1989 (YES, 21 years ago), told us not to buy in the suburbs – when the baby boomers die off, the echo boomers will not want to live where they grew up and there are not enough gen x'ers (my gen) to fill up all the empty boomer suburbs. Yes, that's right, the suburbs will start to loose value because there will be more supply than demand. We are already seeing this with large numbers of echo boomers moving in to walkable communities.

    I live in an inner-ring suburb bordering the city. I can walk everywhere and most car trips are less than 10 minutes. I have community. I know my neighbors. And my propery value isn't going to go down the toilet. I live and a moderately densly developed area, just like I did in the suburbs of Houston. That's right, even suburbs can be walkable if planned for suitable density.

    Also, this is a planetary survival issue. We can no longer sustain suburban sprawl and low density development. People will have to change their lifestyles to limit the number of trips by autmobile. Our communities – all of them – need to reflect this with their design and development.

    • Houston's lack of traditional zoning may have helped it not be as bad as areas that required sprawl.

    • matt says:

      I havent really thought about this so much, but nearly every college educated echo boomer I know lives either in an urban core like St. Louis City or Chicago, or an inner suburb, whereas my less educated age peers have “over housed” themselves in places like O'Fallon, MO. I think the inner suburbs are going to become gentrified out of this world in the coming years, while the city will continue to steadily recover. Whats good for the inner suburbs is good for the urban core, as they are nearly of the same scale, at least in an older city like St. Louis. I think developers are going to have to retool in St. Louis, some will be able to while others will languish.

      Another thing is that the westplex mentality is so out of touch with current national trends, and so extreme, that it drives their kids away from the suburbs (and unfortunately often the region) in a more profound way than probably even necessary.

      • Chris says:

        I was just talking to my friend who grew up in St. Charles county about how much he and I hated where we lived when we were teenagers (I grew up in West county). We agreed that a lot of our “teenage angst” was actually our reaction to not being able to walk or bike ANYWHERE fun. We also both agreed that we would never subject our children to an environment where they can't have the independence like we never had in the suburbs.

  4. Stlelsewhere says:

    Steve, you're right. It isn't a density thing either, it's a land use problem. Traditional main streets throughout the region are still walkable. They hold the history and identity of their areas, and ought to be defended, not undermined. They don't need great densities. Cities need great densities because neighborhoods are not independent and one can always go to the next neigbhorhood over to shop, and density adds to safety. Small towns in the middle of nowhere can still put a grocery store and library on main street if just a handful of residents live in walking distance. At least main street can do that up until somebody drops a state-subsidized big box on nearby farmland.

  5. I was just discussing this very topic with my brother (he and I now live in unincorporated Jefferson County). The snow revealed that there is notable foot traffic in our residential area, but there are no sidewalks. He pointed out that the county doesn't have the money to put sidewalks everywhere. At what point does the population density warrant sidewalks and make it cost effective?

    • JZ71 says:

      A lot size of less than 1/4 acre? And, in most areas, sidewalks are installed either by a developer or through a partial or full assessment of the cost to the existing property owner(s). The only time “free” sidewalks seem to be put in is either when a new school is built or MoDOT can be convinced of the need.

  6. JZ71 says:

    A timely article, from points west: “Lots of alleys, lots of practicality in Denver-area suburbs” – The Denver Post

    “It allows us to build a little bit smaller homes in higher-density areas. People seem to be intrigued by the design. The porches are across the whole front of the house instead of the garages lining the streets.”


  7. Silverwinger65 says:

    Steve, Do you mean to tell me that county folk CAN walk ? dm


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