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Urbanizing A 1980s Suburban Municipality Is A Lengthy Process

In April 2007 the St. Charles County municipality of Dardenne Prairie held a design charrette led by new urbanist firm DPZ, the goal was to plan a walkable town center.  Dardenne Prairie was incorporated in 1983 and they wanted a town center? Were they crazy? I attended several of the charrette events to observe the process.

ABOVE: Residents at the opening of the charrette in April 2007

Many of the residents attended came ready to oppose anything different than the standard suburbia typical of St. Charles County.

ABOVE: DPZ staff & consultants talking with residents
ABOVE: Sketch for a new city hall to replace the trailer they used

Over the few days I witnessed the local residents buy into the urban/walkable vision. Not urban as in high rise buildings but buildings defining the streets and connected via sidewalks. Urban as in not suburban. In 2009 the city hall was finished but I didn’t get out there until earlier this month.

ABOVE: Dardenne Prairie's city hall, click image for aerial in Google Maps
ABOVE: Hanley Rd will soon have on-street parking

When I arrived I briefly chatted with Mayor Pam Fogarty, but I’d arranged to meet my friend Alderman Scott Kolbe for a tour.  Dardenne Prairie has three wards with two aldermen per ward for a total of six. These municipal offices are non-partisan. Buildings near the road and on-street parking are all part of Dardenne Prairie’s new urbanist City Plan.

ABOVE: Ald Scott Kolbe talks about the park behind city hall from the mayor's balcony

While city hall opened in 2009 the park opened in September 2011.

ABOVE: View of park from the mayor's balcony
ABOVE: On the weekday afternoon I visited the playground area was filled with kids and their parents

Kolbe tells me residents of the subdivision directly behind the park welcome the activity and encourage people to trespass through their yards to reach the park. I can imagine a paved path in the future. As I left city hall people were walking to city hall. If you connect the dots people will, at least on nice days, walk rather than drive.The sidewalk has to replace the roadside drainage ditch for that to happen. Down the street a senior housing development conforms to the new city plan, built up to the sidewalk with a pedestrian entrance facing the street.


It will be years before Dardenne Prairie has a complete walkable downtown but they are putting the right pieces in place to make sure each new private development contributes toward the long-term vision. – Steve Patterson


Currently there are "17 comments" on this Article:

  1. Moe says:

    Anything is possible when you have a blank slate. Luxuries urban, well-developed cites do not have.  I’m assuming people live in Dardenne Prairie?  I see NO pedestrians.  Even the park, except for the central playground is empty.  This is pedestrian friendly?  No traffic on the roads? Street parking coming soon?  It’s been 3 years…how soon is that?  Steve, this reads as a love-fest; for if this was the City of St Louis or some other older town, you would have been all over this.

    • I do love what they’re doing, especially compared with most of St. Charles County. Do I want to live there? No way. As I indicated I did see pedestrians but I wasn’t able to get pics at those moments. The central part of the park is for events, there was no event on the day I visited. In 20 years time the difference between this place and it’s neighbors will be very clear.

    • Eric says:

       Much of North St Louis is a now blank slate too, you know.

    • Eric says:

       Much of North St Louis is a now blank slate too, you know.

    • Bruce says:

      Visit Carmel Indiana where we are celebrating our 175 anniversary. The old rail line is our beach front property. While we have more than our share of traditional suburbs redevelopment is most definitely built on new urbanism in the center of old and exsisting core. It takes strong leadership and a mayor starting his 17th year

  2. Scott Kolbe says:

    Thanks for visiting Steve. Will be a long project. As the economy gets better we anticipate more projects to happen within the downtown.

  3. Davey says:

    Can we see an overhead map of this town with where downtown is predicted to be?

    • My apologies, I just added a link to an aerial image from Google Maps — click on the first pic of City Hall. The planning documents should outline the downtown area, I’ll look.

  4. Moe says:

    I do like that they have sidewalks installed everywhere but there are none in any of the subdivisions.  While a path through it into park would be nice (I know of a few neighborhoods that have those) I can’t see a landowner wanting too much tresspassing.  I pity the two families closest to the park!  But the rest of the surrounding area is still mostly flat or schools.  So unless you were going to school or walking the dog, I don’t see people using the sidewalks for walking to the store, etc.

    BTW…is anyone else having a problem?  Everytime I pull up the comment page, my internet connection disconnects and I have to click re-connect.  It only happens when I want to comment?  Or is that a hint there???

  5. Douglas Duckworth says:

    This is a good step, but much of this city looks the same as O’Fallon.

    Pedestrian oriented downtowns are great but most people can’t walk to the Walmart or the stores in that huge strip off Highway N. I commend this effort but it can’t be done in isolation.

    • Scott Kolbe says:

      The plan is to tie in the big box stores into the downtown. Specifically, Target, Shop & Save, Wehrenberg… Can’t speak to Walmart it is in Lake St Louis and divided by the highway.

  6. Scott Kolbe says:

    Changing things going forward is a hard task. We do have much more pedestrian traffic as we have begun to connect sidewalks to some subdivisions. But we need some small retail restaurants/coffee shops to draw more traffic. Ideally some live work units. There is a long way to go. We don’t really have a blank slate – because most of the parcels are small and owned by individuals. Unlike New Town where they acquired a huge tract of land.  

  7. Moe says:

    @Scott…no offense but I would rather see a Starbucks on the corner than a Burger King or McDonalds.  I think a coffee shop would draw in those pedestrians (even if they want to drive in) and stay and connect with their neighbors.  I know I’ve met some of my neighbors at our Starbucks, but never recognized anyone when I have the occasional crave for a Big Mac.

    • Scott Kolbe says:

      @Moe wasn’t thinking Burger King – some local folks have approached about starting a small restaurant. Would love a Kaldi’s or something along those lines. 

  8. Moe says:

    @Scott…no offense but I would rather see a Starbucks on the corner than a Burger King or McDonalds.  I think a coffee shop would draw in those pedestrians (even if they want to drive in) and stay and connect with their neighbors.  I know I’ve met some of my neighbors at our Starbucks, but never recognized anyone when I have the occasional crave for a Big Mac.

  9. gmichaud says:

    I agree with Steve, it takes years and decades to properly develop a city and environment. It is good so many developers are beginning to understand the importance of walkable environments. You see it along Clayton Road near St. Mary’s Hospital where new buildings stand adjacent to the sidewalk and combine commercial and apartments. This is true along Lindell and many other places. This makes St. Louis University constructing a suburban, auto orientated medical building next to a light rail station on Grand Ave  even more tragic when put into the context of years and decades. The fact so many developers and governments across the nation understand the impacts of their decisions does not speak well for SLU or City government.

    Many Eurpoean countries heavily control the locations of big box stores, some do a better job than others. (I don’t have the book handy but there is a thorough report in the Harvard Design School, Project on the City, Shopping,  Taschen, 2002, by Rem Koolhaus and others). It is important to note the negative effect big box stores can have on walkable environments. I know Finland only allows them in designated areas, protecting not only small business, but transit friendly, walkable environments. While there might not be the a same political will in America to protect the interests of the general populace, it is still important to note the impacts such an environment brings with it and consider how to manage those impacts against the backdrop of what Dardenne Prairie is trying to accomplish.


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