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Little Change on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive

January 21, 2013 Economy, Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, North City 5 Comments

This is my ninth look at St. Louis’ Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on Martin Luther King Day.  As before, the street doesn’t do the man justice. For the previous eight years I started downtown, west to the city limits and returned. That was done by car or motor scooter, but I longer have a car.  Recently returning to St. Louis in a rented car I had the foresight to exit I-44 at Jamison, making my way over to McCausland and Skinker to the west end of MLK Dr.

The following are sixteen images from my drive east to downtown.

ABOVE: Commercial district continues west off the city limits
ABOVE: Commercial district continues west off the city limits line
ABOVE: Just inside the city limits is the old Wellston Loop streetcar building
ABOVE: Just inside the city limits is the old Wellston Loop streetcar building
ABOVE: Across the street the once bustling district is largely vacsant
ABOVE: Across the street the once bustling district is largely vacsant
ABOVE: The former JC Penny store continues to deteriorate
ABOVE: The former JC Penny store continues to deteriorate
ABOVE: But businesses do exist today, still serving the needs of area residents
ABOVE: But businesses do exist today, still serving the needs of area residents
ABOVE: Just east of Goodfellow is one of my personal favorites
ABOVE: Just east of Goodfellow is one of my personal favorites
ABOVE: Housing development Arlington Grove is now open -- and fully occupied. More on this tomorrow.
ABOVE: Housing development Arlington Grove is now open — the residential units are fully occupied. More on this tomorrow.
ABOVE: Surprised to see this building still standing, even more surprised to see the front being tuck pointed.
ABOVE: Surprised to see this building still standing, even more surprised to see the front being tuck pointed.
ABOVE: Two of the four corners of Union & MLK have former gas stations, a third is currently a gas station.
ABOVE: Two of the four corners of Union & MLK have former gas stations, a third is currently a gas station.
ABOVE: A new tenant is in the retail space at MLK & Kingshighway, but it wasn't even built with a connection to the public sidewalk just a few feet away
ABOVE: A new tenant is in the retail space at MLK & Kingshighway, but it wasn’t even built with a connection to the public sidewalk just a couple of feet away
ABOVE: Boards over former windows is a too common sight
ABOVE: Boards over former windows is a too common sight, auto-related businesses dominate the area east of Kingshighway
ABOVE: Across from the renovated buildings of Dick Gregory Place is a nice looking restaurant
ABOVE: Across from the renovated buildings of Dick Gregory Place is a nice looking restaurant, Arkansas Fried Chicken. Click image for Yelp listing
ABOVE: The corner of one building is collapsing
ABOVE: The corner of one building is collapsing
ABOVE: Another favorite building waiting for a new use.
ABOVE: Another favorite building waiting for a new use.
ABOVE: Nearby is yet another favorite, in very original condition.
ABOVE: Nearby is yet another favorite, in very original condition.
ABOVE: Skipping ahead from Vandeventer to Tucker we have the ongoing project to fill in the former railroad tunnel.
ABOVE: Skipping ahead from Vandeventer to Tucker we have the ongoing project to fill in the former railroad tunnel.

A few bright spots exist along this 5.7 mile stretch (map), but a more comprehensive approach is needed to address the myriad of problems that exist. The piecemeal approach isn’t going to do much beyond the immediate areas that have seen reinvestment.

We must find ways to get sources of good employment in the area again. It’s easy for you tell tell me the reasons why reality is that won’t happen, why jobs left and won’t return. I know why.  I want to know ideas for bringing new jobs in the future.

Tomorrow I’ll take a closer look at the Arlington Heights Apartments.

– Steve Patterson

  • JZ71

    You may have unwittingly defined part of the “problem” in a couple of your captions: “businesses do exist today, still serving the needs of area residents” and “auto-related businesses dominate the area east of Kingshighway”. You say that “We must find ways to get sources of good employment in the area again.” I agree. What if we (all?) take a step back and define what our goals really are? Do we want to preserve / resurrect the old neighborhood or do we want to recreate a neighborhood that actually works in the 21st century? The architecture of 1913 responded to a time when streetcars were how most people got around, and air conditioning, TV and the internet did not exist (resulting in many windows, many of them operable). The architecture of 2013 responds to different (and not necessarily better) priorities, things like surface parking, artificial lighting, air conditioning and higher security (far fewer windows).

    If we’re not meeting the needs of the end users, why should we expect them to “buy” what we’re “selling” (even if we don’t agree with them)? Did you eat at Arkansas Fried Chicken? Buy a battery at Best Auto Parts? Pick up some hair color at the new Beauty Supply place? It’s one thing to do a “drive by” and judge another group’s community, it’s another thing to live there and (try to?) make things work, every day. If the local community is saying that they want to spend their money in an area that looks like Highway K, let’s give them what they want, not some academic vision of your ideal. Buildings are tools. Yes, they shape the built environment, but, more importantly, they need to work for their occupants, their end users. I’d love to see someone resurrect the JC Penney building (as I’m sure that the current owner would) but it’s been vacant for many, many years and it simply ain’t happening. How long do we wait for the right (any?) tenant? How long do we wait to decide that something completely different is what’s really needed?

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      Well, I’m a vegetarian with a shaved head so I didn’t patronize those businesses. You’re right about the needs of 2013 being far different than in 1913 but I’d also suggest they’re different today than they were in 1973, 1983 and even 1993. The Arlington Grove Apartments, that I’ll post more about tomorrow, provides parking but that doesn’t dominate the perception of the project. It has an 21st century urban form that larger provides for both a feeling of community as well as recognizing many residents will use the automobile.

      Too many people think making something a pedestrian-friendly urban form means it won’t be usable by those who drive. In 1973 the choice was one or the other — in 2013 we can have both.

      • guest

        What St. Louis needs, once the Arch is all fixed up, is for President Barack Obama, Francis Slay, Lewis Reed, the State of Missouri, the Board of Aldermen, and all St. Louis residents, to make the renewal of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and its adjoining neighborhoods their top priority for the next four years.

  • Eric

    Some would say this area needs “decommissioning”, similar to:
    http://www.urbanophile.com/2013/01/13/detroit-future-city/

  • guest

    The biggest challenge in moving on from academic conversations and windshield surveys to action is figuring out who the “we” is. Too much from the “urbanist felllowship” comes from an outsider perspective. JZ has it right. Work needs to begin by collaborating with local residents, local businesses, and local leadership.

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