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The Reality Is…

January 28, 2013 Featured, Planning & Design 8 Comments

The phrase “the reality is…” is often followed by statements reinforcing the status quo. This is usually presented as a rational perspective, but I see it as justification for not rocking the boat. Those who take this approach dismiss those of us who vision something other than what we have now as merely academic exercises.

ABOVE: Washington Ave was once just a dream
ABOVE: Washington Ave Loft District was once just a dream

Take downtown as one example. A dozen years ago these same types said things like “the reality is…”

  • “downtowns are dead”
  • “if people wanted lofts they market would’ve responded”
  • “Sure people want lofts in NYC or Chicago, but St. Louis isn’t either of those”

These naysayers are excellent at explaining why the rest of us can’t reach our visions, freely giving every reason why what we want won’t possibly work. They keep saying these things even when others get together and find ways to do things differently.  Smart money is in the suburbs, they’d say. But things change.

It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision. — Helen Keller

Downtown, and urban neighborhoods, are still getting investment while many suburban areas struggle:

The swift growth of suburban poverty is reshaping the sociological landscape, while leaving millions of struggling households without the support that might ameliorate their plight: Compared to cities, suburban communities lack facilities and programs to help the poor, owing to a lag in awareness that large numbers of indigent people are in their midst. Some communities are wary of providing services out of fear they will make themselves magnets for the poor.

In the suburbs, getting to county offices to apply for aid or to food banks generally requires a car or reliance on a typically minimal public transportation network. The same transportation constraints limit working opportunities, with many jobs potentially beyond reach and would-be employers reluctant to hire people who lack their own vehicles. (Soaring Suburban Poverty Catches Communities Unprepared)

And now these same folks are quick to point out why these suburbs can’t be rethought. With so many people lacking vision do we really need a few trying to speak over those of that do? The reality is what we make it out to be.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    OK, I’ll bite . . . Reality is . . . the present. Reality defines the current conditions, frames the issues, synthesizes the problems. Perception is reality – we see what we see, we “know” what we’ve been told. Vision is the future, what can, may and probably should be. Vision is ideas, grand plans and small ones. The trick is in making the leap from reality to vision, reaching consensus, finding the funding, making it happen. Whether a vision is “just” an academic exercise or something real and viable is the difference between blog punditry, press releases sent off into the ether and plans that end up on a shelf or something that actually gets implemented, reaches fruition, and becomes the new reality. Talk is cheap and everyone has an opinion. The ONLY way to move the ball forward is to either do it all yourself or to convince others to join your coalition, to embrace your vision. In St. Louis, this includes many individuals (Paul McKee, Mayor Slay, Scott Ogilvie) and many groups (Trailnet, the CVC, SLU). I have nothing against any idea, I just may not agree, completely or in part, with it, and if I feel strongly enough about something, I’ll state (and hopefully support) my opinion(s). Discussions and (civil!) disagreements, different perspectives, are not a bad thing IF they result in compromise or a better understanding of the issue. Many, many times the result in a better end product, be it a blog, a park or a city . . . .

    • You get enough people raining on the visionaries and they’ll give up or move to a region where they’re allowed to discuss ideas without a chorus using arguments from the past to justify why change can’t take place in the present.

      • moe says:

        Example please where visionaries have moved out.

        • For decades now the city of St. Louis has lost 500K+ in population, many leaving the region. One is my friend Margie Newman: http://urbanreviewstl.com/2008/02/ten-things-i-love-about-st-louis-and-ten-reasons-why-i-left/

          • JZ71 says:

            I’d argue that the loss of jobs, here, and better job opportunities, elsewhere, for both visionaries and non-visionaries, is the biggest single reason for our population loss – the reasons why are both complex and varied. We all gotta eat, and some of us sometimes have to make choices about staying someplace we love versus a paycheck. The west is rife with ghost towns, where there once was a vision, but the resources ran out and the jobs and small businesses disappeared. The trick is in crafting (and selling) a vision that is incrementally achievable, not something that will be dismissed “using arguments from the past to justify why change can’t take place in the present”. Visionaries have to expect to be rained on, it’s part of the job description. The current proposal from the Rams for redoing the Dome is a classic example of something that will never be built. The difference is that they know it won’t, they’re just using it for leverage . . . .

  2. Jonathan Rabinowitz says:

    Excellent point. The city of the future will be inhabited by the people of the future, who will have different ideas about how and where to live than the people of the present day (who in the future will be the people of the past).

  3. Have suburbs shown some age and decline? Yes. Has the city and downtown shown something of a turnaround? Yes. But there are still massive issues facing the city from fully turning around and gaining population. There is reason to celebrate but to proclaim ‘Suburbs are dead’ is a bit far fetched.

    Vision and ideals are great. And realistic assessments and planning aiming for those visions are even better.


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