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Opinion: Urban Design Only Works If Both Sides Of The Street(s) Are Also Urban

November 14, 2018 Featured, Planning & Design No Comments

When I started this blog over 14 years ago I was of the belief that all corridors in the city should be urbanized as new development replaced old. Gradually the corridor would slowly become more urban — with newer buildings up to the street rather than set back behind a sea of parking. This has become the reality in a few places, mostly in the Central West End — but also in other places.

Arlington Grove has two 3-story buildings facing MLK in North St. Louis

The form is good, with active uses at the sidewalk level. So this helps to restore an urban feel to Martin Luther King Drive, right? No, because across the street is a typical suburban gas station & convenience store.

With this across MLK it’s impossible to create an urban street.

This came to mind Friday when Board Bill 157 was introduced for the redevelopment of the SE corner of Chouteau & Jefferson.

Looking East along Chouteau from Jefferson. The sheet metal workers building, on the left, is in Downtown West. The proposed redevelopment site, on the right is in Lafayette Square.

Lafayette Square has strict guidelines foe new construction, but given the suburban nature of both Jefferson & Chouteau it’s kinda hard to see the point of having only one of four corners be urban. Across Jefferson had some urban buildings until a few years ago.

Former buildings on the SW corner of Chouteau & Jefferson, in The Gate neighborhood.
A suburban QT now occupies a large site on the SW corner of Chouteau & Jefferson.

In the above image you can see the NW corner is no longer urban either. That corner, by the way, is in the Midtown neighborhood.

So we have a major intersection that’s mostly suburban in design — each corner in a different neighborhood. Only one of the four has urban design guidelines — but what’s the point in enforcing them when the other three corners are urban holes?

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll asked about development along major corridors such as Jefferson, Chouteau, etc:

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis should accept most major corridors, with the exception of a few, are largely auto-centric/suburban and will never be re-urbanized.

  • Strongly agree: 1 [4.17%]
  • Agree: 1 [4.17%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [8.33%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [4.17%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 7 [29.17%]
  • Disagree: 5 [20.83%]
  • Strongly disagree: 7 [29.17%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

Most disagreed with the statement, I used to be a “strongly disagree”, but now I’m barely a “somewhat disagree.”

Living in St. Louis foe 28+ years I’ve seen so much potential wasted as we constantly shoot ourselves in the foot with suburban development directly across from acceptable urban development. I just don’t see the political will to set guidelines that’ll eventually create great urban corridors. With this reality, it’s hard to be optimistic about St. Louis’ future.

— Steve Patterson

 

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