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Classic Folk Song “Little Boxes” Becomes “Big Boxes”

September 3, 2006 Big Box, Media 3 Comments

Many of you probably know the classic folk song, Little Boxes, by the late Malvina Reynolds (iTunes). This song was written in 1962 and it did a great job capturing the essence of the time but I felt it needed an update after nearly 45 years (link to original lyrics). The blandness of the Loughborough Commons project combined with the amount of earth moving to create a flat site moved me. Also, the typical tacky suburban house is no longer little. So, with that, I have tweaked her lyrics to reflect the current suburban hell known to many:

Big boxes on the former hillside,
Big boxes made of ticky tacky
Big boxes on the former hillside,
Big boxes all the same,
There’s a beige one and a gray one
And a brown one and a white one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the trade school
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there’s mechanics and plumbers
And union carpenters
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play at the casinos
And drink their six pack dry
And they all have many children
And the children go to school,
And the children all take ritalin
And then to the trade school
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into dad’s business
And marry and then divorce his family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same,
There’s a beige one and a gray one
And a brown one and a white one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

I can’t sing at all so I didn’t bother recording this new cover of the classic original. Perhaps it can be played at the Desco (or THF Realty) annual picnic or at aldermanic fundraisers?

– Steve


A Review of the Actual Site Plan of Loughborough Commons

I’ve finally seen the approved site plan for Loughborough Commons: Pedestrian access off Grand at the south end near the Lowe’s? None. Public sidewalk along Grand? None. Sidewalk along the west side of the main drive? None. Public sidewalk along Loughborough? Yes. Sidewalk along the east side of the main drive. Yes. Bike Parking? None. Parcel A (aka big pile-o-dirt)? Scary!

Let’s look at each individually:

As indicated earlier no pedestrian access is planned at the south entrance to Loughborough Commons. This secondary entrance is a wide 35ft and is near many homes to the west of the project as well as other homes where someone might walk along Koeln under I-55. Again, the drawings do not indicate any accommodation for pedestrians at this end — those walking will need to walk along the grass, walk in the auto drive or just get in their car. You can say that someone won’t walk to Lowe’s to buy drywall which is true enough. However, hardware stores of all sizes have many small sales. Furthermore, someone living in this area would naturally go this direction to get to the Schnuck’s grocery store.

Any pedestrian walking along Grand will need to be on the west side of the street as no sidewalk is being constructed along the east side of the street. While not serving any building entrances I am a firm believer in city streets having sidewalks on both sides.

At the main entrance on Loughborough the project drawings do not indicate any internal sidewalk along the west side of the entrance. This is the most logical side for those coming from all the houses to the west of the project. There will be a sidewalk leading to Parcel A but I will discuss that in greater detail later in this post.

Desco is replacing the sidewalk along the length of Loughborough. In an early post from this week I may have suggested this was not the case but in later posts was clear they were indeed replacing the sidewalk.

And finally, as Ald. Villa indicated via email and engineer Dennice Kowelman indicated via phone, they will have an internal sidewalk along the east side of the main drive. The drawings indicate it will be 5ft wide and run adjacent to the drive itself. While this is indicated on the construction documents it was not shown on the public drawings to the public in January 2005 nor does their current construction suggest such a sidewalk. I’m at a loss why the sidewalk was not poured when they did the driveway. I’m also baffled they have graded the soil and planted grass seed if they are going to do a sidewalk. They also have some access covers that would appear to be placed in a manner that will present some challenges. Again, it does not appear they will be putting a sidewalk here but the construction documents do show it. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and presume it was a matter of construction phasing.

The drawings indicate at the bottom of the hill they’d have a crosswalk taking you to the west across a 24ft drive to a striped corner and then south across a 33ft drive to a sidewalk along the front of the as yet to be built additional retail spaces north of the Schnuck’s. While I am happy they have at least this much shown it is simply not enough given the size of the project (30 acres, $40 million) and the size of the public tax breaks ($14 million). So the expectation is someone must follow a maze to get from A to B. But human nature just doesn’t work that way, pedestrians naturally take the shortest path unless the longer path is far more compelling. A plain sidewalk abutting the drive on the east is not more compelling. It dumps you out at the parking and intersection of internal drives. What will happen is people will most likely continue walking along the west side of the drive either in the drive itself or on the grass — we will probably see a worn path next year similar to those at places like Gravois Plaza.

Bike parking? Sorry, you’ll have to lock your bike to the cart racks and hope someone doesn’t hit it as they pull up in their Hummer. And yes, you can bike to a hardware store and buy supplies —- my storage on my bike is more capable than that on my scooter. It is possible some of the outparcel buildings may have some bike parking as they are not yet detailed. Well, I take that back. Parcels B, C, D and E where the current Schnuck’s is located (yes four individual parcels) are not detailed. Parcel A, where homes once stood and where you now see the great mound of Carondelet, is highly detailed. And that is the scary part.

The 13,800sf strip building is facing north toward the park but it is not located along the Loughborough sidewalk where you might expect an urban building to be. No sir, it is set back as far as it can be on that parcel with 85+/- parking spaces between it and Loughborough. Cars coming and going to this section will use the main entrance of the center. A sidewalk is shown from Loughborough where the grass is now but connecting up to this strip center, not down to the main walk in front of Schnuck’s.

Let’s assume for a moment that the St. Louis Bread Co is planning to lease space in the strip portion on this parcel rather than construct a free-standing building with drive-thru in the lower section. And you are there having your “pick-two” lunch and decide to walk over the Schnuck’s to get a few things. Following their sidewalk plan you’d walk back up to Loughborough, cross the main drive to the east, head south along the sidewalk, cross back over the main drive again this time to the west, and then cross another drive before reaching the sidewalk heading to the Schnuck’s store. Or, you cut through the grass and save roughly 350ft in distance. If you are in a wheel chair you’ll be forced to take the longer route.

So maybe Loughborough Commons isn’t the lowest form of development. It is one tiny step above the lowest because of the yet to be built sidewalk on one side of only one entrance. Yet the strip center look facing Carondelet Park will be a horrible sight and perhaps keeps them at the lowest level regardless of the final tenant(s). I’ve made a formal request under Missouri’s Sunshine Law for copies of the site plan — once obtained I will publish them here for you to review and come to your own conclusions.

– Steve


Schnuck’s Opens in Loughborough Commons, Pedestrians Unwelcomed.

IMG_4701.jpgYesterday I brought you an image from the new Loughborough entrance to Loughborough Commons. I showed how no provisions were being made to allow people to walk from the public sidewalk along the street to the front door of the new Schnucks, the Lowe’s and other smaller retail buildings yet to be constructed.

Apparently Ald. Villa is taking exception to my statements and has indicated, to others, pedestrian access will be provided. He also suggested people should question where they get their information, implying I’m misleading the facts. Of course, my photos do a good job of documenting the reality of what is built and you are also free to attempt to walk to the Schnuck’s yourself. In fact, I may just organize such an event — walking to the neighborhood grocery store.

But, I want to share a few more images that I took today during the grand opening. First, the image at right is the bottom of the hill as you enter from Loughborough. As you can see, the grass is planted and no curb cuts are in place. If they come back and remove grass and add curb cuts for sidewalks it will only be as an afterthought.

To Matt Villa and/or the Schnuck’s family:
Show me the drawings indicating your plans for pedestrian access. I will gladly publish them here for all to see.

The right hand drive coming into Loughborough Commons is for trucks to access the docks for the Schnuck’s store. Among the pictures on Flickr you can see this area.

… Continue Reading


Target Bike Rack Completely Useless

Target - Brentwood MORecently I was heading into the fairly new Target Greatland at Brentwood Promenade and noticed the bike rack adjacent to the entry (left of entry in photo).

I’m always happy to see businesses include a bike rack, however, it is nice when they actually install it in a place where someone might actually be able to use it.

Target bike rackThe only way this bike rack, a unit designed to hold five (5) bicycles, can actually be used by someone is to lock a single bike parallel to the rack. So the five-bike rack becomes a single bike rack.

The reason it cannot be used as designed is the rack is mounted too close the back wall. If it were pulled out from the wall a foot or so it would allow the front wheel of a bike to go beyond the rack. This would allow for three bikes — the two outer positions and the center — to be secured. The other two spaces are designed to be approached from the opposite side. But even pulling the rack forward by a foot leaves little room for a cyclist to get around the bike to lock the frame and wheel to the rack.

This facility was professionally designed and professionally built. Someone thought to include a bike rack, perhaps that was a Target requirement. But the professionals, somewhere along the line, failed to make sure the proper rack was specified for the location. Yet another example where someone knowledgeable of such issues should have been reviewing the drawings, specifications and monitoring the construction process.

– Steve


Eminent Domain for Private Use Likely in Hadley Township

This is a first for me, I’m running a guest column. Scott Rendall wanted to tell the following story which relates to my prior post on the Hadley Township area in Richmond Heights:

Joann Bailey lives with her husband one block east of Hanley Rd. in the Hadley Township area, just as she has done since 1964. A retired accountant, she loves where she lives, she loves her modest but well kept and attractive home, she desperately wants to stay, but she may be forced to leave.

Her front window displays a sign reading “Stop Eminent Domain Abuse”, as do the homes of a few other neighbors on her street. But when the Richmond Heights City Council voted to approve the redevelopment of the entire Hadley Township area on Monday, it was clear that if Mrs. Bailey and her neighbors don’t come to an agreement with the developer, the City will use Eminent Domain to force them off their property so that the 60-acre development can move forward.

“Money is not what I want.” says Bailey, “Money is not the issue over my home.” But if the City of Richmond Heights has their way, Bailey’s home will be removed to make room for a parking lot, while others in her neighborhood will have their homes removed to make room for… more expensive, privately owned homes.

The Castle Coalition, a non-profit organization that helps private landowners fight when Cities attempt to use eminent domain to acquire property for other private uses, says there have been more than 10,000 examples of these cases nationwide in just the last five years. The Hadley Township area fits the pattern of many of these land-grabs. The area is one of the first suburban areas in St. Louis developed by African Americans. Indeed, they paid for the original construction of the streets in the neighborhood. The 2000 census indicates that more than ½ of the 1,300 African Americans in Richmond Heights (total pop. 9,800) live in the Hadley Township area. It is an historically African American neighborhood, and today, the property values, or at least the current sale value of the homes, are a small fraction of those neighborhoods around it, where homes go for $130 – 300 K. The homes themselves may not be particularly valuable, but the property is a in a prime location for large scale retail development: Adjacent to the 40/Hanley interchange, across the street from recently built Best Buy, Sports Authority, and Home Depot stores, and right next to the year-old THF developed Wal-Mart /Sam’s Club monstrosity.

Eyed by developers for nearly a decade, THF now owns roughly 24 of the 200 odd properties in the area. Selling to a home-buyer in the area has been impossible for years now as rumors and proposals have swirled around the area. City Council Member Lillian Underwood, who lives in the area herself, has acquired 8 properties. She recused herself from voting, or commenting on the proposals, due to the conflict of interest. But she also told Bailey, who is her neighbor, that she is ‘embarrassed’ of the area, and ‘wants to see it torn down.’ Underwood now stands to make a small fortune if the City can force out the few homeowners who are still resisting moving out.

The City, as recently as a year ago, told Bailey that she would not be asked to leave her home. Since then, Bailey has paid for a new 30-year roof and re-paved her driveway. Recently the City and Developers have been assuring Bailey and other residents that they will be given first crack, and pre-purchase discounts, on the new $200 – 250K homes. But as retirees, Bailey and her husband live on fixed incomes, (as do some of their neighbors) and are concerned they won’t be able to afford the annual property taxes. Bailey says, “We don’t want to give it up, where are we going to find what we have here?”

Missouri Constitution Bill of Rights Section 28 states: That private property shall not be taken for private use with or without compensation, unless by consent of the owner, except for private ways of necessity, and except for drains and ditches across the lands of others for agricultural and sanitary purposes, in the manner prescribed by law; and that when an attempt is made to take private property for a use alleged to be public, the question whether the contemplated use be public shall be judicially determined without regard to any legislative declaration that the use is public.

Following the U.S. Supreme Courts decision in Kelo vs. City of New London, Governor Matt Blunt established a commission to study new guidelines for use of eminent domain. The commission delivered a report in December that recommended that “The public benefits of economic development, including an increase in tax base, tax revenues, employment, or general economic health, standing alone, shall not constitute a public use.” It is likely that legislation that follows these guidelines will be enacted in August of this year.

Bailey spoke to the City Council and assembled citizens at the Monday meeting before the vote was taken. She pointed out that Maplewood, a city with significant fiscal problems, had just passed an ordinance that prevents the use of eminent domain for private use. She begged the City Council not to take her home. The Council said nothing. Less than an hour later, they voted to approve the Michelson development.

The Michelson plan leaves a few homes which are east of a creek, the Conrad proposal had an option of leaving the same homes. I certainly feel for people that thought they could enjoy retirement in their homes to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

– Steve