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Making A Setback Less Objectionable

In urbanized areas I like buildings to “hug” the public sidewalk, with active facades.  By active I mean numerous doors & windows, like you’d get with storefronts.  But not every area can support that many storefront spaces.  In the past buildings were often set back behind large blank plazas or surface parking.

The Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College is an example of new thinking about how to build in an urban context where storefront spaces just don’t work and where some public outdoor space may be desirable.  Just a block from the busiest MetroLink station in our system, pedestrians are a sure thing.

ABOVE: Aerial image of the Goldfarb School of Nursing. Source: Google Maps (click to view)

The building is open at the corner of Taylor & Duncan but it does extend to both sidewalks away from the corner.  Parking is placed on the back sides, not between the building & sidewalk.

ABOVE: fencing, piers & open gates separates the public sidewalk from the courtyard space and contines the urban building line
ABOVE: Pedestrians on the sidewalk can touch the building as they pass.
ABOVE: The east side as seen from the public sidewalk

Pedestrians approaching this building have several options on where to enter.  None require the pedestrian to walk in a driveway designed for automobiles.

To recap how to make a setback less objectionable:

  1. Extend part of the building to each public sidewalk
  2. Extend building line with a low fence
  3. Do not place parking or driveways between the public sidewalk and building
  4. Provide multiple routes for pedestrians to enter the building

– Steve Patterson


Tuck-Under Garages On Delmar

ABOVE: A pair of townhouses on Delmar with a "tuck-under" garage

I’m not a fan of front facing garages, especially on lots served by a rear alley.   The “tuck-under” garage makers the front garage less objectionable.  However, the white garage door stands out in contrast the dark materials of the rest of the facade — drawing attention to the door.  Although I doubt many walking by on the sidewalk will notice the townhouse on the right because of what they will see on the left.

ABOVE: green standing water halfway up the door reduces the curb appeal. Please excuse the picture quality

I’ve said it before and I will say it again.  The only properties that should be permitted to have a curb cut out to the street are those that do not have a rear alley.

ABOVE: Aerial of property (upper left) showing alley
ABOVE: Aerial of property (upper left) showing alley, click image to view in Google Maps

– Steve Patterson


It Does Get Better

img_0555Today is National Coming Out Day and, yes, I’m gay.  I was harassed for being gay, before I even knew I was gay, during the 5th-8th grade (1977-1981). I came out in 1983, at age 16 — a year after the term “AIDS” was first used.  Although scary times for me, it got better.

Last week I joined hundreds of others in the Central West End for an important event to show youth it gets better:

“They marched as one. Unified by candlelight, reflecting on some of their darkest days of bullying and harassment.” (Vigil Condemns Anti-Gay Bullying)

Here is a short video clip I shot:


The vigil was organized by Growing American Youth:

“Growing American Youth is a social support organization for youth who live near St. Louis and who are 21 and under and may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. Growing American Youth has been serving St. Louis area youth for 30 years.”

In addition to the string of gay teen suicides we now have the story of violence against young gay men in New York:

“Outraged city leaders said Saturday that the city wouldn’t tolerate the “vicious” hatred that had apparently caused a street gang to allegedly beat and torture two teenage boys and a man inside an abandoned home over the course of several hours because they were gay.” (NYC officials outraged over anti-gay gang torture)

Cities are still the most accepting place to be.

– Steve Patterson


Weekend Events For The St. Louis Urbanist

ABOVE: Open Streets #1 on May 1, 2010
ABOVE: Open Streets #1 on May 1, 2010

This weekend brings some interesting events, good excuses to explore areas you may not know as well as others.

Great Forest Park Balloon Race

“The 2010 Great Forest Park Balloon Race is scheduled for Saturday, September 18, 2010 and will take place on Central Field in Forest Park, near the Jewel Box. The Balloon Glow will take place on Friday, September 17, 2010 also on Central Field. A detailed event schedule for the 2010 race is available here.”

Open Streets #3

Open Streets combines elements of your neighborhood block party, a day at the gym, and a relaxing weekend morning. It’s a chance to exercise, an opportunity to people watch, and a great time to enjoy our region’s wonderful spring and fall weather.

Sunday September 19 2010 8am-1pm, map

Have a great weekend!

– Steve Patterson


The building I most want to see renovated

The City of St. Louis has hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful urban buildings I’d like to see renovated.  Significant buildings like the Arcade/Wright downtown, among them.  But the one building I think I’d put at or near the top of my list is a 2-story building at the East end of Fountain Park (map):

4831 Fountain
4831 Fountain, November 2009

In researching this story I found a few posts from friends.  Matt Mourning observed on July 6, 2008, “The pleasant building seems to literally embrace the oblong Fountain Park that is its neighbor.” So true, the building was built before zoning existed yet it manages to do a spectacular job.  As cities write form-based codes they look at buildings like the above to see if it could be built under a new zoning code.  Our 1947-era zoning would not allow this fine building to be built today.  We need to do two things about that.  1) save this example of how to have a building relate to the sidewalk and adjacent area and 2) change our zoning to allow/encourage modern versions.

Matt’s post led me to Toby Weiss’ post from February 4, 2007 where she wrote:

It was built in 1897, with store fronts at ground level and apartments above. The building curves to match the geometry of the neighborhood, and the cylindrical turrets are like lyrical bookends. I immediately imagined decades of people lounging in these spaces, gazing out over the park, and it felt magical.

Magical indeed.  Whenever I’m in the vicinity of Fountain Park I take a spin past this building.  Toby linked to Robert Powers’ photo site, Built St. Louis. I scrolled down to the comments on Toby’s post and the first one was from me.  I had posted a link to a post I had done on this building in February 2005.  At the time I wrote:

The building curves to follow the street pattern. This is a lost art — most people just build square buildings these days. The composition of this building is one of the finest I’ve ever seen — anywhere. Seattle has nothing like it. Vancouver has great buildings downtown but their residential neighborhoods are a bit dull architecturally. Same for San Francisco, D.C., and most others. Scale, proportion, materials. All come together in a way that most newer buildings just don’t. This building just belongs – feeling perfectly at home with the adjacent houses. Rarely is a commercial building such a fit in a residential area.

Obviously I can see past the current condition. Hopefully you can too. The surrounding residences are being rehabbed and if someone is smart they’ll snap up this building and do a coffee house/deli/cafe/market on the ground floor. The sidewalk facing Fountain Park is just begging for outdoor dining. The old upstairs apartments would make great condos.

Only after we see past old racial lines and boards on windows will we fully realize the potential of our city. Good urbanity is colorblind.

I had a wide angle lens back then:

February 2005
February 2005

Two comments after mine on Toby’s blog was from yet another friend, Lisa Selligman. She wrote in February 2007:

The mixed-use castle on the corner, embracing the square with its turrets and archways, remained derelict, and I dreamed of buying it, restoring it, opening a coffee shop on the ground floor, with tables on the sidewalk filled with chattering customers. My studio on the second floor overlooked a renewed park with the fountain splashing in the distance.

As has been noted by others the building is actually two buildings joined by a brick wall.

November 2009
November 2009


The north structure is fine in its own right but the combination of the two it was make this corner of the city such a gem.



I am positively captivated by this building.

With several storefronts the options are many.  A coffee shop on the ground floor at the corner seems ideal.  Cafe tables and umbrellas out front.  Something modeled on Hartford Coffee or the original Kaldi’s.The reasons for this building to never be renovated are numerous: low adjacent values, perception of neighborhood by outsiders, current economy, etc.  I want the harder list — the ways in which this project can once again be occupied and be a part of a vibrant Fountain Park neighborhood.

– Steve Patterson