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One pedestrian route complete, more needed

In early November 2005 Elizabeth “Lisi” Bansen died a few days after being struck by an SUV as she was traveling the two blocks from the nearest store to her apartment.  Lisi Bansen was disabled and using a manual wheelchair.  She was in the roadway because what sidewalks existed were impassable and curb cuts non-existent.

Two years later, in December 2007, the City of St. Louis lost a lawsuit with the jury finding them negligent in Bansen’s death.  But the city admitted as much by offering a settlement to Bansen’s family.  The jury awarded more than the city’s offer.  Of course you can’t put a price tag on a child or sibling.

By the time this case went to the jury a part of the route between the store and the apartments where Bansen lived had improved.  The state of Missouri constructed sidewalks and curb cuts adjacent to land it owns across the street from the Scott Joplin House museum.  City officials in statements to the press said they thought all was fixed.  They must have done a quick drive-by and saw some new concrete and assumed all was well.

In December 2007 I showed that it was not well.  Earlier this month on the four-year anniversary of Bansen being struck I showed that the route still remained impassable from end to end.  Sure, one portion was new but someone traveling between the same two places would still end up in the road.  After getting the city to finally complete the route between the apartments and the store I decided a celebratory walk was in order.

So last Saturday a few readers joined me as I walked from the store to the apartments and back.

Steve Patterson (with cane) speaks at the beginning
Westbound along Delmar on the new sidewalk. Scott Joplin house in background.

Lisi had another way to reach her apartment door but this shows how we don’t build for walking.  The sidewalk at the apartments is for reaching cars — not the public sidewalk a few feet away.  Make walking enough of a challenge and people who can will do otherwise.

I arrived at the starting point about a half hour early.  In that time I saw at least 8 people walking between the apartments and this store.  Thank you to Richard Reilly for the photos and to the others that joined me.

– Steve Patterson


Neighborhood meetings not a high priority for readers, new meeting structure needed

I’m going to make a broad generalization:  readers of this and other local blogs care about their neighborhood, their municipality and their metropolitan region as a whole.  I know I do and I sense that many of you do to.  The poll last week confirmed my theory.

Q: How often do you attend your local neighborhood association meetings?

  • Never 31 (35%)
  • Rarely 22 (25%)
  • Every time 18 (20%)
  • Occasionally 18 (20%)

More readers indicated they never go to their neighborhood meeting than those who always attend. Response was low, only 89 out of 2,873 visitors during the week.

So how does this prove they care? Wouldn’t their butt in a chair at the meeting be proof they care? By one measure, yes.  Continuing with generalizations, some love meetings.  They want to have meetings to plan future meetings and then have meetings to discuss how the meetings went.  The rest of us want to actually get something done.

It often comes down to personality type.  I personally absorb issues quickly and then get bored and impatient.  While others are still understanding the problem (or saying XYZ isn’t a problem) I’ve already figured out a handful of possible solutions.  I want to get all solutions on the table and determine which should be looked at in greater detail.  There is always one person that realizes the discussion will lead to change.  This type doesn’t like change and will now work to defend the way it has always been done.  Doesn’t matter what it is or the evidence that the old way no longer works.

What also doesn’t work is the 19th Century Robert’s Rules of Order being used as a structure for groups in the 21st Century.  Better alternatives exist but we so often turn to what we know rather than what is best.  MIT.edu has a good guide called A SHORT GUIDE TO CONSENSUS BUILDING: An Alternative to Robert’s Rules of Order for Groups, Organizations and Ad Hoc Assemblies that Want to Operate By Consensus.  From the intro:

Assume that a few dozen people have gotten together, on their own, at a community center because they are upset with a new policy or program recently announced by their local officials. After several impassioned speeches, someone suggests that the group appoint a moderator to “keep order” and ensure that the conversation proceeds effectively. Someone else wants to know how the group will decide what to recommend after they are done debating. “Will they vote?” this person wants to know. At this point, everyone turns to Joe, who has had experience as a moderator. Joe moves to the front of the room and explains that he will follow Robert’s Rules of Order. From that moment on, the conversation takes on a very formal tone. Instead of just saying what’s on their mind, everyone is forced to frame suggestions in the cumbersome form of “motions.” These have to be “seconded.” Efforts to “move the question” are proceeded by an explanation from Joe about what is and isn’t an acceptable way of doing this. Proposals to “table” various items are considered, even though everyone hasn’t had a chance to speak. Ultimately, all-or-nothing votes are the only way the group seems able to make a decision.

As the hour passes, fewer and fewer of those in attendance feel capable of expressing their views. They don’t know the rules, and they are intimidated. Every once in a while, someone makes an effort to re-state the problem or make a suggestion, but they are shouted down. (“You’re not following Robert’s Rules!”) No one takes responsibility for ensuring that the concerns of everyone in the room are met, especially the needs of those individuals who are least able to present their views effectively. After an hour or so, many people have left. A final proposal is approved by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent of those remaining.

If the group had followed the procedures spelled out in this Short Guide to Consensus Building, the meeting would have been run differently and the result would probably have been a lot more to everyone’s liking. The person at the front of the room would have been a trained facilitator — a person with mediation skills — not a moderator with specialized knowledge about how motions should be made or votes should be taken. His or her job would have been to get agreement at the outset on how the group wanted to proceed. Then, the facilitator or mediator would have focused on producing an agreement that could meet the underlying concerns of everyone in the room. No motions, no arcane rituals, no vote at the end. Instead, the facilitator would have pushed the group to brainstorm (e.g. ” Can anyone propose a way of proceeding that meets all the interests we have heard expressed thus far?” ) After as thorough consideration of options as time permitted, the facilitator would ask: “Is there anyone who can’t live with the last version of what has been proposed?” “If so, what improvement or modification can you suggest that will make it more acceptable to you, while continuing to meet the interests of everyone else with a stake in the issue?”

If neighborhood meetings were run by consensus,  rather than Robert’s Rules of Order, participation would be greater and group decisions better.

– Steve Patterson


Your Saint Louis at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts

October 23, 2009 Events/Meetings Comments Off on Your Saint Louis at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts

Often artists show the rest of us how undervalued items (objects, buildings, land) should be appreciated.  High-end loft districts often started as dirt cheap studios for artists.  Where there is art & artists there is transformation.  October 30th is the opening of the Urban Alchemy/Gordon Matta-Clark exhibition at the Pulitzer:

The exhibition programming will connect the artist’s social activism to present-day St. Louis. The Pulitzer, in collaboration with Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work, is organizing programs that build upon Matta-Clark’s desire to imbue abandoned objects, buildings, and parcels of land with new meaning.  The Pulitzer hopes to help carry Matta-Clark’s legacy into the 21st century and to inspire a new generation of social activism through creative acts.   An interactive web presence will reflect this community-driven programming at  mattaclark.pulitzerarts.org/transformation. Through art exhibitions, programs, collaborations, and exchanges with other institutions, the Pulitzer aims to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of art and architecture and is a resource for artists, architects, scholars, students and the general public.

The Pulitzer is open and free to the public Wednesdays from 12pm-5pm and Saturdays from 10am-5pm.

The Your Saint Louis part of the exhibit may have the most interest to the readers here:

In this section, we want to hear what your community means to you. We’ll ask to hear your stories and stories from your neighbors. You’ll be able to submit a walking tour of your (or your favorite) neighborhood to encourage others to explore your section of the city, we’ll invite you to share your photographs, and much more. This web page will be where we feature your St. Louis and what it means to you.

This will be a great opportunity for each of us to contribute information so it continually evolves.  The exhibit opens October 30, 2009 and runs through June 6, 2010.

– Steve Patterson


Making the Transition to an Accessible Community

October 15, 2009 Accessibility, Events/Meetings Comments Off on Making the Transition to an Accessible Community

It has been nearly 20 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law.  Much work remains.  Nobody expected every place to magically become accessible overnight.  Private buildings, especially those built since 1990, are pretty good.   A big chunk of the work to be done is in the public right-of-way and government buildings.  Part of the ADA requires units of government (cities, school districts. etc) to create and maintain a Transition Plan.

One important way to ensure that Title II’s requirements are being met in cities of all sizes is through self-evaluation, which is required by the ADA regulations. Self-evaluation enables local governments to pinpoint the facilities, programs and services that must be modified or relocated to ensure that local governments are complying with the ADA.

This document contains a sampling of common problems shared by city governments of all sizes that have been identified through the Department of Justice’s ongoing enforcement efforts. The document provides examples of common deficiencies and explains how these problems affect persons with disabilities. The document is not intended to be comprehensive or exhaustive.

The Department of Justice is finding governments are not doing the self-evaluation.   The are taking some to court!  To assist government in understanding the importance of and how to do a self evaluation, I’ve been serving on a committee with the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.  Together (mostly others) we’ve put together an excellent 1-day workshop: Tuesday October 20, 2009:

ADA Transition Plan: Do You Have One?

The American Institute of Architects St. Louis Chapter and the City of St. Louis Office on the Disabled present a one-day seminar on the components of a Transition Plan and its enforcement elements. Speakers from the National Access Board and the Department of Justice will prepare you for your Transition Plan.

The American with Disabilities Title II requires that all municipalities and public institutions have a Transition Plan on file for review with regular updates.

The major purpose of a Transition Plan, as it relates to buildings and facilities owned and operated by a public entity, is to document the barriers to persons with disabilities. The purpose of the Transition Plan is to propose the structural modifications that will be undertaken to provide program accessibility.

The speakers we have coming into town are excellent, they include:

Lois L. Thibault, Coordinator of Research, U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board)

After a decade’s work in the private practice of architecture and six years at The American Institute of Architects, Ms. Thibault joined the US Access Board in 1992 to direct its training activities, taking on the Board’s research program in 1998. She also assists in agency rulemaking, currently working on Public Rights-of-Way and Classroom Acoustics; develops advisory material on ADAAG provisions; provides technical assistance to public and private entities; and conducts training. In 1999 she authored ‘Accessible Rights-of-Way’, a design guide for pedestrian facility accessibility. Lois also serves on the board of The Washington Ear, a radio reading service for persons with visual impairments.

Bill Hecker:

Bill Hecker, AIA is an architect and accessibility consultant at Hecker Design, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. He has been involved in a number of landmark ADA lawsuits.  He splits his expert witness services generally between ADA Title III for plaintiffs and ADA Title II facility compliance issues for state and local government defendants. Since 1994 he has been an expert witness/consultant for the Department of Justice on ADA and Fair Housing Act cases.  He has been retained by DOJ to assist with the development of the Project Civic Access “Tool Kit” checklists for state and local government entities.  He has been involved with the development of ADA transition plans for: Charlotte, NC; Birmingham, AL; Jefferson County, AL; University of Florida; Auburn University; Towson University; Oakland University; Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources; Teton County, Montana, ADA County, Montana; Jackson, Mississippi; San Francisco, California; Maui County; Hawaii County; and, the City & County of Honolulu.

Others include Dana Jackson from the Department of Justice, local Architect Gina Hilberry and David Newburger representing the City of St. Louis.  It is great having Newburger on the city staff to address this.  But with hundreds of units of government in our region and thousands within a few hours away, he only represents a tiny fraction of the region.  It is safe to say that most of the units of government in our region out out of compliance by lacking a transition plan.

Interestingly cities from Illinois have outpaced cities from Missouri in early registration.  Some seats remain, the fee is $75 (includes lunch).  The registration form can be found here and once filled out can be faxed to AIA St. Louis at (314) 621-3489.

If you are with a local unit of government ask yourself is it worth the risk to not have a transition plan?  Do you like addressing access piecemeal? If you answered no to these then you need to attend this seminar on Tuesday.  I’ll be doing live tweets from the event, follow me at Twitter.com/UrbanReviewSTL.

– Steve Patterson


15th Annual What is a City? Conference

October 5, 2009 Education, Events/Meetings Comments Off on 15th Annual What is a City? Conference

Later this month the Center for the Humanities at the University of Missouri is holding an interesting a 2-day conference:

The Center for the Humanities invites you to the 15th annual What Is a City? conference. Join speakers from around the country and St. Louis in examining city infrastructure concerns through the lenses of the humanities, arts, and social sciences. We will discuss such cities as New York, Portland, Ore., New Orleans, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and St. Louis. Conference presenters include architects, urban planners, environmentalists, journalists, transportation experts, and legislators. Engaging in discussion that crosses many disciplines, the presenters and audience will explore ways we can understand and improve urban infrastructure and community life.

The 15th annual conference on 10/29-30 is free and open to the public.  To view the schedule and to pre-register click here.  A canned food donation is requested.  The campus is served by MetroLink, a parking permit is $6.

– Steve Patterson