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Project destroyed by 2006 arson fire getting rebuilt

February 5, 2010 Neighborhoods, South City Comments Off on Project destroyed by 2006 arson fire getting rebuilt
ABOVE:
ABOVE: morning of June 14, 2006

A few years ago St. Louis experienced some high profile arson fires. In April 2006 a condo project under construction on South Grand was totally destroyed.  Then in June 2006 two separate projects in Lafayette Square were torched.  A year later, to the day, an arsonist destroyed an apartment complex under construction.  All but one were rebuilt, finished and have been occupied for a while.

ABOVE: destroyed building finally being replaced.
ABOVE: destroyed building finally being replaced.

The other day I noticed the last of the damaged buildings going up on Mississippi Ave. .  It is nice to see this hole facing Lafayette Park get filled in.

– Steve Patterson

 

Transportation and the Urban Form

The host of this site, Steve Patterson, and I are both passionate about urban design issues. One area where we differ is how the interaction between transportation options and the urban form plays out in the real world. Steve, and others, believe that requiring “better”, more appropriate and/or more restrictive design standards, through efforts like moving to form-based zoning and reducing available parking, will somehow convince the uninformed public to become more enlightened and to change their ways.  I have a different perspective, that available transportation options inform the urban form, including our land use regulations and their application on a daily basis.

I’m not going to go back to the discovery of the wheel, but I am going to go back 150 years.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution / the American Civil War, transportation options were limited to human, animal, water or wind power – you could walk or row, ride a horse or a mule, use a sailboat or “go with the flow”.  The result was a world made up of farms, relatively small settlements, seaports, river ports and a few larger centers of banking, trade and government.  There was no zoning, as we know it, but we did have our westward expansion, with land being given away for free to anyone willing to “tame the wilderness”, through farming, ranching or mining.

Cities were just starting to build rudimentary water supply and sewer systems, and elevators and air conditioning were non-existent.  You got an urban environment marked by row houses, small, local retail establishments and tiny signs.  You didn’t have drive-throughs or dry cleaners, computers or gas stations; you did have hitching posts and coal for heat, telegraph and manure in the streets, Bob Cratchet and Tiny Tim.  You can find many preserved examples up and down the east coast, including Colonial Williamsburg.  And St. Louis started to grow as the Gateway to the West, primarily as a trading center and a transportation hub.  Examples around here include Soulard, Carondelet and Baden

The ability to capture the power of steam, through the boiler and the steam engine gave us railroads, cable cars and steam heat.  It also gave us the ability to run machinery with something other than water power, greatly expanding where factories could be located and how much they could produce.  More importantly, electricity was staring to be harnessed, with major improvements in generation, lighting and motors.  From the 1850’s through the 1890’s, city life changed rapidly.  Factories, along with their need for lots of workers, worked better in urban settings than in rural ones.  Cities like St. Louis became industrial centers as well as trading centers.

Quoting from a story in the 12/13/09 edition of the Daytona Beach News-Journal;

According to the Web site trolleystop.com, the first successful trolley system in the United States began operation in Richmond, Va. in 1887.  After the initial success in Richmond, almost all of the horse car lines in North America were converted to electric power.  The electric trolleys became so popular that the street railway industry experienced explosive growth almost overnight.  As the popularity of automobiles and buses boomed in the 1920s, however, most trolley companies began converting their lines to bus service.

That was certainly the case here.  We had multiple streetcar companies competing for riders and we saw explosive growth of streetcar suburbs, both inside and outside the city limits.

Streetcars and buses allowed workers to live further away from work.  You still needed to walk to the transit line, but it meant living within walking distance of your job was no longer an essential requirement.  People had more options, and many of those, that could afford to, moved out of the older, denser parts of town, leaving them to new waves of immigrants or to see them torn down and replaced by factories.  Retailers were still expected to offer home delivery, so stay-at-home moms (yes it’s a stereotype, but it was the reality) shopped for fresh food pretty much every day and kids walked or biked to neighborhood schools.  This was also the time when the first attempts at zoning started to occur, primarily to separate industrial uses from residential ones.

The next big “step forward” was Henry Ford’s efforts to produce an affordable automobile.  His success, in the 1920’s, was the next big step in the suburbanization of America and St. Louis.  Throughout south city one can find garages that are too small for many contemporary vehicles – they were built to shelter the vehicle that expanded Dad’s transportation options, Ford’s Model T.  The residential neighborhoods of that time were still walkable (with sidewalks) and they still had corner groceries, but they were growing less dense.

The next big impact on the urban environment was World War II, both directly and indirectly.  Factories moved from multi-story to single-story, sprawling structures.  The internal combustion engine became more reliable and synthetic rubber made tires much less of a pain in the a**.  Women entered the work force in large numbers and pent-up demand for consumer products continued to build.

Once the war ended, we experienced several decades of unprecedented prosperity, from the mid ’40’s through the ’70’s.  We built the interstate highway system and moms learned to drive.  FHA and VA loans favored single-family homes, primarily new, suburban ones, over denser, multi-family options.  We went from single-car families to 2-car families.  We embraced the suburban shopping center and the enclosed mall.

Just because it was a whole lot easier, people chose driving themselves over taking public transit.  They chose living in the new suburbs over living in established urban areas, especially those that had experienced decades of deferred maintenance (the Great Depression followed by wartime rationing).  Employers, schools and retailers all responded by offering more and more “free” parking, either by planning for it from the start, in new suburban developments, or by buying up and tearing down existing buildings in more-established urban areas.  This mobility also resulted in the Euclidean zoning that many of us are questioning today – it codified a preference for convenient parking over both density and walkability.

The end result is the world we live in today.  It reflects the hopes and aspirations of the majority of Americans, as reflected by the actions of our elected officials.  We trade sprawl and congested highways for the “freedom” to live where we want, work where we can find jobs and to shop at generic chains who have mastered the worldwide logistics supply chain.  We have seen St. Louis lose both population and jobs.  And we have two choices – we can continue to become more suburban, building more shopping centers, single-family homes and “free” parking.  Or we can redirect our efforts, differentiate ourselves from our suburban neighbors, encourage density and create viable transportation alternatives.

To attract people out of their cars and trucks won’t be easy.  There’s a real attraction to privacy, control and convenience.  But, as a big believer in the Law of Unintended Consequences, I find it interesting that more members of the Generation Y are willing to embrace mass transit.  It turns out that people who text, tweet and surf the mobile net would actually rather let someone else do the driving, IF they can figure out how to make it work.  Whether that involves reinventing Metro’s system and creating a market for higher densities or developing a taxi infrastructure that mimics that in New York, it appears that we may be on the cusp of a another significant change in how people want to live, work and commute.  Combine that with the growing success of, and the reliance many people have on, online shopping, and in many ways we’re returning to the “home delivery” model of yore.

Steve’s belief in the need for form-based zoning could very well be reflected in actual change, just not one driven by direct logic and/or nostalgia.  I doubt that we’ll see the imminent demise of the suburban shopping center or the type of store Schnuck’s or Direbergs typically builds.  But I can see a future where Transit Oriented Development will gain traction on both the residential side and on the employment/educational side – it’s actually slowly playing out here locally at the Barnes campus on Kingshighway.  The single-occupant vehicle could very well become an anachronism for the daily commute, saved only for shopping, recreation and regional out-of-town trips.  Whether it ends up being garaged for days at a time or rented only when needed will be a personal decision.  But these decisions will inform what “sells”, and in turn, what gets built, and ultimately, what our legislators will see a need to codify.

– Jim Zavist

 

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

 

Neighborhood meeting attendance

No matter where you live you are probably part of a neighborhood and that neighborhood very likely has regular meetings.  They may be quarterly or they may be monthly.  Some are casual while others can be more formal.  Some can be very productive while others never seem to move forward.  I personally have a low tolerance for neighborhood meetings.

The poll this week asks how often you attend your own neighborhood meeting?  Are you at every meeting or do show up rarely for the hot topic?  The poll is in the upper side sidebar.

In the comments below I’d like to hear some of your personal experiences. What do you like, dislike?  Any suggestions on how to get more people involved and how to set & accomplish goals for the neighborhood.

I’ll start.  I think Robert’s Rules of Order should be dumped.  Nobody likes to sit through meetings where people butcher the rules (“I motion that…”).  Instead the leadership should work toward decisions based on consensus.  Discuss.

– Steve Patterson

 

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