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Successful Northside Job Growth

The first phase of the Northside redevelopment project as proposed by Paul McKee is to focus on the “job centers” and mixed use areas. Numbers are being thrown around as to imply thousands of jobs will be created by this project. I wonder what measure will be used to declare the project a success with respect to jobs by those proposing the plan.

The project will require a lot of construction jobs, which is a fact. These are people that would not have been needed otherwise. The time frame of twenty years implies the jobs will be needed for an extended duration compared to most construction projects. Despite that scope and time frame, do construction jobs truly help grow the area? Even with such a long time frame the jobs are only temporary. It is unreasonable to assume that someone could graduate, make a career of the project, and retire when it is done. Based on retirement accounts requirements they would still have another twenty years of work.  Shouldn’t the expectation for jobs created be that the jobs are permanent? Yes,t his economy has shown that no job is truly permanent, But no matter the time frame  construction jobs are by nature temporary. The 40/64 concrete river project demonstrates that. When 40 is complete construction will continue in the region, but will all those workers stay in St Louis? I doubt it. Some of them will return when the new Mississippi bridge starts up in full. There will probably be projects after that, but I don’t want the fate of the region’s job growth to depend on never ending highway work.  Local restaurants can’t move around the region at will to follow the construction.  They need permanent customers to keep open.

Looking at the McKee track record for development makes me wary, too. He touts his Winghaven and NorthPark projects as examples of what he and his associates can accomplish. The two projects boast two of the regions larger employers in Express Scripts and MasterCard. Unfortunately both these employers were already in the region before they moved into their new offices.  More specifically, they were in the same city. Sorry, Maryland Heights, I hope you didn’t need those taxes. True, Express Scripts was threatening to leave the area and NorthPark help keep them here, along with some tax incentives. Also, MasterCard had outgrown its offices in Maryland Heights and needed new digs. But in the end, McKee merely helped keep jobs from leaving. Preventing negative growth is not the same thing as creating new growth. Who does McKee plan on luring into the north city for this new project? I doubt Edward Jones is going to give up all their brand new buildings along 270.  Do you think InBev is tired of the historic brewery yet?

Additionally, there is the dilemma of existing projects already in work to compete with. Winghaven still has space available for development. NorthPark is basically a field with nice streets. Express Scripts isn’t even in the development, instead choosing to be south of I-70 next to UMSL. The old Ford Plant has been wiped out of existence and Hazelwood is dieing to get some tax base back on that land. The current economy has opened up business space in areas like Earth City and Westport. The occupancy rate downtown offices are not that great. And these are just some examples of places in the region vying for new jobs. What if the Northside development center gets all the new jobs in the coming years and every where else in the metro area remains stagnant?

Finally, the current economic conditions do not bode well for new jobs. Every region of the country is going to fight to keep what they have. Other cities are constantly offering huge incentives to attract growth. Just look at what it took to keep Express Scripts. What exactly does Paul McKee have to offer to convince a company to move to St Louis when it is hard to keep the ones already here? St Louis will be wrangling with every other city in the country for each new job. Not to imply it is a contest St Louis cannot win, but it won’t be as easy as some people are implying. The Lou is not the only place that will be offering new buildings and tax incentives in the coming years. That still leaves the possibility of start-ups as the source of new jobs. Might the next Google or Facebook start up in north St Louis? A future global company setting up roots in the new development could be the pinnacle of the project. Unfortunately, as many failed businessmen will tell you, there are more failures than success with new companies.

How will you measure the success of the project with respect to jobs:

  • For just having jobs associated with it?
  • Having low end retail jobs new to the city?
  • Pulling jobs into the city from around the metro area?
  • Preventing jobs from leaving the metro area?
  • Getting new jobs at the cost of other developments in the metro area?
  • Being the founding location of a future Fortune 500 company?

Permanent new to the region jobs, while not sucking up all growth in the metro area, will be my measure of success.

– Kevin McGuire


Farmers’ Markets: How they benefit an urban community

Since the middle of May, I have supervised an organic produce stand at the Tower Grove Park Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. I can’t tell you how many people have walked in front of our stand, wandered in to look at the produce, and bought produce from my co-workers and I. While there are occasional newcomers to the market, I usually find myself greeting a familiar face who is holding a canvas bag, ready to fill it with our organic produce. The newbies who shop at the market are greeted with a chaotic scene: dozens of people walking up and down the market paths, searching for that “perfect” peach, apple, radish, cucumber or bundle of Swiss Chard. There are people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicity, religions and creeds who shop at the market, and they usually bring their kids, dogs and significant others with them. That’s why I feel that a farmers’ market is an excellent way to tie a community together. Citizens from all walks of life can interact with each other in a comfortable setting and learn about each other and locally grown produce as well. I know that I have learned alot about the fabric of urban life in St. Louis, especially South City, while I have been at the market.

Tower Grove Farmers Market, May 2006
Tower Grove Farmers' Market, May 2006

The engine behind the farmers’ market is the farm that supplies the market with fresh produce. Tower Grove Park’s Farmers’ Market has a variety of suppliers and a few of them are local urban farms. Our farm, City Seeds,  is in downtown St. Louis, a couple of blocks east of Jefferson Ave close to Union Station. Consequently, we have had produce stolen from the property, we find people sleeping there on occasion, and we normally have to walk around the farm each morning and pick up trash, but the farm continues to prosper and inspire people who visit it and volunteer with us. I feel that our farm makes a positive difference in the downtown St. Louis community but our location may be compromised by Paul McKee’s Northside plan. But, that day is hopefully a way off and until Mr. McKee’s bulldozer destroys our property, we’re going to keep farming on it.

Finally, I pose a question to you, the loyal Urban Review STL reader: do you shop at local farmers’ markets (and I’m not talking about Soulard. 75% of the produce there is trucked in from California. Shocking, isn’t it?)? If so, which ones and why? Also, how could your favorite farmers’ market better serve you? More variety, perhaps?


-Tim Brinkmann


Chicken or the Egg? Business or the home?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  People with too much time on their hands have laid out a detailed argument here. For this post I am more interested in a question similar in nature.  Which came first, the home or the business?

The reason I pose the query is because a recent news story on my favorite radio station once again mentioned “job centers” with regards to the NorthSide development.  From what I have heard and read, McKee and associates plan on concentrating on job centers to begin the massive project and work on residential in the future.   I do not understand why.  If their goal is truly to redevelop north city, I do not believe job centers are where to begin.  Residential is where they should start, because to answer my own question, I believe the home came first.

I base my view on what I have observed spending a lifetime in suburbia.  A look back at the history of the region sees that the homes almost always come before businesses.  North county grew in the post war years due to massive amounts of housing developments.  The businesses moved in after.  Just compare north Lindbergh between now and twenty years ago. The migration of the suburbanites to St Charles county preceded the explosion in retail.  To understand what I am talking about, try driving down Highway K, which was a two lane road fifteen years ago.  West County filled in with soccer moms and SUVs before Target and Best Buy decided they needed stores in a flood plain.

There is easy explanation for why businesses will always follow homes.  In the words of Mr. Gekko, “Greed is good.”  Businesses are for all intent and purposes greedy entities.  They are only open of the pursuit of money.  Otherwise they are called non-profits.  Stores want to be where the people are located so they can make as much money as possible.  Which is they Home Depot has a store on Highway K and not Cass ave.  Businesses do not need tax incentives to open in locations where there is significant money to be taken from consumers.  Entrepreneurs know that if they don’t open a store in prime locations, their competitors will.

A perfect example of my theory in work in an urban environment is downtown.  Union Station and St Louis Center are illustrations of business development of the past that failed to revitalize the area.  They lead to no growth in the city.  On the other hand, the Washington Loft district exemplifies how businesses move in once there is a critical residential mass.  Downtown even has a grocery store for the first time in decades.  (author’s note:  I know of the now defunct City Grocers.  Just rubbing some loft residents.)

This view of the world leads me to conclude that the starting point for the NorthSide needs to be massive residential development.  I am well aware that homes currently exist in the area.  Obviously these are not homes a majority of people want to live in.  If they were, they would have premium pricing, not rock bottom.  However, an immense fill-in of new family housing would be impossible for greedy businessmen to ignore.  Job/retail centers would be easy to develop without much government assistance when Trader Joe’s wants a store in the area.   Set those areas aside for future development when it is needed.

I assume that the residential development would be an urban style and walkable, but those details are moot.  What is important is the size.  Repeat the example set forth by the suburban subdivisions and build hundreds of homes at once in an urban setting.  View it as a giant planned community.  Few people want to be the first on the street staring at overgrown lots with a promise of more to come.  Seeing homes being built all around would ease some of those fears.  This would only help the existing residents as they see their home values rise.  (In my world it is done the right way, without taking peoples homes, but rather building around them.)  An example of this done on a small scale with success can be seen in the West End just north of Delmar on Enright and accompanying streets.  Now I don’t agree with some of the design choices that were made, but a group of new homes were built and sold for a premium price.  This demonstrates that there is some demand for new housing in the city.

I am aware that the planned job centers are intended to have mixed residential sprinkled in the plans.  However, from everything I have heard and read I get the feeling that the mixed use areas are not Paul’s prime concern at the outset.  Lets just ignore that city schools are currently a hindrance to any residential growth and concentrate on whether McKee should spend time building job centers or homes.

– Kevin McGuire


Pruitt-Igoe’s Foundations Have Not Prevented Development

For less than 20 years 33 towers stood on 57 acres on the city’s near-north side (map).  Pruitt-Igoe was a failure of massive proportions. The reasons are numerous and complex.  The towers were razed over a two-year period starting in 1972.  Since then the site remained (mostly) vacant.

I continually hear people make the false claim the site has remained vacant because of the old foundations that were left in place.  To debunk this often repeated myth I turned to the person that would know best: Martin Braeske.

Braeske, a planner formerly with St. Louis County, was working in the planning office for the St. Louis Public Schools in February 1994 when they broke ground on the Gateway Middle School for Science and Technology to be built on a portion of the former Pruitt-Igoe site.  Braeske, now retired, is an Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University.  So I emailed my one-time instructor and asked him his thoughts on the foundations preventing site development:

Each tower had a partial basement for boiler and mechanical systems equipment. The ones we found were intact and simple filled in with dirt. We dug them out, punched holes in the bottom to equalize the water table and demolished the walls to about eight feet below the finished ground level. While this did cost a bit, it is not a major deterrent to redevelopment of the site.

The old foundations are not a big deal.  If anything has prevented development of the Pruitt-Igoe site it has been the city’s fragmented politics over the decades.  Late December 1992:

The federal judge overseeing the area’s school desegregation program is giving the St. Louis Housing Authority two weeks to hand over part of the old Pruitt-Igoe tract as the site for a $30 million magnet school.

U.S. District Judge George F. Gunn Jr. noted in his order that the federal court last year had approved the Pruitt-Igoe location as the site for the Gateway School.

In May, the St. Louis School Board filed an application with the Housing Authority to acquire 18 acres at Pruitt-Igoe, a public housing complex demolished in the 1970s.

The authority owns the property and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a lien on the tract.

The Tenant Affairs Board, which represents public housing tenants, opposed the deal. It contended that under federal law it has the “first right of refusal” in land transactions that affect public housing tenants.

Gunn disagreed, at least regarding the Gateway case. In an order late Wednesday, he said the tenants’ board cannot block the Pruitt-Igoe deal. He pointed out that the site is a “vacant debris-strewn area” that has had no residents for more than 15 years.

He ordered the Housing Authority to disregard the tenant board’s intent to develop the site the School Board wants for Gateway School.
(Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/25/1992)

The remaining 39 acres are still vacant 15 years after the school opened, becoming an urban forest.  Interest in Pruitt-Igoe remains as strong as ever.  Local filmmakers are hard at work on a documentary on the project.  See their site at Pruitt-Igoe.com (under construction) or follow them on Twitter @PruittIgoe.

Pruitt-Igoe is known around the world.  I recently received this email:

My name is Phil Bosch. I’m an artist based in Holland who is coming this Oktober and November to St. Louis to work on a special video documentary project.  I would like to investigate the memories of former residents of the now defunct Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. For the citizens of St. Louis this place is still an open space in the city, like an inverted monument of a history that seems to be forgotten.

Slowly this housing complex seems to have taken on a mythological status.   My film will be a study on its mythological status on the one side and the realm of experiences of the former residents on the other. The goal of my project is to enter, imaginatively, this huge building complex, even though its physical appearance is no longer there to be seen. While the Pruitt-Igoe no longer exists physically, it still exists in the memory of the former residents. It appears that despite the negative aura of the complex (the death of Modernism, the site’s history of crime and vandalism), there is still a coherent social group in the area who meet regularly. Thus, my goal would be to search for memories of a place where many lives were connected by this architecture that no longer exists.

I would like to document these memories. First of all, I would like to video the site of Pruitt-Igoe, which now has been taken back by nature. Next, I would like to contact people who had lived there or who otherwise have memories of the buildings.

If you can help Mr. Bosch email him.

– Steve Patterson


My Time in Old North St. Louis

In the Spring of 1991, at age 24, I moved to a 3-room flat on Sullivan Street.  It was quite a change from my first St. Louis apartment on Lindell.

14xx Sullivan, May 1991
14xx Sullivan, May 1991

My place was the one with the green shutters over the front door/transom (right edge). The four unit building didn’t have indoor plumbing when first built — my tiny bathroom had been built into a corner of the middle room.  The only sink was in the kitchen.  My rent in 1991 was $50/month, a fraction of the $330/month of the studio on Linedell.

N. Market Street, March 1991

In those days I’d talk with many neighbors after arson fires.  These fires were numerous too.  I’d go out later to check out another building lost to fire.

location unknown, 1991

There were so many I don’t recall where they all were.  I’m not sure about the one above.  Hopefully someone can identify this building location from the contextual image below:

The myriad of issues that have faced this neighborhood has always fascinated me.  Population decline, loss of the middle class, highway construction, the Model Cities program, and the 14th Street Pedestrian Mall:

Vacant parking lot for 14th Street Mall, 1991
Parking lot for 14th Street Mall, 1991

Through all the negatives there were many brights spots: great neighbors, Marx Hardware and, of course, Crown Candy Kitchen:

I haven’t lived in Old North St. Louis in over 15 years but it occupies a special place in my heart.  Much has changed from the three years I was a resident.  More of the old building fabric has been lost but more has been renovated and more built new.  Very soon the North 14th Street Mall will again become just North 14th Street again — the first time in over 30 years.

My Capstone (thesis) for my Masters degree in urban planning will be titled The Pedestrian Mall as a Revitalization Strategy.  The North 14th Street Pedestrian Mall, that I first saw 19 years ago, will serve as the primary case study in my research.

– Steve Patterson