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Decade Since The Failed 14th Street Pedestrian Mall Was Reopened in Old North St. Louis

October 29, 2020 Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Pedestrian Mall Comments Off on Decade Since The Failed 14th Street Pedestrian Mall Was Reopened in Old North St. Louis

It has now been a decade since a 33-year mistake was corrected. During the 1960s & 1970s removing a street to create a “pedestrian mall” was a magic bullet tried by cities coast to coast. Almost fall failed.

In the early 1970s North 14th Street merchants began looking for solutions to a decline in sales as residents of the surrounding near north neighborhood left for better housing elsewhere.

From a May 1972 Washington University graduate thesis

The solution, they thought, was to mall 14th Street. Some buildings behind the street were razed to create large surface parking lots, so former residents could drive back to their old neighborhood to shop at chains like JC Penny & Woolworth’s and local businesses like Sobel’s Furniture.

Open air and enclosed malls were attracting more and more customers so remaking a decades-old neighborhood shopping district to emulate suburban malls would attract customers. Well, that was the theory that led to hundreds of streets nationwide being malled.

More like mauled.

The new 2-block long mall opened on March 2, 1977.  Two blocks of North 14th Street were closed to vehicles, from Warren Street on the south to St. Louis Ave on the north. The one cross street, Montgomery Street, was also closed. See current map.

By the time I first saw it in the Fall of 1990 very few businesses remained.

Looking south on 14th, Spring 1991

By the Spring of 1991 I was living in the Murphy-Blair neighborhood, the local group was working to rename it Old North St. Louis. The neighborhood located just north of downtown St. Louis was a separate village 1816-1841, when it was annexed by a growing St. Louis.

Two business that were were just beyond the mall were Marx Hardware (Est 1875) and Crown Candy Kitchen (Est 1913), both are still in business.

I left the neighborhood in August 1994, but others finally figured out how to put together a project to both renovate the buildings that remained and put back the street. I applaud all involved for their perseverance.

The ribbon cutting was held on July 29, 2010

After the ribbon cutting & celebration traffic didn’t immediately begin driving up & down 14th Street. The new streetlights were delayed, so the city’s Streets Dept wouldn’t let cars use the new street. Within a few months the lights and a few other punch list items were completed.

The former Woolworth’s at 14th & Montgomery in 2010.

In the decade since the reopening new occupants of the  storefronts have changed, retail is a struggle everywhere. The spaces aren’t empty, which is important.  The street trees have matured nicely.

Old North Provisions diagonally across from Crown Candy Kitchen in August. Click image to see their website in a new tab.

Some say the mall helped keep these buildings from being destroyed, but I think had the mall not been built the street might have been slowly brought back one business at a time, like others in St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

 

KC Nonprofit Proposes Tiny House Village In North St. Louis To Assist Homeless Veterans

October 22, 2020 Featured, Homeless, North City, Planning & Design Comments Off on KC Nonprofit Proposes Tiny House Village In North St. Louis To Assist Homeless Veterans

Homelessness is a problem coast to coast — in big cities and in small towns, in downtowns and in the suburbs. Often it’s invisible, other times it’s too visible. One of the groups who find themselves homeless are our veterans, men & women who served our country but then fell through the big holes in what’s left of our safety nets.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Roughly 45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.

Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.

America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions. (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans)

The above organization lists some stunning statistics:

DEMOGRAPHICS OF HOMELESS VETERANS

  • 11% of the homeless adult population are veterans
  • 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
  • 68% reside in principal cities
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
  • 50% have serious mental illness
  • 70% have substance abuse problems
  • 57% are white males, compared to 38% of non-veterans
  • 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans

It should be clear that homeless veterans are a big group. Programs to assist the general population might help some, but a targeted approach will yield better results.

Veteran homelessness is related to another problem: veteran suicide.

Veterans with a history of homelessness are five times more likely to attempt suicide than other veterans, a new study by researchers at Yale and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has found. (Yale)

The solution to homelessness appears to be getting them off the street and treatment for issues like substance abuse. Such treatment won’t work while on the street looking for their next meal or where to sleep. Housing becomes the key, but what kind?

Tents for homeless, downtown St. Louis in April

In the past SROs (single room occupancy) were an important housing option, but these have mostly disappeared. Tent cities are an option, but those lack privacy, showers, etc. Tent encampments are often run off from the land where they spring up. Five years ago a group opened Freedom House, a renovated apartment building, for homeless veterans. See Housing For Homeless Veterans Nearing Completion At 4011 Delmar.

A relatively new nonprofit, based in Kansas City, is trying a solution other cities have utilized: tiny houses. Veterans Community Project (VCP) now want to expand into St. Louis, focused on helping veterans with anything they need. Apparently accessing services available through the Veterans Administration (VA) isn’t easy, so they help veterans navigate the bureaucracy. They can also help veterans get other services outside those offered through the VA. And 50 tiny houses will give the men & women the security & stability they need to rebuild their lives.

At the land dedication event on friday a couple of speakers mentioned eradicating the problem of homeless veterans in Missouri. Sounds good, but homeless veterans exist outside of the Kansas City & St. Louis metro areas. While I’m skeptical about any claim to eradicate homelessness, this project will potentially make a significant dent in our total homeless population.

Let me walk you through their proposed project, then I’ll share a few areas of concern.

Located on a 5-acre property in the heart of the Jeff Vander Lou neighborhood, the Veterans Community Project campus includes a village of tiny houses for Veterans experiencing homelessness and a Veterans Outreach Center to provide walk-in support services for any Veteran in the St. Louis metro area.

VCP Village

VCP Village is a specialized community of 50 tiny homes with on-site, wraparound support services designed to equip Veterans with the tools needed to return to a stable, prosperous, independent life.

Each tiny house provides everything a Veteran needs to live with dignity and security; new furniture, appliances, housewares, bedding, personal items, and utilities – all free of charge. The homes offers sanctuary and the emotional space needed for each Veteran and VCP’s specially-trained team to thoroughly address the underlying causes of his or her homelessness.
With the support of their case managers and battle buddies, Veterans work to achieve incremental, lasting results in the areas of health and wellness, income stability, education and training, fiscal understanding, and the development of a personal support network. Once the Veteran’s individual goals are met, VCP assists him or her in securing a permanent housing solution and transitioning to a new life. 

The Veterans Outreach Center

Located on Grand Ave, the Veterans Outreach Center is a “one-stop” shop for any Veteran requiring support services such as emergency rent and utility assistance, food and hygiene kits, employment supports, military documentation and benefits navigation, and case management.

The project is modeled after VCP’s Kansas City model which has already served more than 4,100 at-risk Veterans and successfully transitioned more than 40 formerly homeless Veterans into permanent housing since its opening in 2018. (VCPSTL)

You can see an early construction aerial of their KC village here, so let’s take a look at their St. Louis proposal.

Three groupings of tiny houses would face a central area, to create the village feel.
They want to build on 3 areas around Aldine Ave & Spring Ave, west of Grand (right). Their Outreach Center is on the right, at Grand. The yellow building on the left is the village community center.

There’s a lot to like about their proposal:

  • The services to veterans seems very important, even if not homeless. Too many serving the homeless offer just one part of what they need, sending them off to find the rest. This will hopefully result in a higher success rate.
  • It’s close to the VA Hospital on Grand.
  • The number of separate structures is roughly equal to what was here in 1909 (See Sanborn map).
  • Tiny houses can be on wheels, modular, or built on site. This is the latter. These are permanent structures.
  • Tiny houses are psychologically better than other transitional options because they immediately help the individual see themselves living in their own place, independent of others. It’s a baby step toward an apartment.
  • Case managers will help keep these vets on track.
  • There’s no rent, no limit how long they can stay.
  • Ugly mostly vacant lots backed up to auto salvage businesses aren’t likely to be used for anything, especially new housing.
  • No public streets vacated!

Obviously I’m a believer in tiny houses for transitional housing for the homeless, but I do have a problem with a couple of things and I have some suggestions.

Grand Boulevard is our longest north-south corridor, with the busiest bus route (#70). Pedestrians use the bus, and as part of an urban area all new construction along Grand should be urban in placement and massing. First, here’s how they plan to face Grand.

 

Unfortunately they’ve shown the outreach center building set back behind parking, rather than up to the public sidewalks. It also requires 3 driveways interrupting the sidewalk. Very suburban design, totally inappropriate for an urban neighborhood with heavy pedestrian use.
This is easily addressed by designing the building to be located at the corner, with the entrance directly on the Grand sidewalk. Ideally it would be 2-stories, or 1-story with a raised roof area at the corner.

Rather than a curb cut leading to a garage door, this function should be off the parking lot — not interrupting the public sidewalk. The sidewalk along Grand should be as wide as possible, with tree wells, not tree lawns. This allows people who arrive by car to park in the parking lane and then step onto pavement, not grass. Same for the Aldine Ave side of the building.

From both streets you see the blank backs of the houses — no eyes on the streets.
3708 Aldine Ave will be razed. It was built in 1889. In the last decade two wood frame houses to the right were razed. At least this block has a history of different heights and materials.

In addition to the above issues I have some suggestions to improve the project.

  • Make the Aldine Ave 2-way as shown on the site plan.
  • Corner curb bulbs to narrow streets, slow drivers. Also reduces the crossing distance, adds planter opportunities.
  • Add some bioswales/rain gardens to Aldine Ave to catch water and reduce the amount of paving. With parking lanes Aldine Ave is too wide.
  • Plan for internal walkways to alleys so residents can take their trash/recycling to the dumpsters.

The main thing I’d like to see is the outreach center building be up against the Grand sidewalk — not pushed back behind parking.

— Steve Patterson

 

Four St. Louis High-Rise Public Housing Projects Replaced With Low-Rise Developments

September 30, 2020 Featured, History/Preservation, Neighborhoods, Planning & Design Comments Off on Four St. Louis High-Rise Public Housing Projects Replaced With Low-Rise Developments

Today’s post is about HOPE VI projects. You may have heard that term before, but if you’re unfamiliar here’s an introduction:

HOPE VI is a program of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is intended to revitalize the worst public housing projects in the United States into mixed-income developments. Its philosophy is largely based on New Urbanism and the concept of defensible space.

The program began in 1992, with formal recognition by law in 1998. As of 2005, the program had distributed $5.8 billion through 446 federal block grants to cities for the developments, with the highest individual grant being $67.7 million, awarded to Arverne/Edgemere Houses in New York City.

HOPE VI has included a variety of grant programs including: Revitalization, Demolition, Main Street, and Planning grant programs. As of June 1, 2010 there have been 254 HOPE VI Revitalization grants awarded to 132 housing authorities since 1993 – totaling more than $6.1 billion. (Wikipedia)

The short answer is HOPE VI was the program used to raze & replace distressed high-rise public housing with low-rise mixed-income private housing. With the notable exception of Pruitt-Igoe, all of St. Louis’ high-rise public housing was replaced with low-rise housing — three using the HOPE VI program. Pruitt-Igoe was famously imploded two decades before the start of the HOPE VI program.

From a May 2004 research report after a decade of HOPE VI:

Launched in 1992, the $5 billion HOPE VI program represents a dramatic turnaround in public housing policy and one of the most ambitious urban redevelopment efforts in the nation’s history. It replaces severely distressed public housing projects, occupied exclusively by poor families, with redesigned mixed-income housing and provides housing vouchers to enable some of the original residents to rent apartments in the private market. And it has helped transform the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) approach to housing assistance for the poor. This report provides a comprehensive summary of existing research on the HOPE VI program. Its central purpose is to help inform the ongoing debate about the program’s achievements and impacts, and to highlight the lessons it offers for continuing reforms in public housing policy.

HOPE VI grew out of the work of the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing, which was established by Congress in 1989. Congress charged the Commission with identifying “severely distressed” public housing developments, assessing strategies to improve conditions at these developments, and preparing a national action plan for dealing with the problem. Based on its investigation, the Commission concluded that roughly 86,000 of the 1.3 million public housing units nationwide qualified as severely distressed and that a new and comprehensive approach would be required to address the range of problems existing at these developments.

In response to these findings, Congress enacted the HOPE VI program, which combined grants for physical revitalization with funding for management improvements and supportive services to promote resident self-sufficiency. Initially, housing authorities were allowed to propose plans covering up to 500 units with grant awards of up to $50 million. (Introduction to an Urban Institute report)

I should clarify the HOPE VI program isn’t limited to only remaking high-rise public housing, but that is the type of distressed public housing we had in St. Louis. Other cities, like Chicago, also used it to replace high-rise projects. Cabrini-Green, for example.

Let’s take a look at the four St. Louis high-rise public housing projects that were replaced with low-rise housing built on a more traditional street grid.

Darst-Webbe

The Darst-Webbe towers on the near south side circa 1990-91, razed

This was officially known as the J.M. Darst Apartments and the A.M. Webbe Apartments. The Darst apts., opened in October 1956, occupied 14.75 acres bounded by Lafayette, Hickory, Tucker (12th) & 14th.  The four 9-story buildings contained 645 units.  The Webbe apts. opened in May 1961 between the Darst apts. and Chouteau.  It had a mix of buildings on 12.27 acres: two 9-story, one 12-story, and one 8-story. These four buildings had 580 units.  The combined Darst-Webbe then had 1225 apartment units on 27.02 acres.

This was the first high-rise public housing project in St. Louis to be razed and rebuilt under the HOPE VI program. In its place is a mix of apartments and privately-owned single-family homes. On the south is King Louie Square apartments, with 152 1-4 bedroom units. In the middle of the redevelopment site is the single-family homes, called La Saison. Habitat for Humanity is building new homes here on the few vacant lots remaining. The north part of the original site contains more apartments, called Les Chateaux — with 40 1-2 bedroom units.

House at La Saison on Tucker near Park Ave, the north edge of King Louie Square can be seen on the left. Photo December 27, 2013.
Looking north on 14th street toward LaSalle. The buildings on the left are rental townhouses in the redevelopment area, just not sure if they have a name. Photo: November 7, 2018.

In 1995 HUD gave the St. Louis Housing Authority a grant of $46.7 million to redevelop Darst-Webbe. Defunct developer Pyramid Construction is responsible for the pretentious names.

Vaughn

This was two projects, both called G.L. Vaughn Apartments. The first, opened in June 1957, was bounded by Cass, O’Fallon, 18th, and 20th. It had four 9-story towers on 16.67 acres — with 647 units. The second opened at the NE corner of 20th & O’Fallon in September 1963. Basically this was just an expansion of the project that opened six years earlier, it had one 8-story building on 2.05 acres, 112 units.

The last Vaughn tower being razed in October 2006.
New housing, called Murphy Park, had already been built where the other four towers had been razed.
The Murphy Park senior building and management offices.
Looking south on Vinson Street from a new park on Biddle Street.

Vaughn was completed, to the best of my knowledge without the use of a HUD HOPE VI grant, but like others it got state low income tax credits.

 The partnership event highlighted Phase III of Murphy Park. Its 126 units will bring to 413 the total number of rental dwellings built in the neighborhood that once was the site of the notorious George L. Vaughn public housing high-rises. One third of the completed project will be market rate apartments, with the balance constructed as tax credit units – with just more than half available for public housing-eligible families as part of the replacement of the former public housing complex. Units range from two to six bedrooms and include disability-accessible garden apartments. Each apartment features full size appliances including washer and dryer, refrigerator, stove and dishwasher. McCormack Baron Management Services, the management agent, reports that Phases I and II (completed in 1997 and 2000) have high-90 percent occupancy. Phase III units will be available in March 2003. (HUD)

As the above indicates, this was a McCormack Baron development.

Blumeyer

This was officially the A.A. Blumeyer Apartments. It opened in October 1968, bounded by Compton, Delmar, Grand & Page. It had two 14-story buildings for “elderly”, three 15-story buildings, and forty-two 2-story buildings. There was a total of 1,152 units on 33.90 acres.

Low-rise & high-rise buildings at Blumeyer before being razed. Photo October 2006
Blumeyer Elderly Apartments on Page, January 2007

This was replaced by the Renaissance Place at Grand apartments and the offices of the St. Louis Housing Authority.  To the north, across Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd, Senior Living at Renaissance Place was built on land not part of Blumeyer.  Additionally, the North Sarah Apartments were built on…North Sarah… to provide additional units.

New apartment within a grid of new streets in February 2013, the last Blumeyer tower in the background — demolition on it began in the fall of 2014

The $35 million dollar HUD grant was issued in 2001. Like Vaughn, this was a McCormack Baron project.

Cochran

Officially the J.J. Cochran Garden Apartments.   Completed in April 1953, it was St. Louis’ first high-rise public housing project — more than two years before Pruitt Homes and three years before Igoe Apartments. The 18.03 acre site contained four 12-story, two 7-story, and six 6-story towers — containing 703 units. It was built to clear out old tenemts businesses on the north edge of the business district didn’t like. Then Cochran became a problem, but tenants pushed for the ability to self manage — and won!

Cochran Gardens was a public housing complex on the near north side of downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Construction was completed in 1953. The complex was occupied until 2006, it was famous for its residents’ innovative form of tenant-led management. In 1976, Cochran Gardens became one of the first U.S. housing projects to have tenant management. Built by the same firm, Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth, as the infamous Pruitt–Igoe complex, Cochran Gardens was more successful than its ill-fated sister project. In the mid 1970s, Bertha Gilkey and a group of friends successfully led a community driven rehabilitation effort; in 1976 she won a property management contract from the city. Independent management improved Cochran Gardens and created small business jobs in the neighborhood. President George H. W. Bush visited the site in 1991, commending tenant management and Bertha Gilkey. However, in 1998 city authorities took over Cochran Gardens, citing tax mismanagement by the tenant association. The buildings rapidly deteriorated, by 1999 vacancy rate increased from under 10% to one-third. (Wikipedia)

I photographed the area in May 2007 as towers still existed and as new construction was going up, streets going in.

The last high-rise tower from the Cochran Gardens project was razed in 2011. This is 9th & O’Fallon on May 29, 2007.
At 7th & O’Fallon you can just see the historic Neighborhood Gardens project on the left, new Cambridge Heights apartments on the right. In the background is an old Cochran tower about to be demolished. Note traffic signals were still in place along 7th street.
From 9th street we can see the other side of the Cochran tower before demolition, and new townhouses facing 8th street. The building on the horizon is on 7th, was part of McGuire Moving & Storage.
Project sign
Looking to the left we see more new townhouses between 8th & 9th
Looking south on 8th Street from Dickson Street. Dickson Street didn’t exist between 7th and 9th prior to Cochran, but the street name was used east of 7th. Eighth street was removed for Cochran, it was mostly rebuilt.

This project was completed by an LLC that includes architect Michael Kennedy of KAI (previously known as Kennedy Associates, Inc). McCormack Baron was management from the very beginning, until February of this year. In a future post I’ll go into more detail on Cochran Gardens & Cambridge Heights.

Summary

These four areas are all significantly better because of each redevelopment. The New Urbanist influence has been a key factor in their success. The buildings in all four orient toward the public street. HOPE VI projects have valid criticism, largely the reduction in the number of public housing units for the very low income. The other is the charge of gentrification, a valid claim in other cities but not in St. Louis. More on that in the future.

— Steve Patterson

 

Grand Bridge/Viaduct Not Looking So Good After Only Eight Years

September 16, 2020 Featured, Planning & Design, SLU Comments Off on Grand Bridge/Viaduct Not Looking So Good After Only Eight Years

The ribbon for the $20-$30 million Grand bridge/viaduct was cut on August 25, 2012. It looked great that day. Now, eight years later it is not looking so fresh.

August 25, 2012 @ 10:30am
The many planters along both sides that day had lots of plants.
The plants were a wide variety.

On Monday (9/14/2020) I crossed both sides, end to end.

Approaching from the south one light is broken off. The next is just a pole — no top.
Weeds new growing in the cracks, the planters are empty.
The drains are all clogged with trash, etc.
At ome point the entire structure has settled, this means both sidewalks now have a vertical point that exceeds ADA guidelines.
The settlement line is visible in the median as well. The curb here will continue to deteriorate unless repaired.

Ribbon cuttings are appealing to politicians, especially those running for additional terms. Being able to tout millions of dollars in new investment is great for a resume.

Routine maintenance, on the other hand,  isn’t glamorous. The media doesn’t send out a reporter/photographer. So we spend millions building new stuff then fail to maintain it. I think Saint Louis University had originally planted the planters, but they’ve had a change of leadership since.

You may not notice driving across, but this bridge is now an embarrassment. It’s no longer ADA-compliant.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis County Moved Mandatory Beg Button After I Complained About Not Being Able To Reach It

September 10, 2020 Accessibility, Featured, Planning & Design, St. Louis County, Walkability Comments Off on St. Louis County Moved Mandatory Beg Button After I Complained About Not Being Able To Reach It

Buttons used to activate pedestrian signals are derisively called “beg buttons.”

These buttons have long been decried and criticized by advocates for walking, anyway. The buttons’ purpose is less to keep people safe than to reinforce the primacy of cars on the street by forcing people who want to cross a street to “beg” for a walk signal. (California Streetsblog)

In the City of St. Louis many buttons don’t do anything, a walk signal is displayed even if you don’t press it. In June I encountered an intersection in St. Louis County where it was mandatory to press a button to get a walk signal across one street, but not the perpendicular street from the same corner.

On June 3rd I was at the southeast corner of Hanley & Dale Ave, wanting to cross Hanley — but using a wheelchair I couldn’t get to the button.
Looking west across Hanley.

Crossing Dale Ave doesn’t require pressing the beg button, it activates the walk signal in conjunction with the traffic lights. However, if you don’t press the button you’ll never get a walk signal to cross Hanley. Even when Dale traffic gets a green light you’ve got a don’t walk unless you pressed the beg button. Without a walk signal westbound Dale motorists turning left onto southbound Hanley wouldn’t expect to see any pedestrians crossing the street. On June 3rd I had to cross, in my power wheelchair, even though I didn’t have a walk signal.

Thankfully left-turning motorists yielded to me.  I later shared my frustration on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A friend & reader suggested I call St. Louis County. Though this is in the municipality of Richmond Heights, Hanley is maintained by St. Louis County — a fact she knew. I’m not a fan of making voice calls but I did find a compliant form on their Department of Transportation website. A day or 2 later I got a phone call from a county engineer. I emailed him the photos I took rather than call him back. A few weeks later I got an email saying it had been moved.

Yesterday I went out to the nearby  Trader Joe’s  and another store so I went to this intersection to see the change. I’d suggested the button(s) not be used, just switch to a walk signal timed with the light. So I figured the beg button would still be mandatory, I just wanted to see if I could reach it.

A pole was added to hold the two beg buttons — one mandatory and the other completely useless.
Now looking west across Hanley.

No telling how many years this was like this. It amazes me how often I see situations where someone wasn’t thinking about disabled pedestrians. There are likely many more examples out there.

— Steve Patterson

 

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