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Participatory Budgeting Has Arrived In St. Louis

Imagine residents in your ward coming together to suggest ideas on how to ward spend capital improvement funds. Dream on, right? People are apathetic and don’t participate, according to the usual narrative. Well, residents of the 6th ward don’t have to imagine, they just need to show up with ideas — and they have been. On Wednesday I got to witness the 2nd participatory budgeting assembly in the 6th ward, a very reaffirming experience at a time when democracy is breaking down nationally. Watch this brief video for an overview and go to pbstl.com.

Briefly Zac (left) and Michelle (center) introduced the process to the 15 participants
Briefly Zac (left) and Michelle (center) introduced the process to the 15 participants
Everyone broke into two groups, with trained volunteers getting participants to open up and share what they'd like to see the money be used for
Everyone broke into two groups, with trained volunteers getting participants to open up and share what they’d like to see the money be used for
Extensive outreach through various methods, including door knocking, resulting in a diverse group of participants
Extensive outreach through various methods, including door knocking, resulting in a diverse group of participants
At the end each participant got three dots to vote on their favorite ideas
At the end each participant got three dots to vote on their favorite ideas
At the end everyone came together as a representative from each group explained their topics.
At the end everyone came together as a representative from each group explained their topics.

If you’re a resident of the 6th ward and want to participate, you’ve got a few more opportunities this week:

  1. Monday, October 14th
    Stray Dog Theater
    2348 Tennessee Ave
    6:30pm-8:30pm
  2. Wednesday, October 16th
    Lafayette Park United Methodist Church
    2300 Lafayette Ave
    6:30pm-8:30pm
  3. Saturday, October 19th
    Barr Branch Library
    1701 S Jefferson Ave
    10:00am-12:00pm

Have an idea but can’t attend? No problem, email your idea.

Once all the ideas are collected, volunteer budget delegates will work with city departments to turn them into projects, with real budgets. Then, in April 2014, 6th ward residents will get a chance to vote to see what gets funded. Will they pick one $100,000 or five $20,000 projects?

No matter what gets funded, citizens are participating in their community.

— Steve Patterson

Carrollton: A Walkable Suburban Subdivision In 1956

Today cul-de-sac subdivisions are designed exclusively for the automobile. For example, my brother’s gated subdivision in Oklahoma City has internal sidewalks that don’t lead you outside the gates. A major grocery store occupies one corner on the outside, but you need a car to get there.

My brother's house is so close to a large grocery store, but you can't walk there. Source: Google maps
My brother’s house “A” is so close to a large grocery store, but you can’t walk there. One of the two gates is in the upper right corner. Source: Google maps

My parents built a new custom home in 1965-66, moving in just months before I was born. I was told the streets of the new subdivision in the former farm field were still getting paved as our house was being built. Unlike where my brother lives now, we could at least reach a convenience store from a street connected to our subdivision. Had more commercial been built on land set aside by the developers we would’ve had many more options.

I grew up in a 1960s subdivision that lacked sidewalks, but there was a store I could walk/bike to (upper left),
I grew up in a 1960s subdivision that lacked sidewalks, but there was a small store I could walk/bike to (upper left), and room for more commercial development that has never materialized.

However, many in the St. Louis region grew up in a 1950s subdivision that planned for walking, with sidewalks and a shopping center connected to the housing. I posted yesterday about the Carrollton subdivision decimated for runway expansion at Lambert International Airport, today is a look at the thought and planning that went into it.

The following is from page 547 of the 1970 book This is Our Saint Louis by Harry M. Hagen:

Ground breaking for the Carrollton Shopping Plaza in 1959
Ground breaking for the Carrollton Shopping Plaza in 1959, click image for map

When “Johnny Came Marching Home” at the close of World War II, he found one thing to his advantage, prosperity and jobs,  and one disadvantage, a tremendous shortage of housing. For many returning GI’s and their prides, their first home was a rented room or shared quarters with their in-laws.

The building industry, stopped by the priorities of war, was turned loose, and developers looked to the suburbs for the land they needed to build homes. There was land, lots of land, and many home builders built square little box-like homes marching in soldierly fashion down square little streets. These houses sold as fast as they could be completed since young marrieds and young families were desperate for adequate housing.

With the convenience of the automobile, no location in St. Louis County was too distant. Sub-division after sub-division sprung up and was quickly populated.

Out of this building frenzy, one team emerged with a visionary approach to suburbia. Ed and John Fischer, along with brother-in-law Lawrence Frichtel added a dimension to home building that won national acclaim for their firm, Fischer and Frichtel. Instead of building several blocks of homes in in regimented manner, they built a community.

The firm amassed a large tract of land in northwest St. Louis County and in 1956 opened Carrolton, a planned community with gently curving streets, cup-de-sacs and open space. Instead of one or two home models, they offered a variety so that every other home would not look the same. They did not utilize every square foot for homes –they planned areas for churches, schools and parks that were built and used as the population grew. To make the community as self-sufficient as possible, they constructed a small shopping center so that necessities of living could be purchased within walking distance. And to complete their community, they built a swimming pool and a large recreation building, bringing free-time activities practically to the front door of residents.

Carrollton had a mixture of award-winning homes–and it was a community that offered residents more than any other single housing development in the area at that time. It was planned to make living in the suburbs enjoyable for the entire family — and its departure from the conventional set the standards followed by other developers.

Fisher and Frichtel was probably the number one home-building firm of the post-war era — and the reason for its success was simply that it gave the grass-cutting, snow-shoveling, house-painting, leaf-burning, tree-pruning public a product that was both excellent in quality and different in setting. The firm has been recognized and published in every major magazine and newspaper relating to homes, neighborhoods and conventional living throughout the country. Unquestionably, these men and their organization represent and give tribute to the great spirit of St. Louis.

Self-sustaining? Walking distance to necessities? Yes, single-family homes on cul-de-sacs can be walkable. Well, at least they tried in 1956.

The original Carrollton Shopping Plaza has had face lifts since the early 60s and the neighborhood it served is now vacant
The original Carrollton Shopping Plaza has had face lifts since the early 60s and the neighborhood it served is now vacant
This bowling alley was built at the same time as the original Carrollton Shopping Plaza
This bowling alley & retail space (now a pizza parlor) was built at the same time as the original Carrollton Shopping Plaza
A couple of years later a new Schnucks grocery store was built
A couple of years later a Schnucks grocery store was added to the shopping center
The sidewalks connecting the houses to the commercial remain.
The sidewalks connecting the houses to the commercial remain. Though not ideal, or ADA-compliant, this was way better than most subdivisions of the 1950s
In 2005 Schnucks closed the Carrollton store and opened a bigger store on St. Charles Rock Rd at Lindbergh
In 2005 Schnucks closed the Carrollton store and opened a bigger store on St. Charles Rock Rd at Lindbergh

However, decade after decade since Carrollton was platted, subdivisions have gotten progressively more hostile to pedestrians. I’m not sure how this happened, my guess is each subsequent generation got used to their environment and eventually only grandpa remembered walking to the store for milk.

Thanks for the book Sheila!

— Steve Patterson

No Trespassing Property of City of St. Louis

Last month I went down street after street, passing vacant lots where homes once stood, all owned by the City of St. Louis. It was depressing to think a once lively neighborhood has been erased, except for roads & sidewalks.  You’re probably thinking I was somewhere in north St. Louis, but I was actually in St. Louis County. At one point I even crossed over I-270! Yes, because of the Lambert runway expansion the City of St. Louis owns hundreds of acres in the City of Bridgeton: the former Carrollton subdivision.

A gate blocks access to Celburne Ln from Woodford Way Dr on the west side of I-270. Click image for map.
A gate blocks access to Celburne Ln from Woodford Way Dr on the west side of I-270.
Click image for map.
Some homes were razed for the runway itself, most were cleared for noise mitigation.
Some homes were razed for the runway itself, most were cleared for noise mitigation.
The fence at the end of the rarely used billion dollar runway
The fence and a former Dupage Dr at the end of the rarely used billion dollar runway
St. Louis County parcel map over aerial of newest runway
St. Louis County parcel map over aerial of newest runway

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Woodford Way Drive crossing over I-270
Woodford Way Drive crossing over I-270 connects the east & west sections of the former Carrollton subdivision
Carrollton sidewalk
Vacant street & sidewalk on the east side of I-270, Grundy Dr looking north from Woodford Way

St. Louis is responsible for maintaing the properties, cutting acres of grass basically. Not only does St. Louis have too much property in St. Louis, they also have too much in Bridgeton!

The land can’t be used for residential purposes, but office/retail/industrial is apparently fine. The problem is St. Louis must repay the FAA if it sells the property, making it very costly to develop based on the amount the FAA paid.

And that runway? From a 2007 MIT-student analysis:

The need for runway 11-29 was actually delay-driven, not demand-driven. Although the levels of demand from the forecast never materialized, the new runway did provide the capability to perform dual independent IFR approaches at Lambert. Again, although the delay cost savings are less than initially projected, there are nonetheless savings that can be directly attributed to the new runway. Thus despite the over-optimistic demand forecast, the construction new runway does seem to have been justified.

With regard to flexible planning, the Lambert officials were indeed responsive to the lower actual passenger traffic than was originally projected. The terminal expansion plans were abandoned after the traffic collapse. Although it is still possible to implement the terminal expansion plans in the future, it would have been wasteful to do so once demand levels dropped. Thus, the part of the Lambert expansion project that was demand-driven was indeed responsive to the drop in demand.

The new runway was probably cheaper to build when it was than it would have been in the future. It is likely that property acquisition costs as well as construction costs would have increased, and so delaying the runway construction would probably have cost more than proceeding as scheduled. Once traffic returns to St. Louis, runway 11-29 will be an invaluable asset. In fact, it may even provide the competitive advantage needed to draw traffic to Lambert. Thus, it seems that despite the strong-armed actions and swift construction in the face of the dramatic downturn in passenger traffic, the new runway at Lambert- St. Louis International Airport was in fact beneficial.

The runway is built and not going anywhere. Now we just need to figure out what to do to remove hundreds of acres from St. Louis ownership, so that it can again produce tax revenue for St. Louis County & the City of Bridgeton.

— Steve Patterson

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Jefferson Commons: Very Good ADA Access With One Big Exception

Jefferson Commons has done an amazing job retrofitting new tenant spaces into the old Foodland building on Jefferson (see Reurbanizing Jefferson & Lafayette Pt 2: Foodland). As I had hoped

One of two newly created ADA access routes into Jefferson Commons, this is the south one.
One of two newly created ADA access routes into Jefferson Commons, this is the south one.
From this access route you can see the newly constructed outlot building with two tenant spaces.
From this access route you can see the front of the newly constructed outlot building with two tenant spaces.
Turning to the north at the bottom of the route you can see pedestrian access was given considerable thought.
Turning to the north at the bottom of the route you can see pedestrian access was given considerable thought.
View from the new outlot building toward the ADA access route
View from the new outlot building toward the ADA access route
But approaching the building it was clear to me in May one detail was overlooked. Last month the problem remained.
But approaching the building it was clear to me during construction in May one detail was overlooked, but I wanted to wait to see just in case something was planned. Last month the problem remained.

UIC/Greenstreet Properties did a great job and, as required by the ADA, provided a non-drivewalk access route from each public transit stop. Shopping centers must do so, whereas stand-alone properties can provide access through a driveway. Yet an important detail for compliance was overlooked. It may have been shown on the drawings but overlooked during construction, or left off the drawings by mistake.

I’ve not seen any crossing paint here, drawing that in on construction plans can greatly reduce a design or construction error. I’ll be sending this to my contacts at the companies responsible and to city officials.

— Steve Patterson

Tucker Offramp Now Open, Adjacent Land More Valuable

Yesterday MoDOT and city officials cut a ribbon to open traffic from I-70 onto the new Tucker.

An hour before the off ramp from I-70 to Tucker signs still weren't placed.  Only the right was opened, the left will be for I-70 traffic when the new bridge opens next year
An hour before the off ramp from I-70 to Tucker signs still weren’t placed. Only the right was opened, the left will be for I-70 traffic when the new bridge opens next year
The view of downtown motorists will now see
The view of downtown motorists will now see
Officials cut the ribbon opening the off ramp from I-70 onto the new Tucker.
Officials cut the ribbon opening the off ramp from I-70 onto the new Tucker on September 26, 2013.
The land surrounding thus on/off ramp is now more valuable.
The land surrounding thus on/off ramp is now more valuable.

With the new offramp, and the opening of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge in 2014, the adjacent land is suddenly prime real estate. Will it be developed like most highway offramp areas or will it be more urban/dense/walkable? I don’t have any illusions the city will make any such demands so my only hope is Paul McKee comes through with a plan the surprises his many critics.

— Steve Patterson

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