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Sidewalk Terminates in Stone & Brick Wall

When I was back in Oklahoma City last summer I visited a new subdivision. I was happy to see that they had sidewalks although they didn’t lead out to the main street. Of course, the main street doesn’t have sidewalks either.

Inside the subdivision some of the homes were in a regular section while others were in a special gated area. But, walking from one section to the other presents issues:

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Yes, the sidewalk was poured right up the wall dividing the sections. From the other side:

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Crazy huh?  Those on the other side of the street do get a pedestrian gate.
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The sidewalk does lead out of the subdivision toward the main road.  Of course, it stops well short of the main street.  And, despite the road network being all new construction, they couldn’t manage to place the utilities in the path of the sidewalk.  Amazingly bad planning.

Halliday St. Illegal Parking Pad Fiasco Ends, Portion of Street Likely Given Away

OK, so here is what you do if you buy a property to rehab that has no parking. First, you pave over any bit of yard that exists on a Saturday when you won’t get caught. One of two things will happen, you either get left alone and get to keep the parking or “compromise” and get the alderman to give you a portion of the publicly owned right-of-way for you to include with your property.

I first blogged about this in June of last year (post) and a fourth time in August 2007 (post w/links to other posts). Last month, after wearing down the neighboring residents, something finally happened. The pad, illegally placed in the front yard, began to be removed.
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Now, this sounds wonderful. As we can see from the image below…
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…the pavement is now gone from the front yard after a six month prolonged process. The developer had promised parking to his buyers and rather than face the music for such a commitment the city is going to come along and bail him out — by giving him part of the public street.

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This quiet one-way street in the Tower Grove East neighborhood is about to get some angled parking for the condo residents. I personally have no objection to the switch to angled parking or even issuing them permits for their exclusive use of those spaces. My issue is with the city vacating a portion of the street so it can be given over to private residents. Late last year Ald. Conway confirmed with me that he was trying to get Todd Waelterman, Director of Streets, so sign off on the vacation. I have not received a response from Waelterman that this has indeed happened.

In a city public space, the collective street, sidewalk, etc…, should be valued highly. It is these public rights of way that service as connectors to all privately owned land. It is the use and arrangement of these spaces that define a street as part of a walkable community or simply as a suburban arterial road with no redeeming public value. Cities like St. Louis need to treasure our publicly owned land that we have in our streets and alleys.

Crosswalk Leads Directly Into Curb & Light Standard, Missing Ramps

Getting around the city is a challenge for those using mobility devices (wheelchairs, mobility scooters), pushing strollers or pulling luggage. Sure, everywhere you look you do see ramps. So what is the problem, you ask?

Well, ramp placement plays a role in their ultimate usability and sadly placement has been given little thought throughout the city. Of course, it is worse out in the suburbs where sidewalks are a luxury.

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Above is looking East across 18th Street at the signalized entry to Union Station (behind me) and across to another parking lot — I like how they managed to center the crosswalk lines with the curb on the other side — perfectly centered between two ramps! Pedestrians headed West from the new multi-modal center (Greyhound & Amtrak services) are directed up a new ramp which takes them out to the above intersection. Those heading South along 18th (toward Ameren/Lafayette Sq) must cross this crosswalk as the viaduct only has sidewalks on the West edge. Those coming and going from Union Station also cross this intersection.

Interesting, the ramp for the corner where I am standing aligns perfectly with the center of the painted stripes yet on the opposite side it runs into a curb and signal post. Brilliant!

When I took the above image a couple of weeks ago the signals here and at the new ramp just a few hundred feet to the South had been placed on yellow flash for 18th and red flash if you were leaving on of the parking lots. For pedestrians, this means no pedestrian signal to indicate when it is OK to attempt to cross the street.

And, as you might expect, the ramps on the other side are a mess of wrong slopes and cross angles. Controlling a wheelchair to keep from having the right ramp spill you out in the street would be a challenge. This situation should not be acceptable given that pedestrians from this new facility are headed this direction.

UPDATE 1/9/08 @ 9am – The new multi-modal center is expected to open in late April.

Stanley Heading to County with Massive Projected Financial Shortfalls

January 4, 2008 Planning & Design 23 Comments

As previously discussed, St. Louis’ top planner Rollin Stanley is leaving his post with the city and heading to Montgomery County, Maryland.  Presumably his position is not one of the ones being frozen due to a looming financial crisis.  From yesterday’s Washington Post:

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) announced a freeze yesterday on hiring in the 9,400-person workforce under his jurisdiction, stepping up efforts to close the county’s record $401 million projected shortfall for fiscal 2009.

Leggett’s chief administrative officer, Timothy Firestine, said the county would make exceptions in hiring for public safety jobs, bus drivers and other essential positions for at least the next five months.

The hiring freeze underscores the gloomy outlook for the county’s finances and comes as Leggett has recommended $23.6 million in midyear trims to social services, bus service and overtime for the police and fire departments. The announcement follows Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast’s decision to impose a freeze on spending and most hiring. (full story)

Ouch, and I thought we had it bad.   Although the low-density county has nearly three times the population and over eight times as much land area as St. Louis, their financial situation makes St. Louis seem far more fiscally stable than we are.

Still, if Stanley is given the freedom to actually do some good planning in the county (unlike here where he was kept on a short leash) then it will be a good move for him.

Interco Plaza, An Ugly Reminder of Past Mistakes

St. Louis, like many other older industrial cities, has made numerous mistakes in the past decades. One of those is a city park, known as Interco Plaza, located at Tucker and Dr. Martin Luther King. The city’s lists of parks simply indicates it is 0.71 acres and has a single fountain. However, the fountain no longer exists. From the City Journal on May 14, 2002 I see the Board of Public voted to approve “Demolition of the High Wall of Interco Plaza Fountain, Tucker Street & Dr. Martin Luther King.”

When proposed I’m sure the artist rendering showed many people conversing around the now-removed fountain. Politicos probably wax poetically about how this new investment in the city was going to do wonders for the area as nothing else had. It may have worked, for a while. Today it stands (barely) as a relic of the brutalist concrete movement.
Although I had been past it hundreds of times I had never stopped and taken a closer look. On a hot day this past August, I did stop and take in the beauty of all the broken up concrete:

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So who is this Interco Incorporated? Their long standing name was the International Shoe Company and currently they are known as Furniture Brands. Furniture Brands is based in Clayton, in the Interco Tower which opened in 1985. Click here for a company history.

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Interco Plaza is located at the SE corner of Tucker and Dr. Martin Luther King — between the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the North, the St. Louis Public Schools HQ to the East and St. Patrick Center to the South. The balance of the area is parking. Hadley Street to the East was cut off to through traffic and Dr. King Drive between Hadley and 10th were also removed. Just as well, the Convention Center cuts off through access on Dr. King.
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Getting in closer we see the Plaza before the removal of the fountain and the high wall near it. The green spaces (left & bottom) shown above are holes to the tunnel below. The balance of the green, basically the NE corner, are at grade. Still doing research but I guess that a building and basement were razed at this site and the plaza was the replacement.

A few images:

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This park is such a horrible space, even the homeless will not use it! Well, at least not the top. Homeless do use the space underneath and the tunnel under Tucker for shelter. A Post-Dispatch article from October indicated the city estimates the cost to replace Tucker (either by filling in the tunnel or building a new tunnel) will cost $30 million, they are seeking federal assistance. Unclear to me is the future of Interco Plaza.

It really needs to go away.

Does Furniture Brands still own the land under the air rights? Can we re-open the closed streets in the area? What about building an SRO (Single Room Occupancy) on a portion of the land? What will become of those living underneath?
I just watched a documentary, about the homeless in an abandoned Amtrak tunnel, filmed in the late 1990s in NYC. The film, Dark Days, was very moving. The homeless themselves were the film crew. This documentary, the first for Marc Singer, received several awards, including a couple at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000.

Here is a brief intro:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpXHCRYXP7s[/youtube]

Like the rest of our city, we have many forgotten areas between areas being revitalized. We need to learn what we can from past mistakes such as brutal concrete plazas and resolve to reconnect and heal the entire city.



Wanted; Director of St. Louis’ Very-Limited Planning Agency

Largely ineffective at changing the local scene since arriving in 2001, St. Louis’ planning director Rollin Stanley is heading to greener pastures, literally: suburban D.C. The news was announced on the Mayor’s campaign website Monday.

So, to help out the city I thought I’d write a help wanted ad for Stanley’s replacement. Here is what I’ve got so far:

Requirements:

  • Must act busy and give appearance that actual planning takes place in the city.
  • Write reports about all the wonderful things that are happening because of the Mayor.
  • Manage handful of bureaucrats.
  • Accept that planning is not a requirement for subsidies or the threat of eminent domain.
  • Report directly to Mayor’s director of development, ask her permission to speak to an alderman about planning.

Benefits:

    • Really low pay.
    • Get walked on by the best.
    • Annual free trip to London.
    • Very little actual planning involved.

    The major project during Stanley’s tenure was the “Strategic Land Use Plan” that was adopted by the city in January 2005 but basically kept on a shelf since.

    This new Strategic Land Use Plan is intended to improve the quality of life for those who live and work in St. Louis by encouraging appropriate types of development and preservation in clearly defined locations. Within this overall intent, this Plan has two main purposes.

    • To provide direction for those who wish to make new investments in our City, and;

    • To provide stability and opportunities for those who already live, work and build
    their businesses here.

    This plan has failed to meet both stated purposes. While seemingly providing limited direction, with statements such as, “Mixed use buildings with commercial at grade and a mix of uses on upper floors are an ideal type within these areas.” However, the land use plan has zero teeth, the zoning remains as it has been for decades which means you can talk all you want to about mixed uses and street level retail but nobody is required to do so. Meanwhile, the zoning we have pretty much mandates the opposite unless you purchase a variance from your alderman. Thus, this plan fails to meet the second purpose because it basically continues business as usual, using zoning variances as leverage. Alderman April Ford-Griffin explains:

    …at the Board of Aldermen we always have the power to change zoning. So when this happens is…as you see the development boards and you see the different things that have happened, most of those had to have some type of zoning changes, street changes, name changes, just you go down the list of changes. Also, that is the only thing that makes most of the developers come and talk to us. If we did everything that it took for the development they wouldn’t have any reason to come and talk to us. Once we talk about a development, once they have shown us what they do, once they talk about minority participation, once they talk about inclusion, once they talk about jobs, and all the other things that I make sure I am committed to asking them.

    When the new plan was adopted I was very encouraged. As a starting point, it was excellent. From the introduction:

    Equally important, this Plan identifies areas where new directions are possible and encouraged. These directions will allow portions of the City to offer amenities and lifestyles that are now found only in the suburbs. The Plan also sets the stage for City initiatives to raise development standards throughout the region with new and innovative development approaches.

    This Plan, like the City itself, is not a static object. Rather, it is intended to provide a foundation and a roadmap for positive change. It is expected the Plan itself will continue to evolve as historic preservation and new development initiatives evolve. This Plan is the beginning of a more thoughtful and cohesive approach to a bright future for the City of St. Louis.

    Oh man, “thoughtful and cohesive approach” to planning in St. Louis! If anyone was going to break through the 28 obstacles in the way of doing so I thought it would be Stanley. But he needed their cooperation, at that of Room 200, to go to the next levels:

    Adopted by the City’s Planning Commission on January 5th, 2005, this straightforward Land Use Plan will become the basis for additional planning and development initiatives involving collaboration between elected officials, City departments, neighborhood residents and developers, to overlay more fine-grained visions of the broader framework presented by this Plan. These future initiatives are expected to include public improvement plans, detailed neighborhood level plans, and tailored rezonings.

    So here we are just a month shy of two three years later. We are left with an unfinished vision of new planning and Rollin has ducked out the back door. Really, who can blame him. Talented guy wants to bring St. Louis out of the 1940s but our parochial systme didn’t allow it. This mindset has driven out numerous other people, what is one more?

    More than likely, his new suburban county gig will prove to be more urban than here in St. Louis. However, he has been an outspoken critic of greenfield projects, including New Urbanist projects such as New Town at St. Charles. Not sure how that will all play out in Montgomery Co Maryland. Actually Montgomery County is not rolling farm fields, it is a wealthy county just outside of DC proper and is served by their red Metro transit line. But, back to St. Louis.
    All I can say it good luck to the next planner, you’ve got your work cut out for you. The city needs help to recover from planning disasters from the last half century or so yet the establishment seems continent with their current power structure that prevents that from happening. In pockets, we have some great places. The trick now will be to expand and connect these together in a positive manner.

    Individuals Fighting to Keep MoDot from Closing Portion of I-64

    On the eve of shutting down a portion of I-64, still known locally as Highway 40, one traffic engineer is upset by MoDOT’s plan. It appears that he and others have built us an expensive roadway system that is critically tied to a single highway. Close it and our region will cease to function, he claims! Wow, brilliant planning to be so reliant on a single corridor.

    From Joe Passanise’s stophighway40closure.com website:

    Imagine ALL the lanes of Highway 40 are completely closed in both directions – for TWO years. You are one of about 160,000 motorists who normally travel Highway 40, but now have to find alternate roads. You are stuck in traffic every day this week going to and from work using alternate roads that are packed with traffic. You inch along with other motorists hoping to move faster – but you realize it is gridlock traffic again. You are getting frustrated and impatient waiting through the endless number of traffic signal cycles. Eventually you get home – drained, tired and angry at whoever is responsible for creating this traffic mess.

    You realize that your travel time has increased about three times your normal travel time. This has increased your cost about three times more for gasoline. This means you are spending less time with your family and tripling your cost of traveling to and from work.

    Well, Mr. Passanise, you actually need to have a grid to have gridlock! Back in the days before we abandoned how cities were built for centuries, we had a grid. It was a nice grid that took people in all directions. One street backed up, no problem, just go over a block or two and go through that way. Typically blocks would be 300-600ft long. Some streets were more prominent than others but this allowed local traffic to use a lessor street while through traffic used a more major street.

    Along comes the traffic engineer and his buddies the urban planner and visionary architect and they dream up a better way, doing away with the grid in new areas. The new streets, with the promise of easy motoring, would go from the local cul-de-sac to the collector road to the arterial and finally to the highway. The only through streets would be the arterials and highways. The old grid was messed up as well, with new highways terminating the existing grid, rendering it only partially effective.

    The irony is, of course, that if our suburban areas did have a grid the closing of the interstate wouldn’t be such a big deal. Motorists displaced from the interstate would have numerous alternative East-West routes. Instead, with only a few East-West streets like Manchester Rd, Clayton Rd and Olive, those seeking to traverse the mid-county area of the region are going to be royally screwed very soon. For reasons stated above, it is not going to be gridlock. More like artery blockage.

    Suburban advocates have long cited the public choice theory for the rise of suburbia (and the fall of inner cities), that people voted with their feet and moved to where they wanted to live. Well, true enough. But now these same folks, their kids and grandkids, aren’t so pleased with their choice. With public infrastructure spread out over increasing amounts of land per person, they come to the public trough expecting everyone to subsidize their lifestyle choice, one totally dependent upon the car on limited-access highways. We’re not asked to buy the car, just everything else. Oh yeah, and fight off anyone that attempts to limit our supply of cheap oil so that we don’t have gas prices commensurate with the rest of the industrialized world.

    Where does Mr. Passanise live? In suburbia, of course. Let’s take a look, shall we:

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    Mr. & Mrs. Passanise live in Creve Coeur, in a condo purchased in 2005 (lower right, near golf course). As we can see, the Passanise’s have a number of businesses, including a number of car dealerships, not far from their home. While sidewalks exist in some places, they are certainly not complete and you can’t walk door to door as you would in a traditional neighborhood of years past or newer versions such as New Town at St. Charles. Along Olive are several places to buy groceries; Provisions, Trader Joes and a Dierbergs (or is that a Schnucks?). However, I certainly wouldn’t want to walk to these from Passanise’s condo. I can see how someone living in this environment is saddled to car. This brings us back to the public choice theory, they voluntarily moved to an auto-centric part of the region (of course, that is hard not to do).

    Interestingly, the City of Creve Coeur is not pleased with their suburban environs that lack a true downtown. The grid-less and congested streets, the increasingly larger parking lots, the dangerous sidewalks, and so on created by traffic engineers and others doesn’t really work. Today, a new set of planners are carving out a true downtown for Creve Ceour, just north of Old Ballas Rd. How are they doing this? They plan to construct a street grid of short blocks!

    But let’s move on to Passanise’s main claim, the additional costs to motorists during the shutdown;

    Ignoring the collateral cost of depression and stress to the personal lives of each of the 80,000 motorists, the collective cost for additional fuel and time for Highway 40 users for two years is estimated to be $592,400,000 [fuel]+ $6,979,200 [time] = $599,379,200 or approximately $600 million. Please note that this is more than the $552 million construction cost budgeted by MODOT.

    How does his calculations compare to say keeping a lane or two open in each direction during the project? We don’t really know because he is only comparing from a base of doing nothing, not the suggested alternate of keeping traffic moving through the construction zone. Not only would keeping a lane or two open increase the direct costs by MoDOT but is not like motorists would be able to get through in the same amount of time they are today. Instead of two years of construction this might take three or more years to complete. People who are dependent upon the highway are going to have delays and unless they’ve got a Toyota Prius that shuts off when stopped, they will waste gas idling. If he is going to claim the delays will cost another $600 million we need to see the estimates for keeping a portion of the highway open. From a worker safety standpoint, keeping a portion of the highway open will increase the risk of injuries or death for those doing the work.

    Granted, Mr. Passanise is right, people’s lives will be significantly impacted by the closure. We’ve become used to being able to get pretty much anywhere in the region, either side of the river, in under a half hour. That will soon change, one of the realities of sprawling to the degree that we have. We’ve had it easy up until now, time to pay the piper.

    MoDOT is saying they need to shut down the interstate to stay on schedule and on budget. Given the flack over Metro on the extension of our light rail, it is hard to blame them for keeping the budget and time table in mind. But earlier tonight, at Passanise’s meeting, the speakers were all upset with MoDot for putting their budget as the top priority. Yeah, what are they thinking, not wasting our tax money?

    Passanise, being the good traffic engineer, wants to keep cars moving 24/7. Based on his estimates, Mr. Passanise seems to think everyone will continue to drive their own personal single occupancy cars for the next two years. However, car pools will form, transit ridership will increase and yes jobs will shift around the region. It will be rough going at first but people will find ways to adapt.

    However, it is true that not everyone can adapt. For example, those living in subdivisions just off say Clayton Road, near the epicenter at I-170, will have little choice but to use Clayton Road if they plan to ever leave their homes. Sidewalks and crossings are already poor in many of these areas and increased traffic will make it worse. Bicyclists, I’m told, are already getting told by police to get off the road and onto the sidewalk.

    The irony here, of course, is that if more people walked or biked the problem wouldn’t be as bad. Still, we very much have a one person, one car mentality. There is a reason your sedan has four doors and extra seat belts! If we actually had a street grid in many parts of the county, residents could access nearby stores without adding to the congestion on main arterials.

    Tonight’s meeting was poorly attended, maybe 15-20 non-news people. The speakers were an interesting group, besides engineer Passanise we had Missouri State Rep from Frontenac, T. Scott Muschany (R-87) and former school board member and a former candidate for every office, Bill Haas. Muschany has filed a bill to make it illegal to shut down a highway for more than 60 days at a time. Haas intends to file a lawsuit to attempt to block the shutdown.

    Me? I say shut it down. Not just for a couple of years, but permanently. Make a nice boulevard out of it with 4-6 total through lanes and slip roads on each side with on-street parking in front of urban buildings lining the corridor. This through section in the middle would have limited intersections but many more streets would be able to cross the roadway, so that you would not end up with homes on one side of the highway able to see stores across the way but have it be a long drive around to get there.

    Yeah, I know, it ain’t gunna happen, just had to put it out there again. I also registered shutdown40.com which links back to my Highway 40 category here at UrbanReviewSTL.com. A gimmick? You bet, I can register domains with the best of them.

    We are going to get a big ugly rebuilt highway that will be great until it fills up with traffic in short order. More cars & truck, more infrastructure, more pollution, more maintenance, more sprawl, more dependency, and more foreign oil. Frankly, I’m glad MoDOT is shutting down the highway. Maybe folks will get the message that living in a physical environment that forces people to drive everywhere isn’t very bright.

    The Muddy Path to City Hall

    No, I’m not talking about a muddy political path. Instead, I am talking about a real path in the bare dirt.

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    The above is now many make their way to city hall. When city hall officials closed the North entrance facing Market St to city hall this forced pedestrians, many city employees, to head through the grass to the East entrance facing. The third entrance, facing South, is open onto a public parking lot.

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    The path is well worn and it looks as though someone had perhaps even put down wood chips, possibly from this tree that had been cut down. The now closed entrance is to the left.
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    The well worn path, or “desire lines” per the lingo, leads to this tiny area to squeeze through. Welcome to City Hall. The least the could do is pave a sidewalk here to recognize the clear need.
    Coming from the North and West as a pedestrian, as I now do, I can certainly say I take this path rather than go the long way around on the sidewalks. The city wants to make the Gateway Mall vibrant but has the adjacent pedestrian entrance closed! Uh, duh. The city needs to give serious consideration to the costs to re-open the Market side entrance — after all the building address is 1200 Market.

    Washington Ave; New ADA Ramp Creates Trip Hazard

    Pedestrians walking down Washington Ave heading to Joe Edwards’ new blowing bowling alley, Flamingo Bowl, should be mindful of a trip hazard created by a neighboring property.

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    Heading East on Washington toward the new bowling alley we see the wonderfully remodeled former Days Inn, now residential apartments. It has been great seeing the transformation of this structure. They even filled in the former automobile drive to the courtyard space — now that is real progress for pedestrians. But the ramp you see ahead presents an issue.

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    The landing juts out from the narrower ramp. Yes, it is a minor thing but generally big things are not trip hazards. Small things, in particular those that blend with the sidewalk, cause people to fall. In general, the ramp and landing are created the same width so you don’t have this little protrusion at th bottom.
    Presumably the city would share in any injury claims as they approved the design and installation of this ramp in the public right of way.

    Gateway Mall Announcement in January ’08

    Yesterday’s “town hall” meeting at the Downtown Partnership regarding management of the CID (Community Improvement District) produced little new information, other than the fact than the city will be unveiling the final Gateway Mall plan next month.

    You will recall that earlier this year, prior to a meeting where citizens were asked to provide feedback on the draft, the city announced final plans for the two-block Sculpture Garden between 9th and 11th (see prior post). That leaves Kiener Plaza/May Amphitheatre, “Twain”, and the blocks from Tucker West to 20th.

    Now living only a few blocks away, I can see the failure even stronger. Public space needs to feel like it is surrounded by a vibrant city. The South wall of the Gateway Mall, at 16th at least, is horribly bland. Union Station, down at 18th, is at least a stunning work of architecture. Sometimes, on my walks, I’ll take 16th street to Market —- of course 16th between Olive and Market hasn’t been a street in decades — it was closed long ago during urban renewal.

    Our downtown is very linear, very East-West. The focus being Washington Ave. By the time you make it to the too-wide Olive Blvd the synergy has run out. I don’t know that anything can sustain interest in Gateway Mall without appearing too Disneyland. No matter what, the “walls” of this open space are largely lifeless and will remain as such.

    Decades ago this area was cleared of the slummy properties that were viewed as unseemly by our elite and to provide some relief from the hustle & bustle of the city. The 500,000 residents we lost (pushed away?) in the last half century took the bustle with them. Will a new Gateway Mall plan bring the hustle back to this section of St. Louis?

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