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Lumiere Link is Nice, Route to Tunnel Needs Attention

Earlier in the week a new tunnel under I-70 connecting Baer Plaza (East of the Edward Jones Dome) and Lumiere Place casino in Laclede’s Landing opened to the public. St Louis Development Co. head Rodney Crim suggested the city wants convention goers, “when not in session and looking for things to do” to take the tunnel to the casino and Laclede’s Landing. Never mind conventioneers taking a stroll down Washington Ave or other streets downtown where retailers are struggling to have enough customers. See Crim on KSDK here.

So much was made about this great new privately funded $8 million dollar connection I just had to see for myself.

I started by heading East on Washington Ave, passing by the main entrance to the convention center, aka America’s Center. Of course the taxi stand on the sidewalk gets more space than us pedestrians. I can tell you that being in a wheelchair heading straight on toward a taxi that is moving toward me is not a comforting feeling. Oh the driver saw me as he repeatedly tapped his horn as he drove off. Behind the cabs was a St Louis police car that was so far to the right I had to go to the left to get around it. Welcome to St Louis.

When I got to 7th I turned left as I figured conventioneers might use the courtyard/plaza doors as their starting point for their walk to the casino. Above is looking back South from the plaza entry at 7th & Convention Plaza. As a side note Convention Plaza used to be Delmar but it was renamed when it ran in front of the original convention center. Later in the early 1990s when the center was expanded to the current configuration the street go cut off by the building. So now we have this short section of Convention Plaza on both the East & West sides of the center. It should have reverted back to the name Delmar.

Leaving the circle drive area at 7th & Convention Plaza we see surface parking lot and the back of the Drury Inn.

Heading East toward Baer Plaza & Lumiere Link we are along the side of the Edward Jones Dome. I’m not sure why street trees were not part of the plan when this was built but thet are sorely needed. The Jersey barriers were likely added after the Oklahoma City bombing or after 9/11.

Almost to Broadway now and we see a nice collection of Jersey barriers, seemingly blocking our path across the street.

Above, I want to cross Broadway which is to my left but I can’t get my wheelchair close enough to the pedestrian signal button (it is the one on the right on the light pole).

Above is the same pole and signal button from another angle. The ramp to cross Broadway is to the left of all the Jersey barriers you see. Current ADA guidelines require signal buttons to be closer to where they are needed.

Finally we make it. I can’t believe that Rodney Crim wants visitors to make that walk — it has to be among the worst in the city. I’d hope conventioneers would never see this side of the dome — instead making their way down Washington Ave to see sidewalk dining and increasingly active sidewalks.

So we are now at the entry to Lumiere Link. We are at Baer Plaza. Who?

Robert J. Baer was the first chairman of the St Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority. Baer was also the former head of Bi-State Development and he took over the position again at Metro after Larry Salci had a very public crash & burn. From the plaque:

“Preservation of land for this park reflects Mr Baer’s recognition for ‘green space’ as an attractive front yard for the Stadium/Convention Center.”

With the trees now mature this has the potential for a decent public space. Sadly it has no natural users as the area is pretty desolate. Although now we have people coming and going to the casino and maybe a few to Laclede’s Landing beyond the casino. So how attractive is this front yard? Above you can see the weeds popping up between the seams in the concrete, not a good start.

All around the edges is debris from the trees.

There is even part of a dumpster lid. The whole plaza looks and feels rather abandoned. This is not St Louis putting it’s best foot forward. You’d think someone from the Visitor Commission or whomever has responsibility for this space might had tidied up a bit before the opening of the new tunnel.

Visitors to the tunnel have three choices for the decent — stairs, an escalator or an elevator. At the other end of the tunnel you end up right smack in the middle of the complex. You are not on the casino floor of course because you must show ID and such to enter the gaming area. Still you can see the games and certainly the restaurants.

The interior was more posh than I expected. Pity they had to go and ruin it with all the gaming machines. I also have to wonder how of the $8 million for the tunnel was in video screens. Despite the richness of the whole place I couldn’t wait to get out. I may use the link again so that I can check out the exterior of the casino & hotel as it looms over what little remains of Laclede’s Landing.

Overall I think the link is a good thing — the more connections across I-70 the better. If only the route to get to the tunnel wasn’t so pathetic.

Old Urbanism, Suburbia & New Urbanism

Here in the St. Louis region we have a little bit of everything — we have old urbanism in the inner core (the city of St Louis) as well as in the many older suburbs that ring the city on both sides of the river. Like every region in America, we have too much suburbia — that auto centric muck that has been growing since WWII.Your know what suburbia is — residential streets with big lawn, no street trees and an increasing number of garage doors. The big box centers with enough parking for the day after Thanksgiving. The indoor mall surrounded by acres of parking. The office park with similar looking buildings casually placed on lush green lawns all set between yet more parking. Being a suburb of the core city is fine — Webster Groves is an old suburb that is walkable in ways St Peters will never be. So my issue is not with suburbs but with suburbia — that very soulless form of building that has predominated America fot the last five or six decades.

So much of our good old urbanism has been destroyed remaking core cities with touches of suburbia.

Old urbanism was built for people on foot. Streets were narrow by today’s standards. Each neighborhood had a commercial area within a short walk. The streetcar was not far away which could get you to the bigger stores downtown. No zoning regulated this. It just was. And it worked well until we reached a tipping point with the car — fewer pedestrians and more cars through it all out of balance. While old urbanism was great for people it did a poor job accommodating the car.

The solution of the day was not to tweak our existing environments but to rip them out entirely. The new suburbia was proudly proclaimed as “progress.” Once narrow streets were widened and those neighborhood shops moved to the new strip centers or the open air mall.

In the early 1980s a few people began questioning the status quo and looks to the past for ways to make walkable communities while still making room for the car. The first result was Seaside, Florida — as seen in the movie The Truman Show. Widely dismissed due to its resort nature, many said the principals couldn’t be applied elsewhere — that we were basically stuck with suburbia as the model for future development both in core areas and on the edges.

But a diverse group of Architects and Planners refused to accept suburbia as the only way, founding the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) in 1993. Today people are still foolishly dismissive of New Urbanism — saying it is just nostalgia in the corn field. This view is so narrow it looks at a few projects but doesn’t take into account the depth of the guiding principals found in the Charter of the CNU.

About a decade ago there started being talk of a big New Urbanist project in our region. The resulting project was Paul McKee’s Winghaven (yes, that Paul McKee). In August 2001 Peter Downs authored a story on Winghaven for the RFT; The Gospel According to Paul.

Though the experiment is barely half-done, some people are already proclaiming it a stunning success. “WingHaven will be cited for the next 25 years as a great example of a new form of urban development,” says Richard Fleming, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

By this point we had seen enough to know that Winghaven was not New Urbanism, despite what Fleming had to say. At the time I was part of a casual group of architects and planners known as New Urban St Louis. After this article appeared architect John Hoag, planner Todd Antoine and I drafted a letter to the editor on behalf of our group. We wrote, in part:

While we applaud Paul McKee’s efforts to break the current mold of suburban development in the St. Louis region, several points are worth mentioning.

New Urbanists identify with one of two camps: developments in suburban “greenfields” or revitalizing existing neighborhoods in the urban core and inner suburbs. New Urbanists believe strengthening the urban core is vital to sustaining long- term regional growth while acknowledging that greenfield development will continue. New development, whether in the urban core or in greenfields, benefits by incorporating New Urbanist principles. New Urbanism does not imply a strict return to nostalgic remembrances of the past. Instead, it is based on design and planning principles nurtured and refined over centuries of town- building that have been largely forgotten over the last 50 years. Problems such as affordable housing, lack of connectiveness and inadequate public transportation plague many suburban areas. Solutions include pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use and transit-oriented development which offers real alternatives to auto-oriented sprawl.

The St. Louis region is blessed with fine older examples of traditional neighborhoods exhibiting many aspects of New Urbanist designs. However, the region is lacking the breakthrough projects seen in Memphis, Dallas and Minneapolis. We encourage developers, bankers and local government officials to explore the rich variety of New Urbanist developments in the U.S. already completed or in the planning process.

Since this time we’ve seen real New Urbanism come to our region via New Town at St Charles. New Town is a project of Whittaker Builders. I’ve had the good fortune to have spent some good one on one time with Greg Whittaker talking about the project and what led him in this direction. Whittaker, like most large home builders in our region, was responsible for a number of the typical subdivisions that define suburbia. Greg Whittaker spent vacation time at Seaside Florida and he began to wonder if they could do something different than they had. The answer was yes.

Building new (or old) urbanism is not a simple task. First of all, based on current zoning, it is illegal —- even in the City of St Louis. Zoning in much of the country mandates suburbia — be it in the old urban core or on corn fields at the edge of each region. The site where New Town is located was zoned for industrial park development. If someone wanted to recreate the intersection of Euclid & Maryland (old urbanism) on the long vacant Pruitt-Igoe site they could not do so based on our current zoning code which dates to 1947.

Our zoning code is like most in the U.S. — it is what is known as use based zoning. That is the code tells you where certain uses are allowed (so much for mixed use areas) and finally how much parking each use much have. Always back to parking — this is why instead of contiguous commercial districts as in the old urbanism newer areas have each building surrounded by parking. With all this parking between buildings you lose that connected feel of a truly walkable environment.

New Urbanist developments like New Town use their own codes — with the city or county adopting that code as an overlay for that site. These codes are not use based — they don’t care if you want to put a hardware store or an insurance company in a storefront space — they are more concerned with the design of the storefront. This is not to say that you can open a slaughterhouse on a street of single family homes. But having commercial spaces with residential units above just around the corner from single family homes is to be expected — something you don’t see in residential subdivisions today.

Codes in new urbanist projects are “form-based” codes — these control how the buildings relate to each other and to the public street. Cities such as Denver are also using form-based codes to regulate how urban infill will be built in various parts of town.

While New Urbanism is not perfect it is a starting point for building communities that respect people while also accommodating the car. New Urbanists such as Peter Calthorpe tend to have a much more modern aesthetic as opposed to DPZ (planners behind New Town) that rely on a more familiar vernacular aesthetic. Aesthetics aside they all seek to mix uses, provide a walkable environment and reduce dependence on the car. Rather than dismiss New Urbanism we should embrace it as a means for ending the mandated suburbia we have now.

Keep in mind I personally would not want to live in a New Urbanist place on the outer edges of a region. However as a model for sites such as the former Pruitt_Igoe it is ideal. I could live there as I’d be close to the old urbanism that remains in the city. Nobody should have to live in zoning mandated suburbia.

New Arby’s has Required ADA Access Route

For a couple of years now I’ve showed project after project lacking a federally mandated ADA-compliant access route. The biggest culprits are often fast food joints with drive-throughs taking priority over the pedestrian (see post on recent Starbuck’s locations). Shopping centers are no exception and it wasn’t until I began highlighting the flaws at Loughborough Commons did they make changes to the original access plans. To date there is still not proper access to the Lowe’s. Granted a person in a wheelchair doesn’t come off the street to take home drywall but smaller items like light bulbs are still in need when you are disable.
I think the city’s former commissioner on the disabled used to just count the number of disabled parking spaces and give projects an OK if it met the required number. But I can assure you that not everyone arrives by car which means if they are not bicycling they are walking or using a wheelchair. And the ADA access route provides equally good access for those who are able bodied and those that are not. Those who are out pushing a baby stroller will appreciate the provisions as much as the person in a wheelchair.

So when the Arby’s on Lindell was rebuilt following the fire at the construction project next door (see post) I was not optimistic about what sort of pedestrian access they would provide. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the final outcome:

 

As you can see above it doesn’t take much — just a way to get from the public sidewalk to the main accessible entrance. Clearly here the pedestrian was given due consideration.

Given the urbanity of the apartment project next door it would have been nice to see the Arby’s be less suburban in nature — closer to the street, fewer auto drives, etc but at least they got the pedestrian access right. So if we are going to continue to build more suburban structures in the city, such as this Arby’s, we need to ensure they all have pedestrian access to the public sidewalk as this does.  Anything less is unacceptable.

The Future Outlook on Downtown St Louis

It is probably easy to think the good times are over downtown: Nearly a month ago I brought the city the news of the closure of prominent developer, John Steffen’s Pyramid Companies. The new modern high rise SkyHouse planned for 14th and Washington has been abandoned and Centene is no longer moving their HQ from Clayton to St Louis and Ballpark Village. Big deal.

Generations of all ages are seeking something besides typical suburbia — houses hidden behind garages, strip malls, big box centers, the indoor mall, the office/industrial park , etc… This doesn’t mean everyone wants to live in downtown St Louis because that is not the case. However the perception of downtown has changed considerably over the last decade or so. This is not to say the current mayor or the current crop of downtown civic boosters deserve all the credit. They deserve some but much of it is simply a shift in demographics and taste. Just as decades ago many people fled to the suburbs in large part because everyone else was too. Times have changed and in smaller and bigger towns all over the country inner city areas are seeing renewed interest while the edge suburbs are not the sure thing they once were. People want to be in real cities be that strolling down a downtown street or having your choice to walk over to a restaurant on Hampton or to a great urban park such as Francis Park.

Downtown St Louis will survive the latest setbacks if we allow it to. Over-hyping projects that are not yet sure things is certainly a good way to set up the public to be disappointed and perceive downtown as having failed again. The current financial market conditions will not allow the rate of growth we’ve seen in the last decade but we will move forward.

Many storefronts remain to be leased. Many. It will take some time for the market to absorb these spaces. Eventually something will open. The more we patronize our local commercial districts the better they will do. This includes locally owned and chain places — such as the new Sprint store at Tucker & Washington Ave.

So many factors are in the right spots for a good next 10-20 years.  The trick now is to not screw it up with bad decision making.  We should now be looking at form-based zoning to guide new construction downtown and the rest of the city.  Now is the perfect time to envision how we’d like to see our city develop over the next few decades.  We should take advantage of this financial break to plan for the future.

Lead with your strong side

Today I did something stupid which can serve as a good analogy for cities.  For new readers I had a stroke on Feb 1st that took out my left side.  Through more than two months of rehab I can walk again with a cane.  So today I decide to pick something off the floor.  In rehab I had done squats to pick up stuff before.

Here is where the analogy and lesson part come in…

I was in a hurry and ignored all that I had learned up to this morning.  Rather than positioning my feet and body so that I was more relying on my strong (right) side I just squatted down as I would have prior to the stroke.  Conditions had changed but I tried the old way.  I ended up sitting on my butt on the floor.
Cities do the same thing— they don’t use their strong side to support then.  St Louis’ strong side is great urban architecture on a nicely scaled grid of walkable streets.  The suburbs don’t have those strong areas.  Yet here we tend to lead with our weak side — suburban anti-city stuff.  The more of this we have the less of the strong side we have.  Ok, so I was sitting on the floor now.

No harm done, people stumble just as cities stumble.  Unlike many cities I had a backup plan.  You see getting off the floor with only one good arm, one good leg and one weak leg is not just a pop back up sort of affair.  In therapy I practiced getting up off the floor — the assumption being that I’d end up there eventually.   Cities and their political leaders just don’t practice how to recover when they fall.  I knew to scoot across the floor and make it to the sofa.  From there I could leverage my strong side to get myself off the floor and seated again.  Cities don’t have such a backup.
St Louis has had a number of bad falls —such as the very expensive downtown indoor mall, St Louis Centre.  Had St Louis built up its strong side rather than coming from a weak position we would have focused on traditional storefront shops along streets.  Instead we went with the suburban mall model sans the acres of free parking and it flopped big time.   St Louis, like me this morning, was trying the quick route.  I recovered fairly quickly but a city’s mistakes are harder to recover from.

Remember that is is best to use your strong side for needed support.

Positive Developments in St. Louis

Some out there may get the impression I’m against all development. Well that is just not the case. Still I can be pretty negative at times so here is a list of some of the things I see as positive development in the city – the things that get me excited about the future of Saint Louis:

Continued rehabilitation, adaption and reuse of existing buildings:

All over the city we are seeing everything from existing shotgun cottages to old schools to large warehouse buildings being reconfigured internally to meet today’s lifestyles. This work is being done by individuals and large developers alike. We have the state historic rehab tax credit to thank for aiding in much of this, especially on the larger projects. After decades of writing off so many great old structures it is great to see their qualities be appreciated. By renovating these structures, many once vacant, we are adding density and thus strengthening multiple neighborhoods. We are also showing that building types once thought to be obsolete can again be functional. Creativity is winning out over demolition in many areas.

The East Loop area

Even just five years ago, it would have been easy for many to justify more suburban new construction East of Skinker. People would have pointed to the gas station and Church’s Chicken on the corners and count the area a lost cause to the automobile. Joe Edwards saw a continued pedestrian-friendly environment and he has worked toward that goal. Metro narrowed the street from four lanes to just two — widening the sidewalks in the process.

So many of our streets were widened in the first half of the 20th century when our population was significantly greater — widening sidewalks and narrowing streets is certainly a positive.

Old North St Louis:

Today the neighborhood is vastly different than when I moved there in 1991. The 1970′s mistake, a pedestrian mall, is finally being removed and 14th street is being reopened again. Buildings, some barely still standing, are being renovated — again by individuals and through large development deals. If not for the hard work of many individuals on smaller projects (single buildings) would we see the larger efforts today. The work of one person renovating a single small structure should never be discounted — For more than 30 years now individuals have been bringing back the neighborhood.

Mass Transit:

The continued development of our mass transit choices is exciting to me. Sure Metro has screwed up before and they will do so again but we must keep our sights on the goal of being able to navigate our region both through the use of public transit and the private bicycle. As someone who is only recently disabled, our mass transit system will play an important role in my having mobility.

New urban infill development

Many get excited by proposed new high-rise towers. Me? Not so much. I prefer more modest structures in the 2-8 story range. The building on the NE corner of Sarah & Laclede, known as 6 North, is just such an example (see my review from three years ago). New infill construction along Park in the Lafayette Square neighborhood helps define an urban public street. The modern loft apartments on Forest Park Parkway at Euclid (with the Bread Co) is another good example of new urban infill.

Just having new construction isn’t enough for me — they have new construction out in O’Fallon but that doesn’t mean it creates the environment I want to be surrounded with.

Dogs in the city

I’ve always been a cat person but in the city it is the urban dog that rules. The owner walks the dog to an outdoor cafe where strangers now begin conversations about the dog’s breed and so on. Dog parks have formed that bring people together in new ways. It is hard to walk around many neighborhoods without seeing a person out walking their dog. Each and every one is an encouraging symbol.

Conclusion

So while others get excited about proposals for a particular high-rise, another casino or even a “district” like the 3-block Ballpark Village concept or the Bottleworks proposal, I’m more content with modest examples of urbanity. Slick marketing and hype turns me off. Simple urbanity, on the other hand, gets me stirred up. A good form-based zoning code is totally sexy. Laws that encourage an active street life (making it easier for street performers, street vendors and such) would be so cool.

I will continue to point out design flaws when big ticket projects that, for example, fail to include proper pedestrian pathways get built with or without public subsity. I will continue to point out how our elected leaders repeat mistakes of the past and how they focus on the short term (ground breakings, ribbon cuttings) while not always considering the long-term sustainability of the project. This doesn’t make me anti-development or a naysayer, it’s just me being vocal about my expectations and how they were not met.  We need many more people standing up and articulating what it is they want and expect from their surroundings.

As they come along I will try harder to highlight what I see as positive contributions to our build environment because they are out there.

Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market Has Good Acess Route

Regular readers know I am not a fan of Wal-Mart. Over the last few years they’ve completely changed the grocery market in my original hometown of Oklahoma City by opening numerous “neighborhood markets” These stores are grocery and pharmacy only and are small in size relative to a new Schnuck’s or Dierberg’s store. The stores, however, are bigger than Aldi’s although just as basic.

One thing I have noticed is they actually have done a decent job connecting these stores to local sidewalks, where they exist. That is about as close to a compliment of Wal-Mart as you are going to get out of me.

Above is the accessible route from the public sidewalk to the entrance of one such neighborhood market in South Oklahoma City. The store is located on a major corner but only one of the two streets has any public sidewalk at all.

Heading out the door to the one street that does have a sidewalk we can see a clear path for the pedestrian — they are not forced to simply walk through the parking lot. Those people leaving the pharmacy drive-thru can clearly see the pedestrian crossing although part is missing.

Out at the intersection on the main corner we see the real problem — an incomplete sidewalk network. You can take the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and then manage to cross but if you are in a wheelchair, as I am now, you are stuck in the street and in the path of cars. In some cases OKC has added ramps on these corners but the streets still lack sidewalks. This corner has a fairly new Taco Bell on it — perhaps they should have been required to include the public sidewalks in their build-out? Ot should that fall 100% on the municipality? Or are sidewalks in such a highly suburban area optional? You know my answer — we need a good public sidewalk network everywhere and each business abutting the sidewalk needs to connect to it with an ADA-compliant access route. Wal-Mart did their part in the above example but OKC is way behind the curve.
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Boston’s City Hall and Plaza

Regular readers will recall that I was in Providence RI and Boston MA in January (see Commonwealth Mall and North End). Looking back over the photos I took, I realized I hadn’t yet written about Boston’s City Hall (wiki).

If the windows were narrower you might think it was a prison. The building is considered a prime example of the brutalist style. Brutal is correct.

Even more brutal is the wasteland known as Government Center (wiki), the plaza that connects city hall to adjacent state and federal office buildings. The master plan for this urban renewal disaster was done by the famed Chinese-born architect I.M. Pei.

Pei also gets credit for a destructive downtown master plan for my hometown, Oklahoma City. There an underground tunnel system originally known as The Concourse was created to connect downtown buildings.. Shops and restaurants that could at one time survive off of people on the street were also located in this underground maze. It is not all underground, however, as some includes skywalks. It does an excellent job of keeping people off the sidewalks. — I’m not sure of his involvement in the tunnel system but it was done around the same time frame in the 1970′s. Namely he advocated razing many small blocks and creating large superblocks (four small blocks would become one big unfriendly block). OK, back to Boston and the horrible public space he helped create there.

Skating is prohibited but that is really the best use of the open space.

Yes it was a cold day in January when I was in Boston but pedestrians were out and about all over the city — just not here in this horrible space.

In the 20th Century most architects and urban planners abandoned all that we knew about cities and they began to foist their experimental notions upon their clients at great financial cost to tax payers. People lost their homes so these men could try out their “bold visions.” Without waiting to see results city after city jumped on the wipe it all out urban renewal bandwagon. The only thing proven by this process was that you could erase traces of the past — both the people and the buildings that contained their lives. This section of Boston had theaters with burlesque shows — the area was certainly tired but in no way did it need to be completely erased. The erase it bare and start over mentality was simply that this new breed of architect & planner failed to see any value in the existing forms. Plus the existing was in the way of their large scale experiments. Our cities became their labs. They and the general public confused having new sanitized spaces with real city life. The consequences 40-60 years later were not realized at the time.

Boston’s Mayor has proposed selling city hall and the plaza to developers. The architecture and preservation community have both fought to designate them as landmarks. Oh they are a landmark — the poster child for bad urban design type of landmark. Bostonians hate their city hall — you cannot find a postcard of it anywhere.  We need to save those elements that contribute to a high quality urban life and disregard these failed urban renewal experiments.

Lessons from a West Palm Beach FL Lifestyle Center

The new owner of the failing St. Louis area enclosed mall, Crestwood Plaza, recently announced plans to raze the place and construct an open air “lifestyle center” on the site. Subsidies from the city of Crestwood will be sought (surprise).This made me think of one such center I saw last Fall when I was in Florida for the Rail~Volution conference. With the registration they gave us passes for all of their transit systems. So on my last day I took their Tri-Rail line up to Palm Beach. This is a heavy rail line serving several counties in the south Florida region. I was using the line on a Sunday so I didn’t get any picture as to how well it does serving commuters.

Not much existed around the depot but I could see buildings off to the east — toward the water so that was the direction I walked.

After several blocks of nothing I found something of interest:

Above on the left is a grocery store and on the right is the back end of the lifestyle center — the “front” faces onto a major road — more on that later. At first I wasn’t sure what it was I just knew the buildings were up to the sidewalk and of multiple levels

Up half a block I spotted motorcycle/scooter parking. Nice.

I was at the North end of “City Place” — a mixed-use upscale lifestyle center. The name is only part of selling a city/urban lifestyle. As you can tell from the map this development integrated itself into the existing street grid.

Three story buildings aligned both sides of South Rosemary Ave. The upper floors of most of what you see above is residential.

The upper floors overhang the sidewalk space to create an environment safe from the hot Florida sun. The high ceiling gives it an open feeling.


looking back the other direction toward the intersection we see shrubs — the line of travel was shifted. I had lunch at the outdoor patio you see on the left and I observed that most people crossing the street above went to the left of the shrubs rather than to the right for the crosswalk. The lesson here is that people take the shortest route — architects and planners need to remember as much. If they would take the time to do a pedestrian circulation study of their proposed design they’d catch these issues. Sadly, more time is spent on the circulation of cars. Still this project is a thousand times better than a typical strip or enclosed mall.

The main street is narrow with on-street parking to help give that city/urban feeling. Balconies, even when vacant, suggest a lively streetscape. But don’t get any ideas about running a clothesline across the street from building to building — this is not a typical urban street — it is under the control of one management company.

Further down the street we see a large multi-level Macy’s was integrated into the design. Looking closely at the design it is easy to find flaws with the execution but just walking down the street it works as intended — to blend in and mask the true size of the store behind the walls.

Up next was a pleasant surprise — a former United Methodist church was reborn as the centerpiece of the whole project with life as a performance hall. The inclusion of an existing structure within the development site added a nice bit of history lacking in the new buildings.

A modest sized plaza with outdoor dining is at the rear of the old church. An important lesson here, which they did well, is to make the plaza a good size but not so big that it looks empty most of the time.

By putting the stage in the middle of the space it broke up the area to keep it from being too expansive. The plantings and pavement further help break down the overall size of the space.

Sadly the entire project lacks bike parking. Here cyclists used the pole from a stop sign. Unfortunately the sop sign was placed at the end of a crosswalk so the bikes now contribute for blocking the pathway. This project has numerous parking garages hidden behind the buildings but they failed to plan for people arriving by a mode other than the car. This area, not far from the water, has a number of condo buildings nearby so it should have been assumed that some customers would bike.

We’ve now reached the south edge — a major blvd in West Palm Beach. As you can see in the distance are nearby condos.

Directly across the street to the south is more new housing nearing completion. Unfortunately crossing the boulevard on foot wasn’t part of the plan — at least not that I saw.

Entering from the main entry (above) you certainly feel like you are going into a singular unified project rather than just another city street. Such a tactic is probably necessary to attract the right tenant mix, the right shoppers and the right residents. Still, Im glad that in other directions that it just blends so much better.

Housing types vary within the project — these townhouses with garages are great for those that may not care for an over a store type of unit. Note this is an alley serving these units — pedestrian entrances face courtyards or in the case of the ones on the left facing a public street.

Overall not a bad project. Many of our St. Louis area projects would do well to copy elements such as the streets in addition to the building scale. Loughborough Commons, for example, would have been outstanding with a main street through it’s center and side streets connecting to the adjacent streets. Sure this type of project costs more to build but you also get more in return. I doubt that whatever replaces Crestwood Mall will be as diverse as the above project. It will really come down to the vision of the developer and their architect as I am certain the City of Crestwood has no vision beyond sales tax revenue.

A Changed Man

Nearly dying and now going through intensive physical therapy causes one to stop and think about what is important. In the last few years here I’ve focused often on details. On one hand these details don’t seem as important too me and on the other they seem even more important. I’m alive — I should be happy right? But life is short and it is the little details that impact our quality of life. Simply breathing everyday just isn’t enough. I am going to be far more demanding of a quality environment than before. Every year in our region we spend hundreds of millions if not billions on new infrastructure and buildings — are we getting our money’s worth? Does this money add to improved public space or simply so much square footage of new retail? I see no reason to settle for anything less than high quality public spaces. Life is too short to be spent in strip centers, boring subdivisions and stuck in traffic.

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