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U.S. Bank Plaza To Remain A Dead Space?

March 29, 2011 Downtown, Parking, Plazas 4 Comments
ABOVE: U.S. Bank Plaza as seen from the former St. Louis Centre November 2010

Back in 2008 it was announced that the plaza at 7th & Locust would be replaced with a parking garage (Tough Decisions: Useless Plaza Vs. Another F-ing Parking Garage).  The plaza unfortunately replaced the Ambassador Theater.

Since the 2008 announcement St. Louis Centre is being converted into a parking garage with ground-level retail. So the plaza remains a lifeless hole downtown. Don’t even think about sitting on the grass at lunch, the guard will run you off. The grass, and the entire plaza space, are for show only — not use.

The Ambassador filled the space beautifully but it has been gone more than 15 years now.  Mercantile Bank, later bought by U.S. Bank, wanted to create a welcoming entrance to the tower.  A massive dead space isn’t welcoming! The solution?

In the short term invite vendors to sell food from carts & trucks at lunchtime.  A vendor truck can just pull into the circle drive.  Also, invest in a few tables, chairs and umbrellas.  Encourage people to sit on the grass and play in the fountain. Basically the opposite of what they’ve done for 15+ years.

Longer term the grassy area should be replaced with a highly  modern glass & steel building of at least 2 stories in height. I’m thinking a restaurant space, perhaps with more seating on the roof.  The auto access for the circle drive could be removed and the plaza repaved to eliminate the curbs, part being used for seating of the restaurant.

We just can’t afford dead corners like this to remain lifeless, no matter how green the grass is even in November.

– Steve Patterson

 

Most Readers Keen On Sunken Public Spaces, But Many Not

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ABOVE: sunken amphitheater at Kiener Plaza

Readers like the changes of level offered by sunken spaces, here are the results from last week’s poll:

Q: How do you feel about sunken public spaces like the May Amphitheater?

  1. I like the change of levels. 62 [52.1%]
  2. Not good, it is hard to see activity going on. 36 [30.25%]
  3. Unsure/no opinion 12 [10.08%]
  4. Other answer… 9 [7.56%]

The other answers were:

  • I don’t care for them; they are just plain ulgy!
  • Ok for certain uses, like an amphitheatre, but not really a good idea otherwise
  • Not sure, this needs a refresh on its look.
  • great for events like Macy’s Holiday Celebration
  • Doesn’t work unless their is natural contours to work with
  • Nice to have elevations as long as one elevation feeds to street level
  • It depends on context
  • It makes a great place to skateboard.
  • Love em, they draw my attention right to em
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ABOVE: sunken amphitheater at Kiener Plaza during an anti Prop A rally

So you can see people around the edge during an event but you have no clue how many are inside.

img_0983From the outside you can’t see the stage or get any sense of the activity happening within.  Some changes of level, such as at Citygarden, is good but  a hidden hole is bad.

– Steve Patterson

 

Poll: Thoughts On Sunken Public Spaces?

The poll this week seeks to find out how you feel about sunken public spaces.

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I have some views but I’m going to save those for after the poll in finished.

– Steve Patterson

 

Public plazas part one: people sit where there are places to sit

June 26, 2010 Books, Plazas 6 Comments

I’ve been a huge fan of the late William H. Whyte since I bought his book City: Rediscovering the Center when it was published in 1988.  It would be many years later before I would read his 1980 book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces or see the companion film of the same name.  I had hoped to show you the film but the six YouTube videos that someone had posted have been removed due to copyright infringement.

The book and film are brilliant.  New York City had passed zoning changes that allowed developers to build taller buildings if they provided public plazas.  A decade later Whyte and his team meticulously studied numerous public plazas to determine why some were heavily used and others stood vacant. In the coming weeks and months I’m going to take a closer look plaza spaces here in St. Louis and use Whyte’s findings to see if they apply and how our plaza spaces might be improved.

One important finding was that “people sit where there are places to sit.”  Sounds obvious right? People would sit on steps and any place they could and not necessarily where the designers wanted them to sit.  “People attracted people” was also a finding, people watching is better when there are others to watch.

– Steve Patterson

 

The Heart of Lafayette Square

November 14, 2004 Parking, Plazas Comments Off on The Heart of Lafayette Square
According to the sign at the new plaza and parking lot at 18th & Park Ave, it is the Heart of Lafayette Square. Silly me, I assumed the heart of Lafayette Square was actually Lafayette Square. Maybe someone voted to move the heart?

 

Yeah, that’s it. Someone voted to move the heart away from the 30 acre park platted in 1836. Come on, that stunningly beautiful park has had 168 years as the heart of the neighborhood so why not give a tiny plaza with fountain designed to conceal a surface parking lot a chance at being the heart?

The picture below is looking East along Park Ave. Keeping with much of LS the street parking is angled parking. I have no objection to this, especially when you have a really wide street as you can get more parking along a street this way verses parallel parking.

But look at that picture again. I’ve got lots of problems with this “plaza.” First, no fucking street trees! People – trees should be along every street between parked cars and the sidewalk. Exceptions to this rule, in my mind, are limited to the entrance to major civic structures such as a courthouse, city hall, school or house of worship. Otherwise, I want to see street trees.

The picture below is of the of the same view but a little closer to the corner. The planting area in the right of the picture is completely lacking trees as well. I guess the designers didn’t want to block the view of the fountain when you parked your car? One of the most disturbing aspects of this design is the lighting. Along the street is the neighborhood standard with its yellow cast. Inside the “plaza” and the parking lot is obnoxiously bright white lighting.

This bright lighting overpowers the entire corner. It is completely inappropriate for anything except a suburban parking lot. Oh wait, that is what this really is. The plaza, fountain and park benches are not about creating a pleasant park space but making a parking lot for suburbanites acceptable to an otherwise strict neighborhood. I believe Squires restaurant wanted visibility from Park Ave. as well as a parking lot for their West County customers.
Ideally Park Ave would have commercial & residential buildings along the South side of the street to balance the buildings on the North. Construction has begun on such a building immediately across the street from this plaza to the North. Park Avenue could have been a wonderfully urban street with trendy restaurants, bars and shops. But, now it is stuck with this bright eyesore.

This plaza will not be used. Why would anyone spend time here reading a book or playing chess with friends? If anyone will use this park it will be folks waiting for a dinner table at Squires. Will the owners of the new condos across the street use the plaza? Doubtful. Will people from other areas say, “Let’s go over to the new heart of Lafayette Square and hang out.” Nope.

The opening paragraph to chapter 5 (The Uses of Neighborhood Parks) of Jane Jacob’s classic book Death & Life of Great American Cities goes like this:

Conventionally, neighborhood parks or parklike open spaces are considered boons conferred on the deprived populations of cities. Let us turn this thought around, and consider parks deprived places that need the boon of life and appreciation conferred on them. This is more nearly in accord with reality, for people do confer use on parks and make them successes — or else withhold use and doom parks to rejection and failure.
Simply building a park or plaza does not mean it is needed, it will be used or successful. This plaza, just two blocks from Lafayette Park, is not a destination of its own. The lack of urban life immediately around the plaza tells me this plaza will remain vacant most of the time except perhaps at dinner rush or during major events when the number of people in Lafayette Square is increased substantially. Day to day and morning to evening this plaza will be lacking the most important thing – people.

This plaza is nothing more than expensive window dressing for a parking lot.

Steve

 

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