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Another Book Gift Idea: Under One Flag: A Journey from 9/11 to the Heartland

December 19, 2014 Books, Featured 1 Comment

underoneflagOn Tuesday I told you about Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities by Heywood T. Sanders and a week ago about about five St. Louis books. Today’s book, a beautifully photographed hardcover coffee table book, deserved its own post:

To mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a group of volunteers acknowledged the fallen by posting 2,996 American flags at a city park in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the flags honored New York City firefighter Michael Weinberg, a first responder who died Ground Zero. In a twist of fate, Michael’s flag went unnoticed at auction after the event but, as a result, would make a remarkable journey through the Midwest. Under One Flag chronicles this journey with poignant, richly illustrated stories of American heroism and the conviction of those intent on paying tribute. Key among the latter are grassroots organizer Rick Randall and also Larry Eckhardt, known as “The Flag Man” for placing flags along the routes of soldiers’ funerals. Through Larry’s efforts, Michael’s flag would fly in Preston, Iowa, to honor Marine Corporal Zach Reiff, who died serving his country in Afghanistan. Under One Flag shows how lives interweave when compassion serves as the common tie. It is the collective story of people who want nothing but give everything.

Under One Flag: A Journey from 9/11 to the Heartland is published locally by Reedy Press.

— Steve Patterson






Reading: Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities by Heywood T. Sanders


Friday I listed five books about St. Louis to consider as gifts.  Today’s book, a massive volume, isn’t about St. Louis. Well, not entirely. Chapter 8, titled “St. Louis: Protection from Erosion”, is the story of our own convention center folly. From the publisher:

American cities have experienced a remarkable surge in convention center development over the last two decades, with exhibit hall space growing from 40 million square feet in 1990 to 70 million in 2011—an increase of almost 75 percent. Proponents of these projects promised new jobs, new private development, and new tax revenues. Yet even as cities from Boston and Orlando to Phoenix and Seattle have invested in more convention center space, the return on that investment has proven limited and elusive. Why, then, do cities keep building them?

Written by one of the nation’s foremost urban development experts, Convention Center Follies exposes the forces behind convention center development and the revolution in local government finance that has privileged convention centers over alternative public investments. Through wide-ranging examples from cities across the country as well as in-depth case studies of Chicago, Atlanta, and St. Louis, Heywood T. Sanders examines the genesis of center projects, the dealmaking, and the circular logic of convention center development. Using a robust set of archival resources—including internal minutes of business consultants and the personal papers of big city mayors—Sanders offers a systematic analysis of the consultant forecasts and promises that have sustained center development and the ways those forecasts have been manipulated and proven false. This record reveals that business leaders sought not community-wide economic benefit or growth but, rather, to reshape land values and development opportunities in the downtown core.

A probing look at a so-called economic panacea, Convention Center Follies dissects the inner workings of America’s convention center boom and provides valuable lessons in urban government, local business growth, and civic redevelopment.

Reading the background on how the Cervantes Convention Center came to be is fascinating! There were competing proposals to locate a convention center elsewhere, including near Union Station.

Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D'Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.
Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D’Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

Other chapters deal with other aspects, for example:

  • Paying for the box (Ch2)
  • Promises and Realities (Ch3)
  • They Will Come…and Spend (Ch4)

If you want a complete overview of convention centers this is the book for you.

— Steve Patterson


Gift Idea: Books About St. Louis

December 12, 2014 Books, Featured Comments Off on Gift Idea: Books About St. Louis

MakingTracksWho doesn’t like books? Below are five books from 2014 to consider:

Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis’s South Side, 2nd Edition by Jim Merkel

On the South Side, there lived a tactless TV guy who had a way of getting tossed out of everything on camera, from the old VP Fair to Bill Clinton’s 1996 local re-election victory party. On the South Side, there dwelt a collector of ancient vacuum cleaners, none of which worked when he demonstrated them before millions of guffawing viewers watching on national television. And on the South Side, a beer baron tried to fight off Prohibition with a high-class, three-sided beer hall. It’s all in the second edition of Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis’s South Side. The first edition captured the essence of South St. Louis, with its tales of women scrubbing steps every Saturday, the yummy brain sandwich, and a nationally known gospel performer who ran a furniture store in the Cherokee neighborhood. These stories, along with the new ones that fill the second edition, convey what gives a truly unique place its rough but charming personality. The result-Holy Hoosiers!-is an edition that’s even better than the first!

Making Tracks: The Untold Story of Horse Racing in St. Louis, 1767-1905 by Nancy E. Carver

At one time, horse racing was a more popular sport than baseball. Nowhere was this reality more apparent than in St. Louis. From 1767 to 1905, throngs of excited St. Louisans rooted for their horses in almost twenty different racing venues around the area. Making Tracks takes readers on a tour of local tracks and racing history, where surprising facts emerge. St. Louis had the first night racing in the country; the St. Louis Browns, a professional baseball team, shared their baseball field with a race track; the St. Louis World’s Fair Handicap in 1904 dazzled the racing world with a $50,000 purse; famous people, including celebrated jockeys and horsemen, came to St. Louis to race; and the Delmar Loop track made history as the city’s last track and the scene of a notorious raid orchestrated by the Missouri governor. The track histories capture the thrill of the sport and the flavor of the times, including the political, social, economic, and religious realities involved. Making Tracks is a must read for horse racing fans, local history buffs, and people who love a good story. Saddle up and take a ride on bygone tracks once filled with passionate and engaged fans.

Happy Birthday, St. Louis! by Carolyn Mueller, illustrated by Ed Koehler

St. Louis has an amazing history that includes the landing of Chouteau in 1764, a famous World’s Fair, Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight the building of the Gateway Arch, and many other great moments. Happy Birthday, St. Louis! captures the city’s highlights along with a tradition that features steamboats, trains, baseball, and music. St. Louis is truly a place to be celebrated. Join the party celebrating 250 years and many, many more! For ages 3-8.

The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, the Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch by Jim Merkel

The Gateway Arch is one of America’s most distinctive and beloved national monuments. Much has been written about the Arch, but no book has captured the legend, lore, and spirit behind its conception and construction, until now. The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, the Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch compiles well-known, and rare, stories about the visionaries, finaglers, protesters, and fearless-but-skilled hands involved in an incredible undertaking that courted as much controversy as it did enthusiasm. The dreamers included the architect Eero Saarinen, who spent fourteen years tweaking his design for a Gateway Arch but never lived to see it built. Topping the list of schemers was Democratic Mayor Bernard Dickmann, who threatened to throw Missouri to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Republican opponent if the president wouldn’t provide money for Smith’s memorial. That was left to intrepid workers who walked without lanyards hundreds of feet above the ground. Today, 2.5 million visit the Gateway Arch every year, and more than 100,000 motorists view the 63-story monument daily from miles away and up close. Many already comprehend its symbolic meaning and physical beauty. The Making of An Icon helps us appreciate the relentless pursuit, innovation, and toil that made the Arch happen.

The Gateway Arch: A Biography by Tracy Campbell

Winner of the 2014 Missouri History Book Award given by The State Historical Society of Missouri.

Rising to a triumphant height of 630 feet, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a revered monument to America’s western expansion. Envisioned in 1947 but not completed until the mid-1960s, the arch today attracts millions of tourists annually and is one of the world’s most widely recognized structures. By weaving together social, political, and cultural history, historian Tracy Campbell uncovers the complicated and troubling history of the beloved structure. This compelling book explores how a medley of players with widely divergent motivations (civic pride, ambition, greed, among others) brought the Gateway Arch to fruition, but at a price the city continues to pay.

Campbell dispels long-held myths and casts a provocative new light on the true origins and meaning of the Gateway Arch. He shows that the monument was the scheme of shrewd city leaders who sought to renew downtown St. Louis and were willing to steal an election, destroy historic buildings, and drive out local people and businesses to achieve their goal. Campbell also tells the human story of the architect Eero Saarinen, whose prize-winning design brought him acclaim but also charges of plagiarism, and who never lived to see the completion of his vision. As a national symbol, the Gateway Arch has a singular place in American culture, Campbell concludes, yet it also stands as an instructive example of failed urban planning.

Be sure to look for these and other books at local bookstores.

— Steve Patterson


New Book: The World of Urban Decay by Martin ten Bouwhuijs

March 6, 2014 Books, Featured 5 Comments

Exploring, and photographing, urban decay is a natural attraction to many of us. There’s something fascinating about viewing abandoned buildings as they slowly decay. A new book takes a look at urban decay in European:

Arresting art photography takes the curious into the depths of worlds that normally remain hidden behind gardens overrun with wild vegetation and tall fences blazoned with “Keep Out!” signs. Photographer Martin ten Bouwhuijs’s regular urban exploration missions throughout Western Europe have culminated in this collection of haunting images made in abandoned hospitals, morgues, monasteries, power plants, schools, factories, swimming pools, and castles. Each location is described in a brief history. Capturing the venues in various states of neglect, these photographs reveal remnants of once-habitable spaces: from furniture still in place but covered in thick dust to dramatic vaulted ceilings speckled in mold and water stains to walls that have given way in complete disrepair. More than 150 dramatic images continually heighten anticipation by showing long views down empty corridors and wide views of rooms with doors that lead elsewhere – you never really know what you are going to see around the next corner. (Schiffer Books)

This book is beautifully photographed, with 196 color photos. I’d love to see someone do a St. Louis version.

Cover of the hardbound book
Cover of the hardbound book

Urban decay usually involves very old buildings, but can also include abandoned Olympic sites. The World of Urban Decay is available locally through Left Bank Books.

— Steve Patterson


People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener. Healthier Cities by F. Kaid Benfield

Cover of the softbound book, $25
Cover of the softbound book, $25

Decades ago books on cities talked about razing buildings, clearing away the old to make way for the new, segregating uses & people, etc.  These days the subjects are sustainability, health of the inhabitants & the city, regionalism, etc. This shift requires new ways of thinking about old problems. Enter People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities by F. Kaid Benfield:

With over 80 percent of Americans now living in cities and suburbs, getting our communities right has never been more important, more complicated, or more fascinating. Longtime sustainability leader Kaid Benfield shares 25 enlightening and entertaining essays about the wondrous ecology of human settlement, and how to make it better for both people and the planet.

People Habitat explores topics as diverse as “green” housing developments that are no such thing, the tricky matter of gentrifying inner cities, why people don’t walk much anymore, and the relationship between cities and religion. Written with intellect, insight, and from-the-heart candor, each real-world story in People Habitat will make you see our communities in a new light. (Island Press)

You can view the table of contents and read excerpts at peoplehabitat.comPeople Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities by F. Kaid Benfield is available locally through Left Bank Books.

— Steve Patterson