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A Renaissance in the Streets

August 17, 2006 Books, Planning & Design 1 Comment

To a midwesterner like myself I think of NYC as a great pedestrian experience with millions literally getting around by foot, bike and mass transit on a daily basis. The experience is far different from our own. Yet, to New Yorkers, it can always be better.

A group known as The New York City Streets Renaissance is doing a great job explaining problems and offering solutions. Like St. Louis, NYC’s transportation planners focus on the car while other planners simply don’t have the time to get into the details of neighborhood level pedestrian crossings. These active citizens are helping improve their community by being engaged and pushing the bureaucracy to change old habits.

New York City’s streets are the soul of its neighborhoods and the pathways to some of the world’s most in-demand destinations. For generations, New Yorkers and visitors have strolled, shopped and socialized on sidewalks and street corners. Pedestrian friendly streets are the city’s most fundamental assets.

Unfortunately, we aren’t making the most of these assets. Instead, our streets are being managed almost entirely for traffic flow, with neighborhoods and business districts buckling under increasing amounts of dangerous car and truck traffic. If we continue planning our streets for cars and traffic, we will get more cars and traffic; conversely, if we start planning our cities for people and places, we will get more people and places.

Their beautifully designed website is a model for clarity on improving streetscapes for pedestrians. The focus is on making places habitable for people and illustrating how sometimes simple changes to crossings can make a huge difference to the area. They have been very effective in communicating this message with a series of short documentary films ranging from 30 seconds to 14 minutes in length. You can see these Quicktime movies in their video gallery. The videos are all excellent and for different reasons. The short ones make some great points in only a couple of minutes whereas some of the long pieces (Lessons from…) are able to take an in-depth look at history, problems and solutions. Check them out and share in the comments below which you liked best and perhaps what you’d like to see get attention via video in the St. Louis region.

As I transition into the masters program in urban planning at Saint Louis University look for me to show you more of what citizens in other cities are doing to reclaim their streets from the auto. I also am investigating doing some St. Louis-related videos along the lines of these from NYC.

I truly believe we can transform our city. We can once again become a major, thriving urban center. It will take change, but we can do it:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

– Steve


St. Louis Region Drops Again in Forbes Ranking

This year St. Louis ranked 31st among 40 metropolitan areas as “Best Places for Singles” according to Forbes magazine. Our best ranking was 14th in 2001 but since then we’ve continued to sink in the rankings, now falling into the bottom 10. It should be noted this is for the metropolitan area of St. Louis, not simply the City of St. Louis.

St. Louis on ForbesTo simplify things I compiled the chart, at left, showing where the St. Louis region ranks overall and in their various categories. As you can see we’ve been steadily dropping in the overall rankings since 2001. But a closer look reveals the good and the bad.

Below are each of the subcategories with the Forbes methodology in italics, followed by my thoughts on each.


To determine the best city for singles, we ranked 40 of the largest continental U.S. metropolitan centers in seven different areas: nightlife, culture, job growth, number of singles, cost of living alone, coolness, and for the first time, online dating. Each metro is assigned a ranking of one to 40 in each category, based on quantitative data. All categories are weighted equally, with the exception of the number of singles, which received a double weighting. The ranks are then averaged to determine the final rankings.

We’ve got a lot of great things going on in the City of St. Louis right now with lofts and new restaurants and trendy bowling alleys opening but our region, we must accept, is boring. We are a region of “comfortable” suburban housing mixed with sterile office parks connected by massive highways. Tax base aside, the region is pretty much a drain on the City of St. Louis.


Our cultural index is determined by the number of museums, pro sports teams and live theater and concert venues per capita, as well as the university population, in each metro. Data provided by AOL CityGuide and Montreal International.

I’ve yet to consider pro sports as having anything to do with “culture” but that is only one part of this criteria. This is the one section where we’ve been the most consistent over the years. Phoenix ranked #1.


Nightlife is based on the number of restaurants, bars and nightclubs per capita in each standard metropolitan area. Data provided by AOL CityGuide.

This is a category where we are doing a lot of ups and downs from year to year. From the information provided I’m not sure if this is because our data is changing or if other city’s data is changing and thus moving everyone around in the rankings. Most likely it is a combination of both. Cincinnati ranked #1.


The number of singles is based on the percentage of a metro’s population above the age of 15 that has never been married. Given the importance of this data, the singles category carries twice the weight of any other category. Data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Per the rankings this just isn’t a singles region, or perhaps many have been previously married. No surprise but New York ranked #1.

Job Growth:

Job growth rankings are determined by the projected percentage of job growth over the next five years for each metro. Data provided by Washington, D.C.-based Woods & Poole Economics.

Now we are getting to the real issue. Our job growth in this region sucks big time! The region must come together to evaluate why this is true and what are possible solutions. The old guard will continue to cite another bridge over the Mississippi River and other nonsense that simply keeps the politically connected sprawl machine working. While the city’s earnings tax may keep business out of the city, I’m not sure it would have an impact on the region’s job growth numbers. Whatever the reasons, this must be addressed. Las Vegas ranked #1.

Cost Of Living Alone:

Our proprietary Cost Of Living Alone index is determined by the average cost of a metro area’s apartment rent, a Pizza Hut pizza, a movie ticket and a six-pack of Heineken. Additionally, we factored in entry-level salary data. The majority of the raw data for the cost of living index was provided by Arlington, Va.-based ACCRA. Salary data provided by the New York-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

Ouch! I’m guessing here but I’d say our entry-level salaries have not kept pace with the average apartment rental rates. Either that or Pizza Hut has had to dramatically raise prices in St. Louis to cover the cost of hiring Queen Latifa for their commercials. Seriously though, while many may not think so I do believe we are building ourselves into a situation of higher and higher living costs relative to our incomes. Salaries simply have not kept pace with the increased property values, at least in the city. This is reflected in some very costly cities ranking ahead of us, including Seattle, NYC and San Francisco. Atlanta ranked #1.

Online Dating:

Due to the increasing popularity of online dating, we added this new measure to our methodology this year. The ranking is determined by the number of active profiles in each metro, per capita, on dating site Match.Com. Data provided by www.match.com.

OK everyone, get online so we can move up in the rankings for 2007. Yeah, right…. Boston ranked #1.


Coolness is determined by an area’s diversity and its number of creative workers (i.e., those whose jobs require creativity, such as artists, scientists, teachers and musicians). Kevin Stolarick, of Catalytix and Carnegie Mellon University, provided the data based on work he has done with Richard Florida, of George Mason University, and Gary Gates, of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

This is the one that shocked me, the ranking being much higher than I expected.

So what do you see in the numbers? Or what are they missing about our region that can’t be quantified?

– Steve


Freedom isn’t Free

July 4, 2006 Books 6 Comments

On this Independence Day I’m turning over this space to my oldest brother, Rick Patterson, to share his thoughts on freedom:

Freedom isn’t Free

It seems to me that even though the world has changed dramatically since my youth, it still remains much the same. I was born into a world that professed to be demanding peace after the end of World War II, the second such war to end all wars. This quest for peace was lost as the Cold War began. The Cold War dictated policy throughout the world until it was declared over in December 1991. I was only 15 days old when the Chinese overran South Korea and the Korean Conflict pushed the United States into an overseas war once again. Many World War II veterans, desperately trying to put their lives back together, were once again called to action. The Korean War extracted a heavy toll until a cease fire was finally declared in 1953, although there is still an uneasy peace to this day. Just as this cease fire went into effect, our involvement in Vietnam escalated.

It seems that Americans have generally accepted the sacrifices required with both World Wars and to a lesser degree with the Korean War. I find it interesting to speculate how previous wars would have played out in America, if the media of today had been present. I contend that the Korean War has never viewed in a particularly positive light, even with limited media coverage. My family did not even have a television until the Korean War was over in 1953. Even when TVs became more popular in the 1950s, there were only three major networks in most areas and the evening news was normally a half hour program. The media, like the country, in the 1950s was far more conservative than in later years. Not only were Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon in the White House in 1953, but the threat of Communism was further fueled by the McCarthy Hearings. It appears to me that the threat of terrorism since September 11th, 2001 is akin to the fear of Communism during the Cold War and the actions taken by our politicians with the support of their constituents.

As a child of the 1950s, I grew up with a sense of patriotism and the belief that wars, although tragic, were a necessary fact of life. I looked to the sky as monstrous B-36 Peacekeeper bombers flew over our home and oddly felt safe and secure. I grew up in awe of bombers and fighter aircraft, watched all of the war movies and TV shows, and played soldier with my young friends. The early 1960s brought sweeping changes as we progressed into the space age and John F. Kennedy was elected as our president. Our country’s fear of Communist domination was fueled by events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and may have escalated our involvement in Vietnam.

The events that began to unfold in the early 1960s were not as readily accepted by the younger generation as things were in the 1940s and 1950s. As I became a teenager in 1963, I seriously questioned most of my father’s political views, but I still didn’t fully understand all of the increased media attention devoted to the war protests and racial tensions. I was too young to fully appreciate some of the implications and with my limited experience; events on both coasts were not as relevant in the middle of Oklahoma. The rest of the world did not really seem real to me until I actually left Oklahoma and experienced things instead of just reading about them or viewing them in the media. I assume that Oklahoma was just as conservative in the 1960s as it is over forty years later, but I had nothing to compare it to until I left the area.

The Selective Service System, while not without problems, was the vehicle chosen to ensure that our military services had adequate staff levels of able bodied young males to serve their country. Since its inception in the 1940s, those with wealth and influence have been able to avoid being drafted; however for the most part the system generally treated everyone else fairly. The draft came under its most severe attacks during the Vietnam War, primarily due to the unpopularity of the war, the ability of the privileged class to avoid service, and the general distrust of the government by a younger generation. The events of the 1960s have influenced politics forty years later, as yesterday’s youth become leaders of today.

When I was young, it was common for virtually all members of Congress, as well as the President, to have served in the military. That appears to be a tradition of the past. While it should be noted that Bill Clinton was the first President, since FDR to have no military service, it is likely to be the trend of the future. George W. Bush has tried to pass himself off as an “Old Fighter Pilot”; however, that is a partial truth. Being privileged enough to get into the National Guard and having a questionable drill record thereafter does not really count as military service, in my view. Delaying affiliation with a Reserve or National Guard unit after college graduation was extremely difficult if not impossible after receiving years of college deferments. Had it not been for an influential father, George W. Bush might have been required to actually serve in the military. Dick Cheney has served as Secretary of Defense and Vice President for two terms and yet managed to use all possible college, marriage, and parent draft deferments to completely avoid military service. History will almost certainly be unkind to Bill Clinton because of his extramarital activities; however, he became a Rhodes Scholar and received a law degree while utilizing a draft deferment, as Dick Cheney and others had done. George W. Bush on the other hand, achieved barely passing grades and was able to affiliate with the Texas Air National Guard in 1968.

Politicians, as a rule, seem anxious to send the military to hot spots around the world in the interest of “our freedom”, without regard for the consequences. Even though our elected officials involved us in Vietnam and continued the war long after the public demanded that it end, the military took the brunt of the backlash and got the black eye of public opinion. Members of the military were spit on, called names, and received no “welcome home” as they returned to civilian life. The military draft ended in 1973, mainly as a result of negative public opinion of the Vietnam War and involuntary military service to support such wars. Registration for the selective service was suspended in 1975. Although Navy veteran Jimmy Carter was President for only one term and was not viewed as a strong military leader, he managed to get a controversial, yet potentially significant, piece of legislation passed concerning military service. Beginning in 1980, males between the age of 18 and 25 were required to register for military service. The ill-fated Iranian Hostage rescue attempt in 1980 dramatically pointed out a weakness in our All Volunteer Force and ensured passage of this registration legislation. History will likely be kind to Ronald Reagan, especially for his efforts between 1981 and 1989 to bring the country together after Vietnam. Some of the scars and negative opinions of the military had actually faded by 1981 when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President for his first term. Even though President Reagan only served briefly in a limited role, he held the military in very high regard and projected his positive view on the American public. There has not been anyone actually inducted into military service since June 1973, a year in which only 646 young men were drafted, in contrast to 296,406 in 1968 and 283,586 in 1969. While I hold President Carter in very high regard as a humanitarian, I have been unable to condone his decision to forgive the “draft dodgers” who fled to Canada to avoid military service. He believed that it was the right thing to do and many agreed with him on the issue. While I consider myself to be a liberal, I am of the belief that those who chose to flee to Canada to avoid serving in the U.S. military made a choice that they should be able to live with, in Canada, not the United States. I have much higher respect for those who chose to go to jail, such as Mohammad Ali, rather than serve. Even though I did not agree with their choice, I respect them for having the courage of their convictions. They chose to stand up and be counted for what they believed and were willing to pay the price for it. The only price ever paid by those who went to Canada and then were allowed to return when the heat was over, was the possible loss of their self respect.

As a young man, I thought the military draft was totally unfair and I was totally opposed to it. I can’t say that the past forty years have necessarily changed my mind about the draft, but I am not nearly as opposed to the idea as I was in the past. Like many others, I am opposed to war, unless it is an absolute last resort. I think that the Iraq war, which began in 2003, is an even more unjust war than our involvement in Vietnam. It appears to me that the spin doctors have presented this war to be about fighting terrorism and a majority of Americans seem to believe it. Vietnam was allegedly about preventing the spread of communism throughout Asia. The theory was that if Vietnam was taken over by communism, so would the rest of Asia. While I do not really agree with this “Domino” theory, it seemed believable to our leaders at the time we became involved in Vietnam.

Students on college campuses throughout the country were mired by protests for years to end the war in Vietnam. College protests to end this war are essentially absent today. Either the spin doctors are far more effective today than they were in the 1960s, the public is just more dispassionate now, or the fact that the wars have been fought by volunteers since the draft ended. The Bush administration and Congress, for that matter, would lead us to believe that there are not widespread protests today because the public believes that the mounting losses in Iraq have been justified and that the public is steadfastly behind the President on his war on Iraq. After three years of war, the President and Congress have seen their approval ratings have finally declined to a point where many are concerned about reelection. It appears to me that even though many people may not believe in the Iraq War, they have no real vested interest in it.

George W. Bush pulled a grandstand stunt by riding in the copilot seat of a Navy S-3 aircraft as it landed aboard a carrier to symbolically mark “the end of the war” in May 2003. It sickens me that the administration’s trumped up war against Iraq, begun in March 2003, has dragged on for years at a horrendous expense in lives and dollars. Even though I believe that the American public must be smart enough to know that there were no “Weapons of Mass Destruction” as the Bush administration sold to the public, there does not seem to be any broad outcry to have the war stopped. Our foreign policy has flipped flopped on what countries are friends and what countries are enemies in the Middle East many times over the past fifty years. Iran and Iraq have been friends then foes many times and it appears that today they are both our enemies. When we went to war with Iraq in 1991, there was almost worldwide support for the victors to remove Saddam Hussein and end his reign of terror against the Iraq people and neighboring countries. Iraq invaded Kuwait and it was alleged that Saddam had or was developing weapons of mass destruction, including nerve gas. The administration, however, decided against going after the Iraq leaders and settled on trade sanctions that ultimately caused the Iraq population suffer and did nothing to affect the government leaders.

College students today do not seem to have any real fear of ever having to serve in the military. Most parents only become concerned about wars if their children have volunteered to serve in the military. I recently heard a young man on TV asserting that while he thought that the losses in Iraq are tragic, those people who volunteered knew what they were getting into when they signed up. I tend to think that many young people volunteer for active duty and reserve components to become employed, which includes benefits and educational opportunities to secure a future, in place of hopelessness. On the other side of the coin, I believe that if the vast majority of voters, politicians, and their families do not have any military experience or concern about anyone close to them serving, they tend to be apathetic about military service and our foreign policy.

I am the first to admit that when I joined the Navy in 1969, most of my motivation was to avoid serving in the Army Infantry in Vietnam. I believe that even the most patriotic among us generally prefer to avoid the role of a soldier in a ground war situation. The existence of the military draft forced me into joining the Navy to avoid the Army. All of my family and friends tried to discourage me from joining the Navy, but without a college deferment, being drafted was a virtual certainty. As I look back on the decision to join the Navy, it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. I cannot imagine how my life would have turned out otherwise. Even if I had only spent four years in the Navy, I still would have experienced enough of military life to make it a very rewarding experience.

Like most everyone else, I found that adapting to military life was initially very difficult. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to survive two months in Boot Camp, much less the four years of active duty that I was obligated to serve. Without realizing it, I think that I learned as much about self-discipline as I did about adapting to military life and military discipline. A career in the military is certainly not for everyone and while I believe that it is our duty to serve our country, I firmly believe that most people gain more by serving than they could ever imagine. The travel, adventure, experience, and benefits aside, virtually everyone could become a little wiser in the ways of the world by serving in the military.

When I served as a Navy recruiter, I encountered numerous high school principals that would not allow recruiters on campus and would not furnish student lists based on their opinion of the military. Virtually all of those principals and often their superintendents had never served in the military. My recruiting tour was from 1978 to 1981 and while much of the resistance to recruiters was based on Vietnam, the general sentiment seems to be that military service is only for kids who cannot get into college or have constantly been in trouble with the law. I see flags flying everywhere, “support our troops” banners on cars, and signs of patriotism everywhere, but the majority of Americans, including our leaders, do not want their children to serve in the military. I have read many articles and editorials about Reservists being activated and how the public feels sorry for them because of poor military pay. These same people do not seem to have even the slightest concern over the active duty military that must always make do on only military pay.

It has been my experience after visiting more than twenty countries around the world that the United States is by far the best place in the world to live and we are so very lucky to have been born here. It seems to me that we would all be served better if there were some type of mandatory military or public service required of all Americans. As drastic as it sounds, I believe that all government entitlements, such as school loans and grants, could be tied completion of mandatory service.

We often take our freedoms for granted. The overused expression “Freedom is not free,” is certainly applicable today. Neither of my daughters, neither of my brothers and only one of my sons-in-law ever served in the military and I believe that they missed out on some priceless life lessons. While it is held that people who do not vote do not have credibility to criticize our politicians, I believe that serving in the military or some type of public service is another fundamental role of being an American. We all seem to enjoy our freedoms and demand that our worldwide interests be protected. The difficulty arises when we relegate these tasks to those who most Americans, especially the privileged, view as incapable of doing anything else with their lives.

– Rick Patterson

As Rick and I were discussing these issues over the weekend I shared how I thought a loss of close-knit neighborhoods due to suburbanization has played a role in society being removed from so many issues. We are physically detached from issues and each other.

Please share your thoughts below.

– Steve


ACC & Urban Review: It’s All Good

June 1, 2006 Books 15 Comments

This morning Dave Drebes, publisher of the Arch City Chronicle, and I sat down for a good old fashioned face-to-face conversation to discuss recent events (see prior post). The meeting was prompted and attended by mutual friend Thomas Crone of 52nd City and numerous other projects.

We had a good conversation and I can report there is no animosity between us. In some respects we agreed to disagree. You’ll see my name appear again in the ACC and most likely you’ll read posts here where I take them to task on their coverage.

Where we all agreed is that dialog and public debate is a good thing.

– Steve


Correcting The Creative Class Story

April 28, 2006 Books 9 Comments

Last June I joined a group of people at the now closed Gallery Urbis Orbis for an interview on St. Louis’ “Creative Class.” It was a fun few hours as we all shared our stories and thoughts on the impact of this group on St. Louis. The article finally made it to the May 2006 issue of St. Louis Magazine.

Unfortunately, among all the people and issues discussed that day, some of the facts are a bit off:

Artist and real estate agent Steve Patterson and his partner, formerly of Seattle, were on their way to New York when they thought, “We saw these beautiful old buildings and thought, ‘This is it: We’re stopping here,'” he recalls. “Now I’ve got other Seattle friends looking to buy here, too.”

While I am a real estate agent I have never been, nor will I ever be, an artist. Art is not my thing although you can’t spend five years in architecture school without being creative. Besides selling real estate I also do free-lance design consultation for everything from simple projects to large residential projects.

And I am not from Seattle. Regular readers know I’m a native of Oklahoma City. I have been to Seattle numerous times. The real story is I was ready to leave Oklahoma as soon as classes were done. My friend Mary Ann had spent the summer in D.C. interning at a way too conservative think tank. We decided to be roommates in D.C. The year was 1990 and unemployment was high as was the cost of living. Mary Ann’s mom lives on Lemp so after we loaded up stuff in Mary Ann’s car we drove up I-44 to St. Louis to stay a couple nights before heading to D.C.

As a kid my family traveled quite a bit but that was mostly to Southern cities in Texas and Florida where my brother, nearly 18 years older than me, was stationed in the U.S. Navy. I had been to large cities in college such as Dallas and Los Angeles but they didn’t call out to me. I even had a trip to Kansas City while I was in college but it didn’t beckon me.

We arrived on a hot Saturday afternoon in August 1990. I was behind the wheel of Mary Ann’s Honda Civic. Just past Kingshighway I began to fall in love. With what? The rows of houses along both sides of I-44, most of which have now been razed for the Botanical Heights vinyl box subdivision. We exited at Arsenal and turned onto Lemp. Benton Park was just getting going at that time so it was still a bit rough but I didn’t mind at all. It didn’t take long for us to walk over to Venice Cafe for a drink. I was sold on St. Louis literally within hours of arriving.

The next day Mary Ann, her mom and a gay couple she knew gave me the tour of the town. We stopped at Ted Drewes on Watson (my only time to that location), walked up and down Euclid, and passed by the buildings on Grand that were being razed for what is now Kinko’s & Bread Co. I knew, after seeing only part of the city, that I was home.

After a short visit to D.C. and a train & bus ride back to Oklahoma I got my trusty Dodge Colt and everything that would fit into it (not much) and returned to St. Louis. Hardly the most methodical way to decide where to live. What if her mom lived in Little Rock or Biloxi? Would I have falling in love with those cities the way I did St. Louis? Probably not.

I just bought the May 2006 issue of St. Louis Mag and haven’t read the Creative Class story yet. I’ve been too busy flipping through the pages of ads for new Bentleys and Rolex watches.

[UPDATE 4/28/06 @ 4pm – St. Louis Magazine called me to let me know they’ve cleaned up the story in the online version which can be read here.]

– Steve