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A bike I can ride?

When I moved downtown in November 2007 I brought two bicycles with me: an urban hybrid and my beloved orange Kronan:

I rode this bike once that Winter before my stroke in February 2008, since then it has served as art in my loft.

In May of 2009 I rode a friend’s tricycle:


The ride was very encouraging. I think I can balance a bike once again, but getting on  the trike required someone to help and involved tipping me over onto grass to get off the trike.  My orange bike is a one size fits all and the bar was always a challenge for me.  Sadly, I’ll never again ride that bike.  So I plan to sell it and my hybrid so I can buy this bike:

At first glance you might think this is a woman’s bike, but as more and more active adults seek ways to stay active bikes like this one from Biria’s EZ Boarding Series may help fill a void. Old ideas about what bikes men & women ride are going away.  I’d rather deal with snickers from a few rather than not be able to cycle. The nearest dealer is in Chicago so on my next visit I will take my helmet and schedule a test ride. Hopefully by this time next year you will see me tooling about downtown on this bike.

– Steve Patterson


TO EXIT: depress red button and push door simultaneously

Leaving a parking garage recently I encountered a security measure I hadn’t faced since my stroke.

But there was the sign, just push the button and the door at the same time.   My left hand isn’t too useful and in my right is my cane.  I often hold the cane with the left while I do things with my right hand.  I ended up leaning against the door handle then pressing the red button with my right to exit onto the sidewalk.  So much in society assumes all are able bodied.

– Steve Patterson


Stroke recovery as a model for cities

February 1, 2010 Steve Patterson 6 Comments
ABOVE: Steve Patterson on April 4, 2008.
ABOVE: Steve Patterson on April 4, 2008.

Two years ago today, at a month shy of age 41, my life changed dramatically:  not long after 4pm I had a hemorrhagic stroke – a vein in the right side of my brain burst and began bleeding in my skull.  Within 10 minutes I had to lower myself to my floor so I wouldn’t fall.  I was unable to get to my phone to summon help and my left side was quickly paralyzed.  I wasn’t sure what was happening.  One thing I knew was I was likely to die if I didn’t get help.   Somehow I managed to live and fifteen hours later a worried friend came to my loft and found me curled up in a ball on my floor.

These past two years I’ve had an amazing recovery although I am still disabled and I still have setbacks (such as falling 2 weeks ago).  As I’ve worked to rebuild my left side I have thought how my process can be applied to cities such as St. Louis.

St. Louis, like many older cities, hemorrhaged population for decades. In the last decade (2000-2009) the population bleeding stopped but the total loss has been steep.  Like me, cities could no longer function as they had before.  Time to begin the urban therapy.

Two years ago I was left handed, now I’m right handed.  The portion of my brain that controlled the left side of my body was lost forever.  In therapy I learned I had to rewire my brain so the surviving cells would take on the function of controlling my left side.  At first I awkwardly used my right hand to eat and brush my teeth. Like cities that look back and think “if only” I thought I’d one day get back the full use of my left hand as a left handed person.  I was so wrong.  I do use my left hand now and I push myself to do as much as I can with it as I know that is the only way it will get stronger.

Cities have been in the same situation, a stroke of massive population job losses.  This lost left cities unable to function as they had before.  But our therapy for cities has been hoping they’d regain lost function.  As I know function does return.  I can walk again but I can’t run, skip or ride a bike – yet.

Cities need to start with the basics, one step at a time.  Cities need to examine what no longer works and what can come back first.  In stroke therapy they leg returns before the arm.  Fingers come back very late.  I can barely move my left ankle and I still can’t move my toes on my left foot.  Cities, I think, have been trying to move their big toe rather than get their leg back first.

The therapy I would suggest for cities is to focus on minimal basics needed to function, focus on what makes a city a city.  Walkable.  Parking is on the street or behind buildings. Density higher than the edge.

By design a core city is very different than the ex-urban fringe.  One is old and one is young.  Age does matter.  I’ve met older stroke survivors that have a harder time regaining function.  Another factor is how quickly you get help. Older cities that haven’t had help for a long time are more a challenge.

It has been a long & hard two years — considerable effort on my part as well as many others.  I have years of work remaining and so does St. Louis.

– Steve Patterson


Thankful to be a stroke survivor

November 26, 2009 Steve Patterson 4 Comments

For nearly two years now I’ve been thankful every day that I am a stroke survivor.  That moment when you are certain your life will soon be over is surreal.  When I awoke from sedation in ICU almost a month later just the idea of still being alive was more important than the fact I couldn’t move my left side and that I had a tracheotomy to enable me to breath while I was on a ventilator.  Early on I was so very thankful the doctors didn’t reinsert the speaking valve after I removed it in my first days awake.

I’ve adjusted to my physical limitations.  It helps that each day, week, month my physical limitations are fewer.  In a way I am thankful for having had a stroke.  That may sound weird but it helped me lose 80 lbs.  I have become a more organized, focused person as a result.  As a disabled person I will be a better urban planner. Accessibility is not just minimum widths from guidelines for me — it is very real.

I’m thankful for my family, friends and all of you that read this blog.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

– Steve Patterson


I’m Honored, Best Blog 2009

September 30, 2009 Site Info, Steve Patterson 7 Comments

For the fifth year in a row UrbanReviewSTL has been honored to make the annual RFT Best Of issue.  For 2009 this blog was named by the editors of the Riverfront Times as the Best Blog in St. Louis (link).

Previous recognition:

  • Best Civic-Minded Blog, 2005
  • Reader’s Choice for Best Blog, 2006, 2007, 2009

Thank you to the RFT editors and to all of you, the readers.

I do want to correct one sentence from their flattering piece, “In 2008 Patterson had a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side.” While my left side was paralyzed following the stroke, that is no longer the case today.  Tomorrow marks the 20 month anniversary of my stroke and I’ve been working hard to build new connections between my brain and my left side.   My brain once again controls my left side — shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers, hip, knee and ankle.  Not toes, though.  I did have a nasty fall in August, fracturing my left arm at the wrist.  Full recovery takes many years but I’m well on my way.

Thanks again for reading!

– Steve Patterson