Home » Loughborough Commons » Recent Articles:

Understanding the Needs of Pedestrians

This week I’ve hit Loughborough Commons pretty hard with my criticisms over their lack of any pedestrian accommodations from the public street to the front door of Schnuck’s, Lowe’s and most likely the rest of the retail spaces. The City, including Ald. Matt Villa, is also at fault here for not having higher standards. It is not about the aesthetics of the building(s) but how people get to and from them. I wanted to share some information to help understand some of these issues, the needs of pedestrians.

The following is brief list of some online sources for more reading on the subject of pedestrian friendly/walkable communities. [Note: If you are a member of the Board of Aldermen or with Desco you probably need to read each of these so you can get caught up]
Walkable Communities
Smart Growth Online: Creating Walkable Communities
Sierra Club: Livable Communities
Walking Info: How to Develop a Pedestrian Action Safety Plan

And finally the Project for Public Spaces. Fred Kent and his staff are simply amazing at communicating why spaces should be built for people and how to get there. This non-profit is probably the leading group in the world working to improve public space (and streets are public space). They also work to improve private spaces such as corporate plazas and shopping areas.

The Project for Public Spaces got their start as research assistants with the legendary William H. Whyte:

In 1969 Whyte assisted the New York City Planning Commission in drafting a comprehensive plan for the city. Having been critically involved in the planning of new city spaces, he came to wonder how these spaces were actually working out. No one had researched this before. He applied for and received a grant to study the street life in New York and other cities in what became known as the Street Life Project. With a group of young research assistants, and camera and notebook in hand, he conducted pioneering studies on pedestrian behavior and breakthrough research on city dynamics.All told, Whyte walked the city streets for more than 16 years. As unobtrusively as possible, he watched people and used time-lapse photography to chart the meanderings of pedestrians. What emerged through his intuitive analysis is an extremely human, often amusing view of what is staggeringly obvious about people’s behavior in public spaces, but seemingly invisible to the inobservant.

Whyte’s last book before his death in 1999, City: Rediscovering the Center, is a classic. First published in 1989 I bought it just as I was leaving architecture school. The insights this man discovers through years of painstaking research is so enlightening. The sad reality is he is not required reading for most architects, planners, civil engineers or aldermen. Our built environment continues to be lacking as a result.

But one not need read Whyte’s detailed research to know much of what needs to be done to make St. Louis more livable. All you need to do is walk places yourself — what streets do you like walking on and which do you not? My guess is you’ll take say Euclid in the West End over Hampton at I-44. And when you walk do you follow the path or do you take the shortest route even if that means walking on grass? Look around and you’ll see worn grass around City Hall, Gravois Plaza and other places where sidewalks are either in the wrong places or lacking altogether.

None of this is new information. None of it is anything I’ve dreamed up on my own. None of this is rocket science. In fact, it is largely simple common sense. Yet, we are failing miserably to recognize basic human behavior.

I can look at many developments from the 1950s and newer and see failings. I don’t talk about past projects much as they were a product of their era when we first fell in love with the automobile, pedestrians be damned. But over time we’ve learned society went too far and ruined spaces for people. We have the knowledge of how to balance seemingly conflicting criteria — make spaces interesting for people and still accept the reality of the car but our elected officials and developers simply don’t get it.

My expectations for a brand new project that included some public financing, took 18 homes and moved a mountain of dirt is indeed high. In the case of Loughborough Commons, they didn’t even meet my lowest expectation of connectedness to the city. Our city will not grow and prosper based on such shoddy planning and development practices.

– Steve


Pedestrians Walking to Loughborough Commons Despite Lack of Internal Sidewalks

IMG_4742.jpgLook, pedestrians from adjacent areas walking from the store! See, not everyone drives a car for every errand they must do.

But look close at the image, the silver Grand Am pulling into Loughborough Commons is in the left turn exit to avoid hitting the pedestrians who are walking in the entrance lane. What would have happened if a car leaving L.C. intended to turn left? Would these cars have hit head on? Would the silver Pontiac swerve and risk hitting the pedestrians? A brand new $40 million project should not have elementary design flaws such as this.

This couple walked westbound along Loughborough.

… Continue Reading


Schnuck’s Opens in Loughborough Commons, Pedestrians Unwelcomed.

IMG_4701.jpgYesterday I brought you an image from the new Loughborough entrance to Loughborough Commons. I showed how no provisions were being made to allow people to walk from the public sidewalk along the street to the front door of the new Schnucks, the Lowe’s and other smaller retail buildings yet to be constructed.

Apparently Ald. Villa is taking exception to my statements and has indicated, to others, pedestrian access will be provided. He also suggested people should question where they get their information, implying I’m misleading the facts. Of course, my photos do a good job of documenting the reality of what is built and you are also free to attempt to walk to the Schnuck’s yourself. In fact, I may just organize such an event — walking to the neighborhood grocery store.

But, I want to share a few more images that I took today during the grand opening. First, the image at right is the bottom of the hill as you enter from Loughborough. As you can see, the grass is planted and no curb cuts are in place. If they come back and remove grass and add curb cuts for sidewalks it will only be as an afterthought.

To Matt Villa and/or the Schnuck’s family:
Show me the drawings indicating your plans for pedestrian access. I will gladly publish them here for all to see.

The right hand drive coming into Loughborough Commons is for trucks to access the docks for the Schnuck’s store. Among the pictures on Flickr you can see this area.

… Continue Reading


Loughborough Commons Fails to Accommodate Pedestrians

No real surprise but the sprawl-centric new shopping center being constructed in the City of St. Louis lacks pedestrian connections. Loughborough Commons is the lowest form of development, suitable only for an auto-only exurb. Such clearly anti-urban development has no place in an established core of a region where pedestrians do exist.

And before the sprawl apologists tell me we need the sales tax revenue that Lowe’s and Schnuck’s will generate please read carefully:

It is entirely possible to construct sidewalks in and around big box stores. The big box and pedestrian access are not mutually exclusive. Just because you may not walk to the store does not mean we should prevent, by design, others from doing so. Got it?

But to developers like Desco the concept of pedestrians is completely foreign. Desco, if you will recall, is one of the developers that razed the historic Century Building in downtown St. Louis to construct a parking garage next door to the Old Post Office building. The argument was people using the Old Post Office needed an adjacent parking garage — they could not walk a block or two from numerous other garages or MetroLink. And if you take a look at many of the Schnuck’s they’ve built all over the region you’ll see pretty much the same thing — zero planning for pedestrians.

Using the same decades-old development formula in various sprawl areas is hard to question. With the various areas of suburbia being so isolated from each other by design it is virtually impossible to walk anywhere except in circles within your gated subdivision. But more urban areas are different. And this is another of those places where people get confused. Urban does not necessarily mean 6-story buildings in a gritty neighborhood. Urban generally means a grid pattern of interconnected streets that affords a high level of pedestrian access and multiple route choices. In this regard, much of suburban communities such as Ferguson, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Maplewood, Alton, Edwardsville and Belleville are “urban.” While technically suburbs they do not, at least in their older areas, invoke the images of suburbia/sprawl. Downtown Webster Groves is more urban than Chesterfield.

So, with older urban municipalities such as Maplewood around the city I personally expect the entire City of St. Louis to be urban in design. Again, this does not mean everything should be high-density housing. Many areas can and should remain as single family and 2-family housing types. The area adjacent to Loughborough Commons is primarily single family homes but it is still very urban in nature — gridded streets that are all connected and walkable (the complete opposite of sprawl which has few access points and numerous streets that end).

Within a mile radius of Loughborough Commons we have over 7,000 households and nearly 17,000 people. That is quite urban relative to our sprawl areas. Granted, people aren’t to walk a mile but they will walk a quarter of a mile. That would still place several thousand people within walking distance of the development. Do we, as a society, really expect someone that can see the project to get in their car and drive to it?

So am I just bitching after the fact? Well, yes and no. I bitched beforehand as well. In fact, I attended and spoke out at the public meeting held on January 25, 2005. This meeting was a bit of a farce. The intention was not to get feedback to create a better project but a chance for Desco and Ald. Villa to say they went to the public. It was a cover your ass meeting. In addition to speaking publicly at the meeting I also talked one on one with Ald Villa and with a representative from Desco’s engineering consultant. Disingenuous claims of “we can’t show sidewalks at this scale of drawing” were said to give me the brush off. However, as I pointed out, they were able to show the thickness of the curb and parking lot strips — they could show sidewalks. The real issue is they didn’t plan any sidewalks. None. Zip. Nada. Not even along Loughborough and Grand where they would be removing existing sidewalks!

Again, this is the lowest form of design. The only way to make it any lower would be if the buildings were constructed only out of concrete blocks or faced with vinyl siding. Desco is basically scraping the bottom of the urban design barrel with Loughborough Commons. Are we as a city and region that desperate for new construction that we are not willing to insist that developers raise their standards just a tad? I’m not saying require a high-density mixed-used project (although that would have been great) but simply to allow a neighbor to walk from their home to the grocery store on a sidewalk. Is that really too much to require? Instead, this neighbor seeking a few items will either have to drive or walk in grass or in the entrances used by cars, SUVS and trucks. Schnuck’s claims to be the friendliest stores in town but walking to them is anything but friendly.

Loughborough Commons --- Main EntranceThis view is looking south from the new main entrance on Loughborough. The new Schnuck’s is down the hill but as you can see they’ve already planted grass next to the entrance. Pedestrians must walk in the drive or on the grass.

The curb cut does show provision for a sidewalk along Loughborough, something not even shown on their original drawings in January 2005. I suppose they assume that people just wander around on main streets but don’t actually walk to destinations such as a friendly neighborhood grocery store.

Loughborough Commons --- Main EntranceTurning to the west we see the curb cut in the foreground for the sidewalk running along Loughborough although at this point it is not clear which side of the massive traffic signal controller the sidewalk will take. My hope is the sidewalk will go to the left so that it is set back from the curb and traffic. This would allow for street trees to be planted, although developments like this usually don’t like trees as they tend to block views of the buildings. The curve of the plantings suggests the sidewalk will be pushed out toward the street and to the right of the traffic control device.

The massive pile of dirt is where homes once stood. I certainly hope a stack of dirt is not the highest and best use of this land.

Loughborough Commons --- Grand Ave EntranceThis is a view of the other entrance to the project, off of South Grand. It should be noted that Grand south of the park and Loughborough is a very residential street — much different than most of Grand.

This is the most convenient entrance to the hundreds of people living immediately adjacent to this project and as you can see the Lowe’s is actually quite close so walking is not unreasonable. However, no provisions have been made for any pedestrians at this entrance — no curb cuts in the new entrance. No sidewalks for pedestrians.

We as a city should be embarrassed that we’ve allowed such a project to be built without even minimal (token) accommodations for pedestrian access. If we want to be a strong urban core city we’ve got to start acting like it at some point.

Prior Posts:

January 25, 2005 (Initial Public Meeting)
June 4, 2005 (Construction Begins)
September 27, 2005 (Alternate Development from Atlanta)
October 4, 2005 (A more Urban Lowe’s with rooftop parking)

– Steve


Loughborough Commons, Eminent Domain and Fairness

Today I was have a “conversation” about Loughborough Commons with another REALTOR® that lives and works in my area. Quick background, the Schnuck’s grocery store wanted to build a new building and create a big shopping center and in the process 12+ homes were bought out and razed. A single family held out — not wanting to move.

This is where our conversation turned to disagreement. We were discussing value — fair market value. He felt it was “unfair” of the family to hold out for a higher price on their family home than what was the “market” value prior to redevelopment and rezoning of the land. I countered that it was unfair they were being forced to sell something they didn’t wish to sell. Furthermore, I stated I thought it was immoral that Desco, Ald. Villa and the City of St. Louis forced this situation upon these families for an outparcel.

When a client comes to me and wants to sell their property my job is to help determine the best price for them relative to their debt, how quickly they wish to sell and what the market will bear. Some property is in more demand than others and prices generally reflect that. If you buy all the homes around me and then want mine I am going to be wise and recognize the value just went up. Developers know the “value” of that land is considerably higher than if located in an area not being targeted for redevelopment.

Developers often will offer 25% more or so above the normal residential assessed value but often this just approaches the true market value. They’ll use scare tactic arguments to suggest all development will stop if we try to curtail these practices but little evidence if offered to back up these claims.

Taking someone’s occupied personal home is unjustifiable. Sure, if it is falling in and they’ve been dragged through every housing court in town I’ll grant you an exception. But in terms of fairness I think preference should be given to home owners, not developers. I always wonder about the people that advocate for developer’s rights in such terms — how they’d feel if it were actually their home being threatened.

Fair is relative but what is fair to me is allow people to not fear their homes being taken away from them at the whim of a developer or sales tax starved municipality.

– Steve