Only 92 Days Until St. Louis’ First Non-Partisan Municipal Election

 

 Another presidential election is behind us…well, most of us. Now it’s time to think about St. Louis’ March 2021 primary.  It began a week ago when filing opened. Here’s a look at the important dates, from the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners: 11/23/20: Filing begins 01/04/21: Filing ends 01/20/21: …

Pandemic St. Louis Style: Policy Fragmentation & Cognitive Dissonance

 

 Early this week the KMOV News (CBS/4.1) had a story on the Jefferson County Health Department approving a mask mandate — and the upset group protesting outside. The very next story was the St. Louis Area Task Force saying hospital beds, including ICU, beds were filling up with COVID-19 patients. …

POLL: Should Missouri’s Governor Mandate Masks?

 

 The COVID-19 pandemic continues, but the response hasn’t been static since the start: The number of states with statewide mask mandates has risen since the summer, when roughly half of states had statewide mandates in place. Today, almost three-fourths of states have a statewide mandate in place. (ABC News) Missouri …

Population Loss in Six North St. Louis Wards

 

 As I pointed out recently, north St. Louis continues experiencing population loss. In my post on the election results I wrote: Despite the increase in registered voters, six contiguous north city wards (1,2,3,4,21,22,27) had decreases in registered voters. These same six also had decreases in 2016. When the 2020 census …

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Post-Election Analysis: Missouri Getting Redder, St. Louis Turnout Declines

November 9, 2020 Featured, Missouri, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Post-Election Analysis: Missouri Getting Redder, St. Louis Turnout Declines
 

One of the big stories from the 2020 election was the huge turnout nationwide.

While more people have voted than at any other time in American history, percentage-wise, this number does not quite break records. Given that around 239.2 million Americans were eligible to vote in 2020, the projected number of voters brings us to a 66.8% turnout rate. This makes 2020 the year with the highest voter turnout since 1900, when Republican William McKinley won reelection with 73.7% turnout.

The highest voter turnout in history was in 1876, when 82.6% of eligible voters cast ballots in the race between Republican Rutherford Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. Hayes eventually won the presidency in a close, contested election. (Town & Country Magazine)

Missouri voters exceeded the national average this election, by a few points.

More than 70% of all registered Missouri voters turned out to vote this election, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft tweeted last night. That’s the highest turnout level in more than 20 years. The 1992 presidential election between Bill Clinton and George George H.W. Bush brought out 78% of registered voters. (St. Louis Public Radio)

The St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners is on the first floor at 300 N. Tucker (@ Olive)

I was curious how we did in the City of St. Louis. Turnout was less than four years ago, and 2016 was less than in 2012. I decided to delve into the data to seek an explanation for the decline in turnout.

Here are my findings:

  • Turnout in 2016 was 69.43%, but 65.05% in 2020.
  • Four wards (10, 13, 23, 24) had slight increases in the percentage of registered voters who voted, the other 24 wards all had declines.
  • Over 12,000 new registered voters compared to 2016, a 6.3% increase! Comparing 2020 to 2012 the increase in registered voters was 4.61%.
  • Despite the increase in registered voters, six contiguous north city wards (1,2,3,4,21,22,27) had decreases in registered voters. These same six also had decreases in 2016. When the 2020 census numbers are released next year we’re going to see population loses in the north side, but increases in the central corridor — the same pattern happened a decade ago. The overall increase in registered voters tells me the overall population loss slowed again or we might even see a very slight increase in population. A loss is more likely. More on this in a future post.
  • In all three (2012, 2016, 2020) some voters in every ward didn’t vote in the presidential race which is first on the ballot. In 2016 a few wards this approached 1% of voters, but in 2020 non exceeded half of one percent. It’s good that voters aren’t skipping down ballot races, though that likely exists too in fewer numbers.

Ok, on to Missouri.

I’ve voted in nine presidential elections, eight of those in Missouri. Democrat Bill Clinton won Missouri in 1992 by 10.15 points. Clinton won Missouri again in 1996, but only by 6.3 points. This was the last time Missouri went blue. Four of the next six elections have been redder than the last. The exceptions are 2008 & this year.

Here is the point spread, all favoring the GOP nominee.

  • 2000: 3.34 points
  • 2004: 7.2 points
  • 2008: 0.13 points (Obama nearly flipped Missouri blue)
  • 2012: 9.38 points
  • 2016: 18.51 points
  • 2020: 15.57 points

Biden this year lost Missouri by a smaller margin than Clinton, but still worse than Obama in 2012. As I said in December 2019: Missouri Is A Solid Red State. A poll in June had some thinking a blue wave would sweep across Missouri.

In total, the poll found that Biden claimed 48 percent of the likely voters in Missouri and Trump claimed 46 percent. “This result is consistent with national polls showing a double-digit Biden lead and state polls showing Biden ahead in other states Donald Trump won in 2016,” pollsters said in a release.

Biden’s campaign did not respond to Newsweek’s request for comment before publication.

“The political environment in Missouri has shifted slightly away from Republicans,” the pollsters concluded. Missouri is not the only battleground state in which recent polls indicate this is true. Earlier this month, election forecasters estimated Biden had an 86 percent advantage over Trump nationally, with his edge in some important swing stages ranging between 2 and 8 percent. Even so, the president has said that he holds a lead in all of the states likely to be critical in the general election’s outcome. (Newsweek)

I was highly skeptical when I saw this poll in late June because Missouri hasn’t been a battleground/swing state for years. It may be in play in the future, but it won’t happen in my lifetime.

— Steve Patterson

Local St. Louis Elections Finally Go Non-Partisan!

November 5, 2020 Featured Comments Off on Local St. Louis Elections Finally Go Non-Partisan!
 

I’ve lived in St. Louis over three decades now and one constant in Spring elections has been races are decided in the March Democratic primary, not the April general election. I’ve spoken out against partisan plurality voting for years now.

The last link above mentioned the effort to collect signatures to get Approval Voting on the ballot — that became Prop D that voters approved yesterday.

Proposition D makes three changes to the voting process for St. Louis city elections.

First, it creates a nonpartisan primary. Second, voters have the ability to approve (or disapprove) of every candidate on the ballot. Finally, the two candidates with the most votes in the primary advance to the general election.

Proposition D was endorsed by Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones, state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, and Rev. Darryl Gray.  (St. Louis American)

At this point I think it would be helpful to explain a few of the many types of voting systems.

Vintage photo of the former offices of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. From my collection

Plurality voting system is what St. Louis has always had:

Plurality system, electoral process in which the candidate who polls more votes than any other candidate is elected. It is distinguished from the majority system, in which, to win, a candidate must receive more votes than all other candidates combined. Election by a plurality is the most common method of selecting candidates for public office. (Britannica

This is the voting system most of our elections in the U.S. use. With two candidates the winner is very clear, unless tied. With three or more candidates the winner doesn’t necessarily have a majority of votes. Say you’ve got a 3-way race and 1,000 voters. Candidate A gets 275 votes, B gets 375 votes, and C gets 350 votes. Nobody has a majority of 501 or more votes. Under our plurality system Candidate B would be the winner by receiving more votes than A or C — even though B didn’t get a majority.

Plurality voting is often manipulated with the addition of one or more spoiler candidates to dilute the opposition to the establishment’s preferred candidate.  The spoiler(s) ensures the well-funded candidate backed by the establishment receives more votes than the candidate in second place, even if just one more vote.

Approval voting that won yesterday takes a different approach.

Approval Voting is a single-winner voting method in where a voter can approve of any number of candidates. The candidate that gets the most approval votes wins office. This would help eliminate some of the disadvantages third party candidates have. They no longer would be splitting the vote and voters will be more likely to throw their support behind someone they don’t think it will be wasted on. (Follow my vote) See video.

Let’s use our same example from above to explain how this will work in St. Louis. So we have a 3-way race and 1,000 voters. A third vote for all three candidates (999 votes), a third votes for two candidates (666 votes), and the rest vote for one candidate (334 votes). This example means there are 1,999 total votes among our three candidates. Candidate A gets 500 votes, B gets 750, and C gets 699 — a very close second. In our new system Candidate A would be eliminated and candidates B & C would face each other in a runoff. The winner of the runoff might be B, might be C. We do know the final winner will have a majority of votes as it is a 2-way race.

As former alderman Antonio French recently pointed out, Approval Voting is also subject to manipulation. Even non-manipulative voters have to decide if they vote for one or more candidates.

Approval voting forces voters to face an initial voting tactical decision as to whether to vote for (or approve) of their second-choice candidate or not. The voter may want to retain expression of preference of their favorite candidate over their second choice. But that does not allow the same voter to express preference of their second choice over any other. One simple situation in which Approval strategy is important is if there is a close election between two similar candidates A and B and one distinct one Z, in which Z has 49% support. If all of Z’s supporters approve just him, in hopes of him getting just enough to win, then supporters of A are faced with a tactical choice of whether to approve A and B (getting one of their preferred choices but having no say in which) or approving just A (possibly helping choose her over B, but risking throwing the election to Z). B’s supporters face the same dilemma. (Wikipedia)

The voting system that I’ve been promoting for years is Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV).

A ranked-choice voting system (RCV) is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. (Ballotpedia)

RCV is hardly new.

The first U.S. city to adopt at-large ranked choice voting for its city council was Ashtabula, Ohio in 1915. During the first half of the 20th century, ranked choice voting spread rapidly as part of the progressive movement. At its peak, some two-dozen cities adopted it, including Cincinnati, Cleveland, Boulder, Sacramento, and even New York City. New York City continued to use ranked choice voting for its school board until 2002 when those school boards were abolished.

As the progressive era transitioned into a period characterized by racial tensions and fear of communism, at-large ranked choice voting became a victim of its own success. In Cincinnati, ranked choice voting enabled the election of two African American city council members in the 1950’s. In 1951, African American attorney Theodore M. Berry won with the highest percent of the vote, which ordinarily would result in him becoming mayor. Instead, the city council chose one of the white councilmen to become mayor. Finally, Cincinnati repealed ranked choice voting in 1957 in the fifth Republican-led repeal attempt. Following civil unrest stemming from racial tensions in the 1960’s, the Kerner Commission cited the repeal of ranked choice voting and its effect on African American representation as one cause of the city’s violence.

Similarly, in New York City, ranked choice voting cut off the stranglehold previously held by the Democratic Party in the city. In the last election before adoption of choice voting, Democrats won 99.5% of the seats on the Board of Alderman with only 66.5% of the vote. Under ranked choice voting in 1941, Democrats won 65.5% of the seats with 64% of the vote, a much fairer result. However, ranked choice voting enabled representation of minor parties, including members of the Communist Party. During the Cold War, the Democratic Party took advantage of fears of communism to make a successful push for repeal of ranked choice voting. That repeal successfully prevented the election of communists to the city council, along with members of all other minor parties, but it also brought back an era of unrepresentative elections to New York City. (FairVote)

I suspect the group that got Prop D onto our ballot went with Approval Voting rather than RCV because our existing voting equipment can be used. I don’t think our paper ballots or machines could do RCV. This is just an assumption on my part.

Maine voters used RCV in Tuesday’s election, but Massachusetts voters rejected a measure to switch to RCV.  Next Spring we’ll get to try out our new approval+runoff system as the mayoral race already has at least three candidates. I’m just thrilled the election will be non-partisan.

It’s not clear to me if the ward Democratic committee will have any influence when an alderman resigns from office. Currently the Democratic central committee (committee men & women from all wards) select who will be the Democratic nominee, usually that ward’s committeeman or committeewoman.  Others could run, but voters almost always pick the Democrat.

Also note this doesn’t apply to the eight (8) “county” offices: Circuit Attorney, Circuit Clerk, Collector of Revenue, License Collector, Public Administrator, Recorder of Deeds, Sheriff, and Treasurer.

It’s a new era in St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

This Blog’s Sweet 16, Plus My Cancer Treatment Is Working Well

October 31, 2020 Featured, Site Info, Steve Patterson Comments Off on This Blog’s Sweet 16, Plus My Cancer Treatment Is Working Well
 

It’s Halloween which means it’s the anniversary of this blog — the 16th to be specific! What a year it has been since the last anniversary.

Site plan of MLS stadium occupying the former 22nd Street interchange right of way.

Here’s an incomplete list:

  • Design for MLS stadium unveiled
  • Properties owned by T.E.H. Properties a major problem
  • Metro announced changes coming to the CWE MetroLink station, include a moved elevator and wider stairs.
  • Missouri began issuing licenses for medical marijuana cultivators, dispensaries, etc.
  • Controversy over Paul McKee’s plan to name his 3-bed urgent care facility at the former Pruitt-Igoe site Homer G. Phillips. This was the name of the former African-American teaching hospital in the Ville neighborhood.
  • The effort to privatize our airport was suddenly ended.
  • Efforts were still underway to build a hyperloop to connect St. Louis & Kansas City. Months later this came to a halt when another project was selected for a hyperloop.
  • The XFL began playing and St. Louis fans loved having football again. The XFL shutdown completely shortly after it began, filed for bankruptcy protection, was bought out of bankruptcy and new owners plan to restart it in 2022.
  • Larry Arnowitz resigned as alderman, was indicted for personal use of campaign funds.
  • The city shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic began, it reopened months later. The region has had a myriad of restrictions. Infection & hospitalization rates have been a roller coaster.
  • The Eads Bridge pedestrian walkway west entrance was finally repaired, once again accessible.
  • Work began on the windowless north addition of the former Post-Dispatch building, it’ll be the new main entrance when Square’s St. Louis offices move from Cortex to the renovated building.
  • Black Lives Matter protests began nationwide.
  • Progressive activist Cori Bush defeated 10-term congressman Lacy Clay in the August 2020 primary.
  • Our expansion MLS team announced their name: St. Louis CITY S.C.
  • Late night racing in downtown streets and the Eads Bridge prompted temporary closures, changes.
  • Medical marijuana sales began in Missouri.

A year ago at this time I was having tests done to confirm what my primary physician saw in my annual physical chest x-ray. His suspicions were correct: cancer. Specifically stage IV kidney cancer. In cancers Stage IV means the cancer has spread beyond where it originated.

Before my treatment began tests were showing the tumors/lesions rapidly increasing in size. From the first scans after the first treatment we knew it was working — all the tumors had stopped growing. Ideally you want them to shrink and go away, but not growing is good.

Nothing specific to see here, I can’t find the clear left/right difference images the way my oncologist can.
Another bone scan & CT scan on Monday, then every 12 weeks.

The following are excerpts from my most recent CT scan 7 weeks ago. Summary (1-4), followed by detail. I’ve added translation in brackets, the emphasis in main text is mine:

1. Bilateral renal masses, left greater than right which are similar
to the prior examination.

2. Metastasis to the mediastinum [membrane between lungs] and hilar region [entry/exit to lungs] The right hilar metastasis is slightly smaller. The rest of the mediastinal [between sternum, spine, lungs] metastasis are stable.

3. Right upper lobe pulmonary [lungs] metastasis which is smaller.

4. Large right posterolateral [back, side] chest wall mass which is stable, with
destruction of the adjacent ribs 7 and 8.

CHEST: Noted again are innumerable metastasis throughout the chest.
Bulky lymphadenopathy seen throughout the mediastinum.

Large heterogeneous masses are seen within the thyroid gland, right
greater than left, stable.

Large right paratracheal lymphadenopathy measures 6.5 x 4.5 cm,
similar to the prior examination. Lower in the mediastinum, there is
a right pretracheal mass that measures 6.7 x 6.6 cm on image 56,
previously measuring 7 cm x 6.6 cm. Left hilar metastasis measures 4
cm x 3.4 cm, previously measuring 4.7 x 3.5 cm. Additional right
hilar and subcarinal metastasis are seen. The right hilar mass
measures 5 cm x 3 cm, previously measuring 5.3 x 4.3 cm.

There is a very large multiloculated hypervascular mass in the right
chest wall, which measures 14 cm x 11 cm, similar to the prior exam.
There is no pericardial effusion. There is no pleural effusion.

Lung windows: Within the anterior segment of the right upper lobe,
there is a 2.3 x 1. 2 cm mass, which previously measured 3.8 x 2.6
cm
. Unchanged 6 mm left lower lobe pulmonary nodule.

ABDOMEN:

Noted again is a very large heterogeneous mass in the left kidney
compatible with renal cell carcinoma. Multiple collaterals are seen
medial to the mass. Overall, this mass appears stable.

Several exophytic smaller masses are seen arising from the right
kidney, also stable. There is an inferior vena caval filter in
place.

Bones: Spine is normal. The sternum is normal. Multiple destructed
ribs are seen embedded within the previously noted posterior chest
right chest wall mass.

Still reading? In short I’ve got lots of tumors, but two have shrank in size — this is the first time I’ve had a scan that showed any shrinkage. I have several ribs that are destroyed because of a large tumor.

What does all this mean? It means my chances of being part of the 12% to survive at least five years have improved.  I’m participating in a clinical trial, but I don’t know if the medication I take each night are placebo or the drug being tested on kidney cancer. I get an intravenous drug every month that’s routinely used for kidney cancer. The clinical trial is trying to determine if the combination of the IV and the nightly pill are effective in treating kidney cancer, it is already proven to work with other cancers.

The bottom line is I’ll always have cancer, treatment is about extending my lifespan. A year ago I wasn’t sure I’d make the 16th anniversary of this blog. Today I expect to celebrate another anniversary a year from now.

— Steve Patterson

Decade Since The Failed 14th Street Pedestrian Mall Was Reopened in Old North St. Louis

October 29, 2020 Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Pedestrian Mall Comments Off on Decade Since The Failed 14th Street Pedestrian Mall Was Reopened in Old North St. Louis
 

It has now been a decade since a 33-year mistake was corrected. During the 1960s & 1970s removing a street to create a “pedestrian mall” was a magic bullet tried by cities coast to coast. Almost fall failed.

In the early 1970s North 14th Street merchants began looking for solutions to a decline in sales as residents of the surrounding near north neighborhood left for better housing elsewhere.

From a May 1972 Washington University graduate thesis

The solution, they thought, was to mall 14th Street. Some buildings behind the street were razed to create large surface parking lots, so former residents could drive back to their old neighborhood to shop at chains like JC Penny & Woolworth’s and local businesses like Sobel’s Furniture.

Open air and enclosed malls were attracting more and more customers so remaking a decades-old neighborhood shopping district to emulate suburban malls would attract customers. Well, that was the theory that led to hundreds of streets nationwide being malled.

More like mauled.

The new 2-block long mall opened on March 2, 1977.  Two blocks of North 14th Street were closed to vehicles, from Warren Street on the south to St. Louis Ave on the north. The one cross street, Montgomery Street, was also closed. See current map.

By the time I first saw it in the Fall of 1990 very few businesses remained.

Looking south on 14th, Spring 1991

By the Spring of 1991 I was living in the Murphy-Blair neighborhood, the local group was working to rename it Old North St. Louis. The neighborhood located just north of downtown St. Louis was a separate village 1816-1841, when it was annexed by a growing St. Louis.

Two business that were were just beyond the mall were Marx Hardware (Est 1875) and Crown Candy Kitchen (Est 1913), both are still in business.

I left the neighborhood in August 1994, but others finally figured out how to put together a project to both renovate the buildings that remained and put back the street. I applaud all involved for their perseverance.

The ribbon cutting was held on July 29, 2010

After the ribbon cutting & celebration traffic didn’t immediately begin driving up & down 14th Street. The new streetlights were delayed, so the city’s Streets Dept wouldn’t let cars use the new street. Within a few months the lights and a few other punch list items were completed.

The former Woolworth’s at 14th & Montgomery in 2010.

In the decade since the reopening new occupants of the  storefronts have changed, retail is a struggle everywhere. The spaces aren’t empty, which is important.  The street trees have matured nicely.

Old North Provisions diagonally across from Crown Candy Kitchen in August. Click image to see their website in a new tab.

Some say the mall helped keep these buildings from being destroyed, but I think had the mall not been built the street might have been slowly brought back one business at a time, like others in St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

KC Nonprofit Proposes Tiny House Village In North St. Louis To Assist Homeless Veterans

October 22, 2020 Featured, Homeless, North City, Planning & Design Comments Off on KC Nonprofit Proposes Tiny House Village In North St. Louis To Assist Homeless Veterans
 

Homelessness is a problem coast to coast — in big cities and in small towns, in downtowns and in the suburbs. Often it’s invisible, other times it’s too visible. One of the groups who find themselves homeless are our veterans, men & women who served our country but then fell through the big holes in what’s left of our safety nets.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Roughly 45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.

Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.

America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions. (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans)

The above organization lists some stunning statistics:

DEMOGRAPHICS OF HOMELESS VETERANS

  • 11% of the homeless adult population are veterans
  • 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
  • 68% reside in principal cities
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
  • 50% have serious mental illness
  • 70% have substance abuse problems
  • 57% are white males, compared to 38% of non-veterans
  • 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans

It should be clear that homeless veterans are a big group. Programs to assist the general population might help some, but a targeted approach will yield better results.

Veteran homelessness is related to another problem: veteran suicide.

Veterans with a history of homelessness are five times more likely to attempt suicide than other veterans, a new study by researchers at Yale and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has found. (Yale)

The solution to homelessness appears to be getting them off the street and treatment for issues like substance abuse. Such treatment won’t work while on the street looking for their next meal or where to sleep. Housing becomes the key, but what kind?

Tents for homeless, downtown St. Louis in April

In the past SROs (single room occupancy) were an important housing option, but these have mostly disappeared. Tent cities are an option, but those lack privacy, showers, etc. Tent encampments are often run off from the land where they spring up. Five years ago a group opened Freedom House, a renovated apartment building, for homeless veterans. See Housing For Homeless Veterans Nearing Completion At 4011 Delmar.

A relatively new nonprofit, based in Kansas City, is trying a solution other cities have utilized: tiny houses. Veterans Community Project (VCP) now want to expand into St. Louis, focused on helping veterans with anything they need. Apparently accessing services available through the Veterans Administration (VA) isn’t easy, so they help veterans navigate the bureaucracy. They can also help veterans get other services outside those offered through the VA. And 50 tiny houses will give the men & women the security & stability they need to rebuild their lives.

At the land dedication event on friday a couple of speakers mentioned eradicating the problem of homeless veterans in Missouri. Sounds good, but homeless veterans exist outside of the Kansas City & St. Louis metro areas. While I’m skeptical about any claim to eradicate homelessness, this project will potentially make a significant dent in our total homeless population.

Let me walk you through their proposed project, then I’ll share a few areas of concern.

Located on a 5-acre property in the heart of the Jeff Vander Lou neighborhood, the Veterans Community Project campus includes a village of tiny houses for Veterans experiencing homelessness and a Veterans Outreach Center to provide walk-in support services for any Veteran in the St. Louis metro area.

VCP Village

VCP Village is a specialized community of 50 tiny homes with on-site, wraparound support services designed to equip Veterans with the tools needed to return to a stable, prosperous, independent life.

Each tiny house provides everything a Veteran needs to live with dignity and security; new furniture, appliances, housewares, bedding, personal items, and utilities – all free of charge. The homes offers sanctuary and the emotional space needed for each Veteran and VCP’s specially-trained team to thoroughly address the underlying causes of his or her homelessness.
With the support of their case managers and battle buddies, Veterans work to achieve incremental, lasting results in the areas of health and wellness, income stability, education and training, fiscal understanding, and the development of a personal support network. Once the Veteran’s individual goals are met, VCP assists him or her in securing a permanent housing solution and transitioning to a new life. 

The Veterans Outreach Center

Located on Grand Ave, the Veterans Outreach Center is a “one-stop” shop for any Veteran requiring support services such as emergency rent and utility assistance, food and hygiene kits, employment supports, military documentation and benefits navigation, and case management.

The project is modeled after VCP’s Kansas City model which has already served more than 4,100 at-risk Veterans and successfully transitioned more than 40 formerly homeless Veterans into permanent housing since its opening in 2018. (VCPSTL)

You can see an early construction aerial of their KC village here, so let’s take a look at their St. Louis proposal.

Three groupings of tiny houses would face a central area, to create the village feel.
They want to build on 3 areas around Aldine Ave & Spring Ave, west of Grand (right). Their Outreach Center is on the right, at Grand. The yellow building on the left is the village community center.

There’s a lot to like about their proposal:

  • The services to veterans seems very important, even if not homeless. Too many serving the homeless offer just one part of what they need, sending them off to find the rest. This will hopefully result in a higher success rate.
  • It’s close to the VA Hospital on Grand.
  • The number of separate structures is roughly equal to what was here in 1909 (See Sanborn map).
  • Tiny houses can be on wheels, modular, or built on site. This is the latter. These are permanent structures.
  • Tiny houses are psychologically better than other transitional options because they immediately help the individual see themselves living in their own place, independent of others. It’s a baby step toward an apartment.
  • Case managers will help keep these vets on track.
  • There’s no rent, no limit how long they can stay.
  • Ugly mostly vacant lots backed up to auto salvage businesses aren’t likely to be used for anything, especially new housing.
  • No public streets vacated!

Obviously I’m a believer in tiny houses for transitional housing for the homeless, but I do have a problem with a couple of things and I have some suggestions.

Grand Boulevard is our longest north-south corridor, with the busiest bus route (#70). Pedestrians use the bus, and as part of an urban area all new construction along Grand should be urban in placement and massing. First, here’s how they plan to face Grand.

 

Unfortunately they’ve shown the outreach center building set back behind parking, rather than up to the public sidewalks. It also requires 3 driveways interrupting the sidewalk. Very suburban design, totally inappropriate for an urban neighborhood with heavy pedestrian use.
This is easily addressed by designing the building to be located at the corner, with the entrance directly on the Grand sidewalk. Ideally it would be 2-stories, or 1-story with a raised roof area at the corner.

Rather than a curb cut leading to a garage door, this function should be off the parking lot — not interrupting the public sidewalk. The sidewalk along Grand should be as wide as possible, with tree wells, not tree lawns. This allows people who arrive by car to park in the parking lane and then step onto pavement, not grass. Same for the Aldine Ave side of the building.

From both streets you see the blank backs of the houses — no eyes on the streets.
3708 Aldine Ave will be razed. It was built in 1889. In the last decade two wood frame houses to the right were razed. At least this block has a history of different heights and materials.

In addition to the above issues I have some suggestions to improve the project.

  • Make the Aldine Ave 2-way as shown on the site plan.
  • Corner curb bulbs to narrow streets, slow drivers. Also reduces the crossing distance, adds planter opportunities.
  • Add some bioswales/rain gardens to Aldine Ave to catch water and reduce the amount of paving. With parking lanes Aldine Ave is too wide.
  • Plan for internal walkways to alleys so residents can take their trash/recycling to the dumpsters.

The main thing I’d like to see is the outreach center building be up against the Grand sidewalk — not pushed back behind parking.

— Steve Patterson

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