New Book: ‘Case Studies in Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Strategies for Urgent Challenges’ by June Williamson & Ellen Dunham-Jones

 

 One of the most important issues facing regions in the coming decades will be the enormous amount of land around the inner core that was developed in a manner that exacerbates current & future problems. Suburbia everywhere will need to be retrofitted. In 2009 I posted about a new book …

Thoughts on St. Louis’ First Non-Partisan General Election

 

 In November we passed non-partisan “approval voting” for local elections. Last month the top two in multi-candidate races in the primary advanced to Tuesday’s general. It appears to have worked well. Some races the candidate with the most votes in the primary went on to win the general, others the …

Nonprofit Run By Hubbard Family To Renovate Long-Vacant Carr School

 

 Carr Square Tenant Management head Rodney Hubbard Sr. will announce later today that the nonprofit will finally renovate the crumbling Carr School. After collecting fees from & suing actual developers, the Hubbard family is going to put on the developer hat. Securing permits won’t be a problem because Rodney’s daughter …

The St. Louis Region Needs a Moratorium Stopping Construction of New Gas Stations

 

 Earlier this month a city in Northern California has done what other municipalities should do: ban the construction of new gas stations. The city of Petaluma has become the first in the nation to ban the construction of new gas stations in the city, as part of its aggressive goal to …

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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

My Absentee Ballot Has Been Received

October 17, 2020 Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on My Absentee Ballot Has Been Received
 

As a disabled voter I’ve been on the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners absentee ballot list for years. However, they don’t just mail me a ballot. They mail a ballot request form which must be signed and returned. Once received, they mail the ballot to me.

New this year is a tracking feature.

I tracked it the day after I mailed off my completed ballot, knowing it wouldn’t have been received yet.
I waited a week to check again and there was the proof my ballot arrived.

I vote as soon as I can I’m never worried about my ballot arriving on time, but it’s nice to see proof it did. If only there was a 4th check box to know when my ballot has been opened and scanned.

— Steve Patterson

Landscaping That Narrowed Public Sidewalk Cut Back

October 8, 2020 Featured Comments Off on Landscaping That Narrowed Public Sidewalk Cut Back
 

In the nearly 16 years I’ve been blogging I’ve written a lot about sidewalks, and items that can block them. Examples include parked cars in driveways, dumpsters, cafe tables & chairs, business signs, etc. Today’s item narrowing a sidewalk is…was…landscaping.

I use 7th Street often when heading into downtown. For the nearly two years we’ve lived in the Columbus Square neighborhood I’ve been frustrated by one spot where shrubs had been allowed to grow over the public sidewalk for years.

June 11, 2019: my first photo months after moving. With the shrub and the light post the sidewalk gets unnecessarily narrowed. When meeting a person going the opposite direction someone has to stop to let the other pass.
July 3, 2020: more than a year later, though the same car is parked on 7th Street. I looked online for a way to contact the church other than by a voice call, no luck.
August 15, 2020: the next month, from the other side. Yes, same car. On the 29th I tweeted this photo to the Citizen’s Service Bureau (CSB) to complain.
August 30, 2020: I didn’t expect action by the next day, but I did take another photo.
October 1, 2020: The full width of the sidewalk!
October 1, 2020: you can see the discoloration of the sidewalk where the shrub covered it for so long.
October 2, 2020: it doesn’t look good, not sure if leaves will fill in.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just use the other side of 7th, west instead of east.  The answer is simple. Pedestrians can’t cross Cole Street from the west side of 7th Street. I suppose able-bodied pedestrians can do so even though there aren’t crosswalks or pedestrian signals. I, however, using a power wheelchair, can’t. Crossing Cole Street is dangerous enough in official crosswalks with a walk signal — motorists routinely fly through red lights.

But I could get to Cole then cross 7th Street, right?

Technically, yes. The crosswalk between the east and west sides of 7th on the north side of Cole Street is one of the roughest I’ve encountered in the city.  A second runner up is the east-west crosswalk at 9th Street on the south side of Cole Street. I have to avoid these to prevent my 12 year old wheelchair from getting shaken apart.

I tried contacting the church tenant, but what about the landlord. The owner is Northside Regeneration, AKA Paul McKee.

As indicated above, I turned to the city’s CSB. A month later they came through. It’s wonderful when a problem gets resolved, but there are too many to report them all.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis Businesses Ordered To Shut Down — 102 Years Ago Today

October 7, 2020 Featured, History/Preservation, Politics/Policy Comments Off on St. Louis Businesses Ordered To Shut Down — 102 Years Ago Today
 
I bought this book at Washington University on June 6, 1991 for $7.95.

The city’s health commissioner has just ordered many businesses to close, effective tomorrow. That was the order on October 7, 1918.

City Health Commissioner Max B. Starkloff announced that public gathering places would be closed immediately to prevent the spread of influenza, which was just then becoming an epidemic in the city. Some 115 new cases had been counted that day in St. Louis, and at Jefferson Barracks the total number was 900.

Closed under the commissioner’s order were theaters, movie houses, open air meetings, dance halls, conventions, and public funerals. Church leaders agreed to go along with the ban on public gatherings, and Archbishop John J. Glennon suspended the obligation of Catholics to hear Mass each Sunday. Downtown stores were enjoyed to hold no sales or special attractions. Throughout the fall, the epidemic raged, with a final official death count of 2,063 deaths — the worst disaster of its kind in the city’s history. (From ‘St. Louis Day by Day’, by Frances Hurd Stadler, Pages 191-192)

The above simplifies the back and forth that happened through December. Restrictions were eased, the flu roared back, restrictions were tightened. But it worked.

Thanks to the quarantine, St. Louis’ death rate was lowest among the 10 biggest cities at the time. In Philadelphia, where bodies piled up on sidewalks when the morgues overflowed, the death rate was nearly twice as high. (Post-Dispatch)

After their influenza pandemic was over life resumed. Ours will too, but first we must all do what’s necessary to prevent it from spreading.

— Steve Patterson

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