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Development Neanderthals Need to Know the Real Meaning of ‘CAVE’

If you read the propaganda in today’s St. Louis Business Journal on development you might think the term CAVE is “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.” Instead, it is actually Citizens Against Vulgar Environments. And vulgar is what we often get from the developers complaining in the journal.

In the face of hundreds of millions of dollars of redevelopment activity in the St. Louis area in recent years, a vehemence against commercial development has risen to new levels.

Just in the last month,

Paul McKee Jr. has been accused of planning to “bulldoze the ghetto,” and Chris Goodson’s site for a new development on downtown’s edge was picketed on the same day plans were unveiled. Gundaker Commercial Group’s Mike Hejna denounced the new force in development: “CAVE” men, or “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”

Hejna made the comments to a group of real estate brokers Feb. 6 after detailing the several-years-long process of getting his and Duke Realty’s $750 million Premier 370 business park approved in St. Peters.

Read the above again, it is all about the money. Dollar signs are all they see. If millions of dollars are being “invested” it must therefore be good. The developers like McKee and Hejna can’t have a discussion about pedestrian-friendly design, planning for various modes of transportation, and sustainable development. Lisa Brown continues:

Anti-development sentiment has risen to a level beyond civil discourse, to a point where developers have received threats at their homes. And this opposition is harder to overcome with the Internet as a tool — it’s hard to fight an opponent you can’t see or identify.

“Because of the blogosphere, it exaggerates things,” said Stephen Acree, president of the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance (RHCDA). “The folks that are most vocal on the blogs are not necessarily part of the neighborhood organizations that are working in the community to build it.”

Many of the blogs, such as mine, are well identified. In fact, we are often more identifiable than the Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) these developers employ to keep their identities hidden from public scrutiny. We wouldn’t want our prominent citizens being connected to a string of properties being left open to vandals, arsonists, homeless and the elements.

And Mr. Acree, you are correct. Many of the bloggers such as myself are not part of the neighborhood organizations. Why? As an example, when I tried to get my neighborhood organization to help save a historic building they refused to act because their funding is tied to the alderman that was in favor of demolition. This is St. Louis you know and politicos can be be spiteful if crossed. Acting outside the organization you can, in my view, have a bigger inpact. By the way, the building was saved (despite claims it could not) and is being converted to condos.

Fears over eminent domain and the proliferation of blogs on the Internet have created a difficult environment for developers, said Marian Nunn, chief operating officer of St. Louis-based THF Realty, one of the largest private commercial developers in the country.

“There seems to be heightened alertness on the part of the public when you need to tear anything down, even if it has to be torn down,” Nunn said. “The Internet has really created a whole new venue for people who are misinformed to communicate on a large scale. It’s very mean spirited, and they don’t have to do it face to face or face rebuttal.”

You want a face to face rebuttal? Name the time and place and I will be there. Shall we have that face to face meeting in the massive wasteland THF calls Maplewood Commons? Or we could debate the value of the development THF placed in the flood zone in the Chesterfield Valley? Talk about “mean spirited” — these developments are absolutely horrid in every possible category. Would I have stopped those projects dead in their tracks if I could have? Yes!

[Update 2/16/2007 @ 11:35am — I just left a voice message for Ms. Nunn inviting her and her developer friends to a face to face discussion on development practices. If she accepts, I will arrange for a meeting room at St. Louis University where the public can be invited.]

Trust me Ms. Nunn, I am not at all “misinformed” on development. It is the likes of you and others that are clearly misinformed about good design, sustainable development and anything remotely resembling a true walkable community. The interesting thing is most of you are all members of organizations such as the ULI (Urban Land Institute). You must get the monthly manazine and simply toss it in your lobby. I’ve got a suggestion — open it up and actually read the articles. Attend the workshops, not just sponsor them. Once you’ve managed that perhaps actually buying some of the books published by them and the APA (American Planning Assocaition). Same goes for Ms. Brown and the others at the Business Journal — who knows you might actually learn why that big ugly parking garage next to your office is not a good thing for the long term future of St. Louis.

Of course, these developers are not in it for the long haul. Sure, they may retain all their “projects” but that is all they are to them. They boil it down to so many leasable square feet and how much it cost to build. When it gets old they either sell it or return to the local government and hold out their hand for more tax money to retrofit the now-obsolete project.

Myself and others are not anti-commercial development as this article attempts to paint us. I happen to be very pro-development, but not any development just for the sake of development. Unlike these wealthy developers who are complaining about being challenged on their projects, some of us actually know the difference between good and bad design. We know what makes an area sustainable in the long term which is a different goal than short term profits. But the whole issue of good vs. bad development is not agreed upon by everyone so it is time to have that civilized discussion about what constitutes good design for our community.

This is where the developers and people like Mayor Slay’s staff (Barb Giesman & Jeff Rainford) go running. For decades development has happened in a vacuum, with little oversight into the process. Today, in 2007, the situation is different. People, believe it or not, actually care about their physical environment. Yes, we live in a city or suburb for a reason. I did not move to a city consisting of gridded urban streets to have it change into low density sprawl like Ballwin. If I would have wanted that I would have moved there. So we are standing up for what we want, the choice is yours. Either sit down at the table now and lets work through some good zoning for the city (tossing aside our 60-year old auto-centric codes) or be prepared to see an escalation in the level of opposition at every turn.

Jeff Rainford, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff:

We simply have to stand up to the very small number of people who are fighting progress for their own financial or political gain.

Boy, that is rich! Who is seeking financial or political gain here? The funny thing is any population gains the city might be seeing are from people who want to actually live in a city, not the city re-made into some bad suburb. Once again, politicians define “progress” as so many millions of dollars being spent. A wonderful dense urban neighborhood could be built at Pruitt-Igoe but if a medical waste facility were to cost another $10 million they’d probably consider that more progress and go that direction. We need people at the top that actually have a clue. After all, good urban design is not rocket science, even a caveman could do it.

We, the Citizens Against Vulgar Environments (CAVE), need to stand up against a very small number of small-minded people who are, through their prehistoric development practices and political positions, holding back the true potential of the City of St. Louis and the St. Louis Region.


Currently there are "79 comments" on this Article:

  1. Exactly. We no longer want the battered wife syndrome as justification for mediocrity! Progress is not the pursuit of the status quo, but the actualization of goals which seem impossible. This goal is an urban built environment which will attract residents from the all regions and enable St. Louis to compete in the Global Economy. We cannot compete by mirroring the development of our surrounding suburban municipalities. I believe the time has come for a formal organization to spread this message within the political system. Blogs are certainly effective per their reactionary response, yet to undermine their position, we must bring our views into their arena.

  2. While I am pretty sure your public invitation to debate face-to-face will be ignored, I would buy a front row ticket to the show if it does happen! The developers, politicians, and media are going to have to figure out a new way of working and a new and better way of communicating.

    Neighborhood meetings and still a good way of soliciting feedback from the relatively small group of people who can (and want to) attend the monthly meetings. However, as the Business Journal alluded to, there is a new and growing movement of concerned citizens who communicate and think outside the control of the established political hierarchy. Sooner or later, this group will figure out how to focus and apply its energy in the public realm. When that happens, the neighborhood organizations, developers, and politicians who have not figured out how to operate in this new transparent environment will find themselves much less effective and powerful.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I also just left a voice mail message for the article’s author Lisa Brown letting her know I have extended an invitation to a face to face discussion on development practices in St. Louis. I suggested that perhaps they help sponsor & organize such an event.]

  3. john says:

    The StL Business Journal continues to serve as a marketing tool for those who prefer to ram poor ideas down the throats of citizens without much regard for balanced reporting. What’s new? Discrediting the voices of the public in order to avoid meaningful debate is a StL tradition… it has always been this way. Add together the misleading media, myopic developers, and lazy local leaders and the result is predictable and obvious: DEPOPULATION! What took these autocrats so long to “rebel”? Truly funny Steve…

    [UrbanReviewSTL — You’ll love this part too, they named me among the “Most Influential St. Louisans” in the same issue.]

  4. Jeff Vines says:

    Can I have your autograph, Steve?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — LOL, the 8×10 glossies are still being printed…]

  5. Chris Cleeland says:

    I’d show up at the debate, too.

    I think it’d be a hoot if we all showed up with “Steve Patterson” hold-in-front-of-your-face masks 🙂

  6. toby says:

    Thank you, Steve.
    The bloggers have obviously riled the kings, and they feel it’s time for some damage control.

    Interestingly enough, they use tactics straight out of the Karl Rove playbook: Reframe the issue to divert away from the real issues and possible illegalities.

    Even though BJ reporter Lisa Brown allowed herself to be made a puppet string, she did get McKee and City Hall to finally admit what they previously ignored, denied or lied about.

    The BJ further cemented their Fox Network-esque position with the closing editorial. Yes, “dialogue is important in democracy. so is civility,” and it’s important for BOTH sides.

    I’m proud of any one of us who finally forced the kings down from the tower to address the rabble. One Tin Soldier rides away…

  7. Anthony Coffin says:

    Perfect Steve, I agree with every word. And the nerve of Marian Nunn, developers avoid the public at all costs until the deal is done. So they avoid us then throw their hands in the air and say we won’t even meet face to face? Unbelievable!
    I hope we are able to have that meeting, in fact it should be an anual event. A chance for bloggers and concerned citizens to have a chance to voice their opinions and concerns, to developers and power brokers, over the way our city looks and how well our built environment functions.

    Anthony Coffin

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    Having been in the trenches for many years on both sides of this issue, I’d like to throw out a couple of concepts for discussion – credibility and compromise. One, developers don’t like conflict – they want to get in, get out and make money. They don’t make money when faced with delays and lawsuits. Give them consistent rules and they can usually live by them. Two, there is some validity in the perceptions reflected in the acronyms (CAVE, NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard, BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) – neighborhoods ARE (and should be) personal for many of their residents. People need to realize, however, that neighborhoods are NOT frozen in time, they’re always evolving, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly; sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The other reality we all need to accept, is if we don’t own it, we don’t control it. Yes, we have input, and through our government, we have some ability to influence outcomes, but, as individual citizens, we don’t hold veto power over another person’s real estate. If we can accept those basic facts, it allows us, as individual citizens and as members of neighborhood groups and, yes, blogs, to gain credibility. With credibility, you gain entree earlier in the process, you get more respect from both government officials and the development community. If you’re willing to be open to discussion, willing to work out compromises, and willing to make the elected officials look like winners, you can accomplish a lot. If all you’re going to do is say “No!” to every proposal, to try and find legal hurdles to slow down any proposed development, and to continue to elect officials who view zoning regulations as mere suggestions and TIF’s as no big deal to the municipal bottom line, you’re going to continue to be marginalized and ignored. Just figure out what all of the players want – politicians want glory and success, developers want to make money, interested citizens want to be heard and respected, and most of the rest of us just want to see our neighborhoods get better – the trick is balancing the rhetoric with reality . . .

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The public owns the right of ways that connect one private parcel to others.  We also have the legal right, through zoning, to determine the development of private land for the greater public good.  Until the developers and politicians are willing to sit down and re-write our outdated zoning and develop a community vision/concensus for development areas the delays, conflicts, lawsuits and all manner of processes to halt their mediocre projects about out landscape will continue to escalate.  

    If the developers want “consistent rules” as you suggest then they should be standing beside me calling upon the politicos to, through zoning, create good and consistent rules.  I’m looking to my left & right and they are nowhere to be found.  Oh there they are, giving contributions to the politicians to maintain the status quo.  The way it works is by the time the public gets word of the project the only thing left to do is stop it — time past to work through compromises — that is not the public’s fault.  The developers and politicos have set up the process and we are simply bending it until it breaks.  They are the ones that can make life much simpler.] 

  9. “I think it’d be a hoot if we all showed up with “Steve Patterson” hold-in-front-of-your-face masks ”

    That just gave me a mental flash of a very “V for Vendetta”-like moment. Thousands of Steve Patterson-masked denizens on Honda Metropolitans converging on city hall with the 1812 Overture (or perhaps some Queen 😉 ) blasting…. lol

  10. michelle says:

    I would also like to be at that debate, please post if they accept.

  11. michelle says:

    Please post if they decide to accept a public forum discussion at Saint Louis University

  12. Merle says:

    How ironic that the same newspaper in the very same edition proclaims Steve Patterson as one the most influential “Steves” in St. Louis because of his blog and his “stong opinions on developers…” on one side, and on the other side criticizes all bloggers for exaggerating issues. And shame on Stephen Acree for making such a comment as well as incorrectly saying that most bloggers do not live in the neighborhoods. We know for a fact that many of our outspoken bloggers live in the areas affected and are fighting desperately to save them. I thought Acree was different from those other developers and more willing to work with the residents, but he has proven himself more and more to be among those who “want to keep quiet” so that big money gets its way.

  13. Nice piece of writing. And I like your meaning of the word much better. I’ll have a whole lot more to say later, but back to work now.

  14. For the record, I am a member of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, served as co-chair of its Unique Character Subcommitee during its strategic planning task force meetings and have actively boosted the efforts of the organization. I am rehabbing a home in Old North, spending far more time and money than I have. My concerns are hardly abstract and criticism of secrecy, code violations and landbanking are definitely not obstructionist.

    Then again, the article uses big names to throw big rocks at nameless bloggers, so perhaps I need not offer this information. According to the article, I am one of a small number of pertty cranks who somehow are other draw the obsessive rage of the establishment.

  15. Who is seeking financial or political gain here?

    ME! Built St. Louis is all part of my vast one-man conspiracy to become RICH AND ALL POWERFUL!!!

    (Haven’t quite figured out how exactly it’s going to enable me to do that, but POWER AND MONEY ARE VERY CLEARLY MY ONLY MOTIVES. YES.)

    …for real, though? Toby’s point is very well taken: it’s the work of individuals that finally drove McKee into the open.

    Now perhaps constructive dialogue can begin. Contrary to what some might think, pretty much everone want to see the city’s redevelopment continue.

  16. Craig says:

    This latest post shows exactly the dangers of zoning. Zoning allows people to impose their design taste on others in the name of the welfare of the community. What is the welfare of the community? It can be anything you want it to (while keeping a straight face).

    New Urbanists believe that the welfare of the community depends on neighborhoods which are walkable/bikeable and have access to public transporation. The welfare depends on dense housing, with people’s houses using less materials and energy.

    Yet there are millions of people who chose not to live in this fashion. They like the privacy and large yards of their suburban homes. They like to ride their bikes safely in parks rather than on busy public thoroughfares with impatient drivers nearly idling at 7 mph behind them while trying to get to a meeting. They like driving to expansive shopping centers where they can get quality goods cheaply because the retailer hasn’t had to waste money on design upgrades mandated by selfish minority.

    I think the new urbanists need to remember that they are in a small (yet vocal) minority. They shouldn’t insist on how developers spend their money unless the developers are allowed to insist on how the new urbanists must spend theirs.

    Once again, I’ll offer a challenge to the urbanists: Raise money and do a development of your own. It’s easy to make decisions about other people’s money.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Several others have already posted after this but I just got home and couldn’t let this pass.  Yes, zoning allows communities to impose what they think will establish a good community.  In Ladue, for example, that means single family homes on certain lot sizes.  The so-called free market might want some nice upscale condos over the retail stores along Clayton Road but it just isn’t going to happen because the will of the people is to not have anything but single family homes — the market be damned!  

    If you don’t like zoning and all that implies I suggest you get your free market ass to Houston where they do not have zoning.  Until then, the St. Louis leaders from 1947 are still dictating what can and cannot be built per our old zoning code.  This reflects neither the will of the community or the current free market.  Sure, you can get around it as long as you are lining the pocket of the alderman.]  

  17. get money says:

    ^money money money money

    Is that your primary focus for living Craig. Get a clue man. What we want here is a better built environment. You can’t take your money with you when you die.

    It irks me that everyone has to talk about money like it is the almighty God. You can use little money and make a nice development.

  18. Matt B says:

    ^ Lucky for you Whittaker Homes did have the money to do a new urbanist development of their own, and homes in New Town are selling at a faster rate than any other home development in the Midwest.

    The market can’t really decide if there is no choice.

  19. Craig says:

    No it’s not just about money, it’s about allowing landowners to use their land in the fashion they see fit. If Whittaker wants to build a certain way, that is their right.

    Matt, if you’re right about the success of New Town then we should see more developments like that, right? Not because the developer was forced to build a certain way but because of the market.

  20. In somewhat poor fashion I expressed two concerns about the blogosphere as it relates to some recently covered development activity in the city. One is the tendency by some to express infammatory yet unsubstantiated claims about the motives of developers and others, such as automatically claiming that a developer wants to create “whitey town,” an especially egregious inflammatory remark recently made by a white person who has apparently appointed him/herself the great father/mother/parent of all people of color. These inflammatory remarks only undermine the efforts of others who have very valid concerns about the kind and quality of development that will be done in their communities.

    The other concern I expressed is that some of those who are the most vocal critics on the blogs are not necessarily part of the neighborhood organizations that are working to improve their communities. My concern here stems from a number of recent very negative comments on blogs that have been made about the inputed motives of a neighborhood organization that is doing great community-based redevelopment work. Some equally negative and spurious comments have been made about some of the leadership of the organization. I think these are unfortunate examples of a kind of “cannibalism” that undermines the efforts of people who are working very hard and actually doing good development in very challenging circumstances. I have also seen some unsubstantiated, irresponsible negative innuendo about the organization that I am very proud to lead, RHCDA. We are a not-for-profit and we do all of our work in collaboration with community-based organizations. I am certainly open to hearing about what we can do better but I think it’s irresponsible for individuals who apparently know very little about us to make disparaging remarks simply to fuel their own agendas. I know the political realities of development in the city very well indeed and I certainly sympathize with the frustrations it entails. I only want to make sure we don’t start killing each other with friendly fire.

  21. GMichaud says:

    It should be evident from the Business Journal article how the mainstream media presents the views of the established power structure. This is not journalism; it in no way reflects what really happens on the blogs. The blogs are constructive discussions about urban life. This person who wrote the article simply expresses the views of the power structure, it’s that simple, it is a heavily slanted article.
    I’d be interested in seeing how this article was generated. Was the writer at lunch with all of these people and they started discussing the internet? Or did she get the idea that hey I’ll bet all of these guys are having trouble with those damn bloggers and then she called them to get their quote.
    Or maybe it is a pseudo article, a fake article, a PR style news story to get the word out from the masters that they are having trouble from those damn bloggers again.

    What has happened is that the mainstream press no longer controls the discussion. In turn there are a lot of questions that are now being asked that were never asked before. Democracy is tough. The Genie is out of the bottle now.

    To Mr. Acree, yes your organization does good work; RHCDA is an impartial think tank that understands the issues: especially in making communities a reality, a difficult thing to do.
    I would say I don’t understand your quotes.

    I especially like the Marvin Nunn quote “The Internet has really created a whole new venue for people who are misinformed to communicate on a large scale. It’s very mean spirited, and they don’t have to do it face to face or face rebuttal.”
    This guy is unreal, so I guess he knows everything to make a statement like that? Is he god? Misinformed on a large scale? I guess he likes all the control that comes with buying public officials. It is not only unbelievable this guy has this attitude towards the public, his arrogance is unbounded. It’s scary that this guy is in a position to make any decisions at all, even for a private firm. He is so misinformed that it is sad.

  22. john says:

    Thanks Stephen (especially since your name was mentioned) in responding and speaking out. Dealing with the media is difficult and can often lead to out-of-context quotes, etc. I believe that most people commenting here are more concerned with open, honest and constructive debate, discussions, and new insights rather than forcing a particular design approach or urban theory on others. We are all part of a larger community that wants progress and prefers inclusion over exclusion. The MSM as organized and managed does not typically provide a platform for information that leads to progress and inclusion… in fact the MSM often creates unnecessary friction. Jump in, the water is pure and refreshing!

  23. Dear Steve,

    I would love to recommend several places for you to meet in Maplewood Commons! What a fabulous idea!

    There is Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Qdoba, Applebees and Sansai. All high quality, great menu options, good service and most are Smoke-free restaurants.

    Best Wishes,

    Rachelle L’Ecuyer
    Director of Community Development
    City of Maplewood

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Ah yes, something with some local flavor.  Just don’t try to walk from one restaurant to another unless you are really fond of parking lots because the sidewalks are just not there!]

  24. GMichaud says:

    Or instead of meeting at those massive chains who take money from St. Louis, you have a lunch meeting at Tony’s, Lemon Grass, Duff’s, Four Seasons or Sekisui. All high quality, great menu options, good service and most are smoke-free restaurants. Then the prosperity stays in St. Louis.

  25. Mike G. says:

    I have mixed feelings about all this. On one hand, I am tired of the same crap being developed over and over again. On the other, when I start a new building project I have to weigh the risks associated with new construction in an economically marginal region.I want to see better design, better urban planning and more socially conscious developers. First and foremost, if I go and get a loan for a new project I am incurring substantial risk. I mean my ass is on the line. I have to make money, or I could potentially lose everything I have worked very hard for. I am small potatoes compared to these guys, but all the same issues apply. I want to see better design, better urban planning and more socially conscious developers too.
    This isn’t just a job I, or any other entreprenuer takes to make a comfortable living. There is enormous stress, anxiety, hassles, etc.. associated with being self employed. Just a thought to those who may not see what kind of financial risk developers take to bring a project to fruition. Many of them were like me at one time, struggling to build a profitable company.

    [UrbanReviewSTL —- Oh I hear you and understand.  BTW, some of those big guys have major cash flow issues due to massive debts — they put on a good show for the public.  I actually want to simplify the process by streamlining the visioning process.  Let’s make it about commercial districts and residential areas — not a project at a time.  That simply wastes too much of everyone’s time and effort but right now that is the only choice we have to try to shape the final results.]

  26. GMichaud, although “impartial think tank” is flattering, I want to point out that RHCDA, among many things, is a not-for-profit developer and development consultant for some of the most difficult to do, but thoughtful affordable and market-rate housing in St. Louis area neighborhoods, particularly in neighborhoods with the potential to create or maintain economic diversity. Over the past 10 years, RHCDA has developed 650 rental units, 111 homeownership units and 8 commercial units with development costs of $100 Million. We currently have under development another 366 rental units and 79 homeownership units with development costs of $55 Million. This will bring our total housing development since 1997 to 1,016 rental units, 190 homeownership units and 8 commercial units with development costs of $156 Million. We have another 130 rental units, 221 homeownership units and 10 commercial units with development costs of $56 Million in predevelopment/planning. Most of this $200 Million+ in development has been done in partnership with community-based organizations and all of it has been done with open input. So we all know it can be done. It is just very, very, very difficult to do!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I appreciate your response.  I have been impressed with the work of RHCDA and believe you do good work.  In Old North you certainly put together a deal nobody else could. 

    I guess my question is this, could the process be less difficult?  That is, would broader discussions about community vision with zoning codes to match (such as maximum parking, not minimum) make the development process a little less rocky?  Developers tell me they cannot get financing without at least a 1:1 parking ratio — even for towntown small affordable units.  What if the zoning set the maximum for certain areas close to transit at 0.8:1 so that the lender could not be the one dictating the parking for a project?  We’ve got to get past our old ways of thinking but nobody wants to make the first move — that is not going to get where we need to be.] 

  27. GMichaud says:

    Mr. Acree, I have worked with a few of your people and think they are some of the best in the region at what they do. Trust me, if I thought otherwise I would say so. But I have found your people to be top notch and the results reflect that. You have good reason to be proud.

    I remember when 14th street was a vibrant shopping district and Reverend Earl had his used furniture and clothing store caty corner from Crown Candy.

    You are doing good work on the Northside, the only critique I would make is that I would include a header on the first floor residential townhouses so they can be converted to storefronts in the future. Storefronts are the key in reestablishing neighborhoods. Flexibility in this area is important: storefronts below, living quarters above opens the door to many unique businesses that can enhance a city.

  28. I appreciate the comments from john and UrbanReviewSTL…but john, I have to calrify that the reporter did not take my words out of context, I just expressed myself very clumsily. That’s completely on me. With regard to how the process could be less difficult, the biggest difficulty is simply that the costs to do most of these projects far exceeds their market value until you get to the point where you have built that market to be sustainable under a traditional financing scenario. It cannot be over-emphasized how high-risk these deals are. We put together 13 sources of financing in a very creative structure to get our last deal done. The transaction costs and brain damage are immense! The real question is how much do you compromise to get the development done. For example, we are really trying to incorporate as much green building technology into the 14th Street Mall redevelopment as we can but there are real cost differentials associated with it and the project is already extremely challenging as it is. Where do we draw that line for how much we burden ourselves with the costs of our ideals vs. actually getting good, but not perfect, development done. Its all a matter of how you come at it. I think what we really want to see is developers looking at the best design to fit the neighborhood as their goal instead of repeating what they have done in another context. I, for one, cannot understand the fear of placing parking in the rear of commercial developments as if no one will be able to figure out where the driveway is, but hey,that’s just me!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — This is a good discussion.  Green buildings and LEED is all the rage these days, something I am glad to see.  But I will take non-green methods with good commercial spaces over those spaces turned residential with carpet from recycled soda bottles.  Obviously where you have a one-off storefront that might not be a good trade off but when you’ve got a good concentration of storefronts I think we need to look at re-establishing local commerce.  While I appreciate local neighborhood control I also have to wonder who is manning the whole store?  Who is thinking the big picture about the city — local control if not balanced against the big picture might create major headaches down the road.  The sum must be greater than the parts.]

  29. BillHaas says:

    This post of yours and the following one. Brilliant. Truly brilliant. If I win my Alderman race, know what I’m going to be spending time reading. Hope you’ll consider running for office sometime, tho doing much good where you are. Should be required reading. Maybe should treat my colleagues to a subscription, or email copies to them.
    best, Bill Haas

  30. Mike G. says:


    To comment on “green methods”… there are common misperceptions about the aesthetics of green building materials that can now be completely dispelled. With the combination of new technology and marketability of the “green movement”, there are plenty of viable solutions that will not just satisfy LEED requirements, but will truly enhance the beauty and quality of a commercial and residential project.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I am quite familiar with green building tech and have been using various methods in my clients projects throughout the years.  However, when the budget begins to strain I was suggesting that on these hard to finance projects I’ll take good urbanism over green — if we must decide one or the other.  After all, good urbanism is a green methodology.]

  31. spacw says:

    Steve, I see you being pretty negative about Maplewood Commons and that monster strip mall out at Boone’s Crossing in Chesterfield. I’ll agree with you that they are ugly, and that they aren’t walkable (where one would walk from in that part of Chesterfield being another matter), but every time I drive by or visit, they are jam-packed with people spending money. And that’s a good thing. Where’s the problem here?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Jam-packed huh?  You mean every parking space is taken every time you drive by?  Funny, when I go by there it is seldom 30% occupied.  And some of those people are probably driving from their homes immediately adjacent to the Maplewood Commons but drive because walking it too much of a chore given the auto-centric layout.]

  32. Barbara says:

    If Mr Acree is still reading this thread, I would like to issue an invitation to talk face to face, on the phone or via email. I know you are very familiar with the near northside, having been what theater people call an “angel”, bringing development and investment across Delmar to very low income areas in north city and north county, notably ONSL and Wellston. RHCDA’s work in Wellston alone guarantees you and all members of your team a place of respect in any discussion of urban development. Your stunning accomplishments in ONSL have put RHCDA and ONSLRG above criticism, as far as I am concerned. I hope you are able to help shape policy in this city now and in the future. I know you are probably too busy to have time to talk to a resident, but if you do, I’d like to hear your thoughts. I believe I am the person you are referring to in the statement quoted below, as to my knowledge I am the only person out there talking about the elephant in the room — pernicious and institutionalized racism.

    “One is the tendency by some to express infammatory yet unsubstantiated claims about the motives of developers and others, such as automatically claiming that a developer wants to create “whitey town,” an especially egregious inflammatory remark recently made by a white person who has apparently appointed him/herself the great father/mother/parent of all people of color.”

    Unpacking this… I have indeed made infamatory claims. I have not made any unsubstatiated claims and would be happy to share my rationale for any claims with you. I have not made any statements about McKee’s motives, just the effect, which is to deny access to housing to a protected class of citizens and to increase segregation. I have not done anything “automatically”, but after 14 months first-hand experience with Blairmont. I have not used the term “whitey town”, but I have joked that the new development may be named WhiteHaven. Sorry, I think that is pretty funny. I am a light-skinned person with kinky hair and a Heinz-57 style heritage, as one can tell from Googling “Manzara”, and I think you have all figured out that I am no respecter of the taboo subject.

    I have sunk every dollar I have and will have for a good 10 years into a northside rehab and am now surrounded by more and more rotting Blairmont buildings and weed-choked lots. I have personally lifted furniture into my windowless van with the perennially flattening tire and relocated 4 families evicted from a McKee acquisition. Three of the four have had to leave the city due to lack of affordable housing. I urged each one to stay and fight, call EHOC and Legal Services, but they all felt they were powerless against so much money.

    Before Christmas, a working single mother with a toddler and an extremely bright 12-yo girl in the Ames magnet school, who can afford about $300 a month in rent and utilities, asked if I knew of any rentals at all that would help her keep her child in the city. When I said no and offered a hug, she cried. Her landlord evicted her with 5 days notice to sell to Blairmont and said the seller requested a fast sale with no tenants present. I urged her to call Legal Services, but she did not think she could fight anyone that powerful.

    I have hit the wall of despair and so I have taken action, with the sole goal of getting Paul McKee to admit in print that he is Blairmont. In print and in person, I have repeated over and over that I believe that the acts of the Blairmont group of companies are in blatant violation of Title VIII of the Civil Rights act of 1968 and that when the government fails to stop such acts, it is liable under the 14th Amendment “equal protection” and “due process” clauses. I appointed myself in charge of getting the word out that I believe human rights are under siege in north city.

    This all seems to be a pretty close parse of what you said, though with a different political point of view. So, I’m guessing that the one you are dissing is me.

    You may not know where the word infamatory comes from. I am an etymology freak, so I do. The Latin “fama” is a noun meaning “things said”, based on a Greek verb for “say”. Used by itself, it is positive, as in “fame” or maybe “rumor”. When you add the “in”, it becomes negative, as in “infamous” or “scandal”. So “infamatory claims” comes out as … “claims that will make people talk in a way that will bring public disgrace”.

    I think Paul McKee’s actions which have caused great suffering on the near north side have been an insufficiently publicized public disgrace and I am not afraid to say it. I think that the government’s failure to act to prevent, stop or at least ameliorate the suffering is another one of these secret public disgrace situations. I hope that by speaking up, I can help spread the facts which brought me to these conclusions. I don’t feel that I have to have a certain level of melanin in my skin to be able to read, interpret and broadcast pertinent details from the Bill of Rights or the Civil Rights Act of ’68.

    So infamatory, yes, I can cop to that.

    Barbara Manzara
    manzarbe “at” hotmail
    3202 N 19th St

    PS, I know that I keep ranting on about these boring civil rights issues. Lest anyone think I don’t care about the built environment, I have also, with the help of my trusty carpool, saved the seriously cool pressed tin cornice from 1501 Palm (another Blairmont building), which fell off this fall. It was about the heaviest thing the carpool and I had ever lifted.

  33. john says:

    “Costs far exceed fair market value” is a common phrase used in financial circles to convince unenlightened politicians that your internal ROI is insufficient. In such cases public subsidies are requested and readily offered here due to the level of desperation.

    In truth, every financial modeling scenario has numerous unquantifiable variables and this uncertainty is often used as a lever for preferred treatment. For instance, a common assumption in local models has recent depopulation trends in StL forecasted well into the future. This automatically lowers the level of projected revenues and creates the “perceived need” for lower costs. The need to lower costs creates the “cookie cutter” design (large parking lot in front with warehouse style structures) and thus the development is guaranteed to be unattractive. These “less-than-green” (whatever that means) developments are primarily accomodating to auto users and unfriendly to others, especially shoppers/citizens who prefer cycling, walking, social interaction and green space.

    Large parking lots consume much land, lowers the tax base (due to antiquated and misleading appraisal methods/assumptions) and makes urban living unattractive. Zoning and urban design, as presently managed here, favors laziness, noise, pollution, and less social interaction than is required in order to make urban environments more “people friendly”.

    Consequently the assumption (ie. depopulation) becomes fact as many are “driven” away by less-caring others while potential newcomers are discouraged. Zoning reform can help simplify the process or it can make it more difficult and more expensive… these decisions are important and need debating.

    Currently our leaders are cementing our futures in ways that guarantees a lower quality of life and higher operating costs, neither of which are included in the assumptions of the financial models.

    And thanks Barbara for putting your heart above everything else.

  34. urban reader says:

    One question that’s always a nice ice-breaker in these sorts of debates is to learn where our urban critic, Ms Nunn, lives. Does she live in the City? Or perhaps out in Chesterfield or maybe even St. Charles County?

    It’s typical for non-city residents to “not get it”. They think the city should be happy for whatever investment it gets, and besides, if sprawl development is good enough for Chesterfield, it should be good enough for “the city”. The gall of city residents demanding higher standards for development than us wealthier, whiter, areas.

    This sort of myopic view is not much different than when you hear conservative white people criticize low income black people or their neighborhoods.

    As total outsiders, they do not intimately know anything about the situation, yet they peer in and voice their loud, harsh crticisms.

    Seeking first to understand, rather than starting out with hostile criticism, is a good way to avoid looking foolish and ignorant.

  35. leafy vegetable says:


    You make some interesting points. However, the idea of market value or rents not covering development costs has to do with more than design.

    With development costs on some falling apart historic buildings approaching $200 per square foot, there is no return on investment. The projects are financially infeasible.

    Add in tax credits, layers of complicated other sources, and maybe you can bridge the gap into financial feasibility.

    The idea of waiting for the market to return in these depressed situations is a vicious cycle that leads nowhere.

    In cases of a new shopping center, your points about urbanity and increasing property values are interesting.

    But how would you apply your statements to historic residential rehab in a severley depressed market value area, say like East St. Louis.

    The question is somewhat rhetorical because most people would agree that there isn’t much historic rehab of any kind going on in East St. Louis.

  36. Jimmy James says:

    Well a few comments.

    1. While I agree that idealy the “free market” should dictate the demand for development, the truth is that zoning is allowed and therefore the community does have the power, as given the by State of Missouri, to impose standards that do regulate development. The better question for all those out there is whether the huge bribes and campagin contributions that are given to get these project view aren’t a hugh hugh market inefficency. I am sure City developers view those as sunk costs, the sad cost of doing business in the City. A moder zoning code that set a clear vision for what is liked and not liked throughout the City would mean developers would no longer need to give big bucks to aldermen to act as a shield while the project gets pushed through. If you want more development in the City then fight for simple, clear, modern standards.

    2. I will say again Steve that while parking maximums are a nice idea, I still support the idea of keeping high parking minimums throughout the City and instead offering either

    a. density bonuses for lower parking provided

    b. Using the parking standards as a method of collecting fees from developers that could be applied by the City either to construct large centeralized parking garages, fund improvements in local transity (ie. streetcars or just better bus routes), or impletement modern parking techonology (such as the fancy meters that take credit cards or the linked parking system that allows drivers to see throughout downtown how many spaces are avalible in that area to encourage efficent parking usage). I think this second method would be particuarly useful in areas like downtown, midtown, the CWE, and within a 10 minute walk of those corridors that the City would establish for future streetcar or BRT service. Think of a developer seeing that 1.5 parking spaces are required per residential unit, but if they give that .5 or .7 of a space per unit in a fee to a City transportation fund they can get additional units.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, these are good parking alternatives. The main point we are both making is we need to take a fresh look at parking management in this city & region.]

  37. spacw says:

    Perhaps the parking lots are too large. When I go into the stores and restaurants they are full of customers.

    Tell me how, if they were built to a more “urban” design, they would attract more consumers or spur more purchases.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — This is not about more customers and more purchases in a given store. By reducing the amount of land devoted to parking that land might be used for housing, for example. These local residents could then walk to the stores, further reducing parking demand. Also, by having more people around 24/7 the entire area is safer and far more interesting. Given the amount of land we are talking about and that it was all new construction, we should have demanded good connections between the various elements on the site.]

  38. Margie says:

    This slanted coverage is nothing new for the Business Journal. During the Century building fight, I was astounded at that publication’s willingness to carry out hits on the developer’s behalf. We who sought to save a National-Register-listed building were regularly called names in editorials; rival developers (who would save the building) were attacked regularly; and much worse, the facts of the story were not only slanted, but sometimes dead wrong, and always in the developer’s (who was a personal friend of editor Ellen Sherberg) favor.

    Ya know what’s sad? The local Journalism Review didn’t have the courage to cover the BJ’s bias on this, even when presented with evidence of the outright lies in the coverage, and even though the editor of the JR acknowledged (to me) that the BJ was well known for it bias and innacuracy. Why not? Because the Journalism Review was subsidized by Webster University, who was a party to the Century demolition. The editor of the JR, Ed Bishop, told me he couldn’t find a freelancer to write the story because “every freelancer in town is afraid of not getting work from the Business Journal.” Bullshit, Ed. You didn’t want to displease your master.

    Webster dropped its subsidy of the Journalism Review a few months anyway. I wonder if Ed feels he did the right thing in protecting them. Probably not; he’s still a professor there. Watchdog as lapdog?

    A big problem in St. Louis is that no one stands up to bullies, and they keep bullying the built environment for their own gain. The Business Journal will continue to provide cover for the old guard and for bad development as long as the community lets them. So get used to being called cavemen, obstructionists, building huggers.

  39. joe b says:

    Barbara, you presented a fairly decent post until:

    “Before Christmas, a working single mother with a toddler and an extremely bright 12-yo girl in the Ames magnet school, who can afford about $300 a month in rent and utilities, asked if I knew of any rentals at all that would help her keep her child in the city. When I said no and offered a hug, she cried. Her landlord evicted her with 5 days notice to sell to Blairmont and said the seller requested a fast sale with no tenants present. I urged her to call Legal Services, but she did not think she could fight anyone that powerful.”

    Any logical person would have transported that evicted person to city hall and filed a suit.

  40. spacw says:

    Actually, Steve, the point of stores is to draw customers and have them make purchases. The point is not to look pretty and “urban” or anything else. From the customers’ standpoint, they are about acquiring goods and services. From the developers’/stores’ standpoint, they are about generating wealth, period. It ain’t rocket science, but you don’t seem to get it.

    And another thing. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen you and your goons on this website blast people from the County for making comments about or even influencing development decisions in the City. Maplewood Commons and Boone’s Crossing are in the County. Tit for tat old boy, keep your nose out of my County’s development.

    And if you resort to the “we’re a region argument”, then you have to admit that County people CAN influence City decisions.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — If you read enough of what I have written you will see I am not just about the City of St. Louis, I look at the entire region.  I don’t think we should continue looking at things from a city vs. county perspective — that has gotten us nowhere.  The discussion needs to be what do we want of our region?  In some parts of the region having single family homes on 50 acre parcels is probably logical — just not in the city or even a Richmond Heights.  When we start making large investments in major infrastructure such as highways and mass transit it is all of us that are paying for these things.  Furthermore, if you can find a way for all those cars driving to Maplewood Commons & Boone’s Crossing to keep their air pollution in those areas only you might have a good argument for an isolationist approach.  But the region’s auto-centric culture and low-density development impacting the quality of life for all of us.

    Your previous point was the stores were basically full and that any sense of urban design would not attract any additional customers beyond what they already had.  To that point I agreed, if Boone’s Crossing were properly designed you would not see an appreciable difference in the quarterly sales of the Wal-Mart.  What we would accomplish, however, is less paving which contributes to watershed problems which given the area is a flood plain really should not be made worse as they’ve done.  The developer could potentially make more money by making better use of a limited resource — land.  By placing more development on a given parcel (aka density) we make it more possible for people to have choices in their lives — driving, walking, bicycling or taking transit.  The more we spread out the less choice we have.  Freedom is about choice but America’s sprawling suburban development, such as Maplewood Commons, limits our choices and takes away the freedom that comes with mobility.

    Look beyond the store cash register and open your eyes.  We can and should be creating better environments for our citizens — developers can still make money, cities can still get their sales tax revenue but that intangible “qualify of life” can be substantially higher for all segments of society.]

  41. Re: Local Flavor at Maplewood Commons

    All of the restaurants are franchises but they are locally-owned. Even the Subway in Wal-Mart is owned by someone local (in fact it is one of our 121 women-owned businesses). There are also several other women and minority-owned businesses there, offering entrepreneurs an opportunity to build a business.

    All of the restaurants in Maplewood Commons support the community in very generous ways by donating funds and food to charitable organizations and events, on an on-going basis.

    Applebee’s went all out and almost everything decorating the walls in the restaurant is memorabilia from Maplewood’s rich history, including a section dedicated to the Fire and Police.

    The restaurant and shops in Maplewood Commons employ hundreds of area workers.

    Wal-Mart, Sam’s and Lowe’s have given thousands of dollars to education and public safety initiatives in the Maplewood Community.

    You are letting your dislike of the physical development block and mask the full picture of Maplewood Commons contribution to the community.

    Maplewood Commons is a commercial anchor that co-exists with a very vibrant and traditional downtown/main street on Maplewood’s eastern edge, I find this to be a very positive balance from a municipal development perspective.

    You have a right to criticize this development, especially on your own blog, but it is simply your opinion (and one that is not fully informed on this matter), the community benefits tremendously from this development on many levels.

    I am wondering if you are so critical of the development because of the developer. I do not believe I have seen such intense and continual criticism of any other of the many similar developments in the area on your blog.


  42. Barbara says:

    Joe B — What part of City Hall, exactly, gives a damn about the people who have lost their homes and access to housing due to the Blairmont Witch Project? I spent four hours in City Hall and two hours in the City Attorney’s office last week looking in vain for just such a person.


    [UrbanReviewSTL — The Missouri Attorney General is the one that enforces the state’s Landlord-Tenant laws.  See http://www.ago.mo.gov/publications/landlordtenant.htm for more information.]  

  43. Ben H says:

    spot on, urban reader. We should not discount someone’s opinion because they live in the field of Chester. But you’re right, clearly most local developers dont understand the city, and they’re quick to chuck it when it serves them. Urban areas are complicated and difficult to understand (in the end, I think that gets to why some of us live there and others move into the outer orbit), probably more so than suburbia, but thats not the issue. Since developing is essentially just giving The Market what it wants, shouldnt any developer be interested in what the people want. Yes, but they are picking the voices they want to hear. These bloggers are totally off message! They are and should be afraid that if they are forced to check it out, the criticism might be right.

    Developers are not alone in the manipulation. A rural state legislator recently said parts of St Louis looked like post-war Berlin. Totally superficial remark. Do you suppose he really knows anything about Berlin, let alone St. Louis? But it works because it reinforces existing stereotypes and makes out-state voters think they are supporting an heroic Marshall Plan for St Louis. It also works because anybody who speaks out looks like a choosy beggar.

    Reminds me of how the estate tax suddenly became the death tax. Next linguistic “opportunity”, how to frame a $100 million tax subsidy as part of The Market…

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Development isn’t even remotely close to “giving the market what it wants.”  The market has been so twisted by irrational fears of the city, the imbalances in our schools, the false perception of safety in the suburbs that what people want and what is available to them are completely different.  I can want a new cornerstorefront in a new residential area in St. Peters but it isn’t going to be allowed. 

    For too long developers have said people want the three bedroom ranch in the suburbs and that was all they built.  The market, aka people, bought these homes because they wanted to be in a new place, in that school district or whatever.  Some probably wanted exactly that house.  But, in a given price range it was not like they had any choice.  

    Anyone who thinks what we’ve built in the last 30-50 years represents “the market” freely at work you are simply kidding yourselves.  Of course you want to believe this.  Who would want to accept that all over this country we spent decades and massive sums of money building the dysfunctional trappings known as suburbia.   And who wants to accept that our policies, not the “market” has caused our region to continue to use more and more land per capita.  From the Brookings’ report: Growth in the Heartland:

    Between 1982 and 1987, the region consumed .49 acre for every new person it added; between 1987 and 1992, it needed .91 acre to accommodate a new resident; and by the 1992 to 1997 period the figure had jumped to 1.4 acres. That last figure—nearly an acre and a half per new-comer—ranked the St. Louis region as the second most profligate developer of land in the country among major metropolitan areas, and confirmed that the region’s rate of land consumption had tripled over the 15-year period. Only Cleveland used land more inefficiently over those years.

    This type of growth is not sustainable.  Can’t blame the city for this one either — places like St. Charles County & Jefferson County get the blame.  In due time they will indeed be hurting from their sprawling development patterns as their school districts cannot afford bus service to all those spread out subdivisions.  Again, this was not market drive but a result of the land use & zoning policies on the books in these counties and municipalities.  You could argue those policies reflect the market but in reality those policies reflect decades old thinking about the idealic suburbs, something we know is not really true.  The New Urbanists typically work in the same locations but use land more efficiently while giving people new homes in the better school districts.  The market wants more urbanism be it in the form of a New Town at St. Charles or a downtown loft and everything in between.  New Town’s developers had to get St. Charles to allow the new zoning code to get their vision built as St. Charles’ code doesn’t reflect true market desires.  The same is true throughout the region.]   

  44. joe b says:

    Steve, gotta disagree with this:

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Development isn’t even remotely close to “giving the market what it wants.” The market has been so twisted by irrational fears of the city, the imbalances in our schools, the false perception of safety in the suburbs that what people want and what is available to them are completely different.

    The “market” IS what people want. Whether or not it is this market is good or bad, it is what certain people want.

    Irrational fears of the city don’t fly either, Steve. There is a trememdous problem of crime in the city. Crime, better schools and more space are probably the biggest reasons for flight out of the cities.

    I was in the city for 10 plus years and liked being close to so many things. It was crime that drove me away. Number one.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, the “market” is what people want.  My point is that is not what we actually have.  At times it may look and feel like a free & open marketplace but that is simply untrue.  Many people, such as yourself, like a city feel but issues of crime (real or perceived) keep them out so you end up buying something else outside of the city.  I don’t know where you ended up but most likely that physical form (say ranch house on cul-de-sac) does not represent the form you prefer.  Instead, you’ve selected a physical form because it is in a certain location and price range.  That is not the free market — that is you taking what you can get in an area you perceive to be safe.  Yet, because so many people have purchased suburban ranch houses with attached garages (with little to no alternates) we now say that is what the market wants and falsely say that is what we should be building in the city.  Again, the physical form someone buys in the suburbs is tightly controlled by strick zoning so that everything looks the same.  People buy there because of schools and lower crime.  To transplant that physical form (including strip malls and such) to the city does not represent true market demand.]

  45. Adam says:

    “Yet there are millions of people who chose not to live in this fashion. They like the privacy and large yards of their suburban homes. They like to ride their bikes safely in parks rather than on busy public thoroughfares with impatient drivers nearly idling at 7 mph behind them while trying to get to a meeting. They like driving to expansive shopping centers where they can get quality goods cheaply because the retailer hasn’t had to waste money on design upgrades mandated by selfish minority.”

    craig, do you not realize the hypocrisy in this? it’s selfish for the minority to want to retain their urban fabric, but it’s not selfish for those “millions” of people who chose to move to the suburbs expect the city to quietly accept suburbanization? also, i don’t know how far out into the county you live but busy public thoroughfares are certainly not lacking in the county. nor is the city lacking in public parks and residential streets in/on which to ride bikes. and finally, please prove to me that it is enjoyment and not lack of options that motivates people to drive to expansive shopping centers.

  46. GMichaud says:

    The need to ask questions about Maplewood Commons, Southtown Centre, Loughborough Commons and about the general planning of cities as Steve has done so well, is an important and necessary exercise. No one is out to stop development; it is a reordering of priorities that is the concern.

    Maplewood Commons is symbolic of the need for change in America. It represents a pattern of development that exists solely to accommodate certain methods of transport, but not others. It is a formula development designed to maximize profits.
    Other forms could also maximize profits, but this style development forces a scale that benefits larger corporate units at the expense of effective urban planning.

    There are major impacts underlying developments such as this, they include: energy usage, sustainable cities and global warming. Change is around. There is a general dissatisfaction with the way America (and St. Louis) is headed. There is a correction at hand. If individuals like Paul McKee and Marian Nunn don’t want to change, change will occur and leave them behind. Change is inevitable.

    People are tired of all the influence peddling, as discussed above, (especially the post by Margie). Basically there is a back slapping system of political types, corporate types and their buddies in the media that attempt to run everything.

    What they are doing is not working. It is negatively impacting the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. There are beaches in England now underwater. We are at war over oil. Hopefully these issues will be resolved successfully. Even if they are, it is still a necessity to consider cities from a sustainable and livability perspective.

    Building cities that function with a minimum footprint of energy usage should be immediate and influence the planning of cities now. That brings up discussions of density, transit and the walkability of cities. Yes this means business models will change, but waiting for a catastrophe to occur before acting would be the height of folly.

    So the next question might be how can the design of Maplewood Commons be improved? Is Maplewood Commons a state of the art development? Of course not, so there is a lot to talk about. Like Antonio French says. “Hate the game, not the Players”. No one is out to discredit Nunn or McKee, or people like them. It is hopefully a democratic debate about what exactly needs to happen, given the circumstances in the world and in our community.

    Look at it this way. There are cities that could and do function without the automobile. St. Louis can not. If oil were cut off any amount of time what would happen to St. Louis? If oil had to be allocated on a priority basis St. Louis would turn into an economic basket case. In comparison, New York or Toronto would be hurt, but would be able to function. The leadership of St. Louis should be concerned with this understanding. But instead continue to build auto centric developments in cooperation with local government cheerleaders and the press.

    This is also about Homeland Security and protecting the welfare of the people. It is a job in which the President and Congress fail woefully. Failed energy policies and failed transportation policies back up failed war policies. Democrats and Republicans do nothing.

    Finally back to the question of Maplewood Commons. Perhaps there should have been a trolley system between the dense commercial developments in the area, connected to a MetroLink Station nearby. Perhaps apartment blocks or row housing should be included in zoning changes around the development, perhaps the stores are fashioned as a public square (almost like a mall) to encourage walking between stores. If parking surrounds the square, perhaps one side could be left for pedestrians linking to transit. The discussion of ideas begins to address the needs and concerns of the people. In all cases a more attractive development could be built with enhanced profit potential.

    The situation could be grave. After all we are at war. Improved debate will make the city a better place to live while increasing energy efficiency. If those efforts contribute to solving world wide problems also, then we will have done our duty.

  47. joe b says:

    Steve, I’ll buy your argument that the burbs really isn’t a free and open marketplace. Made your point well too.

    Been in st chuck cty for about 2 years now. In a lot of ways I hate it. I like the space and like the lack of crime. Personally, it is real and not perceived.

    However, you won’t change this desired market or physical form in your lifetime. Besides it’s human nature to want more–be it more rooms, bigger rooms, bigger house, bigger yard, bigger car. Been that way for a long time.

    Most of the problems I see with the city are business related. stl should welcome with open arms 98% of the businesses. Instead, they view them with an antagonistic ATTITUDE, thus driving the smart owners away from the city.

    In addition, I really hope you run for alderperson. I also hope that if you win, you adopt a take no prisoners approach and shake up the establishment. Even if you do not accomplish one single thing while in office, creating a dialogue could accomplish more than you could imagine.

    Finally, if you’re ever out in St Chuck, head out to Robertsville. Take 70 past Lake St Louis to Highway A and turn North on A. Turn right at the sign that indicates Robertsville and head down a couple of miles.

    There you’ll see the strangest thing imaginable. On the right is a 100 year old church which is comparable to any found in the city. Almost directly across is a 100 year old brick four family flat. Nothing else around it besides corn fields. Maybe it was built by one of your relatives who became discontent with life in St Louis?

  48. Adam says:

    “However, you won’t change this desired market or physical form in your lifetime. Besides it’s human nature to want more–be it more rooms, bigger rooms, bigger house, bigger yard, bigger car. Been that way for a long time.”

    bullshi*. if it were human nature then EVERYBODY would strive for those things. clearly, everybody does not. in reality people make selfish choices, which advertisers encourage, and then those people try to rationalize their choices away as human nature so that they can sleep at night. nobody is holding a gun to your head forcing you to buy a giant house or a giant car, etc.

  49. Jason says:

    Quick comment I promise…. If anyone is still reading this thread and pardon me if I rehash something that has already been said, but has anyone looked at how the Blairmont holdings relate to LRA property? I understand that they are not all grouped, but if you can compare it to where LRA properties sit you may begin to see a much more obvious pattern. Speculation of course- but if anyone has access to both and the time to compile even with the outdated Blairmont map I would definitely appreciate seeing this info on the same map!


  50. Has Ms. Nunn been nice enough to reply yet?

  51. Vicki Mabrey says:

    As a native St Louisan who moved away more than 30 years ago, I sometimes feel I’m not qualified to speak on these topics. But then I think, because I’m one of those who’s seen other cities, observed how they operate, seen what works and what doesn’t, who has experience of ‘somewhere else,’ my opinion is just as valid and just as informed as anyone else’s.

    A little background: our original family home was at 3420 Franklin Avenue — anyone familiar with that area knows it no longer exists. It became part of urban renewal (now also demolished) when I was a toddler. We then lived at 3413 Belt Avenue, just south of Natural Bridge, until I was eight. Then we moved to the new-ranch-house, attached-garage, big-yard, no-crime, good-schools suburb of Florissant. At 17, I fled St Louis and the ‘burbs for college in the big city — Washington, DC. And though I’ve never moved back, I come home several times a year because most of my relatives still live in St Louis and surrounding suburbs.

    In addition to DC, I have lived in Madison, WI; Chicago; Dallas; Baltimore; London; and now Manhattan. I consciously chose to live IN THE CITY in every one of those places. Why? Because I love the vibancy of cities. I didn’t own a car for seven years. Didn’t need to. If you live in a well-designed city with shops downstairs and on every corner, with public transportation nearby, you don’t need a car — or at least not one you have to fire up just to get a loaf of bread.

    Look around St Louis — look at the areas that are working, and which ones have been successful historically. I’m thinking primarily of the CWE and the Loop (technically U City, I know). Examine why those areas are sought after and replicate that. It is the same with every other city I’ve been in: The successful neighborhoods have a mix of housing and densities. They have apartments, two-families, four-families, and of course, single-family homes. They also have a sense of history and preservation and don’t view everything, especially their housing stock, as disposable.

    They have commercial mixed WITH the residential. Not just within driving distance, but often within ELEVATOR distance. You can walk downstairs or down the street and meet friends for a good meal (and usually not at a chain but at a place that is honest-to-God uniquely and locally owned, run, managed, designed, and conceived). They have stores that have remained viable neighborhood fixtures for years and draw not only area residents, but those who travel to the area because that particular business is a destination (Left Bank Books, anyone?). They have neighborhood parks and — remember them? — SIDEWALKS!

    In deference to Rachelle and Maplewood Commons (which I admit I’ve never visited), a hugely important ingredient in the viability of cities is that the shops are not cookie-cutter franchises. They’re destination dining/shopping establishments. They are individual and quirky and interesting. They give the neighborhood character — and vice versa. Nothing against them, but sorry, chains like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, et al add to the blandness that is Anywhere and Nowhere, USA, as opposed to definining your little corner of the world as unique.

    And for Mr. Bigger-is-Better: Not everyone is a size freak. Have you not experienced the charms of a beautifully built bungalow or cottage? I’ll take that any day, for any amount of money, over the beige expanses of sheetrock and wall-to-wall carpet in a new house. I personally do not want rooms I don’t use, whole floors I rarely even visit. Why? Who are we trying to impress with our two-story foyers? Our ‘bonus rooms’? Our 52″ plasma TVs? What impresses me is cozy, attractive, well-designed space that is comfortable yet not excessive. I won’t deny you your excesses, your big lawns and three-car garages and faux-Tara columns… but please don’t bring them to the cities and spoil what we urban dwellers love about our communities.

    And yes, Steve and Steve and GMichaud and all the rest of you who love — truly LOVE — cities, please run for office. Maybe then I’ll have to move home.

  52. Adam says:

    agreed, vicki. with so many models of successful urban environments to look at, like DC and Chicago and NYC and Seattle and San Francisco and etc etc etc, i just don’t understand why saint louis still thinks progress = parking lots.

  53. can't believe says:

    this hasn’t been addressed yet, but most, not all, people would be more sympathetic to developers who didn’t have their hands out all the time, whether it be for TIFs, tax credits etc. That is where I believe the public can/should have a say.

  54. Craig says:

    “…but please don’t bring them to the cities and spoil what we urban dwellers love about our communities.”

    Vicki, apparantly there are not enough urban dwellers who love their communities in St. Louis because there are miles upon miles of abandoned houses in urban areas (ones that you once would have called “charming”).

    Not all urban areas are vital, pulsing hubs of activity. Many are barren, desolate, and, at times, dangerous.

    If there are so many lovers of urbanity, why aren’t they moving to these areas. Why are they allowing these wolf-like developers to swoop in and defile “their” areas with new homes?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I’ll tell you why they are not moving here, because our zoning code is from 1947 and reinforces a suburban model rather than the urban model that is helping other regions flourish.  Our “leaders” have not set the right tone — they’ve probably been listening to you. 

    I think Ms. Mabry, a seasoned news reporter formerly with CBS and now with ABC’s Nightline, has outstanding credibility here.  In her work she has traveled the world and lived in numerous cities.] 

  55. Craig says:

    Let me get this straight. The reason that abandoned and derelict neighborhoods on the near north side are not being redeveloped is because of a post ’47 zoning code? Most of that area was laid out and/or built before that code even existed.

    It’s funny that no one is moving into that dense, urban area. But just to the west, in the new Gaslight Square, the new suburban-type development is fully occupied, housing all manner of people.

    If people and developers want a dense environment, it already exists throughout much of St. Louis City.

    There is no doubt that Vicki Mabrey knows a good city when she sees one. She has enjoyed all expense-paid trips for years. So she should also be able to understand that no one is trying to destroy the CWE or the Loop. But no one is trying to build such a neighborhood either, because this region is not gaining people — and certainly not gaining people with an urban mindset.

    By the way, Vicki, while the CWE is a fun neighborhood to live and play in, its school system is unaccredited and the nearest affordable and serviceable grocery store is either on the Hill or in Richmond Heights — miles and miles away.

  56. Steve-O says:


    I guess you have never been to Straub’s or the Schnuck’s on Lindell. And before you pull out the “Straub’s is expensive card” my question again would be: have you never been? I shop there frequently and I find prices to be reasonable (not Sam’s cheap — but reasonable). I find many people have a misconception about the prices at Straub’s. Check it out on your home from downtown after work. You might find it more convenient than the Dierberg’s on Manchester Rd.

  57. Barbara says:


    I live between Crown Candy and Hyde Park, and give a tour at least once a week to all sorts of lovers of urbanity who are actively buying, rehabbing, and building new in this area. (I’m not a realtor, just a neighbor.)

    I live in an area you probably think of as barren because there are many empty lots where homes should be. Did you know we have 100% occupancy of habitable homes?

    “Lovers of urbanity” move here as soon as there is something to move into. Many of them commit to moving here, put down money, and then let ONSLRG build a new home for them. We all want new homes and new neighbors in those homes.

    The statement: “Why are they allowing these wolf-like developers to swoop in and defile “their” areas with new homes?” — does not fit the picture. A “wolf-like developer” is NOT swooping in and building new homes. This would not be “wolf-like”, it would be “praiseworthy”.

    What we object to is LOSING neighbors. The current wolf at our door is destroying existing housing, scaring off interested investors, and worst of all, driving out existing neighbors. I am devastated to see the lights go out one by one. I’m looking across my street at another recently darkened house today.

    As for why the neighborhood is “allowing” this to happen… I doubt the combined personal wealth of every man, woman and child in the 5th Ward adds up to the McEagle-PARIC-Pyramid budget for this project. (And I’m guessing not even one of us has the ear of the governor, or has ever had an audience with the Pope, unlike Paul McKee.)

    I really think you would have a revelation and a eureka moment if you could just see for yourself. I would love to give you a tour of the area, you are welcome to call anytime.

    Barbara Manzara

  58. Craig says:

    Steve-O, I lived in the CWE for a few years and occasionally shopped at Straubs. The prices are at least 20% more expensive there than at Schnucks or even Dierbergs. Not a good option for the young people that are so coveted.

    The Schnucks on Lindell is a war zone. Bad produce. Dirt everywhere. I think they are trying to renovate it so we’ll see what it looks like. Currently, it’s not really a viable option.

  59. urban reader says:

    Hey Craig-O,

    Funny you should mention the Schnucks on Lindell. This past Friday nite, I was playing at a jam session near the Fox and needed to pick up a sandwich and some beer. The Lindell Schnucks was packed.

    Not really a viable option? Are you kidding? The place was so crowded, I was thinking they should open up another store right next door.

    Dude, what’s your trip? Why all the hate?

  60. Craig says:

    Barbara, thanks for the offer. Every time I go to Crown Candy I think of how great the neighborhood would be if the houses and buildings that are falling to pieces were rehabbed or replaced.
    While you support developers coming in and building new houses, people such as UR seem to find this objectionable because the new houses might have things like vinyl siding and garages in the front. My criticism was directed at them because it seems to me that any development or rehab in the area should be welcomed. But people like UR, while paying lip service to development, take shots at any development that doesn’t live up to their subjective standards.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — My standards are hardly subjective, they are based on traditional development of urban neighborhoods — in particular St. Louis.  If anything is subjective, it is the post-WWII standards calling for every use to be fully separate from each other and requiring a private auto to be able to buy a loaf of bread.   If people want that fine — the bulk of our region is such.  We need a good dense urban core so that we, as a region, can offer a variety of choices to a variety of people.  Turning the city into surburban sprawl is the last thing we should be doing.  Development just for the sake of development is a waste of money.]

  61. Craig says:

    Urban Reader, I’m sure that Schnucks was packed on a Friday night. It sells alcohol and it is near a University. Might as well be a liquor store with all of the white kids buying Nattie Light and Keystone and all of the thug-wanna-be’s lining up at the front to get their Hypnotiq and Alize.
    I’m sorry if you perceive me to be full of hate, but I don’t like the unfair criticism of suburbia and commercial developers on this site and I speak out against such criticism.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — “Unfair criticism of suburban and commercial developers.”  Are you serious?  When do you actually plan to speak out and say something valid?  I for one love the work of many developers, commercial or otherwise.  We’ve got some great people working in this region — just not all.  And suburbia is different than the suburbs.  Kirkwood, Webster Groves and Ferguson to name a few are all suburbs of St. Louis but have lots of charm  — these are classic walkable communities.  Same goes for much of St. Charles and places like the older areas of Edwardsville and Belleville.  Suburbia, on the otherhand, is the notion of a house in the country take to radical extremes to the point where a car is a mandate to function in society.  Suburbia is unhealthy and ultimately not sustainable.  Suburbia, by way of design, can exist anywhere in a region — including the city.  We are currently redesigning what should be a compact and walkable urban core (every region need a good dense core) into the worst suburbia has to offer.]

  62. urban reader says:

    Yo Craig-O,

    I stood in the express line for about fifteen minutes, with every other line in the store about ten people deep.

    The lines were full of all sorts of people. College-age, guys in their late 20s-mid 30s, moms with kids in tow, husbands and wives, gay couples, a broad spectrum of shoppers-and a good cross section of the city. (I bet a grocery store in St. Charles doesn’t look like this!)

    Your characterization of the city store’s clientele is way off base and offensive. You have an obvious agenda to disparage the city and its people.

    You should keep drinking your anti-city Kool-Aid and conversing with fellow city-haters. Your anti-city views just add to our region’s diversity, and for that we thank you!

    So, tell us, what’s your color on the diversity rainbow? Green, with envy?

  63. Vicki Mabrey says:

    From Craig: “There is no doubt that Vicki Mabrey knows a good city when she sees one. She has enjoyed all expense-paid trips for years. So she should also be able to understand that no one is trying to destroy the CWE or the Loop. But no one is trying to build such a neighborhood either, because this region is not gaining people — and certainly not gaining people with an urban mindset.

    By the way, Vicki, while the CWE is a fun neighborhood to live and play in, its school system is unaccredited and the nearest affordable and serviceable grocery store is either on the Hill or in Richmond Heights — miles and miles away.”

    Craig, for the record: Not sure what you’re trying to say with your snide little “all expense-paid trips” dig, but whatever it is it doesn’t diminish my ability to look around and observe my surroundings.

    As for developers copying the model of the CWE and the Loop, why shouldn’t they be trying to build such neighborhoods? If those are the neighborhoods that historically have been most viable and successful, why would you not want to copy that? Look at the developer Peter Holsten in downtown Chicago. His is a model of what could be done in St Louis and other urban cores — and people in Chicago are FLOCKING to his developments. Lining up to buy when the sales office opens. St Louis could be the same way. A Whole Foods and many other stores have opened right near his New Town development, built on the site of the demolished Cabrini Green. Pruitt-Igoe could be next.

    What bothers me about developers who want to import suburbia to the city is that they seem to think the city should be grateful for ANYTHING they build. That they don’t have to work with what’s existing and make it a cohesive whole. I’m going out on a limb here: I’ll guess, Craig, that you live in a subdivision somewhere. You probably bought there because there is a similarity and a cohesiveness that makes it attractive. Well, among the reasons people buy in the city is that they like the housing stock. We would like what’s around us to be similar. I would no more like a Hummer Home built next door to my tiny 1920s Tudor than you would like me to buy the lot next door to you and build a 1950s rancher or an 1840s log cabin or a 4-family flat.

    As for schools, there are magnet schools and private schools and parochial schools and charter schools and public schools that parents target with time and effort to make better. Parents who stay in the city have found ways through the years to make the school situation work for their children.

    As for the grocery stores — you’re driving miles to get to your supermarket. I guess the city folks will have to do the same, if the Straubs and the Schnucks aren’t cutting it for them.

  64. Craig says:

    Vicki, you’re wrong on many of your suppositions about me. I live on a grid street in an inner-ring suburb. I can walk to major grocery store in less than 5 minutes. The homes in my neighborhood all look different: some old farmhouses, some 1920’s and 1950’s bungalows, some 1980s infill, some apartments, some 2006 infill. But these factors have nothing to do with this discussion, so I’ll move on.

    I am not against developers building dense projects that emulate the best features of the CWE and Loop (both places I enjoy and spend my time and money in). In fact, I welcome such developments. A development like the one that happened on the old Cabrini Green site would be great for St. Louis (as long as it didn’t include some of the social engineering aspects of the Chicago development).

    But, I don’t think it’s right to hold developers at the end of the barrel of a gun until they agree to build something in an urban fashion. If someone owns land, then let them do what they want with it.

    You don’t seem to be as tolerant. You want to mandate what types of buildings can be built so that your tastes aren’t offended. You would seem to prefer that areas sit largely abandoned rather than having new houses built that might, god forbid, look different than surrounding houses! And someone accused ME of being anti-diversity!

    Simply put, my point is that you shouldn’t force people to build a in a certain style.

  65. mike says:

    I think alot of the debate comes down to people with big visions verse those who are a little more run before you walk types. I love the idea of the city coming up with grand plans to bring higher density, urban friendly stores, good jobs and families to the city. I just have serious doubts about the feasibility. It just seems to me that the attitude of suburbanites and corporate leaders is that they don’t care. They have moved on to the suburbs and aren’t interested in looking back. They aren’t interested in rehabbing houses, fixing the schools and dealing with the crime.

    Maybe I shoule expect more, but I try to see a project like the city market at 44 and lafayette as a good thing. In the current environment they need to be autocentric to make it. Maybe the existence of a store helps bring in more residents to the area and allows for the next generation of development to be more urban and walkable.

    Also, look at it from the side of the developers. Look at the uproar over the Blairmont issue in the blogosphere. Imagine that they actually plan an urban friendly development that will be inclusive of people of a wide range of incomes (or at least maybe they will sell to someone who does). How is a developer supposed to feel a sense of cooperation when they receive a full frontal attack before the plans have even been revealed?

  66. Adam says:

    [quote]But, I don’t think it’s right to hold developers at the end of the barrel of a gun until they agree to build something in an urban fashion.[\quote]

    nope. wrong. it is perfectly acceptable to hold developers to standards. and who better to set those standards than those people who will be effected by the developement (i.e. people who live in the city in this case). EVERYONE is held to standards. that’s life. get used to it.

    by the way, “ownership” is not a god-given right. it is a privilege. and when you shi* on enough people it can be taken away.

  67. Craig says:

    Adam, property ownership is a right under the US Constitution. In fact, it is one of the most basic rights US citizens have and it can only be taken away with due process of law or for the public good with just compensation. It’s not a privilege. Your statement shows some of the ignorance that’s out there on development issues.

  68. GMichaud says:

    Where do you imagine the grid of the city came from? Developers today have many regulations they have to follow. A McDonalds is not allowed in the middle of a suburban street, nor would they want to be there. Setbacks are required of buildings; there are height restrictions of various types.
    The design of a city involves health and welfare issues. In Helsinki I talked to a city planner who explained why Helsinki is comprised of only low rise buildings, she said “it is for the circulation of air and light” The city proper has only buildings no taller than 6 stories.
    So regulations can and do protect the health and welfare of the people. It is the role of government to protect the health and welfare. It is in the interest of the people that live in a city to vote to protect their lives, they are the government. They will protect their interests every time.

    Vicki Mabrey talks about the joy of cities. It is an art to build a great city. A great city enhances the daily lives of its citizens. It is a stage for humans to fulfill their potential. It is a goal worth pursuing.

    Developers have to plug into many public services: sewer, water, streets, transit, and parks and schools to name a few. Developers do not live in a bubble.
    Owning land does not guarantee the right to do anything to the property, any more than the ownership of a gun allows any possible use.

  69. Adam says:

    wow. thanks for the lesson, craig. i certainly had no idea that the constitution bestows on us the right to own property. but i think you missed the point. i doubt the writers of our constitution would support developers of today’s scale buying up property en masse and doing whatever they want with it, having little to no regard for the communities they will effect. i repeat: the right to own property did not fall from the heavens. the constitution and property ownership and due process etc are social constructions and are only useful so long as people do not abuse them. your rights are not limitless.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — LOL, Craig isn’t even right on the constitution issue.  It was not until the 5th amedment that the word “property” shows up and then dealing with the issue of a “taking” for public good — the eminent domain issue still with us today.]

  70. Craig says:

    Again, the ignorance on this point is overwhelming. UR suggests that I’m wrong to state that property is a constitutional right. But the due process clause and takings clause are right there in the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, added just after the Constitution was ratified. I don’t see how I was wrong.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Let’s see, the constitution was adopted by enough states in 1778 to become effective. Thirteen years later or “just after” in your timeline the Bill of Rights were passed. Again, the right to own property was not part of the original constitution. Here is the 5th amendment which deals only briefly with property:

    “Amendment V – Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings. Ratified 12/15/1791.

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    And don’t forget the drafters of these documents also considered other humans as “property.” Furthermore, it is not like they said we have the right to own property in the same manner as the right to bear arms. Property ownership was something the elite in society were able to do. And clearly we are still working on the whole issue of takings.]

  71. Craig says:

    UR, you’ve got the Articles of Confederation confused with the Constitution. Maybe you are doing this to purposefully confuse the issue. Maybe you don’t know the difference. I don’t know.

    While the 5th Amendment might deal briefly with property, it doesn’t lessen the importance of property ownership to the founders. The Constitution is a very concise legal document.

    As to your reference to slavery, the Constitution was amended to eliminate slavery, and, thus, the legal status of certain people as property. If you think the founders were wrong about due process protection for developers and you want to tell developers whether or not they can build parking lots in front of their stores, I would suggest you work to amend the Constitution to allow this.

    Further, the reason that the Constitution does not explicitly give people a right to own property is because such a concept was so axiomatic as to not need uttering. Does the Constitution specifically give men the right to marry women? No, it’s a basic foundation of society–just like property ownership.

  72. Craig says:

    “i doubt the writers of our constitution would support developers of today’s scale buying up property en masse and doing whatever they want with it, having little to no regard for the communities they will effect. i repeat: the right to own property did not fall from the heavens. the constitution and property ownership and due process etc are social constructions and are only useful so long as people do not abuse them. your rights are not limitless.”

    Adam, I agree that the constitution is certainly a social construction. But the constitution and, especially its Bill of Rights, was created to give protections to rights inherent in those forming the social compact. So, in a sense, the right to own property did fall from the heavens, in that it is an inherent part of being a political citizen in the U.S. (this is according to the framers and the nation that ratified the constitution, of course–maybe you are a socialist and personally disagree that ownership of property is a right given by natural law).
    Believe me, I’m not saying that a person’s rights vis a vis their real property are limitless. There have long been limits on how people can use their property. But those limits have a historical basis in nuisance law and public takings law which compromise the right of ownership only when needed for the public health. This doctrine has been perverted in recent years, leading to troubling takings case law and unwise zoning statutes. Now, instead of passing laws restricting use of property in order to protect the physical health of citizens, people like the Urbanists are seeking to use this power to tell developers that they can’t use vinyl siding, or that they can’t put a garage on the front of their house, or that their fence is too tall — all matters of taste rather than the public health.

    I’m sorry to go on so long, but it’s important for people to look into how zoning statutes developed, how nuisance law has morphed, and where our current takings law comes from. The mere fact that I have to defend the primacy of property rights in the thinking of virtually all of the Founders (a point that is beyond debate to any scholar of the 18th century western world) shows that a brush up on history class is necessary to discuss these issues.

  73. Adam says:

    “So, in a sense, the right to own property did fall from the heavens, in that it is an inherent part of being a political citizen in the U.S. (this is according to the framers and the nation that ratified the constitution, of course–maybe you are a socialist and personally disagree that ownership of property is a right given by natural law).” – Craig

    actually, craig, in terms of natural law – i.e. competition and survival – your “ownership” only lasts as long as you can prevent someone else from taking your “property.” so again, the right to own property did not fall from the heavens. not in any sense. this idea that “i posses this and you do not, and it is wrong for you try and take it from me” is purely a social agreement. nothing is inherent. if the right to property is so inherent then why are there so many living in poverty?

    secondly, simply stating that ownership is “primal” and “axiomatic” does not make it true, and so far you have offered little evidence that the framers felt that way. clearly the 5th amendment discourages the UNJUST TAKING of private property, but it DOES NOT speak to the JUST USAGE of that property.

    this is not a black and white issue. if you want to build a bookshelf in your house – great! nobody else cares because it doesn’t effect them. if you want to build a shed in your back yard – well you may need to get a permit or make sure that it meets certain design codes as dictated by your city/county/subdivision/etc because your property doesn’t exist in a vaccuum. but if you want to build a 30-acre stip mall + parking lot then for some reason nobody else should have any kind of input? and we’re not even talking about pure aesthtics here! the real issue is not the vinyl siding (although it looks like cheap crap) but the FUNCTIONALITY of the development. there certainly is a BEST INTEREST OF THE PEOPLE when it comes to functionality. and Loughborough Commons, for example, is a prime example of BAD FUNCTIONALITY and LACK OF CONSIDERATION for the surrounding community. Loughborough Commons is STRICTLY about making money, and THAT should not be tolerated.

    please don’t interpret my CAPS as yelling – i was just too lazy to use italics.

  74. Craig says:

    Natural law is not about competition and survival. Again, please read up on some history before you post, Adam.
    I don’t have time to post link after link of authority on property rights being central to our society. I suggest picking up any U.S. history book or even perusing U.S. government websites.
    Your phrase “best interest of the people” has no historical basis in land use law.

  75. Craig says:

    Adam, check out this link. It is simplistic, but it should get you started.


  76. GMichaud says:

    I’m not sure where this Shangri La for developers is located, regulation free. I have been involved with building in many communities around the region and they all regulate fences, some very stringently. Municipalities such as Webster Groves and Clayton have architectural review boards. In fact the most stringent communities, Webster, Clayton, Lafayette Square and Soulard also have high property values, stable prices and very little vacant land.
    Developers have to meet the standards of the community. What has happened in the City of St. Louis is that those standards are so unfocused and lax that ineffective governance is the result. City standards are going to be different than Chesterfield, just as standards in Chesterfield are different than Clayton.
    Every community has a right to set standards within reasonable limits. But to portray an attempt to set standards as being hostile towards developers and their rights is incorrect. Whatever property rights are held by the individual, they still have to conform to reasonable standards set by the community.
    Investigate the regulations of the communities around the region to understand how property rights are modified to fit community standards.
    Anarchy of development may occur in rural Missouri where neither residents nor developers want to be, but in locations that are important to developers, they will gladly follow community standards. It happens all the time, every day.

  77. Adam says:

    craig, thank you for that very informative link. here are some excerpts:

    “Ownership in land — the most tangible, and in the early days of the Republic, the most important form of property — had never meant absolute control over that property or an unfettered right to use it in any way the owner wanted. Traditions going back to English common law have always placed restrictions on property. The common law doctrine of nuisance, for example, prevented owners from using their land in a way that interfered unreasonably with the rights of their neighbors.”

    “Property in the form of businesses also had regulations on them; taverns, ferries and coach lines, for example, were often heavily regulated in both England and the North American colonies.”

    “While it is true that at times there have been battles between a conservative judiciary intent on fully protecting what the judges saw as untouchable property rights and reformers who believed limits had to be imposed in the form of restrictions or even transfer, to look at those battles would be to miss the true meaning of property rights in American history. Most of those battles involved business property and labor contracts, admittedly important issues, but ones that in many ways are limited to the period of America’s industrial transformation, roughly from the 1870s to the 1930s. Those battles have been fought, and the basic issues decided. Rights in business property are important but may be limited when necessary to protect the general welfare; the rights of an individual property owner often must give way to the need of the state to protect those who are weak or disadvantaged.”

    “At the Philadelphia convention that drafted the Constitution, John Rutledge of South Carolina reminded the delegates that “property was certainly the principal object of Society.” They did not really need much reminding, because the Framers all believed that RESPECT for an individual’s property rights lay at the heart of the SOCIAL CONTRACT.” (emphasis mine)


    “I suggest picking up any U.S. history book or even perusing U.S. government websites.
    Your phrase “best interest of the people” has no historical basis in land use law.” – Craig

    actually, according to your own link, it does. clearly the framers felt that property rights were an essential aspect of society, but they also realized that there are limits to those rights. they did not believe that property rights were more primal than the good of the majority. furthermore:

    “Natural law is not about competition and survival. Again, please read up on some history before you post, Adam.” – Craig

    actually, according to Hobbes and Locke: “The natural law was how a rational human being, seeking to SURVIVE and prosper, would act.” – Wikipedia (again, emphasis mine.) there are many different schools of natural law in addition to those of Hobbes and Locke, and each of them has a different take on “natural rights,” including the right to property. i tend to side with the stoics.

  78. Craig says:

    You’ve got to dig deeper than wikipedia and the link I gave you as background in order to understand this debate, Adam. The fact that you are basing your knowledge of philosophy on wikipedia tells me that this debate is futile — it’s almost like talking to my dog.

    I still wish UR would admit to screwing up the constitution issue, though.

  79. Adam says:

    dear arrogant craig,

    PLEASE ENLIGHTEN US ALL TO YOUR BACKGROUND IN PHILOSOPHY. it must be quite impressive to justify your arrogance! do you have a Ph.D.? i would be ever so greatful if you would go to the wikipedia page on natural law and read it and tell me exactly which parts are incorrect. if you can’t then either A) it is accurate, or B) you know about as much philosophy as i do. don’t act like an authority unless you have the credentials to prove it. i do not have a degree it philosophy, but if you like i will go to the library and take out some books on hobbes and locke and verify my comments.

    also, craig, maybe you should actually READ the links you suggest before you post them. that way you won’t have to resort to calling me a “dog” (see previous post in case you forgot) when your link supports my point.

    i also find it entertaining that you supposedly don’t have time to post evidence for your claims, yet you are one of the more prolific contributors to this blog.

    craig, you have not and most likely will not convince me that unrestrained property rights are necessary to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, nor that they are ethical, nor that the framers endorsed such unrestrained property rights.



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