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Preservation Board to Consider Plans for 2-Block “Urban Garden”

October 22, 2007 Downtown, Events/Meetings, History/Preservation 18 Comments

urbangarden_illustration Today at 4pm the city’s Preservation Board, chaired by Slay’s PR man Richard Callow, will consider the plans for the Gateway Foundation’s gift of funding a sculpture park. The rubber stamps are being cleaned and distributed. Issues I have are larger issues for the entire Gateway Mall area.

First, I’m opposed to the removal of off-street [on-street] parking from both Market Street, Chestnut and cross streets such as 8th, 9th and 10th. These spaces provide convenient parking for the space — meters should be set for 90 minutes to 2 hours maximum and actually be enforced. Chalk the tires and ticket those that simply run out of their glass office to feed the meter. If they don’t like it they can use transit or car pool with a co-worker. On-street parking also provides a nice barrier between pedestrians and passing cars. People parking and getting in and our of their vehicles creates urban activity. And finally, these on-street spaces lessen the need for more massive and costly parking garages. I know that if I were to bring my elderly father here we’d need very close parking as he is physically unable to walk too far. On-street scooter/motorcycle parking would be nice as well.

The other thing I’d like to see are numerous bike racks. Not one rack that holds 20 bikes off in some hidden corner but the perimeter dotted with simple inverted-U racks. This would give cyclists safe and secure places to lock up their bikes so they can then enjoy walking around the various planned paths of the new sculpture garden without having to leave their bike unattended or push it around. I’d like to see 2 of these racks, each capable of holding two bikes, per side. Two blocks means eight sides so a total of 16 racks that can hold 32 bikes. Really this should be the standard throughout downtown. On either side of 9th, between the two garden blocks, you could probably have only one per side for a total of 14 racks and 28 spaces. Given the budget in the millions paying for and installing 14 racks might cost all of $5,000-$7,000 total. Given the extent and budget of this project good bicycle parking should not be overlooked.
I’m disappointed the block between 10th and 11th, containing “Twain” by Richard Serra, isn’t included in this project. It will remain, for now, disconnected from the surroundings. It will continue to serve as an unofficial dog park.

I have noticed a food vendor that sets up his shop on the corner of 10th & Chestnut to sell BBQ to AT&T employees and any others in the area (jurors?). Most likely he will get the boot which is unfortunate. He picks a spot in the shade of the existing trees so even if AT&T were agreeable to having him on their side of the street it might be too unbearable. Hopefully he can use a corner of the block containing twain or be allowed to use a tiny bit of the real estate on the north edge of the urban garden. Like bike racks, I want to see food & beverage vendors all over downtown (hopefully with some selling vegetarian hot dogs).

Another thing I’d like to see all over downtown are rickshaws — old fashioned bike taxis (aka pedicabs). Even if subsidized through say the Downtown Partnership this would be a great way to ferry people throughout downtown — from Union Station, to Washington Ave, to the Old Post Office Square, to Ballpark Village, to the Convention Center to the riverfront — there are a lot of places and often the distances are farther than people are willing to walk. One of my favorite memories of New York City is taking a bike taxi. The Partnership could purchase the pedicabs and lease them at nearly nothing to those that want the work or exercise. Advertising could be sold to offset the purchase and maintenance of the pedicabs. Let the drivers set their own fee and collect the tips — and not require a business license. This might even prove a good vocation for the homeless or near homeless. Furthermore, a downtown loft dweller might just enjoy a saturday shift as a pedicab driver as a way to contribute to the city and meet new people. A portion of the street around the urban garden could provide space for people to catch a pedicab, auto taxi or a horse drawn carriage.

With the Danforth Foundation calling for local control of the riverfront area, the new open space north of the Old Post Office and the linear Gateway Mall I still don’t think we have the population or the surrounding urban fabric to make all these spaces useful. Even after this urban garden opens in 2009 the surrounding buildings will continue to be the dreadful anonymous boxes they are today.


Currently there are "18 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    Two words – Defensible Space – if it’s not designed in and provided, this area will become another haven for “undesirables” and will scare off the very people they’re trying to attract – think Arch Grounds without the National Park Service’s dedicated presence.

  2. Aaron says:

    I completely agree with you on the sad state of bicycle and 2 wheeled parking in DT. I would also agree that ommitting the oft-maligned Serra from the sculpture park seems, to me, a large and unfortunate oversight. It is, after all, a scupture, and by one of the biggest names in sculpture. Including it might let more people appreciate it up close as it is meant to be experienced. I don’t quite follow with the loss of parking, as it seems there is indeed street parking in the renderings….though maybe only on one side, I guess.

    My true wish would be for the city to truly complete the mall by relocating the tenants of Gateway One to a building on the site of the mall-(de)facing garage adjacent to the Wainwright Building….or to the site currently occupied by the vacant ‘stilts’ building.

    And the pedicabs sounds like great fun, but I don’t know if we have the market for them just yet in DT. That said, I’d do it!

  3. john says:

    It’s definitely atractive but you’re right, it is questionable whether the city has the population or the density to make the area successful contributors to the urban environment. Perhaps leadership needs to address these issues but I expect their answers will be that Eagle Realty, BPV and/or Centene will save the day. I heard in last night’s news from all commentators that this is a “win-win” situation.
    I rather the money be spent to improve pedestrian access to the Arch grounds and support cycling infrastructure but I do not expect such. Let’s see now, the citizens of StL do not control the police or their school district (which is in disarray), unfunded liabilities are growing faster than revenues, the fire department is preoccupied with internal strife, union leaders want tax increases to pay higher wages for an understaffed force, the council/mayor continue to give up control of park property, hand out larger TIFs-tax incentives, and the community is divided. No doubt we need to celebrate something and perhaps a sculpture park will unleash the solutions to these problems. Are the issues about mismanagement to be addressed in this new park? Where?

  4. Chris says:

    Homeless-drawn rickshaws!?!? You stole that idea from Kosmo Kramer: http://youtube.com/watch?v=VxNqHmZ4oLE

    That said, this “urban garden” and the entire mall concept sucks and it’s sad that the city is so dedicated to it.

    [SLP — I was never a big Seinfeld fan but that segment was funny.  They can stop by the soup man place over on 11th street.  I was thinking more the pedal type rather than being pulled by a human.]

  5. dude says:

    Sounds like you’re at least showing some acceptance of the urban garden. Speaking for myself, at some gut-instinct level it seems like this project isn’t going to do much to overhaul downtown and make much of a difference. My best explanation for why would be Tower Grove, Forest Park, and Lafayette Park all have really cool housing just across crossable streets from them where as this thing won’t, but it seems like the assumption is it’ll come to life like those places. I agree with your points, add bike racks and don’t eliminate street parking. If anything, eliminate a lane or two of driving traffic from Market. As a side note, I run the Patty’s Day run and that block is the corral for the start. Man that’ll be a mess but I guess they can move the start.

  6. Not including the “Twain” block is a glaring hole in this plan. Yet it’s typical of the local tendency to build something new before properly maintaining and celebrating what we already have. “Twain” is already in place, and should be the only sculpture on its block — all it needs is proper landscaping around it as Serra intended. That could have been part of this plan.

    I wonder why 9th Street is being narrowed for the project. If the goal is connectivity between north and south downtown, public passages (streets!) are key.

  7. Brian says:

    There is a single-story cafe as part of this plan on the corner of 8th and Chestnut. I wonder if it’s intentional that so many renderings hide the cafe, when many locals think it’s sacrilegious to build anything on the mall. But as the rendering shown in Steve’s blog post shows (and that’s from up in the air even), the east-looking views along Chestnut are already ruined by Gateway One. Hence, the best place for a cafe is nearest Gateway One, but why build only a single-story, single-use structure?

    I say build a half-mall with mixed-use density along Chestnut, leaving open the only view worth preserving– down Market Street. All of the adjacent buildings– Gateway One, AT&T’s buildings, Bank of America Plaza, 1010 Market and the Civil Courts– none of these can be easily remodeled to provide active ground-floor spaces. As other posters have noted about great urban parks, they need strong edges. With these blocks, the edges are fixed to be dead for years to come. So we’d better bring the life into the park itself.

    A cafe is just the beginning of challenging the mindset of the mall being off-limits to development. But unless we build more 24/7 activities into the mall, any project here will just temporarily beautify the most “8 to 5” blocks of our otherwise evolving downtown. Sure, Market Street ain’t Washington Avenue. But it certainly will never come close to changing its dynamic with old-thinking projects like this.

  8. The Gateway Mall shouldn’t be designed as defensible space. If it is used all the time, as in the area has both workers and residents, the “defensible” design is unnecessary. Besides, defensible design implies the mall needs to have a barrier from the surrounding community. The problem is that there is no surrounding community. Concentration of uses (density) creates a continuous vibrant area in which crime is discouraged due to a large number of eyes on the street at all hours. This is a part of the defensible concept, but the reason I am arguing against this is because “design” will not solve the problem. Planners cannot fix the problem of the Gateway Mall with design or plans. The mall solution is ultimately new mixed use construction on and around the mall. When speaking of the Mall, “the build it and they will come idea” hasn’t worked very well in the past. Why should it work now?

    The argument to remove on-street parking is that it reduces the supply of parking thus creates an incentive to not drive. Other cities have done this, however they often do this when congestion is actually a problem. These cities often have higher densities as well. The problem here is that if we raise the cost of parking, as in supply, we don’t have enough supplements or an environment which is dense enough.

  9. Kemet Hetep says:

    Speaking of old fashion rickshaws. There are presently 2 pedicab companies operating in the downtown area. Bizzy Bee Pedicabs, LLc and St. Louis 3Wheel Taxi both offer a variety of bike taxi and outdoor advertising services. This type of urban transportation would be perfect for the 2 Block Urban Garden Project, Ballpark Village, etc… So maybe we can get the Preservation Board to contact both of these bike taxi companies and see if they are interested in establishing bike taxi and outdoor advertising services that are targeted for the Urban Garden and future downtown projects. Contact Bizzy Bee Pedicabs @ 314-713-7734 and St. Louis 3Wheel Taxi @ 314-276-7607.

  10. SillyLocals says:

    Rickshaws? If you’re so loaded from drinking what locals believe is real beer I suppose we would be better off from this silly idea then having the inebriated driving cars. Other locals are so lazy and out of shape (mentally and physically) i guess they may need to be carried a block or two. Nothing like using Steve’s site for free ads!

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    Doug – Defensible Space is a planning concept, based on “eyes on the street”, not chain-link fences. Denver had a wonderful urban park (Skyline Park) that was designed by Lawrence Halpern to provide secluded areas, isolated from the adjacent urban street traffic. Unfortunately, it did become a haven for the homeless and some drug dealing, and in doing so, scared off many “desirable” users (http://www.pps.org/great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=128). The solution, recently completed, was to remove the berms and retaining walls and to open things up and create a sense of personal safety through visibility (http://www.tbany.com/projects_page.php?categoryid=0&projectid=131, http://www.denvergov.org/SkylinePark/tabid/380775/Default.aspx). The same challenges are in place here, and need to be addressed with any new project.

  12. Southside Tim says:

    While not paying a lot of attention to this matter, did I read where the city will be responsible for maintaining the area? If so one would predict a state much like the psuedo Greek forum on the east side of mall which always looks a little run down. The key factor to making the Forest Park revival successful was raising funds for maintenance.

  13. stannate says:

    If 9th Street is being narrowed now to accommodate the sculpture garden, then they may face the prospect of ripping it up again when the North-South line of Metrolink comes through downtown…provided that that plan ever comes to fruition in its present form. Also, I work in one of those buildings that borders this new park-to-be, and I am guilty of running out to feed the meters during my shift. It certainly is convenient for me to park there, but I wouldn’t rip out my hair if the meters were to go away.

    Overall, the park just strikes a big “Meh” chord in me.

  14. GMichaud says:

    Like the award winning Pruitt-Igoe project, city leaders, the Post Dispatch and other news media lead a cheering section for their failed policies. Once again a cut and paste project is introduced without regard for a comprehensive city plan or public inclusion in discussions.
    Is it little wonder that St. Louis is world leader for population lost in the modern era?
    Can this be the correct solution?, who knows when it is shoved down the collective throats of St. Louis. It’s biggest draw for the populace is that it is free. Hey 20 million dollars for free, what a deal.
    No serious commentary, no analysis, no thought and just as with the half building which created the half mall, St. Louis is forced to accept whatever is thrown into the city fabric.
    Looking at the photograph of the Mall, or Half Mall, the idea that architecture reflects the values and aspirations of the society is reflected in the chaos of what has been built.
    To date the mall and the surrounding city are poorly done, without significant ability to enhance the lives of the people of St. Louis.
    If this land was offered to developers for proposals, 20 million and probably a great deal more would of been spent without any cost to the citizens. Of course this would require a city planning department to guide the planning of the project so that it fits into a broader purpose.
    It seems the purpose of this current project is to fill the vacant lots with something, anything, so the leadership of St. Louis (corporate and political) no longer look so ineffectual and incompetent to the outside world.
    The quality of urban planning in this town is at the bottom of the barrel. Nothing in the environment relates to anything else, nor is there an understanding of how to create public spaces.

  15. SillyLocals says:

    StL media attempts to characterize this project as similar to Millennium Park. The Chicago park is built on more than 24 acres and cost private donors over $500 million while the Urban Gardens will be on 3 acres and cost about $20 million. PD says that “the project has been called one of the largest gifts to the city in its history.” Reminds me of the old strategy of painting a few rooms before listing your house for sale, but everyone one in the corporate world already knows that StL is “up for sale”. Low standards in StL typically lead to poor results, so let’s hope this project breaks with tradition.

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