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Lead with your strong side

May 9, 2008 Planning & Design, Steve Patterson 5 Comments

Today I did something stupid which can serve as a good analogy for cities.  For new readers I had a stroke on Feb 1st that took out my left side.  Through more than two months of rehab I can walk again with a cane.  So today I decide to pick something off the floor.  In rehab I had done squats to pick up stuff before.

Here is where the analogy and lesson part come in…

I was in a hurry and ignored all that I had learned up to this morning.  Rather than positioning my feet and body so that I was more relying on my strong (right) side I just squatted down as I would have prior to the stroke.  Conditions had changed but I tried the old way.  I ended up sitting on my butt on the floor.
Cities do the same thing— they don’t use their strong side to support then.  St Louis’ strong side is great urban architecture on a nicely scaled grid of walkable streets.  The suburbs don’t have those strong areas.  Yet here we tend to lead with our weak side — suburban anti-city stuff.  The more of this we have the less of the strong side we have.  Ok, so I was sitting on the floor now.

No harm done, people stumble just as cities stumble.  Unlike many cities I had a backup plan.  You see getting off the floor with only one good arm, one good leg and one weak leg is not just a pop back up sort of affair.  In therapy I practiced getting up off the floor — the assumption being that I’d end up there eventually.   Cities and their political leaders just don’t practice how to recover when they fall.  I knew to scoot across the floor and make it to the sofa.  From there I could leverage my strong side to get myself off the floor and seated again.  Cities don’t have such a backup.
St Louis has had a number of bad falls —such as the very expensive downtown indoor mall, St Louis Centre.  Had St Louis built up its strong side rather than coming from a weak position we would have focused on traditional storefront shops along streets.  Instead we went with the suburban mall model sans the acres of free parking and it flopped big time.   St Louis, like me this morning, was trying the quick route.  I recovered fairly quickly but a city’s mistakes are harder to recover from.

Remember that is is best to use your strong side for needed support.


Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Bridgett says:

    Nice analogy.

  2. GMichaud says:

    Your are right Steve. Small scale development would probably be better than all of the mega-beaucoup-sickness that is underway in St. Louis. Ballpark Village is a perfect example, the city should own the land for all that was contributed by the public. It is clear that 6 to 20 small scale developers would have been a better choice than a mega developer with mega problems.

    Gilded Age is doing a nice job on the corner of Lafayette and Jefferson. In fact it is great that working within the context of the environment they are producing a truly urban structure in an urban location, including parking no less. It will enhance Lafayette Square.

    Certainly that type of development would work at Ballpark Village. How many buildings would you need? Probably no more than 6 or 8 developers. The project would be underway if the project utilized the resources of the community instead of designed to hand everything off to mega maniacs.

  3. Richard Kenney says:

    Was your floor clean?!?

    Regarding St. Louis, I always get the impression that those in charge do not understand or appreciate what you have there.

  4. Nick Kasoff says:

    > St Louis’ strong side is great urban architecture on a nicely scaled grid
    > of walkable streets. The suburbs don’t have those strong areas.

    I agree with all you say except this. In fact, St. Louis doesn’t have a monopoly on walkable street grids. They can also be found in U City, Ferguson, Kirkwood, and St. Charles north of 70, to name just a few.

  5. SIG says:

    Still amazed at your recovery and your commitment in the thought process here to make the analogy. When cities fall they take most of their denizens with them. That’s the difference.


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