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New construction and predictions for 2050 and beyond

July 16, 2010 Economy, Planning & Design, Suburban Sprawl 15 Comments

Nothing is getting built because of the economy, right? Wrong. Seems there are renovation & new construction projects popping up in neighborhoods throughout the city.

new construction in Lafayette Square
ABOVE: New construction in Lafayette Square

The following is a combination of an educated guess based on demographic forecasts, trends and wishful thinking.

I see the 21st century as a mirror of the 20th century.  The first half of the last century started with the earliest suburbs as a means of escaping the industrial city. The initial movement was limited to the wealthy but as time passed the growing middle class sought residences in the new suburbs.

This century I see the wealthy locating in walkable neighborhoods closer to the center and near mass transit.  But more and more people want to experience real places and they realize suburbia (driveable, not walkable) don’t offer the lifestyle they seek.  By 2050 I see the general public seeking to live & work in walkable locations with the option to use mass transit.

Those parts of our region, and other regions, which do not adopt a pedestrian-friendly form will be increasingly viewed as undesirable by most of the population.  The secluded residential subdivision of today that requires a 5-mile drive to reach the grocery store will be the slum of 2075.

During the second half of the 20th century walkable urban centers tried to remake themselves in a way to retain population.  The attempts, which made the core less walkable, failed to retain those who desired life in the new suburbs.  But this century the efforts to retrofit suburbia.

Ellen Dunham-Jones describes it best:


She mentions ArtSpace at Crestwood Court.

I’ve never been more optimistic than I am now.  I’ll be an old man by the time this all happens but I look forward to watching the change happen.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    Two things are gonna have to happen for your vision to become reality, higher fuel costs and greater congestion. The vast majority of us choose our single-occupant vehicles because it's the easiest, and usually quickest, way to get from Point A to Point B and we can afford the choice. Life is full of tradeoffs. Time is money. Both are cliches and both are true.

    The affordable SOV and air conditioning, both 20th Century creations, have fundamentally changed how people live, and expect to live, in St. Louis. At the end of the 19th Century, it could easily be hotter inside, in the summer, than it was outside. Your transportation options were walking, biking, horse, streetcar, train or riverboat. You didn't have SOV's with air conditioning and entertainment and leather, and sitting on the porch was an improvement over sitting in the parlor. In the summer, everyone in St. Louis was sweaty. Today, we have the option of not (being sweaty), and/but that requires jumping from one air-conditioned environment/pod to another.

    “Giving up” or scaling back on these two 20th Century advances will ONLY happen when they become unaffordable, either through scarcity or taxation, or there's a “better” (quicker, easier, cheaper, more-comfortable) alternative. If public transit is quicker than driving, people will choose it. If walking is quicker, same thing. But when I have the choice, today, of walking 12 blocks to Target or Shnuck's, or spending $1 or $5 to drive, guess what, I'm gonna drive. Sure, I could save the money by walking (I live in a walkable area), but I get my errands done more quickly, I won't need a shower when I get home, and the tradeoff is worth it . . .

    • Higher prices for fuel are certain, we just don't know how soon.

      • Tpekren says:

        Battery technology could make fuel prices irrelevent and thus back to economics. If your transportation cost as a whole is a minor part of your budget compared to housing as it has been the last several decades the vast majority of people will continue to choose convenience and mobility everytime. I simply believe your living in a dream world to think their will be a net migration back to the city as their was out of the city. In my mind, the best prospect for cities is doing a better job at securing a bigger portion of the growing population. However, that requires both cities and suburbs to realize together that population growth is the best situation for a given region. Of course, we know how well the metro flunks that one as it does with a lot of regional issues.

        • I agree how poor a job we do on regional issues but there is an increasing desire among the public to real places. This doesn't mean back to the city so much as it does turning suburbia from drivable to walkable.

          • JZ71 says:

            I need to disagree with your repeated use of the term “real places”. Wyoming is a real place. East St. Louis is a real place. Wellston is a real place. New Town St. Charles is a real place. Wildwood is a real place. None of them may fit your definition of ideal, but they're certainly “real”, even if they may be really bad . . . Better to use more-precise terms, like walkable, denser, urban, diverse . . .

          • Herbie Hancock says:

            They exist but none of them have place.

        • JZ71 says:

          Huh? Batteries need to be charged. Electricity is not free. Solar is not cheap or reliable, and coal and nuclear have their own negatives. If hydro were doable here, it'd already be happening (it's not – too much debris and abrasives in the rivers). Plus, if vehicles move away from petroleum, politicians will have to figure out a way to replace the fuel tax we now pay at the pump. Yes, shorter trips are an answer, and higher density is critical to making that happen. Our 2.5 mllion regional population has actually been pretty constant for several decades, we've just de-densified, and sparwled over more and more of our adjacent counties . . .

  2. studs lonigan says:

    Prospects for urban cores like St. Louis certainly look brighter now than they have for many decades. The historic, American “throw away” culture, which permitted and encouraged the abandonment and obsolescence of cities, is more popularly under critical scrutiny. Ideally, racial and ethnic antagonism will become less significant in American life, fostering wider acceptance of dense communities with a wide variety of incomes, ages and colors. The City of St. Louis, as built, is such a community and hopefully will continue to grow as such.

  3. Herbie Hancock says:

    Why wait until we're old for the super-majority of United States to catch up with Europe, Asia, and even Canada? It might be an “extreme” position, but why not leave for other US cities or abroad to experience this now? Is it rational to wait the best years of ones life for St. Louis to abandon suburban hell and install functional transit which provides an equal alternative to automobiles? By the time this happens in St. Louis, and similar cities, will old age even allow this urbanist to walk 12 blocks?

    Cities with higher density that support transit provide many shopping options closer to your home than 12 blocks to Target. Frequent visits to supermarkets are not even necessary.

    • Angelo says:

      Someone isn't realizing that cities with appealing societies and infrastructure were not conjured by civic-minded wizards in an instant. It took people sacrificing for results and progress that only the next generation would be able to enjoy.

      It's a typical American philosophy that one shouldn't sacrifice, wait, or put one's own self-interest to the side.

      Saint Louis thanks you for your selfishness, the real Saint Louisans that are staying and improving things will not be sad to see you leave. Just don't come back once all the hard work is done.

      • Tpekren says:

        Sorry to disappoint you Angelo and maybe just maybe I can be a real person also. In the meantime, my life has pretty much been defined by choices and reality. Oops almost got to be a real person by stating reality. As far as myself, I left St. Louis recently becuase I needed to find a job was fortunate enough to get three job offers in this economy and unfortuantely none of them were in St. Louis. So it was back to the reality of providing a roof and food for my family. As far as a typical American philosophy, get a CLUE!

        • Chris says:

          I have to agree with Angelo's response to Herbie. I recently spent $300 on a shade tree in my front yard. I will probably never live to see the tree reach its full maturity–someone else will enjoy it for free. Am I a sucker for buying someone else a tree? No, because I am investing in my community. I might not live in my current house for more than five more years, but I will be still living in St. Louis, and my contribution will continue to contribute to myself and my neighbors.

          I refuse to leave for greener pastures; I'm too busy watering the current one.

  4. JZ71 says:

    One other law-of-unintended-consequeces issue driving suburban sprawl is the Americans with Disabilities Act, especially in areas where 2-4 story commercial buildings had been a good answer in the past. With the ADA's mandate that all areas be acessible to the public, the cost of providing and maintaining an elevator becomes a significant concern. Do a single-story building, and it becomes a non-issue, and until 3 or 4 stories fit the financial pro forma, the need for an elevator distorts the design options.

    In a related way, the ADA also informs design, making it difficult to provide steps at entries. This doesn't really affect density, but it does make it more difficult to implement the type of traditional arcitectural styles that are typical in many older parts of St. Louis.

    Finally, parking requirements, either in zoning or market driven, have a major effect on both building size and siting. Changing from minimums to maximums in zoning would be one good change to increase density. And while governments can mandate “front” doors, and even show windows, facing the public sidewalk, until the public actually moves back to using the public sidewalks, the reality will be that the actual “front” door for most businesses will be the one(s) that face the parking . . .

    • I agree with parking requirements driving sprawl but not the ADA. The ADA was signed into law in 1990 and the first guidelines appeared in 1992. Sprawl was already well established by this point. The ADA applies to commercial development and you can recreate Cherokee St or Euclid just fine without steps. Sprawl housing has as many barriers to entry as older traditional housing.

  5. JZ71 says:

    Interesting perspective on “Cities vs. suburbs – the Next Big Green Battle”: http://www.grist.org/article/2010-01-29-cities-


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