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These McMansions Will Be Hard To Give Away A Decade From Now

About 8 years ago I had a client on a quiet & respectable street in the suburb of Chesterfield. What struck me at the time was the number of houses all with a single road to get out of the subdivision. One visit I stopped to reset my trip odometer just to see how long it was from the main road to their house, it was over a mile and a half!

ABOVE: 1.7 miles between the subdivision entrance & the street with the client's house
ABOVE: 1.7 miles between the subdivision entrance & the street with the client’s house. Click image to view in Google Maps.

I remembered this area as I read an article about a recent study:

People who live in walkable communities are more socially engaged and trusting than those who live in less walkable areas, says a new study from the University of New Hampshire.

The study buttresses other research that has linked a neighborhood’s walkability to its residents’ quality of life, notably improved physical and mental health.

The McMansion on the large lot & 3-car garage was once desirable by many, but those days are fading. This subdivision has sidewalks, but no direct connection to each front door!

ABOVE: 4.1 mile route to "nearby" shopping
ABOVE: 4.1 mile route to “nearby” shopping. Click image to view in Google Maps

Out of curiosity I decided to run the Walk Score for this street. No surprise it got a 2 out of 100 and the label “auto-dependant”

ABOVE: A score of 2 compared to an average of 41 for Chesterfield

Half a century ago you couldn’t give away mansions in the city. They were big, drafty, and “functionally obsolete.” They lacked modern plumbing, wiring and air conditioning. A decade from now these McMansions will be obsolete. The cost to heat & cool these houses alone is enough to make them undesirable but it will be the lack of walkability that will do them in.

In contrast, my downtown address got a score of 95 – walker’s paradise. My first apartment in St. Louis (CWE) has a score of 91. My first apartment in Old North St. Louis has a “very walkable” 77. The two properties I owned in Dutchtown have a “somewhat walkable: score of 52. Must someone live in a downtown loft to have a high Walk Score? Hardly. My former office was in Kirkwood where the residential units where the former Target store was located get a 91 “walker’s paradise” score. Inner-ring suburbs often score high because they originate in days of streetcars. Ferguson MO gets an 80 and Maplewood 75, both “very walkable.” On the Illinois side of the region you have places like Belleville (80) and Edwardsville (86).

Here is how they define the levels.

walkscorelevelsAs gas prices & public transit ridership go up homes in car-deopendent areas will have little appeal. Areas that are somewhat & very walkable will be retrofitted to become more walkable. I’ve set up a calendar reminder for December 23, 2020 to revisit this issue, and this street in Chesterfield.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "32 comments" on this Article:

  1. a.torch says:

    These folks don't care. The one person I know in that area makes over a million a year and will barely walk to his mailbox much less anywhere else.

    • The nouveau riche will leave subdivisions like these as the housing stock ages, 30 year old vinyl siding isn't a pretty sight. It is already happening, look at the new housing just north of downtown Clayton. Walkable will equal desiable, drivable will be undesirable.

  2. Joe says:

    That subdivision is infamous; I think it goes back even further.

  3. Kevin McG says:

    First, you say there is no connection to the front door. How is the driveway not a connection? It is a paved walking surface. If I can use it to get to the front door from my car, you can use it from the sidewalk. Its like saying the parking lot of a store is not a walkable connection. Car users don't fly from their parking spot to the front door of a store.

    Second, all that matters is schools. As long as these homes are in good school districts they will be in high demand. That is not a concern to you, but it is to every single parent. Your loft will never be worth as much as these McMansions until the city schools can compete with the suburban school. It would be a miracle change for the city schools to compete with the suburban schools in the next ten years.

    • Robby Dodson says:

      Of course you can walk in a parking lot, but its intended use is for automobiles. I think what many urbansits suggest is that usability is not just a derivative of functionality but also of the positive or negative nature of the user's experience. How we feel about something goes a long way towards determining just how much or how little we use it, regardless of whether or not the thing CAN be used.

      Sure, I caaaaan walk through a mall parking lot, but frankly, a busy lot is dangerous and is not a highlight of the retail experience. That doens't mean I'm not going to the mall, but I'm also not going to be walking my dog around the lot to mark the pathetic shrubs placed willy nilly around a huge asphalt field. To suggest that a parking lot is a viable pedestrian connection is to suggest that we should play in the street, literally.

      The point is (as I'm sure you're well aware) that suburban sidewalks are a joke. They often lead to nowhere, often have siginifcant interruptions from point to point and often have no cross walks at intersections. Our suburbs are made to drive in, not walk in. And this design promotes less pedestrian activity. I'm not sure what's really right or wrong here. There are many costs and questions, I'm sure. I surely don't think every other house in Chesterfield has Grinch on their mailbox and doesn't want a single visit to their front door. But one wonders about the quality of community that can be had with your neighbor if you are always in your car and they are always in theirs…

    • matt says:

      New families are increasingly figuring out how to make it work in St. Louis City. The families who can't make the city work sure aren't headed to Chesterfield or St. Chas Co. A demographic wave is going to begin chipping away at home values in some outer areas. There just arent enough echo boomers to replace the baby boomers in St. Louis, and the echo boomers are much more urban minded -it's pretty obvious that the wave has begin to crash down. This isnt necessarily a city vs suburbs thing, it's a regional demographic collapse that is in the innerbelt and inner citys favor, but a problem for a chunk of the region (which could be bad for everyone).

      • If our region doesn't get it's collective act together we will all suffer as out total population numbers stagnate while other regions grow. I could say “I live in a walkable area” and be done but I know that in the big picture we must change our region to be more walkable – at all levels of density.

  4. Stlplanr says:

    Sure, schools are a concern. But just as the middle suburbs inside I-270 peaked in the 1970s, the outer suburbs are peaking now. You ultimately need new families to retain good schools. And the more young families stay put due to transportation costs and the housing market correction, then urban areas will provide new schools.

    Strollers eventually follow the yuppies, who had followed gays, just each about a decade or two apart. This is already visible in DC, Chicago, and even select St. Louis neighborhoods, like CWE and Lafayette Square, where gentrification has been happening for well over a decade.

  5. Robby Dodson says:

    I agree. Many of these folks want the privacy of course, but one wonders if the next few generations will have such a zeal to move so far away. And even beyond these Mcmansions, I wonder what the 3 bedroom ranches out in St. Charles and Wentzville and other points west are gonna look like when they approach 30 and 40 years old and beyond. As these homes begin to enter the architectural death period of no longer new and not historical old, I wonder if the shoddy construction (IMO) of match stick built homes begins to literally fall apart. These areas will likely face decline as the American thirst for new and improved is always bringing change.

    And in searching for that change, one can only move out so far before suburb becomes exburb and exburb becomes 'I'm spending over 3 hours a day in a car.' As the City gentrifies and infills and some of these exburbs (I'm thinking the more middle class areas) face decline, who's gonna want to save a 70's split level or 90's ranch so far from everything anyway? And if some of the magnet school and charter school initiatives provide affordable education options in St. Louis City (and crime continues its downward spiral), wait and see just who might be back in the town if affordable, new construction is available with the added amenities of incredible proximity to parks, museums, resaurants, entertainment and professional sports.

    The next 10-30 years are ripe for a new generation to realize that the new housing options they want are too far from everything and cost to much to get too. Folks might begin to discover that a more practical housing option transportation wise also offers more than Chesterfield could imagine trying to offer. The History Museum is okay on the internet, but the real thing must be experienced and could be just a MAX bus or Metrolink or bike ride away.

    • JZ71 says:

      This assumes that jobs will stay in the existing employment centers. My take is that a lot of jobs are following the housing, everything from new hospitals off Gravois and in St. Charles County, Mastercard in St. Charles, continued growth in office space in Clayton, Westport and Fairview Heights, new shopping centers, etc, etc, etc. Probably half of the people who live here don't work anywhere near the St. Louis city limits, and only get east of the inner belt for sports or culture, and do so with their SUV doors tightly locked.

      • Due to increases in gas prices, the more area inside I-270 will be more desirable for housing, employment, retail and eventually, schools. Kirkwood, Ferguson, Maplewood, etc rise as far flung auto-dependent places such as my example sink in desirability.

        • JZ71 says:

          If you live in Chesterfield and work at Mastercard, moving east of I-270 will significantly increase one's commuting costs. Your perspective reminds me of that classic New Yorker cover of how New Yorkers view the rest of the country http://bigthink.com/ideas/2112… I get it – you love urban living, but not everyone else does. One size does not fit all, and commuting is highly personal, and for an increasing number of people, no longer includes the CBD.

          • Robby Dodson says:

            “I get it – you love urban living, but not everyone else does.” Given that the name of this site is Urban Review STL, your insights are either dull and obvious or insulting. Who ever suggested that EVERYONE should love urban living? There has been city and country for millenia and will continue to be. Both communities should see how dependant they are on each other and find ways to help each grow and prosper. The idea that our region does not a need viable, livable and vibrant city and that such should not be promoted is foolish.

            “For an increasing number of people, [this] no longer includes the CBD.” Not sure what you mean. Are you not aware of the latest census which appears to suggest that in fact the opposite is true? Actually, 'increasing numbers of people' are moving into the CBD and City. And the suburbs have grown as well.

            The rapid decline in City residents has reversed for the moment. Will the factors that caused the drain to outlying areas to cease continue? If investment dollars spent in the City this past year are any indication, then I believe the answer is yes.

          • JZ71 says:

            Hey, I like living in cities – I've lived in 'em, by choice, for 35 years. My point isn't that urban living isn't a good thing. it's that St. Louis city has yet to turn the corner on being the prime business location in the region.

            Without the good-paying jobs, it doesn't matter what the infrastructure and housing stock may be, people follow the jobs, no different than what's happening in every other rust belt city. That's why the state of Michigan shows a net loss in the last census. It has many walkable communiies, just like we do, it just doesn't have the jobs to keep people in them. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12… We're seeing the same thing in north city and north county – walkable communites are fading while suburban crap is growing . . .

          • Robby Dodson says:

            JZ, you said a few posts up in this thread, “My take is that a lot of jobs are following the housing [people?].” Now, most recently you said, “people follow the jobs.”

            We all agree that all of these issues are interrelated. Housing effects jobs and jobs effect housing. But the question here is where is the next generation of housing going to be. Further west, past an aging west county or will the trends shift and see more chosing to move into the city? I think the last census gives some insight here.

            I guess you would also have to define what 'prime business location' means. I believe that St. Louis, MO is the clear geographic and economic center of the St. Louis MSA. Please correct me if you have evidence to the contrary.

            Were you to combine the corridor between downtown St. Louis, MO and the western edge of Clayton, MO, what I consider to be the urban heart of St. Louis, you'd have to go west to KC or north Chi-town to find a comparable concentration of business and commerce leadership and prime class A office space.

            North St. Louis has already faded and is not walkable, my friend (look up the walkability score). But the opportunity in north St. Louis is enormous. I agree St. Louis still has work to do and what happens in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County are keys to the future for us.

          • JZ71 says:

            We do agree that everything is interrelated, and that there is no single problem or answer. Where we differ, apparently, is how to interpret the census snapshot and how far back to look. My take is that the St. Louis MSA has remained fairly constant for the past couple of decades, at about 2.5 million people, but has continued to spread out. Yes, the city has seen a little growth over the past decade, and yes, the county has seen population loss, but the big gainers have been the outer-ring exurbs, places like Belleville, Cottleville, O'Fallon and Arnold. And it's not because these places all have old walkable cores (they all do), it's because they have affordable raw land and willing governmental entities, and it's because developers are building a product people want and MoDOT and IDOT are providing the highway infrastructure that lets them move around.

            While downtown and Clayton are both significant employment centers, there also are many other nodes, including the CWE/BJC campus, Westport, the Chesterfield valley/Mastercard campus, Fairview Heights, the Des Peres/Manchester corridor, the Creve Couer/Olive corridor, Scott AFB, etc, etc. I'm also pretty sure that there isn't any true “prime, Class A office space” in downtown STL anymore, while there certainly is in Clayton. (This isn't actually a bad thing. It's important if you're trying to attract major law firms and traditional corporate headquarters, not so much if you're trying to attract the creative class and the Googles of the world.)

            Part of where we likely (need to agree to) disagree, is just exactly what a prime business location, or even what a prime business, is. Our most recent new, large employer is the new casino in Lemay; our most recent loss of a large employer was the Chrysler plant in Fenton. Express Scripts continues to grow rapidly in Maryland Heights (?)/ north county. Many other businesses continue to grow and contract incrementally, while some are also moving within the MSA / region. In this economy, for many people, anything that pays twice the minimum wage is considered to be a good job, especially with the continued erosion of jobs in the manufacturing sector.

            Where housing ends up, based on watching these things for nearly half a century, is that it depends. Unlike commercial land, for shopping centers or industrial uses, rarely will a government become involved, using powers like condemnation or tax credits. Once a residential lot is platted and sold, what's built on it is primarily driven by the economy, secondarily by zoning, and if major changes occur nearby, by transportation options. And if a structure is kept watertight, it will continue to be occupied residentially, increasing or decreasing in value driven much more by location than by type of construction.

            Most areas seem to stay pretty constant, with ongoing maintenance and the addition of the latest modern amenities – indoor plumbing and coal furnaces in the 1900's, central gas heating and personal garages in the 1930's, central air conditioning and vinyl siding in the 1960's, cable TV and double pane windows in 1990's. Whether it's much of south county, the St. Louis Hills area of St. Louis or all of Ferguson and Webster Groves, not much really changes. A few areas do decline and become ghost towns, be they silver mining areas in Colorado and Nevada or certain industrial neighborhoods in Detroit and St. Louis, but it's more a result of no demand than reduced demand. And, a surprisng number are reborn / gentrified / upgraded / densified because people do want to be there. There are no direct government subsidies, just market-driven demand, whether it's in SoHo, Wrigleyville or parts of Denver.

            One last observation – changing people's attitudes, whether it's about suburban sprawl or what they eat or drive, is less about pointing out that they made the wrong choice(s); it's more about pointing out why your choices are better – persuasion, not preaching . . .

          • Robby Dodson says:

            “Most areas seem to stay pretty constant”

            I guess your new to St. Louis! =>

          • JZ71 says:

            Been here 6 years, and came from Denver, where perfectly good $250,000 homes were being knocked down and replaced with new, true $500,000-$800,000 McMansions and mega-duplexes (a quirk of their zoning) and existing bungaloes were regularly being doubled and trippled in size, for both fun and profit. My brother's living the same thing in New Jersey. I don't see a lot of evidence of that happening here. Too many parts of the city are declining, some parts are being rebuilt in larger chunks (McKree Town, Grand Center), some are coming back through historic rehabs, there's lofts happening downtown, but all in all, most of the housing stock seems to be pretty stable. The neighborhoods may be changing, but the houses that were there 50 or 100 years ago are either still there or they've been abandoned; there doesn't seem to be the same location-driven frenzy to redevelop lot by lot.

          • Mike says:

            When gas gets up to $10 an gallon, you might not have a choice about whether you live the city…

          • JZ71 says:

            . . . assuming a) your job is in the city, b) whether you're willing to buy a Leaf or a Prius, and c) how far you're willing to ride your bike.

            I remember paying 29 cents a gallon in 1972*; $2.90 a gallon was unthinkable back then. Gas WILL hit $10 a gallon; the only question is how quickly and whether it will mirror or significantly exceed the rate of inflation?

            *to go in my 7-year-old $150 Corvair.

      • Robby Dodson says:

        Very true. Given the implosion of manufacturing, proximity to other fixed infrastructure is not as vital for many businesses today. As long as there are fiber optic lines and enough employees, MasterCard could open up in a corn field near Louisiana, MO.

        Americans historically have wanted bigger, better and new. But how far out are these suburban campuses willing to go to find bigger, better and new?

        At some point Chesterfield and St. Charles will grow old and dated. Will these towns age gracefully like U City? IDK. But my take is that so much of our auto culture is disposable and will not be saved. Its hard for me to see row after row of restored 1980's retail and residential in another 50-60 years like some of the gentrified areas of St. Louis City have experienced.

        As new waves of construction come on line in the next two generations, housing and business could go further out from city centers. But these spreading spokes of the wheel can only spread so far IMO. It just seems the nature of business and urban areas is to gravitate towards a center. Will companies want to exist on isolated islands possibly two hours from another 'local' business partner?

        And I'm mainly thinking of exburbs beyond St. Charles, Westport and Farview Heights. In other words, to push another donut of developement around the St. Louis would end up putting members of the St. Louis area hours apart from each other. I bet the City ends up becoming a more viable alternative to these exburbs for many businesses and residents as the reallty of travel cost and travel time impact quality of life.

        • Kevin McG says:

          Most jobs in the metro area are no longer in the city limits. Of the people I know who live in the city limits, most have jobs in the county or beyond. If people are concerned about travel time, they will be more likely to live near work, which is not in the city.

          If I ran a business, I would be very concerned about infrastructure cost. If I have a choice between water, sewer, and electrical lines 20 years old or 100 years old, I'm going with newer. As the city crumbles away it will take a lot of money to update the ancient infrastructure.

          Previous posters ask “who wants to save a ranch?” How about the people who chose a ranch in the first place. (Personally, I don't like them) Most people who chose these style homes like them. Are you just assuming people are going to come to your point of view and taste? Are they suddenly going to like the cheaply built shotgun style homes on The Hill? You seem to forget, a majority of people in the metro area do not like urban living. They don't drive past 170 unless it is for a sports game. Even people who like the city move out when they have kids.

          As for schools. Currently there are zero public options for a child in the city equivalent to many county schools. I repeat, none, nada, zilch. Not that all the schools in the city are bad. If you disagree, please name the school where there is a student that won a state championship, while doing the school musical and getting college credit calculus. The kids that are will be in school in ten years are being born NOW. Those parents are buying houses NOW. The good schools today are in areas where people moved ten years ago. In the current market, there is no boom. Which leads me to believe the city schools will be no better than they are today in ten years.

          So many more points I want to make, but out of typing time. Despite my argument, I do believe walkability is better for all parties involved. I just don't see the public at large in the St Louis area buying into that anytime soon.

          • JZ71 says:

            In some ways, where a business is located is becoming less and less important, especially in the global economy, where the internet, offshoring, virtual retailing, Skype, FedEx, etc. make proximity less critical and potentially irrelevent. Between collaboration and hotelling in the modern workplace, and internet anywhere on smart phones, where one works is becoming pretty much wherever one is at the moment . . . .

          • Robby Dodson says:

            While I agree that business is becoming more technologically savvy and it is clearly possible for some to work entirely from home today, the complete restructuring of work for most of us being entirely done away from 'work' has a long way to go IMO. There are productivity issues and practicality issues (at least thats what I was told when I worked for a downtown law firm). So much about successful business is about relationship. And relationships can only go so far over the phone and email. Successful business requires effective and personal human interaction at some point during the business cycle which again, IMO, tends businesses towards centering themselves together into regions and cities rather then tending toward being 'too far' from everything and everyone else. Downtown St. Louis is still the king of employment in our region for a reason. And Louisiana, MO is not the center of business and commerce in our region for a reason as well. These two realities are not likely to change.

          • Robby Dodson says:

            I don't think you read my post. You seem to be answering Steve's.

            My point is the future. I'm not suggesting that the current suburban ring of St. Louis is built out or that there is no room to expand in the exburb ring, but the status of our current suburban municipalities will decay with time and folks will begin looking for new options. And the old model was to move further away from a regions center towards affordable, NEW construction. I'm not interested in debating the motives and reasons behind this move. It happened.

            So whats the next move going to be? Poverty is becoming increasingly suburbanized. Many suburban residential and commerical properties won't be maintained the way they once were. It's just the normal life-cycle of a neighborhood. Where will the 'new' family residential destinations be is my question. Will folks be willing to continue the trend and move even further away from the regions center?

            IMO, moving further out creates decent odds of even longer commutes somewhere down the line, not shorter ones. You might work for Mastercard today, but, in five years, you likely won't. You will hopefully have moved up and on. BUt, in a region that continues spreading out, this means that odds are by choosing to live in one far-flung section of the region to be near work, your options will have to include greatly increased travel time for a position with a firm in the regions LARGEST job node, downtown St. Louis, or God forbid an offer come in from Scott AFB when your home is west of Wentzville.

            My point is that for some, NOT ALL, as new construction becomes available towards the region's center and given the multitude of amenities (there is more than hockey and baseball in the City, uh, a lot more) also available, the City will become attractive again to many who might not have given the City a look. Living close to the regions center makes job options north, south, west and east much more palatable.

            I actually kinda like suburban ranches (I grew up in a decent suburban home myself) and dislike shotguns in the historic and regal Hill neighborhood. But neither is an unacceptable option. My point is that all-brick and stone contstruction of the early 20th century is likely to stand longer than the matchstick construction of the late 20th century. I'm sure you've read the '3 Little Pigs.' lol…There are many nice looking modernist homes in our suburbs that have much architectural merit. I just think its going to be more likely that entire subdivisions built in the 1980s will be bulldozed when they approach 80 to 100 years old than any movement of saving and restoring them will have the political will or money to save them. And it will have much less to do with 'taste' than the reality of decades old aged vinayl siding and rotting wood. IDK, I could end up being wrong. Its just my gut feel.

            Have you seen some of the infill project in the City? They offer new construction with comparable square footage and plot sizes to what you'd find in St. Charles Co or Wentzville.

            Will everyone be moving back downtown and into City neighborhoods. Well, obviously not. But I think our suburban and exburban rings can only push so far away from the middle before they just don't make sense to as many people anymore. The only other place to turn if folks don't go further out is back to new infill options closer to the center, which also come with a lot more than a yard, affordable sticker price and neighborhood McDonalds.

          • Robby Dodson says:

            And yes, the most of the public education options in the City are in the end embarrassing and destructive. But there are magnet schools being to take serious root in the City that promise to provide viable options. Other charter school options also promise to provide additonal choices. And my personal choice, the very good parochial school options in the City of St iLouis, are as good as any in the region. And If one can afford a parochial education, not only are all of the advantages you suggest above offered, but the things lacking in a public school, IMO (I'm attended public school), are also available easier to learn: strong and clear morality, trust in a loving God and social conscious. This option is not for everyone, clearly. But I would put a SLUH grad up against a Parkway West grad any day of the week! =p

          • Robby Dodson says:

            *social conscience

          • Mike says:

            Metro High School, a public high school in the St. Louis School District, consistently performs higher than all other high schools in the metro area. So yes, there is a high school in the city “where there is a student that won a state championship, while doing the school musical and getting college credit calculus.”

            Don't believe me? Look here: http://www.schooldigger.com/go…. Only one Missouri high school beats Metro.

            But I concede your point, until area parents aren't terrified of the words “Roosevelt”, “Sumner”, “Beaumont” or “Vashon” the city will continue to have problems attracting the middle class back within its boundaries. And honestly, I see Roosevelt probably being closed in the next ten years, not improving.

            The last time I checked by the way, those “poorly built” shotguns in the Hill are helping anchor one of the strongest neighborhoods in the metro area.

  6. Rachelle L'Ecuyer says:

    Basically, the only business one cannot walk to in Maplewood is a dry cleaner, so I was curious as to how the scoring worked because I had posted our score before and my memory was it was a little higher. There are not many places left where you can walk to the grocery store, the bank, the post office and a good number of boutiques, services and restaurants.

    When I put in 7401 Manchester, Maplewood, MO 63143, (Monarch) Maplewood's Walkable Score was 78. Then I entered 2640 South Big Bend Blvd., Maplewood, MO 63143 (Saint Louis Cellars) and the Walkable Score was 80. Just to make the sampling a little more varied, I put in 7301 Manchester, Maplewood, MO 63143 (Citizens National Bank) and the score was 78.

    Some of the restaurants listed in the amenities are no longer there and new ones that have opened are not listed, as well as some shops that have been there for years. I think this is a very thought provoking exercise but I am wondering if the site is not fully updated, how accurate it is?

    • Robby Dodson says:

      I wonder if connectivity to areas outside of Maplewood factor in. I live in Downtown West which gets a 91 I believe, but I can walk within a couple of blocks to the Metrolink which quickly connects me with walkable destinations of the Belleville, CWE, Clayton, and the airport, too…Maybe thats the difference?

      • Rachelle L'Ecuyer says:

        Robby, that is an excellent point and actually the highest rated address is closer to Metrolink.


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