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Scooters Vs. Minis on 9th Street, October 2006

A year ago I took some video from a fun event held last October by Espresso Mod on 9th Street —- a scooter vs. mini contest.  I thought I’d use this video to test out some new video editing software (Apple’s iMovie ’08).  Enjoy:



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

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.


Citizens Rallied in Favor of Sherman George, Called for Recall of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay

On a windy but beautiful Sunday afternoon citizens gathered on the main steps of St. Louis’ city hall to express support for demoted/retired Fire Chief Sherman George while calling for the ouster of Mayor Francis Slay before the end of his 2nd term in the spring of 2009.


The diverse crowd included various religious leaders from Metropolitan Churches United, members of the Green Party, anti-eminent domain advocates and even a few Black Panthers. I think most were your average everyday citizen that felt compelled to come out and be counted.

State Rep Jamilah Nasheed (D-60th), above left, was one of the first speakers. Following her speech the crowd began chanting “Slay must go.” Nasheed indicated that Slay took away one of the black leaders in St. Louis.

Numerous flyers were being passed around including one with a cartoon of Slay as a “fat cat” vampire. Common themes were the take over of schools, Slay being soft on crime, development activity focused on downtown, and Slay’s support of charter schools. One flyer included the domain name firefrancis.com which was not working on the times I tried it (clever name though).


Bright yellow t-shirts were being sold for $10. Some said “Injustice to One is Injustice to All” while others had to do with a recall. On the front of these they had a number like 43,xxx (I forgot the number) to go (alluding to the number of signatures needed for a recall vote) and on the back asking “What Number Are You?”

Interestingly, one of the flyers asked in support of recalling Francis, “Did you know that for the past 10 years, you have been paying for the redevelopment of downtown instead of improvements in your own neighborhoods?” Given that Slay was elected Mayor in the Spring of 2001 he has only been in office shortly more than 6 years. However, the city’s 2nd African-American Mayor Clarence Harmon was in office the preceding four years. So I’m a little confused — did the flyer intend to blame Harmon as well or was the implication that from the Board of Aldermen’s office Slay was responsible for downtown development?

If you actually get past the sound bites over the last couple of months you’ll get from George that this was strictly about testing standards to determine the best candidates. He expressed disapproval over two out of something like 10 tests offered to him — before the final test was administered. The city’s Personnel Department used one of the two tests that George had objected to. Remember that George became Fire Chief under the aforementioned prior administration of Clarence Harmon. I personally take George at his word that this was about proper testing and it boiled down to a power play between him and the Mayor’s office. I don’t believe that race was a motivating factor on either side — power and control was the trump card here. Slay has been seizing power anywhere he can — regardless of race. Those appointed by a prior mayor are not necessarily seen as a supporter and someone that outright challenges the authority of the mayor gets in the way — again regardless of race. Now, I could be wrong. Perhaps this is about both power and race?

Regular readers know that I am hardly a Slay supporter and I couldn’t help but grin as I heard the crowd chatting that Slay must go. Still, I’m not overly optimistic they’ll be able to muster the signatures required. I believe that signatures must represent 20% of registered voters at the time of Slay’s 2005 re-election in at least 18 out of 28 wards. While blacks represent a majority of the population, black aldermen represent only 12 wards. Speaking of aldermen, I didn’t see a single one present at the rally. Nor did I see prominent African-American officials such as President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed, Comptroller Darlene Green or sidelined as License Collector, Michael McMillan. No white elected official was anywhere in sight. Slay PR guru Richard Callow briefly stopped by on his bike, I asked him if I should get him a t-shirt to wear.

The protesters called for the removal of Slay before 2009 in order to heal the racial divide in this city. Well, sorry but that just ain’t gunna help. I think white folks are too busy protecting turf and maintaining control while the black folks are doing the same thing. There are plenty of internal struggles within the black community — you can’t expect the majority population to be 100% aligned simply based on race do you? Hardly. These leaders were brought up through the St. Louis political scene the same way the white ones were — learning how to work the system and wrestle some little bit of control. When Craig Schmid & Jennifer Florida, both white, fight over development on Grand it is business as usual. When the 4th ward continues to have power struggles it is business as usual. However, when opponents happen to be of different races it ceases to be business as usual and now it is racism. Slay would have sought to oust George even if he were white — he was appointed by a previous mayor and George challenged Slay’s desire for greater control.

As long as our elected officials, black and white, use their positions to get their piece of the pie we are going to continue to have struggles. I personally want elected officials that don’t see race and/or economic class as dividers but as symbols of our diversity — something to celebrate and embrace. As a white male I can be represented say by a black woman as long as I am not labeled as part of “they.” We will have black people in office and white people may replace them. The reverse is true, blacks will be elected to offices never once held by anyone that was not white. Hopefully too we will see diversity beyond just black and white.

Sadly as we approach the end of the decade that means we’ll see a new census and a fight over redistricting. White and black sides will draw lines to retain control of their respective parts of the city. Ward based control will continue to rule the day rather than seeing the big picture of the city within a region. Today’s rally was not, in my view, a step toward a more unified city.

UPDATE 10/22 – 7:20am — Per PubDef.net Comptroller Darlene Green was present at the rally.


Additional Notes from Hearing on Energy Center

Yesterday’s meeting on the conditional use application for the Energy Center to be operated by the New Life Evangelistic Center was interesting to say the least.  To clarify, it was only about the zoning for the use of the former florist shop & greenhouse.

Larry Rice spoke on behalf of his plan for the property, calling for “healing” between the white and black communities in St. Louis.  He commented that at last week’s informational meeting there was not a black person in the room (true) — implying this is some sort of white bias I guess.  Interestingly, the first person to speak against the energy center was a black homeowner that lives across the street from the property in question.

Rice, at one point, indicated the property looked better than it did a year ago.  This is certainly true, I’ve known the place since 1994 and it has never looked better.   Rice said the neighbors loved the improvements they had made, that they had cut down high weeds and fixed broken greenhouse glass that was inherited from the previous owner.  But Rice only bought the property in July of this year — after improvements had been made and grass cut.  The previous owner, Susan Jansen, is one of his supporters and she was seated in the row behind him.  His remark confirmed my suspicion — Rice bought the property last November but in Jansen’s name rather than New Life Evangelistic Center.  He views the previous owner as the one Jansen purchased it from.

A Post-Dispatch story posted yesterday following the meeting with a headline “Residents mad about Rice’ center” included this near the end:

After the hearing, Rice said he was dismayed at his opponents’ anger that’s built up over the last month.

“I’m  sensing a hostility directed at homeless people I haven’t seen in 35 years,”  said  Rice.  “I  grieve over the bitterness and fear I’m seeing in south St. Louis.”

Today the online version drops the above.  The new headline is  “Rev. Rice gets hammered by Dutchtown residents at hearing.”  New in this version is:

The property includes a former flower shop with a greenhouse and the house next door. Rice bought them over the summer for $216,000.

Rice said if he doesn’t get the permits, he’ll appeal the city’s decision. He said if his appeal fails, “we’ll use it as transitional housing or low-income housing.”

Terrell Eiland, a zoning specialist with the St. Louis department of public safety who chaired the hearing, said that Rice would need another permit to operate the property as a residence for multiple people.

Again, just to clarify the property that was under consideration for a conditional use permit yesterday was only the storefront and greenhouse — not the old frame house and open land.  Ironically Rice has said numerous times that you can’t house people in a greenhouse — it is too hot.  Certainly a logical statement.  So would he invest additional money to raze the storefront and greenhouse to build some sort of group home?  Doubtful.

Following the meeting Ald. Kirner asked me how everyone did.  I agreed that everyone, including her, did a good job.  I thanked her for withdrawing her prior support.  Still, I don’t think even Larry Rice should be subjected to our changes with the wind form of approval/non-approval from our elected officials.  This is not to say that Kirner should support the project because she earlier expressed support.  But while claiming that she must listing to constituents now, why weren’t they consulted before?  Conditional use zoning for any business that brings in large quantities of people to a residential block is something that at least the owners on that block need to be consulted on before approval is given.

A question that remains for me is if the city will allow him to operate his “energy fair” that he has already scheduled for October 27th from 10am to 2pm?  This is probably a question for our new public safety director, Charles Bryson.  Maybe it should go on — it would make an interesting backdrop for a protest along the public sidewalk in front of his property.


Blogging From The Conditional Use Hearing On Energy Center

This post is regarding the conditional use hearing for Larry Rice’s Energy Center in the Dutchtown Neighborhood (see prior post). I’m blogging from the meeting as it is underway. Updates will be added below in reverse order (oldest at the bottom).

10:10am: People are still talking outside the hearing room, reporters were getting quotes. I’m signing off now for a couple more meetings — I’ll have more later today.

9:55am: Post meeting notes. The opposition was strong. We all signed a sheet that we were hear to speak against the conditional use so it could be submitted since we were not all able to speak. The conditional use was only on the storefront & greenhouse — not the full property.

9:40am: Testimony is concluded. A decision will be reached later with the answer being mailed out.

9:33am: Ald Kirner withdrew her prior support.

9:31am: Only five people have been allowed to speak. The city’s staff person indicated that no further testimony will be taken. Many took off work to come to the meeting but they will not be heard. Ald. Kirner gets the last word before Rice.

9:26am: Downtown Dutchtown president Caya Aufiero spoke in opposition. I’ll provide a copy of their well-worded later.

9:21am: One person spoke in favor the energy center. Opposition is now beginning testimony starting with a neighbor across the street.

9:19am: City staff person raises issue about Rice’s sign for the business which has already been posted. He asks Rice if he has applied for a sign permit. Rice indicates he has not applied for a sign permit.

9:15am: Larry Rice indicates he has traveled all over the country taking classes on alternative energy. Has taken “8 courses” at the Solar Energy Institute.

9:10am: Larry Rice is now presenting his case.

9:05am: Representatives of both the Mayor’s office and the President of the Board of Aldermen are among the audience.

8:50am: Hearing is underway with other items on the agenda. The room is not full but there are more people here in opposition than in favor. Alderman Kirner is sitting among those opposed. The process is one person from the city asking questions of the applicant, the proceedings are audio recorded. Following the applicant there is a chance for anyone else supporting the application to speak. Then opposition gets to have a say. The applicant and one person from the opposition can speak briefly to close. The interesting thing is the opposition is not a collective group but simply a bunch a individual home owners — not sure how one person will be selected. More as it develops.