Home » Events/Meetings » Recent Articles:

New Signs for Gym Loom Over Sidewalk in St. Louis’ Loft District; Downtown Talk on Homeless

New businesses, such as gyms, are welcomed additions to loft districts such as the vibrant area in the 1300 block of Washington Ave in downtown St. Louis. We’ve seen some really great new signs of late at places such as Windows on Washington, The Dubliner, The Gelateria, Red and so on. St. Louis’ sign ordinance is about as modern as our 1947 zoning code so pretty much anything except uniform letters on the ends of boring awnings requires a variance. I’m quite pleased the city has worked with so many local businesses to allow the interesting variety of quality new signs.

But when it comes to the new signs at The Fitness Factory I am just scratching my head to think how anyone thought this was a good idea:


From the above angle you can’t even see the interesting sign for Flannery’s neighborhood pub to the west of the Fitness Factory.


To make matters worse, these are a matching pair!

From the opposite view, in front of Flannery’s, you can see the sign’s relationship to the buildings and sidewalk.


While the vinyl makes them look temporary (and cheap) the securing hardware makes them look more permanent. If I lived in the 2nd floor loft next door I’d be more than a tad upset about having my view up the street blocked to such an extent.

Ald. Kacie TriplettI’m going to see if Ald. Kacie Triplett (D-6th), shown at right, can take a look at these in person before her Downtown Talk on the homeless which starts at 7pm Monday August 13, 2007 at the beautiful St. Louis Central Library.

UPDATE 8/14/07 @ 7:30am:

The banners/signs for Fitness Factory are gone as one of the comments below indicates.  This was not due to my argument against them but the storm that passed through town in the hours before I posted this.

Last night’s talk was very good.  We didn’t really accomplish a whole lot other than have a pretty open and frank discussion about the needs of the homeless vs the quality of life for residents — but that is a huge step forward.  Hats off to Ald. Triplett for handling such a controversial topic so well.


When Monster Trucks Go Bad

Yesterday near Chicago:

“A monster truck plowed into a crowd of spectators during a demonstration in DeKalb Thursday. Ten people were hurt including a mother and child. Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the accident.”

What happened?   Uh, a bunch of people lined a side street next to a Napa auto parts store to watch a Napa-sponsored monster truck drive over some flattened cars as a form of entertainment.  How perverted is it that parents take young children out to see the power of these trucks?  I doubt these same parents take their kids to see pedestrians on a city sidewalk or commuters using rail transit.  A once strictly utility vehicle (the pickup) has become something different in modern culture.

I think the men who drive trucks with oversized tires are simply overcompensating for um, shortcomings, in other areas.

News Reports:


‘Road to Freedom’ Tour Stopped in St. Louis

This past Saturday, after visting the Jeff Smith 3 on 3 basketball tournament in Fairground Park, I quickly scooted over to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park for the panel presentation as part of the Road to Freedom tour — seeking to restore the intent of the original Americans With Disabilities Act.


Interestingly enough, as I was nearly there I spotted the above crosswalk while waiting at the light at De Baliviere Ave and Forest Park Parkway. I’m sorry, when you have to stop painting the crosswalk lines because of a big intruding hunk of concrete with a traffic signal in the middle then you know you have a slight problem.


Looking the other direction we see problems with the newly constructed ramp and sidewalk area as well. I didn’t have my digital level with me but I can visually see the ramp and sidewalk area are too steep to comply. Perhaps Metro claimed, due to the design of the light rail system, it was infeasible to comply? Now imagine if you were in a wheelchair and were trying to cross the walk I just showed you — with the concrete barrier and signal in the middle and these corner ramps. Keep in mind that you’d be crossing with fast-moving traffic on Forest Park Parkway — do you dare maneuver out into the lane to get around the concrete barrier and than again to approach the ramp straight on to avoid tipping over?


As I arrived the bus was out front and to the right you can see a smaller bus from Paraquad delivering folks that don’t drive themselves.


Once at the top of the stairs you get a nice view to the north out of the front of the Museum.


The panel for the afternoon included, from left to right; Moderator Jim Tuscher, Paraquad; Jim Ward, ADA Watch and The Road to Freedom; David Newburger, Newburger and Vossmeyer, LLC and the Starkloff Disability Institute; Kyle Tate, Paraquad; Gina Hillberry, Cohen Hillberry Architects; and Max Starkloff, Starkloff Disability Institute.

The speakers were all very interesting and passionate about “keeping the promise of the ADA.” We heard stories about people having trouble keeping employment after getting MS (although fine but walking with a cane); sueing Metro to make sure the transit system complies with the ADA and so on. Although preaching to the choir, this was meant as a call to action in the disability community so that they in turn seek to get support for the ADA Restoration ACT now before Congress.

From a suggested sample letter:

When President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, he said that “every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”

More than 15 years after passage of the ADA, however, people with disabilities are still being treated unfairly. People with disabilities are in a no-win situation. The courts have allowed employers to say that a person is “too disabled” to perform a job, but “not disabled enough” to be protected by the ADA. The individual is never even given the chance to do the job. This is wrong!

Every American wants a fair chance to use their job skills and support themselves through work. Just like other Americans, people with disabilities can and want to work to their full ability. The ADA was passed – with overwhelming bipartisan support – to create a level playing field so everyone who wants a job has a fair chance to find and keep a job they have the skills to do.

Many people who are trying to work despite having an impairment are not being given a fair chance. The ADA Restoration Act would correct this injustice. This legislation restores the basic right of people who have a disability to be judged based on performance – just like women, minorities, and the rest of the American workforce.

The Road To Freedom site has a petition and encourages everyone to contact their members of congress for support.

It is a shame when we have people seeking work but are turned down due to a simple impairment. Sure, the guy in the wheelchair isn’t going to be hired as a window washer. Granted, the person who cannot speak is not going to be a phone representative. We have thousands of people that, if the richest country in the world decides to make it a goal, can lead very independent and productive lives.

Remember, one day it may be you that is disabled and suddenly the freedom of movement you’ve enjoyed is taken away from you. Look around your environment, can you get to the store without a car? Would you be able to navigate to the post office or to the nearest transit to get to work? If you say have a desk job, would you expect to still have a job if you found yourself without the use of your legs?

I urge you to think beyond your current circumstances at what your life would be like if suddenly you were injured in an accident or a disease left you less mobile than today. Think about as you and your family members age and wonder if they will be able to stay in their homes and do the things they had done for decades. We have the ability moving forward to create environments that allow people the independence that is supposed to come with being an American.


17th Anniversary of ADA Today, Road to Freedom Bus in St. Louis on Saturday

Today is the 17th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act.   Earlier this week the White House issued a proclamation marking the anniversary which read, in part:

On the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we celebrate our progress towards an America where individuals with disabilities are recognized for their talents and contributions to our society. We also underscore our commitment to extend the full liberties and freedoms of our great country to all Americans.

Seventeen years ago, President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA into law. This legislation became one of the most successful and compassionate reforms in our Nation’s history, helping to ensure that individuals with disabilities are better able to develop meaningful skills, engage in productive work, and participate fully in the life of our Nation.

But as regular readers know, the ADA is largely ignored in many circles.  The promises have not been kept.

To this end activists across the country have organized the ‘Road to Freedom’ tour which will stop here in St. Louis this Saturday.  From the tour website:

The Road to Freedom is a yearlong, 50-State bus tour and photographic exhibit chronicling the history of the grassroots “people’s movement” leading to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

We are touring the United States to tell the story of the struggle for disability rights, past and present, and to promote educational and economic opportunity for children and adults with physical, mental, cognitive, sensory and developmental disabilities.

The Road To Freedom is a project of ADA Watch and the National Coalition for Disability Rights (NCDR).

The St. Louis event will take place Saturday July 28th at the Missouri History Museum, Grand Hall, 2:00pm-4:00pm.


Land Trust Receives $15,000 to Clean-Up Former Gas Station Site, Plans Permanently Affordable Housing

Last week the Missouri Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority (aka EIERA, yes we joked about E-I-E-I-O) presented a $15,000 check to the Red Brick Community Land Trust (RBCLT) for clean-up of the brownfield site where they plan to build some affordable housing. The St. Louis Business Journal announced the event last week.

First let’s figure out who is who and what is what.

The EIERA explains best who they are on their website:

“The Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority (EIERA) is a quasi-governmental agency that serves as the financing arm for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Established by the Missouri General Assembly in 1972, the EIERA Board Members are appointed by the Governor.

The EIERA’s primary mandate is to provide financial assistance for energy and environmental projects and protect the environment. The agency also conducts research, supports energy efficiency and energy alternatives and promotes economic development. The Authority is not a regulatory agency.”

So what is a brownfield? In short, a brownfield is a previously developed site (with or without a building) that is contaminated (see wiki entry). Contamination can happen a number of ways; from the type of construction materials used to the former activities on the site, such as this former gas station site with two empty tanks remaining in the ground. These tanks will be removed before the RBCLT can construct the new affordable housing. RBCTLT’s press release covers more about how a land trust works:

RBCLT separates the cost of the land from the cost of what is built on it. This allows low-income residents to buy a quality home and at an affordable price. When homeowners choose to move and sell the home, they sell the home at a price that balances their interest to have a downpayment for their next home with the community’s interest in keeping the home affordable for another low-income family. In this way RBCLT homes remain permanently affordable from generation to generation. Community land trusts also help to preserve open green space for community gardens, parks and playgrounds.

“The land trust locks in resources like the state grant, permanently securing the benefits for the entire community. This allows the state agency to recycle the subsidy,” said Sarah Coffin, RBCLT board president and assistant professor in the Department of Public Policy Studies at Saint Louis University. “The benefits of the subsidy to the wider community include connecting previously fragmented segments of neighborhoods into cohesive units. One more brownfield will be removed from the urban landscape and the cleaned up site will be maintained as a public good in perpetuity. But more importantly, Red Brick CLT will be able to create homes that low-income people can afford from generation to generation, improving the quality of life for the children and the families who buy these homes, further increasing neighborhood stability and securing economic and cultural diversity in the community.”

So basically a home owner buys just the home, not the land. With the trust retaining ownership of the land the property can stay more affordable for the next buyer. This is a big contrast to how we’ve been doing affordable housing in St. Louis in the past where the original owner gets a grant or other incentives to help them get a home but once they sell the place basically becomes market rate.

The affordable housing “will be built through a partnership with Youth Education and Health in Soulard (YEHS) and YouthBuild St. Louis Americorps.” Here is more info on YouthBuild:

YouthBuild St. Louis AmeriCorps (Youthbuild St. Louis) is an alternative education, construction training, employment, and leadership development program serving low-income St. Louis youths, ages 18-24, who have not completed high school. Youthbuild St. Louis, which began in 1992, is sponsored by Youth Education and Health in Soulard (YEHS), a community-based organization founded in 1972.

What is uniquely exciting about YouthBuild is that it is combating the St. Louis public schools’ high school drop-out crisis, while helping to replenish St. Louis’s critical shortage of affordable housing.

Although a site plan was distributed the architecture for the new construction has not yet been finalized. Representatives indicated existing buildings adjacent to the site will also be renovated by YouthBuild. As you may recall, this area was threatened with complete demolition earlier this year (see post) but in May the city rescinded their offer of purchase (translation: we no longer seek to take your property away from you).


Above: members of YouthBuild join Mark Bohnert, executive director of Red Brick Community Land Trust; Sarah Coffin, president of RBCLT; and Robert Kramer, EIERA board member.


Above from left, Kristin Allen, development director with EIERA; Karen Massey, deputy director of EIERA, Bob Brandhorst, executive director of YEHS; Mark Bohnert, executive director of Red Brick Community Land Trust; Sarah Coffin, president of RBCLT; Solana Rice, vice president of RCBLT.


Above from left; Sarah Coffin, president of RBCLT; State Senator Maida Coleman (D-5th District); Robert Kramer, EIERA board member; Kristin Allen, development director with EIERA

Above, Sen. Coleman discusses project with RBCLT Board VP Solana Rice and ED Mark Bohnert.

I talked with Exec. Director Mark Bohnert after the presentation was over, here is a short clip:


Ald. Phyllis Young was invited to the event but she sent her regrets in advance.

I personally look forward to seeing the progress on the project.