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Sportsman’s Park (later known as Busch Stadium) Reopened 120 Years Ago Today

April 23, 2022 Featured, North City, Popular Culture Comments Off on Sportsman’s Park (later known as Busch Stadium) Reopened 120 Years Ago Today

The baseball diamond bounded by Dodier, Grand, Sullivan, and Spring is commonly called Sportsman’s Park, but it has had many names during the century prior to the Herbert Hoover Boys Club taking over the site. When I decided to write a post about this I naïvely thought it would be fairly simple to do. Instead it got more complicated (and interesting) than I anticipated.

PART OF CROWD OF 26,248 AT BASEBALL GAME AT SPORTSMANS PARK, 1 JUNE 1943. VIEW FROM RIGHT FIELD WING OF GRANDSTAND. Source: Missouri Historical Society.

This post will be about this location, plus some others where baseball has been played in St. Louis — not about the sport or some great play in a game. This post is presented as a  chronological timeline, but there are many gaps & details not researched. At the end I’ll discuss the urban planning issues around these sites, such as building codes, land use, zoning, public transit, parking, etc.

The following is from various sources, not all independently verified.

  • October 16 1834: Augustus Solari born in Switzerland. He’s an important figure in St. Louis baseball stadiums…keep reading.
  • 1860: Solari marries Louisa Sartore. She was also born in Switzerland (1837). Wedding location unknown.
  • 1866: Augustus Solari acquires land in St. Louis that will eventually become Sportsman’s Park. He’s a recent immigrant, 31 or 32 years old at the time and a father of 3 at this point.
  • 1867: Augustus Solari begins staging baseball games at the Grand Avenue Ball Grounds (also known as Grand Avenue Park).
  • 1870: St. Louis population 310,864.
  • June 1874: A judge will hear the case of John Dee against saloon proprietor Augustus Solari. Dee alleged Solari assaulted him with a stick, was unprovoked. Apparently this saloon was at the ball park.
  • 1875: St. Louis Brown Stockings formed in St. Louis, began playing at the Grand Avenue Ball Park. St. Louis has one major all-white baseball team. Founders/ownership is unclear but it doesn’t appear Solari was involved.
  • 1877: “After the conclusion of the 1877 season, a game-fixing scandal involving two players the Brown Stockings had acquired led the team to resign its membership in the NL. The club then declared bankruptcy and folded.”
  • April 14, 1878: St. Louis Brown Stockings defeat the Athletics, 2,600 “witnesses”.
  • May 1879: the National League and the team fold.
  • June 1879: Solari helps reorganize the St. Louis Brown Stockings.
  • 1880: St. Louis population 350,518.
  • July 25, 1881: The circuit court issued issued an injunction preventing a planned pigeon shoot near the fields. Augustus Solari and others are mentioned in the page 8 story titled “Pity for Pigeons.”
  • 1881: First grandstand constructed of wood, located at southeast corner closest to Grand & Dodier. As you’d expect the home plate is in this corner.
  • 1881: Grocery store and saloon owner Christian Friedrich von der Ahe (1851-1913) bought the St. Louis Brown Stockings when he was in his early 30s. Changes team name to the St. Louis Browns.
  • 1882: St. Louis Browns become part of the American Association league.October 2, 1883: Supreme Court (state? federal?) overturns lower courts, giving possession of the Grand Avenue Base Ball Park back to the descendants of George C. Miller and tenant Augustus Solari.
  • 1890: 451,770 population.
  • 1892: When the American Association folded St. Louis Browns was among teams included in a new National League.  The team began looking for a new place to play.
  • “For 1893, owner Chris von der Ahe moved his team a few blocks to the northwest and opened a “New” Sportsman’s Park, on the southeast corner of Natural Bridge and Vandeventer. The move to this particular site was part of a “deal”, as the property had been owned by a trolley company, who then ran a trolley line out near the ballpark. The diamond was in the northwest corner of the block. Prairie Avenue was the east (left field) border. Right field, the shorter of the outfields, was bordered by Lexington Avenue.The ballpark was generations ahead of its time in some ways. Along with the basic stands, Von der Ahe had built an adjoining amusement park, a beer garden, a race track in the outfield, a “shoot-the-shoots” water flume ride, and an artificial lake (used for ice skating in winter). The side show notwithstanding, the club performed poorly on the field for most of the 1890s, consistently finishing at or near last place in the 12-team league as Von der Ahe sold off his best players in order to keep the club solvent.”
  • April 27, 1893: After nearly two decades at Sportsman’s Park (Grand & Dodier) the St. Louis Browns play at their new ballpark for the very first time. The original Sportsman’s Park becomes the Old Sportsman’s Park, later Athletic Field.
October 1909 Sanborn Fire map of the wooden New Sportsman’s Park — aka League Park, Robison Park.
  • April 16, 1898 a dropped cigar catches the wooden grandstand at the New Sportsman’s Park on fire.
  • May 11, 1898: Augustus Solari dies at age 63. Two of his eight children preceded him in death, one just four months earlier.
  • 1899: Cardinals owner Chris von der Ahe files for bankruptcy, forced to sell team. Brothers Frank & Stanley Robison purchase the team and New Sportsman’s Park.  They rename the ballpark (Vandeventer & Natural Bridge) as League Park.
  • March 28, 1899: August Anheuser Busch Jr. born.
  • 1900: The 1900 census showed the St. Louis population at 575,238 — a 28.9% increase since the 1890 census of 451,770.
  • May 4, 1901: Another fire at League Park, formerly New Sportsman’s Park. The Cardinals played the next day at the Old Sportsman’s Park (aka Athletic Field) and then on the road while their ballpark was being rebuilt.
  • 1902: The Milwaukee Brewers move to St. Louis and become the St. Louis Browns. This was okay because the Browns many in St. Louis knew were now the Cardinals, with the color red instead of brown.
  • April 23, 1902: the ballpark reopens with a new grandstand and home plate on the northwest corner, Spring & Sullivan.
  • 1909: A new concrete & steel grandstand is built, it and the home plate are in the southwest corner. This was the 3rd major stadium with a modern concrete and steel grandstand. The home plate remained in the southwest corner until May 1966 when it was flown to Busch Stadium II.
October 1909 Sanborn map of Sportsman’s Park. Blue is concrete & steel, yellow is wood, pink is brick masonry.
  • 1909: Bicycle shop owner William Carter started Carter Carburetor. Business location unknown — but it was NOT in the block south of Sportsman’s Park.
  • 1910: population: 687,029
  • 1911: Frank Robison’s daughter inherited the Cardinals from her uncle Stanley, following his death. Presumably Frank Robison died before his brother.
  • 1913-1915: Former player Branch Rickey becomes general manager of the St. Louis Browns — the team that moved to St. Louis in 1902.
  • 1917-1919: World War I.
  • 1919: After a brief return to the St. Louis Browns as general manager, Branch Rickey becomes the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • 1920: population: 772, 897
  • June 6, 1920: The St. Louis Cardinals last game at their mostly wood Robison Field.  The land was sold, Beaumont High School was built on the site in 1924.
  • 1920: Negro team the St. Louis Giants played a best of seven series against the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park. The Cardinals won 4 games, the Stars 1. The Giants and later Stars home field was at Compton & Laclede — now a diamond for Harris Stowe University.
  • 1922: St. Charles -based American Car and Foundry Company purchases Carter Carburetor. At some point in the 1920s they built offices & factories on Spring at St. Louis Ave. — a block south of Dodier from Sportsman’s Park.
  • 1928:  Carter Carburator Co, a subsidiary of ACF, builds headquarters at 711 N. Grand — a little over a mile south of their factory.
  • 1930: population of 821, 960
  • 1936: “Browns owner Phil Ball died. His family sold the Browns to businessman Donald Lee Barnes, but the Ball estate maintained ownership of Sportsman’s Park.”
  • 1940: slight decline in population to 816,048.
  • July 4, 1941: A double header of negro teams played at Sportsman’s Park. First was the Scullin Mules playing the St. Louis Giants for the city’s negro championship. The feature was the Kansas City Monarchs versus the Chicago American Giants. The Monarchs’ star Satchel Paige was among their players — prompting a story the previous day in the Post-Dispatch. On this day only African-American spectators could sit anywhere in the stadium, not confined to the colored section.
  • 1942/43: The Brooklyn Dodgers hire Branch Rickey as their new general manager.
  • October 4-9, 1944: For the 3rd time in World Series history, both teams shared the same home field. The Cardinals won in the 6th game.
  • 1945: A young Jackie Robinson joined the KC Monarchs.
  • 1946: The Browns buy Sportsman’s Park.
  • April 15, 1947: Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the long-standing color line in baseball.
  • Late 1947: Sam Breadon sells the St. Louis Cardinals to Fred Saigh and Bill Hannegan.
  • May 3, 1948: The U.S. Supreme Court decided racial restrictive covenants can’t be enforced by governments. The case of Shelley v. Kraemer was a St. Louis case involving a residence less than 2 miles to the west of the ballpark.
  • 1950: peak population of 856,796.
  • 1951: Cleveland Indians owner, Bill Veeck, purchases the St. Louis Browns and Sportsman’s Park. Veeck thinks St. Louis isn’t big enough for two major teams, removes memorabilia of tenant team the St. Louis Cardinals. Veeck wanted the Cardinals to relocate to another city, hopes for an out of town buyer.
  • 1953: Instead local brewer Anheuser-Busch buys the St. Louis Cardinals from Fred Saigh.
  • November 1953: a group in Baltimore buys the St. Louis Browns from Veeck, becoming the Baltimore Orioles. Anheuser-Busch buys Sportsman’s Park, ending their tenant relationship with the ballpark. Chairman August A. “Gussie” Busch wanted to rename the ballpark Budweiser Stadium but the league pressured him not to do that, so it became Busch Stadium. Not long after they began selling Busch Bavarian beer.
  • January 3, 1960. The last day the Grand streetcar operated, replaced by buses.
  • 1960: population drop of 12.5% to 750,026
  • May 8, 1966. Last Cardinals game at Busch Stadium, home plate dug up and flown via helicopter to the new Busch Stadium II “by the riverfront.”

Again, this was by no means a complete timeline. I finally had to stop digging because I ran out of time.

It’s clear to me the early decades weren’t a stable period for teams. The first ballpark wasn’t in the middle of the city, it was out on the edge — the city grew up around it. Heavy industrial uses replaced largely residential blocks as once plentiful land in the city became increasingly scarce.

It’s fascinating to me how a row of houses backed right up to the new concrete and steel grandstand in 1909. These appear to have still been in place in the late 1950s.

Selected sources, further reading:

— Steve Patterson

FYI the following are some interesting YouTube videos, in no particular order

 

Exploring Housing Options for 801 Dickson Street

March 17, 2022 Featured, North City, Planning & Design, Real Estate Comments Off on Exploring Housing Options for 801 Dickson Street

Monday’s post was about reconnecting the pedestrian grid at 8th Street, just south of Cass Ave — see 8th Street Walkway Needed To Fill Missing 110’ Connectivity Gap. Today’s post is about exploring options for new housing on the large lot known as 801 Dickson Street — it stretches a full block along the north side of Dickson, between 8th & 9th streets. This vacant land is owned by the St. Louis Housing Authority.

First we’ll look at the site, conditions, etc. and then some of the various configurations I’ve considered. You may have others.

Aerial view of 801 Dickson Street
801 Dickson is owned by the St. Louis Housing Authority, zoned D Multi-Family Housing. The strategic land use is NPA — neighborhood preservation area. The long sides are 292.52 feet, the east/right short side is 110 feet, and the left/west short side is 120 feet. Click to view in Google Maps — sans boundary lines.

Site characteristics:

  • Faces south-southwest.
  • Gentle slope south from alley.
  • The parking for 12 cars at the alley has been in place for 70 years, it lacks an accessible space and adjacent loading zone.
  • The Youth & Family Center on the north side of the alley was built in 1982. It was previously called Cochran Youth & Family Center. It has entrances onto Cass and the back alley. It has no parking on its site at 818 Cass Ave. Nobody ever parks on Cass Ave, even though it isn’t marked as no parking.
  • A northbound bus stop (#32) is on the short side, on 9th Street.
  • Overhead electric enters the site on the east side, about 20 feet south of the alley. The poles and overhead wires stop just before 9th Street (left side).
  • Some mature trees exist along the alley, 9th. Smaller street trees exist along Dickson Street. The trees next to the alley have been trimmed so as to not interfere with the overhead power lines.
  • The west end had part of Cochran Gardens tower C-9 from 1951 until about 2005, the west end was part of a Cochran Gardens playground. Presumably the building foundations were fully removed. Potentially 19th century remnants remain buried.
Looking west at 801 Dickson
Looking north on 9th, at Dickson. The #32 bus frequently stops here to drop off a rider, or let one board.
Looking back east from 9th, the brick circle is all that remains from Cochran Gardens. Parking & electrical poles are visible.
A direct view of the parking from the alley. Again, the overhead electric is visible.

Before getting into the various options for new construction please understand this post isn’t concerned with who would build any housing, or how it would be paid for, demand, market economics, etc. The purpose here is to see the various options for constructing additional housing on the site — what does & doesn’t physically fit on the site. Ideally I’d like to avoid a curb cut/driveway off both Dickson & 9th streets.

A good plan to start with ideas is to look at the context, the housing around the site. To the east of where I want a new 8th Street pedestrian walkway the dimension between 8th and 7th is just a few feet wider. It has two buildings, each with four townhouses. Along the alley are two garage buildings, each with a 2-car garage — one for each of the 8 total townhouses. When Cochran Gardens was replaced all the new construction, like my apartment, is rental — but each of the 8 townhouses are privately-owned, owner-occupied.

Row houses 7xx Dickson
Row houses 7xx Dickson
Garages behind 7xx Dickson
Garages behind 7xx Dickson

The problem is the aforementioned parking spaces off the alley, on the west end of the site. If the trees along the alley were removed you could building one group of four townhouses, with garage. You could do a second if the parking were removed, but that’s not ideal.

Directly across Dickson Street are more townhouses, these are mixed-income rentals with a common shared parking lot behind. Theoretically it may be possible to put a shallow parking lot behind townhouses.

This is a 2012 view of townhouses on 9th Street, the ones facing Dickson are similar.

The other contextual option is a building with garden apartments. The Cambridge Heights garden apartment buildings each contain 12 apartments — 3 floors, six units per two entrances/breezeways. Like townhouses, parking might be possible behind. One such building could fit. A variation with 18 units with three entrances/breezeways could potentially fit.

What about going higher than 3 floors? While elevators are expensive, and costly to maintain, a 4-5 story building could work as you get more units in the same space. The scale of an old 5-story building on 7th seems fine in the neighborhood. I’d love to see a lot of accessible units as the need for low-income housing for the disabled is needed — especially near downtown. With an existing bus stop adjacent it would be great for many people who don’t drive or own a car, this would make it easier to not have any off-street parking. Perhaps the site is arranged so a small parking lot is located off the alley, on the east end of the site.

It would be nice if an elevator building had a retail space at the corner, perhaps part of a live/work unit.

Another option would be groupings of tiny homes (300sf) or small homes (800sf).  Some could front onto the 8th Street walkway I’d like to see get built. Since the site is a block long there’s nothing to say it all has to be the same, some combination of ideas can be used.

The parking at the alley for the Youth & Family Center should probably be separated from the main lot, or a formalized easement. It would also be nice if the overhead electric was buried. The St. Louis Housing Authority also owns a larger lot between 8th & 9th, on O’Fallon Street (map), but kids often use this for ball, frisbee, etc.

The vacant land in my neighborhood, owned by the housing authority, is ideal for affordable/low-income new housing — perhaps by a developer seeking a tax break on a big project in the central corridor.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

8th Street Walkway Needed To Fill Missing 110’ Connectivity Gap

March 14, 2022 Accessibility, Featured, North City, Walkability Comments Off on 8th Street Walkway Needed To Fill Missing 110’ Connectivity Gap

When cold water flats and tenements were cleared just north of downtown for St. Louis’ first high-rise public housing project, Cochran Gardens, several blocks of 8th Street were erased from the grid. Six decades later 8th Street was rebuilt* when the mixed-income Cambridge Heights apartments & townhouses replaced Cochran Gardens’ towers.

* 110 feet of 8th Street wasn’t replaced!

This short missing piece is a connectivity problem for those of us who live here. Later, when Cass Ave over I-44 (aka I-70) was raised as part of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge project 7th Street got disconnected from Cass Ave. So now neither 7th or 8th connect to Cass. Getting to/from the bus at Cass Ave & Broadway is likely the primary reason for needing access here, it would also be nice when we go to Shady Jack’s or walk/roll up Broadway.

A little bit of the original 8th Street exists south of Cass Ave, but it quickly ends at an alley. Jersey barriers exist to keep drivers from going straight ahead.
From the broken sidewalk on the east side of 8th you can see a clear route to 8th Street 100 feet further south. The west side of 8th, unfortunately, has no sidewalk.
In the field you can see beyond Dickson Street to 8th Street
At the public sidewalk you can look south along 8th Street to downtown. 8th Street is the center of Cambridge Heights.

Motorists use the alley south of Cass to get to/from Cass Ave, but pedestrians often walk though vacant land where 110 feet of 8th street should be. As you’ll see, putting in street, curbs, drainage, etc would be challenging & costly — all that’s needed is a 110 foot long sidewalk and a couple of curb ramps.

Looking toward Cass Ave from the SW corner of 8th & Dickson streets.
Looking toward Cass Ave from the SW corner of 8th & Dickson streets.
The same view after a recent snowfall. Two desire lines where people walked are clear. A community center is visible on the left, but no good way to get there directly.

This is needed because going between the neighborhood and Cass Ave is challenging as a pedestrian. I’ve thought so for the 3+ years I’ve lived here. I’ve also seen a woman at least 15 years my senior (so 70+) walking though the grass with a cane. The trail through the snow earlier this year was also a clue.

You might be thinking this land is vacant do it can be developed for more housing. Let’s take a look at the property lines.

The blue dot marks a 15 foot wide parcel owned by the St. Louis Housing Authority (725 Dickson Street). They also own the land from here to 9th Street. 723 Dickson Street is 64.26 feet wide, includes the 22 foot wide end of 3 townhouses.

My assumption is the 15 foot wide parcel known as 725 Dickson (map) is there to prevent anyone building over utilities, like sewer, under the old 8th Street. The end row house has a lot of extra land beyond their fence. Basically there’s more than enough width to create a generous pedestrian path. There are some obstacles near the alley.

From the alley you can see a little bit of concrete and some useless chain link. And an electric utility pole.
From the lot you can see the pole and an electrical box (transformer?). There are also wires to help keep the pole upright on the private land side.

There’s room to fit a 5′ wide walkway at the alley to then toward 8th & Dickson streets, we just need to figure out property lines, utilities, easements, etc. City mowers have a hard time during the summer keeping the back area cut — a private home owner would get a violation letter from the city for such conditions. The elevation is slightly higher at the alley than south at Dickson Street.

The need exists, much of the land is owned by the housing authority. Cost wouldn’t be that substantial. I’d love to see fruit trees planed on both sides of a walkway so the public can access free fruit.

— Steve Patterson

 

This Is Our Chance To Reconnect Two Neighborhoods Long Separated By Highways

February 17, 2022 Downtown, Featured, North City, Planning & Design, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on This Is Our Chance To Reconnect Two Neighborhoods Long Separated By Highways

Urban highways & interstates allow drivers to get from point A to point B quicker than had they taken surface streets, but they’re also a major divider between the existing neighborhoods they cut through.  In the late 1950s the downtown’s 3rd Street Parkway was being extended north, eventually connecting with the new Mark Twain Expressway (aka I-70/I-44) in July 1961.

I live on the west side of the highway, but I can stand in my kitchen and see Broadway & Cass, on the east side of the highway. I know first hand how the highway divides the historic north riverfront from my neighborhood, Columbus Square.

Looking south from the Cass Ave bridge over I-44, June 2020. The lane center is a southbound express lane, to the right is the express lane exit ramp to southbound Broadway.

Ideally we’d remove urban interstates and weave our neighborhoods back together, but that’s never going to happen. What should happen is when we rebuild crumbling infrastructure we add connections civil engineers in the 1950s never considered at the time the highways were planned.

The same view Monday with southbound Broadway bridge and the exit ramp gone.
The blue oval is the southbound Broadway bridge, the red X is where Csss & 7th were connected until construction began for the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Post-Dispatch July 9, 1961, p161.

The distance from Broadway & Cass to Broadway & O’Fallon is only 2/10 of a mile, but the distance required for the last 60 years has been double that — 4/10 of a mile.

The Missouri Department of Transportation supports pedestrian facilities:

MoDOT works with planning partners to create transportation facilities that work for all users because we value bicycle and pedestrian travel. Accommodating for bicyclists or pedestrians may be as simple as providing a well-designed road that all road users share or as complex as a separate-grade structure, such as a bridge. Developing appropriate facility design for nonmotorists depends on a variety of geometric and operational factors that are inter-related, such as available right-of-way, projected traffic counts and adjacent roadway design speeds.
 

We strive to integrate nonmotorized travel into the existing system to provide connections where none exist to promote efficiency and to focus on a primary concern—the safety of those who depend on walking or bicycling to reach their destinations. (MoDOT)

Unfortunately MoDOT failed to accommodate the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in the replacement. This is a huge mistake — it’ll be another 60+ years before we get another chance to reconnect these areas.

View from Broadway near Cass looking SW toward Broadway @ O’Fallon (just beyond building), June 2021
The buildings on the right are part of a National Register Historic District.

You might be thinking it would be too difficult to include a pedestrian sidewalk.  The old bridge, removed over the weekend, couldn’t have easily been retrofitted. But when building the new bridge entirely from the ground up it is actually pretty easy.

Here’s the overview:

The blue circle is my location. The blue line represents the route required to walk from Broadway @ Cass to Broadway @ O’Fallon — twice as far as the direct route shown in solid green. The dashed green line is how to connect Cass to 7th & 6th streets. Apple Maps

Now let’s take a look at the old bridge and highway exit ramps.

Broadway is only one lane per direction north of Cass, but it widens to 2 right turn lanes onto westbound Cass and 2 southbound lane to continue across the highway. One lane expands to four! Apple Maps
So 2 lanes of Broadway continued over the highway. The express lane exit is one lane but the Broadway exit is 2 lanes. Four lanes continue toward Cole before getting reduced to 2 further south.

The solution is the one southbound lane of Broadway splits into 3 before Cass — one left, one right, one straight ahead. This means the same width bridge can also accommodate bikes & pedestrians. The traffic exiting the southbound express lane and the highway have plenty of length for drivers to decelerate. Rumble strips (or similar) can be used to communicate to the driver to slow down as they approach Broadway. The 2 highway exit lanes can narrow to one before Broadway. Not sure if signals are necessary or just a flashing red light and notices to yield to pedestrians.

I would like to see Broadway south of Cole to return to two-way traffic in the future, so I’d like the new bridge to accommodate 2-way traffic and pedestrians on one side.

Again, I’m trying to connect two areas that have been separated for over 60 years. Both have enormous potential for redevelopment — new construction & adaptive reuse to the south and mostly captive reuse to the north. I’d love to see football fans have pre-game drinks at Shady Jack’s Saloon and then walk down to the Dome to see the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL returns under new ownership.

We must use this moment to correct past mistakes!

— Steve Patterson

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How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population

January 20, 2022 Environment, Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population
Graphic from November 2020 post showing area predicted to have population loss.

The 2020 Census results results for St. Louis showed what I had predicted, the bulk of our population loss came from northside wards.  This was also true in 2010 and in 2020. No reason to think 2030 won’t be more of the same. We can sit back and do nothing, or we can help manage the situation — possibly reducing some losses in future.

By mange I mean see where population is dropping more than in other areas. We can’t just write of a third of our geographic area. I propose a group comprised of experts, residents, business owners, etc to examine data and evaluate possible solutions.

Here is some of the data I’d like to see on a big map(s):

  • Population by age & race
  • Parcels of land being used (water connection) vs unused.
  • Parcels of land with new or substantially renovated structures vs severally deteriorated, condemned, or vacant.
  • Parcels of land owned by the city, out of state owners, owner-occupied, LLC, .
  • Historic properties, sites.
  • Schools, current & former.
  • Employers and numbers of employees
  • Crime
  • Topography
  • Probably other criteria as well…

Since north city is not declining uniformly we need to see which parts that are doing better than others. Is this because 0f newer housing?  Access to transit?  All we know at this point is some blocks are stable and occupied while others are rapidly declining. Mapped data can tell us a lot, people on the ground familiar with their area can confirm or dispute what the data tells us. Get everyone on the same page, then reassess every few years and make adjustments as circumstances change for better or worse.

What we all need to accept is that it’s very unlikely these neighborhoods will see a major population growth. Ever. Thus some land can be returned to nature, used for agriculture, etc. The maps will show us the least populated areas with the worst housing stock — contrasted with pockets of denser areas with housing unlikely to be abandoned this decade. I’m not talking about large areas the size of Pruitt-Igoe, NGA-West, or Fairgrounds Park. It might be possible that smaller nature areas could be linked together by a trail system. A few great vacant school buildings not reused for residential might get filled with hydroponics to grow produce.

The major corridors like MLK, Page, Natural Bridge, Kingshighway, Grand, etc should remain. Many connecting streets would also remain. However, it’s possible in some areas we might be able to justify removing unoccupied streets and alleys. As St. Louis begins to look at replacing lead water supply lines those areas that’ll benefit most from the infrastructure investment should get priority over areas that can be back to nature by 2030. Old water & sewer lines might get abandoned completely in isolated areas.

The goal isn’t to cut off services to existing residents, but to use resources to strengthen and grow the existing strong pockets. On a block with say only one resident we can wait until that person moves or dies of old age. The children of longtime residents aren’t really interested in moving into the house their relative refused to leave. Conversely, a nice block with one newly-abandoned house needs help to make sure that one house gets maintenance and reoccupied as soon as possible. Quickly reoccupying a vacant building helps prevent others on the block from also being abandoned.

An example of a strong pocket would be MLK & Burd Ave. You’ve the Friendly Temple church and Arlington Grove housing (new housing around a renovated school that’s also housing). Substantial investment has been made, and this is home to many. We can reinforce the positives and look to expand upon that a block at a time.

Former Arlington School has been residential since 2013
Aerial after construction completed. Image: Google Maps

Just north of this pocket is a largely vacant area, part of the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood that has gotten attention for mass demolitions. Other bright spots throughout north St. Louis include numerous tree-lined streets with well-maintained houses — it’s just hard for everyone to see & appreciate the them with so much decay. Whenever I see people wanting to raze vacant “problem” buildings I do get upset, because tearing down buildings in a random manner doesn’t improve neighborhoods for the long-term. It simply removes the current problem while likely speeding up others being abandoned as neighboring  owners/residents die or move.  By designating different areas for bright spot village and others as moving back toward nature we can reduce fights over razing vs preservation. I can even imagine a decent house in an area set to become nature/agriculture –it might be kept as basically a farmhouse. It wouldn’t necessarily be razed, just reimagined.

Along the way we can reevaluate I-70, an old interstate that winds its way through north city. Can we minimize this as a separating barrier in spots? Can we create areas for interstate drivers to pull off and get a bite to eat while their battery electric vehicle (BEV) charges?

One spot I see as the center of a future village is the intersection of Grand & North Florissant. That’s in part of 2 current neighborhoods, with a 3rd very close. It should be the very center of a thriving area.Why here? The intersection of two corridors should be treated as special. Both Grand and North Florissant are angled toward each other, so a person living or working here can pick either corridor to travel south — southeast on North Florissant or Southwest on Grand. Thanks to the odd street grid they have easy direct access to different parts of the city. Going northwest on North Florissant will eventually get them into St. Louis County.

By 2050 I see north St. Louis as being dotted with nice little villages, with nature in between. Primary corridors will be a line of density with restaurants, retail, offices, and multi-family housing. Rail &/or rubber tire public transit will connect these villages to each other and the larger city & region. I see walking & biking within and between villages.  I see jobs growing produce outside and indoors, more jobs along the corridors.  I see trees — thousands of them providing some relief from increased temperatures. The major corridors will be tree-lined, many new nature areas will become forests. I see all races, proportional to the mix in the population. Some villages, like The Ville, are predominantly black (75%, not 100%) with strong black-owned businesses. Again I’m talking 30 years, not 3.

What I don’t see are big surface parking lots for big box chain stores. I also don’t see blocks and blocks of obvious vacant residential buildings/lots.

St. Louis should use some of the money from the NFL to kick start the planning process to examine north St. Louis as I’ve described — taking stock and what we have (and don’t have) and then collectively finding solutions to change the trajectory. In the process others could come up with better ideas.

— Steve Patterson

 

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