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Book Review; Historic Photos of St. Louis by Adele Heagney and Jean Gosebrink

June 3, 2008 Books 4 Comments

The old saying is ‘a picture is worth a thousands words.’ So a book with nearly 200 vintage images says a lot. A new hardcover book called, appropriately enough, Historic Photos of St. Louis, attempts to tell a lot using vintage images. Combined with a very diverse collection of these images are fairly detailed captions on the place or event shown you learn a great deal about the evolution of St. Louis.

Many books using historical photos tend to focus on a single event or subject– the 1904 World’s Fair, Streetcar transit, The Arch, etc. Here Adele Heagney and Jean Gosebrink have divided the book into four sections covering a 100+ year period from the 1860s through the 1960s. I’ve seen many old photos of St Louis but Heagney & Gosebrink have put together an interesting collection of previously unpublished images (to my knowledge).

At first the lack of a theme other than St Louis is a bit disturbing — I kept wanting to find a connection from one image to the next. The connection is naturally St Louis and in each section that the images are from roughly the same period.

The cover image is from a 1927 parade honoring Charles Lindbergh. The interesting thing is the route — along Locust behind the main library. Of course in 1927 this was a much more vibrant section of town than it is today. However all the images show a booming St Louis with lots of people out on the sidewalks, newsboys selling papers on street corners and so on.

Ultimately such a book is depressing — showing all that we have lost — specific buildings, the streetcar system, sidewalks filled with pedestrians and the optimism of a growing city. I’ve spent hours now pouring over the images in this fine coffee table book.  The book is hardbound and is listed at $39.95.


The Next Slums

A reader sent me an excellent article that I want to share.  The basic premise is that due to a number of factors the subdivisions with single family home may well become the next slums:

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay. 

Read the full article


Getting Facts Straight this Election Cycle

January 22, 2008 Books 7 Comments

Candidates, especially those seeking the Presidency, are prone to spout off facts and figures that support their position and make their opponent look bad.  How do we shift through all the BS and get right to the truth?  For me, I turn to the researchers at FactCheck.org.  Here is a summary of a recent item I just received from them following a recent debate between Clinton, Obama and Edwards:

In one of the liveliest debates of the 2008 presidential campaign, the three top Democrats slugged it out in Myrtle Beach, S.C. We noted some low blows:

  • Clinton falsely accused Obama of saying he “really liked the ideas of the Republicans” including private Social Security accounts and deficit spending. Not true. The entire 49-minute interview to which she refers contains no endorsement of private Social Security accounts or deficit spending, and Obama specifically scorned GOP calls for tax cuts.
  • Obama falsely denied endorsing single-payer government health insurance when he first ran for the Senate, saying, “I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single-payer.” But in fact he gave a speech in 2003 saying, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health care program.”
  • Edwards misleadingly claimed, “I was the one who beat John McCain” in a recent CNN poll. The problem is that there is a more recent CNN poll, one that shows either Clinton or Obama beating McCain and doesn’t include Edwards.

FactCheck.org doesn’t leave it there — they dig deep into archives to find exact words and phrasing to illustrate exactly how a claim is taken out of context.  They look at claims in advertising and are equally honest when it comes to Republicans as well.  To see the full analysis of the above click here.  Now if only we had a similar group for state and local elections.


Book Review; How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

When I went car-free in the first half of 2007 I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into (see post). Sure, I had owned the scooter for a while but I still had my car for shopping trips and other errands. One of my first purchases after going car-free was the book by former St. Louisan, Chris Balish, titled How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breath Easier and Get More Mileage out of Life.

Balish’s book is not a preachy save the planet from doom type of book. Instead, it is a personal finance book, showing the reader how to save thousands of dollars each year simply by not owning a car. Instead of focusing on the environmental impacts of cars he narrows in on the toll car ownership can take on personal finances and how it often dictates much about your lifestyle. Balish argues, convincingly, that you can get rid of the car and improve your standard of living. Having lived it now for six months, he is so right.

Balish acknowledges that car-free living is not for everyone. The outside salesperson or carpenter that hauls many heavy tools around, likely needs a car. For many others, however, Balish lays out all the issues he faced when going car-free while living in St. Louis and later in Los Angeles. Throughout the book are personal testimonies from people from North America that are also car-free.

He is quick to point out that car-free does not mean you will never rent or ride in a vehicle ever again. Car-free, to Balish, is about not owning a car. Car-lite applies to say the family that reduces their ownership of cars (from 3 to 2, from 2 to 1), basically owning less cars than you have licensed drivers.

The book is full of great tips to help you plan your new life without a car. Rather than having transportation at the ready as with a car, going car-free requires doing some planning ahead, changing buying patterns and potentially changing the location of where you live and/or work.

The notion of place, where you live or work, is where the book falls short. When Balish lived in St. Louis he lived in the Central West End which afforded him many opportunities to walk to local stores as well as access to bus and light rail mass transit. Had Balish lived in say O’Fallon (Missouri or Illinois, doesn’t really matter) he would have had a difficult time being car-free. Chapter 9, ‘Should You Move Closer to Work?’, suggests that moving to within 2-3 miles of work will “change your life.” Well, that heavily depends upon the context of where you work. Someone might live behind the Galleria and work at the Hanley Industrial Court only a few miles away but getting back and forth between the two was a challenge even before the reconstruction of highway 40.

This is not to say that suburbs are bad and the inner core city is good. For example, a person that works in say Webster Groves or Ferguson and works nearby could likely function quite well without a car. With all the basic services within walking distance to adjacent residential neighborhoods (which are connected via a good network of streets) a person could live well without owning a car.

When Balish does a 2nd edition I’d like to see him have a chapter on things to look for when deciding where to live. Does the area have good sidewalks and curb cuts (for pushing the baby stroller)? How far away is the nearest market (not necessarily a ‘supermarket’, just market)? In the book he does devote a good amount of ink to suggesting that you look for local churches, schools, dry cleaners and so on when going car free. If someone doesn’t live in such an environment, they need to know what to look for and what to avoid. He does suggest locating near a transit stop when possible.

Balish breaks the chapters up into four basic sections: 1) Why you’re better off not owning a car, 2) getting to work without a car, 3) non-work transportation and 4) living well without a car. It is within this framework that Balish basically covers all the issues that a person will face going car free — from basics to getting to and from work, to handling social functions to dating.

Again, the book isn’t remotely preachy except that car ownership costs more than we all think — often twice the price paid for a vehicle after 5 years of ownership. The $25,000 car will likely run you about fifty grand after five years. Balish does the math for you showing how if you invested that same money instead you could save money for a kid’s education, a down payment on a house or retirement.

Another area the book falls short is with respect to families. He, like me, is single and therefore says a family can be car-free but he doesn’t really offer tips on the best types of strollers or other items a car-free family might need. The volume of toys, diaper bags and other items being toted around in a car for junior now is amazing. Without the SUV to permit the relatively easy transport of such items, parents would need to think on a smaller scale of what items do they need for a particular outing.
However, Balish does suggest that families consider going from two cars to one — shifting schedules and making other changes to permit eliminating one of the cars. I know many couples in the St. Louis area that have only a single car.

To me this is a great resource of easy to understand concepts about taking taxis, using transit, bicycling short distances and so on. The car is a wonderful tool that has given Americans mobility for years. As expenses rise and many now go into debate for 60 months or more to finance a car this mobility has turned into a requirement. Getting rid of the car does allow you live well as Balish describes and it gives you a new sense of freedom that no car can match. Highly recommended for anyone looking to be car-free, car-lite or perhaps just head that direction.


St. Louis Magazine Drops the Glitterati for Green in January Issue

jan-cover-smallWell, not really. The glitterati section is still there — you know people must be seen at all the social functions wearing just the right overpriced outfit. Still, the staff at St. Louis Magazine found time to put together an interesting green issue — their first.

The magazine is still on the same paper and most likely using the same inks as it has been, I see no indication of any recycled paper content or earth-friendly inks. An evaluation of the paper stock and printing methods they use would be a good idea! From “E: The Environmental Magazine” in 2001:

When it comes to promoting ecological destruction, toxic pollution and wastefulness on a large scale, it’s hard to beat the magazine industry. According to Coop America, nearly 95 percent of magazines print on paper with no recycled content, condemning 17 million trees to death by the saw each year.

But the trees cut to make paper are only the first environmental victims of magazine publishing. Turning those trees into pulp consumes enormous amounts of energy and water, and the bleaching process creates dioxin, a chemical the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called “the most potent carcinogen ever tested on laboratory animals”

Environmentalist say this colossal problem could be greatly reduced simply by switching from virgin to recycled paper. Government research agrees. The EPA has reported that substituting one ton of 100 percent recycled paper for virgin paper saves 17 trees, 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity, 7,000 gallons of water and produces 60 pounds less air pollution.

The above is why I don’t get the number of magazines I used to. Even if we recycle them when done the trees are still gone and the pollutants are in our environment. I applaud St. Louis Magazine for doing a green issue, but their future issues need to actually be environmentally green. However, all the photos of the people featured in the green section were taken without any artificial flash and thus didn’t use any electricity — certainly worth noting

But, let’s move past magazine production to the content of the January 2008 issue.

Editor Stephen Schekenberg, a prior client of mine, helps introduce the topic for the month:

At present there is an incredible amount of environmental action taking place throughout St. Louis. In this first “green” issue of the magazine, we celebrate the stars of the region’s environmental scene: architects and designers, college kids and politicians, entrepreneurs and citizens. It’s hard to say what’s been more inspiring — learning what these St. Louisans are doing or hearing the attitude they have while doing it. Yes, the world’s environmental concerns are serious and significant. But their tone — and, we hope, ours — is neither gloom-and-doom nor finger-wagging. I’ve been inspired by their positivity, and their hope. I hope you will be, too.

One of the articles is 20 Cool Ways to Help Stop Global Warming. The number one thing? Ride a scooter, of course! The entire list is well worth reading. They didn’t include using a clothesline to hang laundry, I guess it wasn’t cool enough.

They also do a nice photo spread on the EcoUrban modular home in South City. Besides the nice photos, they point out all the various green features of the home which, to the naked eye, are not always apparent.

The main article is the “Green Giants” — those that are “doing the most to sustain our city — and our planet.” I’m not going to give away their entire list — you’ll have to get the magazine to see that. I did want to point out a few. Among the ‘citizens’ are Eric & Mary Brende as “models for slow living.” Eric Brende, some of you may recall, was the author of “Better OFF: Flipping the Switch on Technology” which I reviewed in July 2005. Eric pedals people around town on his rickshaw and Mary makes wonderful soaps she sells at the Soulard Farmers’ Market. I’ve been honored to speak to have been a guest in their home and I stop and talk to Mary when I am at the market or I’ll chat with Eric when I see him out and about (assuming he doesn’t have any customers).

In the ‘advocates’ section we have J.B. Lester, publisher of the popular Healthy Planet monthly in our region. Early on I wrote a monthly column for the Healthy Planet and one of my dearests friends, Lois Brady, was their food & travel editor for many years. Jeff McIntire-Strassburg from greenoptions.com and sustainablog.org is on the list as is the host of KDHX’s Earthworms show, Jean Ponzi. Also on this list is, well, me!

In the ‘entrepreneurs’ section we have Patrick Horine & Jenny Ryan of the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market and, along with Maddie Earnest and Jason McClelland, also of Local Harvest Grocery. Jenny Ryan is a recent graduate of the Urban Planning program I am in at SLU, her final ‘capstone’ for the degree being about local/sustainable food and the Tower Grove Market was used as a case study.

Also in this section is Terry Winkelmann, a co-owner of Home Eco — the cool store on Macklind that sells all the goods a green person needs. From a great selection of books, to hemp jeans, to solar panels and yes, worm bins — they’ve got it or can get it for you.

Numerous architects and builders are mentioned including Marc Lopata from Sage Homebuilders and Jay Swoboda and Nate Forst from EcoUrban.

In the ‘civic forces’ section we have Citizens for Modern Transit led by my friend (and UrbanReviewSTL reader) Thomas Shrout. Nothing better than debating light rail vs. streetcars with Mr. Shrout! Also mentioned is the Gateway Green Alliance for their activism including getting signatures to have the state audit the City of St. Louis. I’ll be on a panel hosted by the Greens on February 6th. The topic will be transportation – mark those calendars.

And finally we have the scholars and educators section. Someone who is both a scholar and educator as well as a personal friend, and the director of the Urban Planning and Real Estate Development program (UPRED) at St. Louis University, is Dr. Sarah Coffin. Dr. Coffin is one of the main reasons I entered the program at SLU. We don’t always agree on things but she is excellent at ensuring all students get a chance to express their views on the wide range of material presented in her classes. An expert in brownfield development, land trusts and a variety of other topics, I’m glad Dr. Coffin is here in St. Louis. And yes, I have her for one of my three courses next Spring but trust me when I say that sucking up doesn’t fly with Dr. Coffin — participation and well researched and presented ideas are required!

Another feature article, by Stefene Russell, is called Luddite’s Delight. This is how “one writer survived a month of treading lightly on the earth.” This is really a great read as Stefene decides to go green for a month and takes her husband on the journey with her. After starting off the article about the environmental credentials of her family, Stefene turns to herself:

And me? I recycle. That’s about it. In my family, I am the eco-blasphemer. The loser. The kid who might as well have become a dope dealer or an Amway distributor. My husband grew up in the suburbs, in a subdivision he describes as “so cookie-cutter, all the houses developed the same crack in the dining-room ceiling.” He spent his summer days watching MacGyver in an air-conditioned house, two-fisting Twinkies and Kool-Aid. He still loves hot dogs, video games, long meandering drives, new things crackling under plastic shrink-wrap, drive-through pizza, heated car seats, long showers, movie popcorn, swimming pools and gadgets of every sort.

One of my favorite lines from the piece:

Even my father, after going on a 45-minute screed about the “political boondoggle of ethanol,” recoils after I inform him I’m going to ride the bus. “That sounds pretty exotic,” he says. “Don’t you have any college students who could do that for you?”

This tale of Pradas, transit, MacGyver and toilet paper is an excellent read and thankfully an extended version is available online.
If you go out and buy the magazine be sure to offer it to someone else when you are done. If you’d rather not buy a copy, head to your nearest public library to read it in the periodicals section.