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MO Secretary of State Says St. Louis Has Nearly 7,000 Fewer People Than St. Louis Claims

November 27, 2007 Books 6 Comments

Per the Post-Dispatch Political Fix I read that Secretary of State Robin Carnahan unveiled the new Official Manual today, commonly called the “Blue Book” apparently regardless of the color of the cover.  So I am looking through the online version because I didn’t get one of the forty thousand printed versions.

The online version is broken down into many small PDF files and I was browsing the municipal one.  Therein is a handy list of all the municipalities and how they are classified by the state, such as a Village, a 4th level , a 3rd level or in the case of St. Louis, a Home Rule city (bottom of P887).  Hmmm, population estimates.  The blue book lists St. Louis’ 2006 estimated population at 347,181 — considerably less than the 353,837 as estimated by the city and accepted by the U.S. Census in April of this year (see prior post).  I’ll save you the math, that is 6,656 less people.  Ouch, that is almost 2%!

Obviously the book is prepared at a given time and any changes afterwards really cannot be altered.  Still, St. Louis announced the revised population figures only two weeks after the April election.  Maybe they already had the municipal section done and were simply saving the newly elected reps for last?  Still, St. Louis has contested population figures for several years now so they really should have known.  Or does Missouri have their own census department that comes up with their own estimates?


Project for Public Spaces Focuses on Public Markets with Valuable Insights

The outstanding Project for Public Spaces continues to illustrate why they are the world leaders in creating quality public space — they understand fundamental relationships between humans and space. While we like to think we are unique in St. Louis the fact is human nature and how we perceive public space is similar throughout the world. Granted, some cultural differences do exist in the world — two men kissing each other on the cheek in Eastern Europe or the Middle East means something entirely different than on Castro Street in San Francisco. Regardless of cultural customs, what makes a good or bad space for human interaction is much the same.

Project for Public SpacesPPS divides their information into various areas of public space; parks, transportation, civic centers, downtowns, mixed-use
development, campuses, squares, waterfronts, and public markets. In each of these areas they’ve undertaken extensive research into what works and what does not work. Of course they continually monitor what is happening as demographics and technology change, recognizing that what may have not worked 20 years ago may work today, and vice versa. The lesson, continual evaluation.
The area of public markets is the topic for their September 2007 online newsletter. Note that I didn’t say “farmers’ market” as they don’t limit their markets to simply food — throughout the world much commerce takes place at public markets. These markets are a great form of low-overhead retailing.

In the St. Louis region the historic Soulard Market comes to mind as the most well known. As public spaces go, the Soulard Market is one of the best in the region. The diversity of shoppers, the various languages spoken, the vendors yelling out their specials, the decidedly non-uniform booths, and the shoppers negotiating the best prices all contribute to an experience you’ll not find in a big supermarket.

This month PPS’ newsletter included the following articles:

  • A Ripe Time for Local Food, four ways markets improve our communities by strengthening ties between urban and rural people.
  • What We Need to Learn from America’s Classic Markets, applying the lessons of Pike Place and other great markets.
  • Markets for All, how innovative markets serve the needs of low-income customers.
  • The Happy Shopper, why the most satisfying shopping experiences are more about social interaction than consumer acquisition.
  • Making the Case for Markets in Cold, Hard Cash; new tools and recent studies prove the positive impact of public markets on local economies.
  • Remarkable Market Anniversaries, historic markets around the U.S. are celebrating milestones this year.

All of the articles are easy reads and highly recommended for a good understanding of public markets. I’ve selected some paragraphs from each to peak your interest and present some key points:

To rebuild agricultural systems that can provide people with fresh, local food, we need to reverse the long deterioration of urban-rural connections. For years, the ties between urban consumers and nearby farmers–so strong before World War II–slackened and fell apart. Teeming market streets disappeared, farms were swallowed up by subdivisions, and the vital networks of market gardens that many cities once relied on shrank and fell into obscurity. City dwellers lost access to the freshest food and its inherent health benefits, and small producers in the countryside became an endangered species. At the same time, the social connections and sense of place fostered by local farmers markets slowly dissipated.

Believe it or not, America’s two most productive agricultural counties in the 1880s were Brooklyn and Queens. And all that produce didn’t just come from farmland untouched by urbanization. A lot of it was grown by city dwellers on garden plots, or “market gardens,” an important supplement to food shipped in from outlying farms.

“As more Asians and Latinos are immigrating to this country, they are bringing their own market traditions,” said PPS’s Steve Davies. “There is a great expansion of markets in diverse neighborhoods, where new arrivals are shaping the markets around their own cultures. Markets are places where all of these cultures, in fact, really come together.”

In addition to financial hurdles, indoor markets run the risk of appearing “Disneyfied,” Tumlin cautioned. “That’s true,” said Ron Binaghi of Stokes Farms. “That’s why some of the [Greenmarket] farmers are nervous about our moving into something more permanent. We don’t want to lose the special feeling of the outdoor market.”

The experience of a market is far more important to its success than any issues involving permanence or structure. In all the market surveys Project for Public Spaces has done around the world, the question “what do you like best about this market?” is always answered the same–it is the “experience” that attracts. The “3 Ps”–people, products and personality, plus that deeper sense of equality and reassurance–are what draw customers. Snazzy designs rarely register beyond a blip of a response.

Markets must not become so regulated or precious that their life and spontaneity are squeezed out. They must stay unfettered by convention and remain, as D. H. Lawrence said in his essay Mornings in Mexico, a “babel and a hubbub”, a place “to buy and to sell but above all to commingle”.

Another method to make markets more accessible is to bring them closer to customers. That’s what a Toronto organization called FoodShare accomplished by setting up small produce stands called “Good Food Markets” in low-income neighborhoods throughout the city. “Most of the farmers markets [in Toronto] are based in middle- and upper-income communities,” said Angela ElzingaCheng of FoodShare, adding that the cost of traveling across town to get fresh food is “very expensive for low-income communities.” To reduce those costs, FoodShare launched the first Good Food Markets in 2005. That summer there were two locations. This year there are twelve.

One time-proven way to gauge the effect of a market is to conduct an economic impact study, which gauges the positive influence on local communities in quantifiable terms. Comprehensive economic impact analysis, however, is expensive and beyond the means of most public markets. PPS asked Econsult to create a typology of public markets which takes into account their diversity and the diversity of the communities they serve. SEED is a web-based tool that provides a straightforward mechanism for collecting data about farmers markets from customer surveys and counts, and then uses the data to estimate direct and indirect economic impacts using a standard “multiplier” — that is, the potential indirect and induced expenditures of specific public markets. The website also provides useful information about economic impact studies.

When shopping is separated from the broader fun of hanging out in friendly, lively places, it becomes a hollow experience. It’s like a dinner party with plenty of food, but no conversation. Most malls minimize public space where folks can comfortably gather because they don’t want to distract us from the business of making purchases. It’s emblematic of the single-use zoning approach to life, where we live in one place, work in another, shop somewhere else and play in an entirely different spot, with none of them really offering us that joyful, biologically-fulfilling sense of being where the action is.

One article takes a good look at how a market in Lynn Massachusetts let’s low-income customers know they accept food stamps — signs were simply not enough. Their solution was creative and effective:

The Lynn Farmers Market responded by promoting the use of Electronic Balance Transfer (EBT), a form of food stamp distribution that works like a debit card. Customers swipe their EBT cards at the market and the price is deducted from their food stamp account. Last summer, Dimond and the Food Project launched a two-pronged strategy: adding a financial incentive for customers to pay using EBT, and marketing EBT at every opportunity.

The incentive, made possible by a small grant from a state-wide anti-hunger organization called Project Bread, gave customers one dollar of additional produce for every dollar they spent in EBT, up to $5.00. For example, if a customer spent $2.50 in EBT, they received $2.50 in additional produce. If they spent $10.00, they got $5.00 of extra produce.

Customers get more mouth-watering produce when they pay with EBT. “That type of promotion got the word of mouth going better than anything we’d tried before,” said Dimond.

The next step was to make sure everyone knew about the EBT promotion. Instead of relying on signs or banners, Food Project volunteers informed every customer that EBT was available, whether they were eligible to use it or not. That helped lessen any stigma associated with EBT, said Dimond.

“It got the word out, and it normalized EBT as a form of payment,” she noted. “A lot more people got the message.” As a result of the promotion, EBT sales grew steadily, eventually exceeding $200 per week.

This summer, the Food Project offered the dollar-for-dollar incentive earlier in the season. When August rolled around, they stopped giving out extra produce with EBT purchases. The timing was by design, because it enabled the Food Project to see if the promotion’s momentum would carry over once the financial incentive was off the table.

Sure enough, even without the lure of free produce, EBT sales have averaged $150 per week, compared to $35 per week at the start of the season. This year, the market’s total EBT sales have already exceeded last year’s tally, and there are still six weeks left in the season.

The Lynn Market accomplished several things with their strategy. First, they made sure customers knew they could buy quality food with their EBT cards. Second, and I think this is very important, they reduced any stigma that may have been associated with using an EBT card at the market, making low-income customers feel welcomed. And lastly after accomplishing their goal of letting customers know that EBT was accepted they eliminated the extra incentive so that it didn’t become a default entitlement.

Much of the talk this week has been about national retailers downtown which is certainly welcomed. But it is the local markets in our city/region that give me hope for the future. It has proven impossible for me to visit the Soulard, Tower Grove or Old North markets without seeing someone I know. To the casual observer, the Tower Grove market is simply some tents on a patch of asphalt. While technically true, the sum is without a doubt greater than the parts. Trying to replicate the dynamic through fancy architectural or planning theory could never be as successful. Certainly physical surroundings are important, a Southtown Center market in the parking lot would not have the same feel.

However, I’ve been to the big Hillcrest market in San Diego which is simply a collection of market tents on a temporarily blocked street and adjacent parking lot for a state office building. The alignment of the tents and throngs of shoppers transform a normally bland area into something special. A few hours later the market is over and the area returns to a rather drab normal level until the following week. The 3 P’s mentioned above come together — “people, products and personality.”

And of course I have some photos to share. First up, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto:


Above, the large building houses two levels of market stalls.


Inside the shopper is greeted with a large variety of choices — everything from produce, to cheese to wild octopus!


The market spills across the street in a brutal 60s building. The people and activity give the building life and character it lacks on its own.


Still more booths are adjacent to both buildings in the form of tents, great for those vendors that don’t want long-term leases inside.

Back in St. Louis we have the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, now it its second year:


Above, bike & trailer sit patiently amid all the hubub of the market in the background.


Local merchant, Home Eco, gives a talk on green building adjacent to the market.


The market activity can be seen through the building as a band begins to set up. The interactive fountain is momentarily empty except for me (I couldn’t resist — why should the youngsters have all the fun?).


Earlier this year, in much hotter weather, the 2-section interactive fountain was as popular as the market.


The market in Old North St. Louis is still in its infancy but with increasing demand.  A massive undertaking is the project to remove the failed mall concept and return 14th street to an actual street.  Work has already begun in earnest on nine buildings in the immediate blocks around the dormant outdoor mall.  Next year the next phase of the project will center on 14th and the buildings fronting the street which has been closed to traffic for 30 years.  This market will play in important role in the re-population and local economy of Old North.

Again, check out PPS’ September 2007 online newsletter for great information on markets.


Property on Virginia Illustrates Mixed Uses, Evolution of Buildings

Buildings are hardly static and the property at 5411 Virginia in South St. Louis is a perfect example. What was once a 1-story structure grew over the years into a 15,000+ complex that includes a storefront, an office, an apartment, a garage and lots of open space. Over the years this property has been an early gas station, a bowling alley, a dance hall, a fried pies stand, a tavern and, most recently, a large-scale costume shop.


Preservation of buildings usual involves looking at a “period of significance” architecturally or historically. When originally built the complex was much smaller than today but we know from records, like the above, that the dance hall portion of the building on the 2nd floor was in place by March 1935.


The modern storefront may date to the 1930s as well.

The terrazzo entry clearly identifies the use as a bowling alley. The wood floor remains as well as some of the markings but the gutters have been filled in with wood and the manual pin equipment has long been removed.


The 5,000sf upstairs ballroom is a more “raw” space as the current owners removed the old plaster ceiling when they purchased the building back in the 90s. The space was used occasionally for parties, weather permitting (this floor is not air conditioned).

St. Louis is full of equally interesting buildings that, over time, have changed and evolved — sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. They are always fascinating. A great book on the subject of buildings is How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart Brand.

As you might expect by this point, I do have an other motive for this post.

At my previous real estate company I had this listing and when I left the listing stayed there, I’m on good terms with the company & seller so all is good. In the MLS the listing still shows as “pending” but a backup is requested. I know a bit more than this but it is inappropriate for me to share details.Let’s just say if you or someone you know might be interested in such a property get on the phone and call your agent, me or the folks at Schaller Realty. The listing price is $199,900. Click here to view the listing detail (w/additional photos & contact info). And for full disclosure, yes I will receive a referral fee upon closing of this property.


Book Review; ‘Unyielding Spirit, the history of the Polish people in St. Louis’ by NiNi Harris

My longtime personal friend NiNi Harris has written another book looking at a small segment of St. Louis. Her six prior books covered a number of topics including a history of Carondelet and Bohemian Hill. This time her focus is on the history of the Polish in St. Louis.

scan_7867221_1NiNi (pronounced nee-nee) gave me a media copy of the book for review and I immediately got engrossed in the stories told. While the book includes a good dose of discussion about physical place (church cornerstones, streets, etc…) this is really a book about people.

The book is also a good lesson in history covering 19th Century trouble in Poland, WWI and WWI. This is all tied to immigration of people fleeing their homeland as well as Polish immigrants in St. Louis sending money and men to help in Poland.

Throughout the book we learn about how individuals and families played roles in the establishment of churches in the fast developing neighborhoods of St. Louis. Census figures are used minimally to communicate the point that there were brief periods of time where St. Louis’ population was doubling.

We learn about the founding of numerous Polish Catholic churches in the city. All are now closed except St. Stanislaus which is featured on the cover. The land for St. Stans at 20th & Cass on the then edge of the developing city cost $4,864 in 1880 — quite a sum of money. At the time the parishioners met in the basement of a local Irish church until their first structure was dedicated in 1882. Included in the subtle history lesson was an issue in cities to the east between Polish parishes and their Archdiocese over church management, which likely led to an unusual arrangement:

“With the advice and consent of the Archbishop of St. Louis on May 2, 1891, the parish was made a corporation in the State of Missouri.”

Other churches were established on the near north side including St. Casimir. We also learn about a small group from St. Casimir that formed Sts. Cyril and Methodius Polish National Catholic Church — separating themselves from the Roman Catholic church. Archbishop John Glennon, it was discovered, “on March 14, 1908, excommunicated nine Polish St. Louisans and cautioned parishioners of the St. Casimir.” The decree indicated that members of St. Casimir that attend “services at a schismatic or protestant Church are by that act excommunicated.”

The book looks at the three main areas where the Polish resided and worked in St. Louis — the near north side, the near South side (between what is now known as Soulard and the river) and an area further South now called Mt. Pleasant. Interestingly, I lived for a number of years in the Polish area to the North (including the now Old North St. Louis area) and currently live in the Mt. Pleasant area, just a couple of blocks from the closed St. Hedwig church. Oh sorry, make that “consolidated” church. Still, you learn about the people working hard to buy a home or 4-flat and still how much money they raised to fund and build these churches.

My first flat in Old North was downstairs from an old Polish woman who’d live basically her entire life in that 4-family. Like so many immigrants, her parents had bought the building when she was a young girl. Upon getting married she raised her family in that building. Times, however, changed and her children didn’t want to raise their families in small shotgun flats so while she remained she rented other units out to people like me. My rent in 1991 was only $75/month.

Neighbors included the Bratkowski family, mentioned throughout the book. By reading the book I learned about my friend John Bratkowski’s grandfather’s business being taken for construction of I-70 and much about the early childhood of his mother.
You also learn about businesses they opened as well as the overlap these ethnic areas had with German and Irish areas. Reading about Polish persons enslaved in WWII labor camps is tough. The reader is excited to learn about young men and women finally leaving the slave camps and immigrating to America and finding their way to Polish neighborhoods in St. Louis.

Of course it would be hard to go through a history of people and not talk about the Great Depression. You get a good sense of the importance of holding onto a job, no matter how low the pay or backbreaking the work, because you likely had to help support your entire family. Managing to pay the mortgage and keeping food on the table was the important focus for families through the city during lean years. Even during the prosperous 20s, many immigrant families were just getting started and were not awash in cash. Thus, it should be no surprise that given the poverty, the lack of materials during the war and the shortage of labor with men off fighting in Europe that maintenance of homes in older areas (now approaching 60 years old) was not a high priority.

It was a shock to the new immigrants that had seen their European homeland a battleground to begin to put their lives in order in the US only to have their neighborhoods bombed out not by war planes but by government action — the poorly named “Urban Renewal.” The “slums” around St. Stanislaus where Polish families lived and worked were forcibly taken and wiped off the planet. By this point in the book I had become attached to some of the families, learning about their lives and how they relate to their church and work. But, alas, not enough of the homes had indoor plumbing so the government solution was to raze everything in site — including streets, sidewalks and alleys. You see, the logic was these people were living in slum conditions due to the lack of an indoor toilet so therefore we (liberal society) must help them out by removing everything they had built and worked for. Twisted logic!

On a side note, this past week I visited my Dad, now 78, in Oklahoma and I began to inquire about the depression and the dust bowl in rural Western Oklahoma. He recalled thinking things were bad for his family, living in a small 3-room farm house lacking running water and electricity, until at about the age of 8 (roughly 1937) he went to Oklahoma City with his father to sell a few heads of cattle they had raised. It was then that he saw the shanty towns along the river near the stockyards and thinking that while they were not doing well many more people were far worse off than they were. My Dad remembers his family getting a new block outhouse from the WPA back in the late 30s to replace the old wooden one. When he married my mom in August 1949 his family still did not have indoor plumbing (that would come in the 1950s).

Back in St. Louis a bunch of white men decided that because a certain percentage of older buildings had not been updated with modern plumbing that entire neighborhoods must be decimated, a bad use of good statistics (see the 1947 Plan). In the Polish areas around St. Stans up to 70% of the units still relied on outdoor privies, certainly creating a health issue. Still, rather than create a program to assist residents to finally be able to improve their dwellings the planners of the day didn’t consider such a logical solution — they feared the lack deterioration would “continue to expand until the whole city is engulfed.” NiNi’s book takes you through this time as residents struggle with the loss of their homes, businesses and social networks. Sure, St. Stans was not razed — just most of the homes of its parishioners! Again, we have some really messed up logic when we think a church can survive when we destroy everything around it. Of course, the men at the time honestly thought they were going to be creating wonderful new neighborhoods. In short, they didn’t realize they had wonderful neighborhoods that simply needed long-overdue maintenance and toilets.

This book, highly recommended for anyone seeking a better understanding of life in St. Louis, can be purchased at the Carondelet Historical Society, the lovely Chatillion-DeMenil Mansion in Benton Park, during rectory hours at St. Stans and throughout the upcoming Polish Festival at the Polish Falcons on St. Louis Ave. The book, published by St. Stans is 143 pages and sells for $20. The ISBN is 978-0-9794985-0-3.


Book Review; “Down Town, True Tales of Trial & Triumph on the Mean Streets” by Robert E. Lipscomb

I’ve never been homeless and hope that is the case throughout my life but one should never assume they will never be in that situation. Author Robert Lipscomb takes the reader through his journey from the good life (penthouse apartment overlooking Forest Park) to, at 51, living homeless living in various shelters downtown.
After talking with a priest at the suburban church where his father was a founding member, Lipscomb prepares to be homeless:

“I’m heading into society’s version of Hell, called poverty and invisibility. The living ghost existence. But I am encouraged. I feel stronger than I have felt in a very long time. As I have virtually nothing, how can this be? Choosing not to examine this too closely right now, I begin selecting which items can fit in my backpack, which will contain the sum total of my earthly possessions for the future to come.”

Lipscomb’s strength turns to fear and anger and back to strength through his “adventure” on the streets. Along the way we learn how the “normal” homeless make fun of the ones who are crazy, the best wearing brand of shoes, and where to get a meal. Lipscomb’s writing was very engrossing, making me want to continue through to the end without a break.

Down Town is preachy only to the extent of the importance of “God” to Lipscomb, a perfectly reasonable expectation given the circumstances. The book’s intent is not to make those of us with homes feel guilty so that we give to charities. Furthermore, the book does not make out the homeless to be a homogeneous society we should all pity. Instead, Lipscomb shares his experiences and mindset as he goes from being new on the streets to being more seasoned.

Lipscomb also talks about What’s Up Magazine, the street newspaper sold by homeless to raise money, and its program director Jay Swoboda. Swoboda, if the name sounds familiar to you, is the main person behind the EcoUrban modular green housing project. Lipscomb was an original writer & vendor for What’s Up when Swoboda started it.

There were many times in the book where I could not keep from getting watery eyes. This book is an emotional roller coaster ride — a ride all of us would just as soon never experience in person.

I don’t want to give away any more information but I do highly recommend this book. You can order the book directly from Lipscomb at Eagle’s View Press, I bought my copy at local independent Left Bank Books. Or if you must, Amazon.