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New Wendy’s on Gravois includes ADA accessible route and bike parking

A newly built Wendy’s has opened on Gravois next to the non-walkable Gravois Plaza shopping center (Dec 2004: Gravois Plaza Less Pedestrian-Friendly than previous center).  The Wendy’s replaces a former Shoney’s restaurant most recently used as a daycare facility (map)

gravoisplazawendysNaturally the Wendy’s is your typical cheap suburban (auto centric) design — far from the street, surrounded by too much parking, etc.  Something you’d expect off a freeway exit ramp but not what I’d want in an urban context.  Although as we keep building more of this crap our once walkable urban neighborhoods will look just like the ugly ring around the outside of our region and most regions in America.

I watched the build the location and I fully expected them to not include an accessible route from the public sidewalk on Gravois. I got a pleasant surprise when they did do the minimum required by the ADA.  I’ve seen too many fast food joints pop up that completely ignore the requirement.

A bonus is a bike rack that can hold three bikes.  Although the rack design is not my favorite because it is hard to secure a bike in two places, it was installed right out front where it is easily seen and used.

– Steve Patterson


QVS Pharmacy replacing McMahon Ford at Gravois & Chippewa

April 26, 2010 Retail, South City 15 Comments

ABOVE: QVS Pharmacy to replacing McMahon Ford at Gravois & Chippewa
ABOVE: QVS Pharmacy replacing McMahon Ford at Gravois & Chippewa

Other cities have had the pharmacy wars for years.  We’d been spared the competition between Walgreen’s and CVS but now our corners are their battleground.

– Steve Patterson


St. Louis’ Cherokee Street developing organically

ABOVE: STYLEhouse (STL-Style), Fort Gondo & Tower Taco.

I recently attended an evening open house on Cherokee Street.  Not the blocks immediately East or West of Jefferson, but on the block East of Compton (aerial of Cherokee & Compton).  Slowly and organically storefronts along Cherokee Street have been filled by various businesses.

Pictured above is local garment company STYLEhouse (advertiser STL-Style), gallery Fort Gondo (compound for the arts) and restaurant Tower Tacos.   Across the street snowflake/citystock was hosting an event as well. To the West is a new independent bookstore,  The Archive.  See Dotage St. Louis for a list of independent bookstores in the City of St. Louis. All Along Press was on this block but they recently moved East on Cherokee Street.

What is great about Cherokee is that the rebirth is very organic.  There was no grandiose plan, no multi-block project.   Building by building the area is coming back.  Collaboration among the individuals and entities has been important but that is different than a big physical project.  In places where you have strong urban context intact all you need are measures to ensure the urban/walkable building fabric remains — no razing a block for a drive-thru.  In those parts of the city what the urban fabric has already been lost you need good form-based codes to guide new construction so you eventually end up with good walls along the streets.  With good zoning in place, the infill can also happen organically over time.

Whenever you have the transformation of a street or neighborhood one word often comes up: gentrification.   As it happens, gentrification is the discussion topic for the March 4th City Affair to be held at STYLEhouse (STL-Style) on Cherokee:  CITY AFFAIR XIV: GENTRIFICATION.

– Steve Patterson


Transportation and the Urban Form

The host of this site, Steve Patterson, and I are both passionate about urban design issues. One area where we differ is how the interaction between transportation options and the urban form plays out in the real world. Steve, and others, believe that requiring “better”, more appropriate and/or more restrictive design standards, through efforts like moving to form-based zoning and reducing available parking, will somehow convince the uninformed public to become more enlightened and to change their ways.  I have a different perspective, that available transportation options inform the urban form, including our land use regulations and their application on a daily basis.

I’m not going to go back to the discovery of the wheel, but I am going to go back 150 years.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution / the American Civil War, transportation options were limited to human, animal, water or wind power – you could walk or row, ride a horse or a mule, use a sailboat or “go with the flow”.  The result was a world made up of farms, relatively small settlements, seaports, river ports and a few larger centers of banking, trade and government.  There was no zoning, as we know it, but we did have our westward expansion, with land being given away for free to anyone willing to “tame the wilderness”, through farming, ranching or mining.

Cities were just starting to build rudimentary water supply and sewer systems, and elevators and air conditioning were non-existent.  You got an urban environment marked by row houses, small, local retail establishments and tiny signs.  You didn’t have drive-throughs or dry cleaners, computers or gas stations; you did have hitching posts and coal for heat, telegraph and manure in the streets, Bob Cratchet and Tiny Tim.  You can find many preserved examples up and down the east coast, including Colonial Williamsburg.  And St. Louis started to grow as the Gateway to the West, primarily as a trading center and a transportation hub.  Examples around here include Soulard, Carondelet and Baden

The ability to capture the power of steam, through the boiler and the steam engine gave us railroads, cable cars and steam heat.  It also gave us the ability to run machinery with something other than water power, greatly expanding where factories could be located and how much they could produce.  More importantly, electricity was staring to be harnessed, with major improvements in generation, lighting and motors.  From the 1850’s through the 1890’s, city life changed rapidly.  Factories, along with their need for lots of workers, worked better in urban settings than in rural ones.  Cities like St. Louis became industrial centers as well as trading centers.

Quoting from a story in the 12/13/09 edition of the Daytona Beach News-Journal;

According to the Web site trolleystop.com, the first successful trolley system in the United States began operation in Richmond, Va. in 1887.  After the initial success in Richmond, almost all of the horse car lines in North America were converted to electric power.  The electric trolleys became so popular that the street railway industry experienced explosive growth almost overnight.  As the popularity of automobiles and buses boomed in the 1920s, however, most trolley companies began converting their lines to bus service.

That was certainly the case here.  We had multiple streetcar companies competing for riders and we saw explosive growth of streetcar suburbs, both inside and outside the city limits.

Streetcars and buses allowed workers to live further away from work.  You still needed to walk to the transit line, but it meant living within walking distance of your job was no longer an essential requirement.  People had more options, and many of those, that could afford to, moved out of the older, denser parts of town, leaving them to new waves of immigrants or to see them torn down and replaced by factories.  Retailers were still expected to offer home delivery, so stay-at-home moms (yes it’s a stereotype, but it was the reality) shopped for fresh food pretty much every day and kids walked or biked to neighborhood schools.  This was also the time when the first attempts at zoning started to occur, primarily to separate industrial uses from residential ones.

The next big “step forward” was Henry Ford’s efforts to produce an affordable automobile.  His success, in the 1920’s, was the next big step in the suburbanization of America and St. Louis.  Throughout south city one can find garages that are too small for many contemporary vehicles – they were built to shelter the vehicle that expanded Dad’s transportation options, Ford’s Model T.  The residential neighborhoods of that time were still walkable (with sidewalks) and they still had corner groceries, but they were growing less dense.

The next big impact on the urban environment was World War II, both directly and indirectly.  Factories moved from multi-story to single-story, sprawling structures.  The internal combustion engine became more reliable and synthetic rubber made tires much less of a pain in the a**.  Women entered the work force in large numbers and pent-up demand for consumer products continued to build.

Once the war ended, we experienced several decades of unprecedented prosperity, from the mid ’40’s through the ’70’s.  We built the interstate highway system and moms learned to drive.  FHA and VA loans favored single-family homes, primarily new, suburban ones, over denser, multi-family options.  We went from single-car families to 2-car families.  We embraced the suburban shopping center and the enclosed mall.

Just because it was a whole lot easier, people chose driving themselves over taking public transit.  They chose living in the new suburbs over living in established urban areas, especially those that had experienced decades of deferred maintenance (the Great Depression followed by wartime rationing).  Employers, schools and retailers all responded by offering more and more “free” parking, either by planning for it from the start, in new suburban developments, or by buying up and tearing down existing buildings in more-established urban areas.  This mobility also resulted in the Euclidean zoning that many of us are questioning today – it codified a preference for convenient parking over both density and walkability.

The end result is the world we live in today.  It reflects the hopes and aspirations of the majority of Americans, as reflected by the actions of our elected officials.  We trade sprawl and congested highways for the “freedom” to live where we want, work where we can find jobs and to shop at generic chains who have mastered the worldwide logistics supply chain.  We have seen St. Louis lose both population and jobs.  And we have two choices – we can continue to become more suburban, building more shopping centers, single-family homes and “free” parking.  Or we can redirect our efforts, differentiate ourselves from our suburban neighbors, encourage density and create viable transportation alternatives.

To attract people out of their cars and trucks won’t be easy.  There’s a real attraction to privacy, control and convenience.  But, as a big believer in the Law of Unintended Consequences, I find it interesting that more members of the Generation Y are willing to embrace mass transit.  It turns out that people who text, tweet and surf the mobile net would actually rather let someone else do the driving, IF they can figure out how to make it work.  Whether that involves reinventing Metro’s system and creating a market for higher densities or developing a taxi infrastructure that mimics that in New York, it appears that we may be on the cusp of a another significant change in how people want to live, work and commute.  Combine that with the growing success of, and the reliance many people have on, online shopping, and in many ways we’re returning to the “home delivery” model of yore.

Steve’s belief in the need for form-based zoning could very well be reflected in actual change, just not one driven by direct logic and/or nostalgia.  I doubt that we’ll see the imminent demise of the suburban shopping center or the type of store Schnuck’s or Direbergs typically builds.  But I can see a future where Transit Oriented Development will gain traction on both the residential side and on the employment/educational side – it’s actually slowly playing out here locally at the Barnes campus on Kingshighway.  The single-occupant vehicle could very well become an anachronism for the daily commute, saved only for shopping, recreation and regional out-of-town trips.  Whether it ends up being garaged for days at a time or rented only when needed will be a personal decision.  But these decisions will inform what “sells”, and in turn, what gets built, and ultimately, what our legislators will see a need to codify.

– Jim Zavist


Cash, Jack, Square, St. Louis and life in cities

December 9, 2009 Popular Culture, Retail 5 Comments

As I’ve written before, how we live in cities changes because of technology.  The streetcar allowed cities to physically grow outward and the automobile took cities further and further outward.  The mobile phone has allowed us to be away from a land line.  The phone booth has disappeared. The notebook and wi-fi has moved the office to the corner coffeehouse.

Cities exist as a place to exchange goods and services. St. Louis, for example, started in 1764 as a place to trade fur.  Currency is exchanged for goods and services.  In St. Louis that currency has been Spanish, French and American.  The bills and coins have changed since the mid 18th Century.

Today we often use a debit or credit card rather than cash.  I have coins for the purposes of feeding our 20th century parking meters.  Newer vending machines often take plastic.  Cash is on the way out with other paper items, like newspapers.

Enter Jack.  St. Louis native and founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey.  Jack hates cash so he started Square to allow people to easily accept plastic with their mobile phone, initially the iPhone (and iPod Touch). The national press covered the start-up announcement last week.

According to Square’s website, payees can start accepting payments via Square in under 60 seconds, with “no contracts, monthly fees, or hidden costs.” The company donates one cent from every transaction to the charity of the payer’s choice. In order to streamline the process, payees can register for Square and upload a photo, so that payees can verify that you are who you say you are.

It’s not yet clear how Square’s transaction fees will square with those of traditional merchant accounts. “We’re not giving out rate sheets just yet, as they are in flux until we have a general launch,” Dorsey told wired.com via e-mail. “When we do though, the fees will be completely transparent, simple and upfront.”

In order to accept credit card payment using Square’s iPhone app, a merchant attaches a card-reading dongle to the smartphone’s audio input – or “any device with an audio input jack.” Once the customer signs the phone with their finger, the transaction is complete, after which the app can e-mail a receipt to the customer.  (Full story: Wired)

Image source: Wired

The initial debut is limited at first but it will open up in 2010.  Articles mention two of the three cities that have vendors using the new system: San Francisco and New York.  Sure, lots of new technology comes from these cities.  But what about that third city where this new cutting edge technology is available?  Seattle? Nope.  Denver? Chicago?  Getting warmer.  Try St. Louis:

Dorsey partnered with Jim McKelvey, president of Mira Digital Publishing and founder of Third Degree Glass Factory in St. Louis, on the new San Francisco-based company, which also has offices in St. Louis and New York.

Dorsey, 32 is chief executive of the new company, which has rolled out service at select locations, including Third Degree Glass Factory in St. Louis and other businesses in San Francisco and New York, McKelvey said. The company plans to introduce the service to everyone in early 2010, according to a statement on its Web site, squareup.com, which lists 11 staff members. McKelvey said it wasn’t yet known how many local employees the company would have.

The inspiration for Square came in February, when McKelvey could not sell a piece of his glass art to a customer in Panama because he couldn’t take her American Express credit card for payment. “I was complaining to my friend, Jack, about this,” McKelvey said. “It should have been possible but wasn’t.” (Full story: St. Louis Business Journal)

Square will change retailing, cities and the business of exchanging money. PayPal was started by eBay as a way to facilitate payment of auction items but now PayPal represents a big portion of eBay’s total revenues.  Revenues are measured in billions, not millions.  Google has Google Checkout.  Apple licenses a technology from Amazon to process millions of small micro-payments.

The traditional brick and mortar retailer has been stuck with with a card reader connected to a land line, if they could justify the fees.  For the street vendor, farmer at a farmers’ market, artist at a street fair or others seeking payment Square will be a huge.

The mobile app is expected to sell for 99¢, the dongle will be free.  The fee rate will be very straightforward. This will permit those people who do business away from a card reader they will be able to accept plastic.

I think that this is truly disruptive. The reason Square exists is because of three macro trends: the pervasiveness of the mobile Internet, the increase in the use of electronic payment systems and most importantly, the availability of low-cost, always-on computers (aka smartphones) that allow sophisticated software to conduct complex tasks on the go.

The marriage of computing and connectivity without the shackles of being tethered to a location is one of the biggest disruptive forces of modern times. It is (and will continue) to redefine business models, for decades. Square is simply riding these waves.

There is no denying that the challenges facing Square are many. But the simplicity of the idea, the audacity of the company’s dream and the convergence of diverse technology trends make Square a company to watch.  (Full commentary: Gigaom)

The changes won’t be apparent in say April 2010.  By April 2020? Yes. Business licenses are typically linked to a physical address, a place of business.  As technology changes the address the Secretary of State keeps on file may just be where your business receives snail mail.  Actual transactions may take place miles away from that address.

Retail stores are not going to go away.  In fact technology such as this could help retailers have more than one point-of-sale location — such as one facing the urban sidewalk out front and one facing a rear parking lot entrance.  Apple is using a new system in their stores that includes bar code reader and other features for large volume sales.

Yesterday VeriFone decided it needed to provide a mobile option for it’s service:

The PAYware app and device, which plugs into the iPod dock connector and cradles the phone, is free when users sign a two-year contract.

Along the lines of a cellphone contract, users pay an activation fee of $49, a monthly fee of $15 and 17 cents on each transaction.

The subscription model makes it an unrealistic option for the casual Craigslist seller, which Dorsey pegged as his target market. Indeed, VeriFone is going after cafes (as is Square), home repair and door-to-door salespeople.  (Source: Los Angeles Times)

Unlike Square, the Verifone solution is specific to the iPhone and iPod Touch. Mobile credit/debit card acceptance will be huge.

– Steve Patterson