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Green? Yes. Accessible? No.

Green building is all the rage these days.  That is a good thing, but I wished walkability was given the same importance.  Walking, after all, is one of the most green & healthy things we can do.

So last year when the old Sym’s clothing store in the St. Louis suburb of Brentwood was converted into an Office Depot & Westlake Ace Hardware I was hopeful that pedestrian access would make it into the renovation plans.  I periodically scooted by and saw the nifty bioswales being carved out of the existing parking lot but no accessible route connecting the public sidewalk to the accessible entrance of the two stores..

Office Depot & Ace Hardware on Manchester Rd.
Office Depot & Ace Hardware on Manchester Rd.

The parking lot was completely redone so there was plenty of opportunity to do the greenest thing of all — welcome pedestrians.

Detail of bio-swale
Detail view of "bioswale"

I love the green bioswales which catch and use water runoff.

Public sidewalk along Manchester Rd. at entry to Office Depot/Ace Hardware.
Public sidewalk along Manchester Rd. at entry to Office Depot/Ace Hardware.

But when we’ve got major reconstruction of both building and site and no priority is given to connect to the existing public sidewalk we have a problem.  When “green” ignores pedestrians, we have a problem.  When developers and large retailers are able to ignore the basic right of accessibility we have a problem.

You might be saying to yourself, “npobody walks that stretch of Manchester Rd.”  First, not true.  Some do walk here.  But given the lack of consideration for the pedestrian it is no wonder too few walk.  This property is surrounded by residential properties and is only a mile from the Maplewood MetroLink light rail station to the East.

Which comes first the pedestrian or the sidewalk?


Flashing Lights Outside Walgreen’s

February 5, 2009 Retail, South City 29 Comments

Last night, as I was at the light at Chippewa & Hampton (map) I noticed annoying flashing lights on both street facades at the Walgreen’s.  I had noticed these before but this time they really struck me.  I presume the purpose is to get folks to look toward the flashing light and thus toward the security cameras.


Or just plain tacky.  The big parking lots for the Walgreen’s stores are bad enough.  Plus the fact they are on every corner it seems.  Still these flashing lights, of all things, are more than I cam stand.


Town & Country Crossing A Marked Improvement Over The Typical Strip Center in Our Region

Last week, after a meeting, I took a drive out West along Clayton Road with the destination being the new Town & Country Crossing shopping center at Clayton & Woods Mill (map).

The municipality of Town & Country is home to many well to do types. Their city, however, is neither town nor country. It is a collection of big homes on streets with pretentious names yet lacking of sidewalks. The closest they get to country is having deer and that is something they’ve been trying to get rid of. A little too country I suppose?

A few years ago Lucent Technologies left a large building and site vacant at the SW corner of Woods Mill and Clayton:

While the existing uninspiring building could have been remodeled for new tenants a developer saw an opportunity for more suburban development. In particular a more upscale development anchored by a Target and Whole Foods.

In the site plan above you get the Target in the bottom left of the development while the Whole Foods is the letter “E” on the right. A large pond/lake is in the upper right near the intersection. A large section of the total site (left) is designated for residential development.

Nothing says upscale like stone and the entry marker has plenty. I actually like the way the signage for the stores is worked into this wall. The above is the Clayton Rd entrance. Note the presence of sidewalks, an unusual sight along Clayton Rd.

Many might think who needs sidewalks because nobody walks out here. The counter argument, of course, is that nobody walks because they have no sidewalks. However, they do have sidewalks in places.

Above is looking North along Woods Mill from the entrance to the residential area to the South of the new Town & Country Crossings. Clearly when this was built some 20 or so years ago they had walking in mind. However the other commercial developments at this intersection are hostile to pedestrians by their design. The center with a Schnuck’s just to the East of this new development is not easily accessible by foot. They claim to be the “friendliest stores in town” but not if you are a pedestrian. OK, enough about them let’s get back to Town & Country Crossing.

Above is the sidewalk coming from Woods Mill. The entrance from Clayton also has a proper sidewalk.

Walking around the lake is also encouraged. The above view is looking East from the Whole Foods outdoor patio. This sidewalk provides another pedestrian access point into the development off of Woods Mill.

So far they’ve done a decent job of connecting various buildings on the site via sidewalks (thus complying with the ADA Access Route requirement). Above is the sidewalk from in front of the Whole Foods turning the corner to the left and eventually connecting to a couple of buildings that will have smaller stores.

Above is looking back the other direction at the entrance to Whole Foods (the only store completed & open on the day I visited). From this vantage point the center looks pretty typical of suburban strip centers.

Out in the middle of the parking area we see another departure from typical centers — an access route dead center. At the other end of the above sidewalk is the main entry to the new target.

Turning around we see that the previous sidewalk connects to a sidewalk that takes you to the strip buildings along the North (Clayton Rd) side if the development. It remains to be seen just how connected the entire site will be once completed.

For example the above is taken from in front of the Whole Foods looking West. Way in the background is a small strip building near the Clayton Rd entrance. At this time I don’t see an obvious route to get from here to there. I’ll have to return in a few months when they are further along, when it is cooler outside, and I can walk farther.

This is not the project I would have placed on this site. I would have done a commercial street lined on both sides by shops. Like the Boulevard off Brentwood near the Galleria although not so cutsie. The lifestyle center I saw last Fall in West Palm Beach (see post) is a good example of the upscale level of urbanism that would have been ideal for this site. Such a plan would require costly structured parking but offered more lease able space in return. It would have given this section of Town & Country a bit of that missing town.

Still as a big box (Target) strip center it is probably the best in the region. I can think of no other on this scale that does such a nice job of bringing the outside pedestrian into the site and then giving then the option to walk internally.

From a March 2007 Post-Dispatch article:

The shopping-center plans drew opposition from some residents who worried that the local streets were not wide enough for the traffic, while others complained that Target seemed a bit lowbrow for the well-to-do community. Residents signed petitions to block the center in its earlier versions, and they sued TNC. The dispute was settled out of court.

Work was done on both Woods Mill and Clayton, widening and adding turn lanes.  Perhaps the resulting project is better as a result of objections from neighbors?  They probably wouldn’t have liked my quasi-urban lifestyle center either.  Hopefully they’ll start adding more sidewalks so that more people can walk to this shopping center.  Hopefully other developers will stop by to see how strip centers should be designed to meet minimum standards of connectivity.


I Drove My Car Today

For most people driving a car is no big deal, millions do it everyday. For me, five months to the day after being rushed to the hospital following my stroke, it was a very big deal.

A year ago I was so excited to not own a car, using my 49cc Honda Metropolitan scooter to get around town and to meet with clients. The stroke took out the use of my left limbs. I’ve got decent use of the left leg at this point, but my left arm/hand is still functionally limited. So a couple of weeks ago I sold the scooter (post) and last week bought a used car — a Toyota Corolla.

For obvious reasons I bought one with an automatic transmission — no extra hand to shift with (while keeping the other on the wheel) nor a reliable leg to activate a clutch. I also wanted a vehicle with power windows because trying to use my right hand to roll down the driver’s window would not be easy. The Corolla has an outstanding reliability record and excellent fuel economy. This Corolla, like most, was assembled in the joint venture Toyota/GM plant known as NUMMI in Fremont, CA, located not far from my brother’s office.

Don’t think that I’m just out on the road living it up without any equipment or training. I had a driving evaluator (a licensed occupational therapist) come and give me vision & cognitive testing as well as on on-road driving test. So last week, at age 41 and after driving for 25 years, I was back in driver’s ed.

We drove on the streets and the interstate. He recommended the two vehicle modifications which were the two I had already assumed:


The spinner knob on the steering wheel at 2 O’clock helps me safely turn the wheel with only one hand. The lever you see behind the wheel to the right is a turn signal crossover, helping me use turn signals with my right hand. The spinner knob is illegal for use on the road unless you’ve be determined to need it. Both devices work great.

So now my trick will be to see how seldom I can drive the car. I feel like a failed environmentalist selling the scooter and getting a car. As I start to buy gas I know I will quickly be reminded of just how efficient the scooter was. I’ll still use the wheelchair to get around downtown. I’ll also continue to work on my walking so that some day I’ll be able to stop using the wheelchair, the cane and leg brace.

In the meantime the car will allow me to get to my office on South Kingshighway without having to bum rides from others. This also permits me to once again have the ability to meet clients at properties that are for sale. A paycheck would be nice.

The car will permit me to stop by Local Harvest grocery and various farmers’ markets to get locally grown food. And finally it will allow me to get and and see projects as they are happening so that I can review them here.

To me the car is an important park of my mobility but I’m not going to let it rule my life.


Syndicate/Trust Opens, Developer Hints at Coming Retail

Friday night was an event that at one time looked like it would never happen, a renovated Syndicate/Trust building had gala grand opening with a ribbon cutting by the Mayor. The reason it looked like it might not happen is that a previous owner of it and the former Century building wanted to raze both structures (the entire block) for surface parking. The city refused to issue demolition permits and this owner even got a court ruling to allow the demolitions. The city intervened and purchased both buildings to save them from the wrecking ball.

Of course the city did an about face and advocated the demolition of the Century half of the block in favor of yet another parking garage. No RFP (request for proposals) was issued by the city on the Century, it was just one of those done deals completed behind closed doors. Thankfully due to various lawsuits and flack over the Century an RFP was issued by the city for the Syndicate. Craig Heller’s LoftWorks partnered with Sherman & Associates (of Minneapolis) had the winning proposal over the now closed Pyramid Companies and perhaps others. Thankfully Pyramid didn’t get this project to or it would likely still be full of pigeons rather than downtown residents.

The Mayor in his remarks talked about how the city stepped in to keep both the Syndicate & Century from being razed — he starts to say “how we saved these buildings” — buildings plural. But then he remembered the deal to go ahead and raze the historic Century even though a vacant site was available for the garage. just to the North of the Old Post Office.

Here is a short video with remarks from Mayor Slay & Craig Heller:


Did he say a chocolate cafe? Yes he did! And a fast food place, a sports themed full service restaurant, a hair salon, an “acoustic music venue” and a wine bar. Wine without food? Oh no there goes downtown, where is Craig Schmid to the rescue? And finally he mentioned the inclusion of a “local bookstore” at the space across the street. Seriously, a bookstore? That is huge! All eyes will be on him as they make the official announcement about future tenants. I’m downright giddy about the addition of a locally owned bookstore to our downtown. As long as we can keep the city from giving major tax breaks to then get a Borders to move in and put the local place out of business.

Mayor Slay is correct that Craig Heller has been a downtown pioneer. When we had no grocery store he took a personal risk and helped open City Grocers. Heller was also one of the key drivers behind the push to get car sharing in the St Louis area. His firm, LoftWorks, is a sponsor of one if not two of the downtown WeCars.

Heller assured me this retail will all be in place and open before ballpark village opens.  Congrats to Craig & George and welcome to the new residents, restaurateurs, and retailers.