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Consolidating school districts the answer?

Schools in the City of St. Louis, and in much of the region, need help to improve performance and perceptions.  On December 17th the state took action to help one such district:

The Missouri Board of Education today voted to merge the Wellston School District in St. Louis County with the larger nearby Normandy School District.

The Wellston District lost state accreditation in 2003. And despite recent improvements in graduation rates, state officials say the district has continued to struggle academically and financially.

The Wellston School District will officially cease operations after the current school year ends. (source: KWMU)

Some would argue more districts, like municipalities, need consolidation.  One reason:

In the 2006 issue of “Where We Stand” published by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the St. Louis area ranked as number one for the highest number of independent school districts per 100,000 population when compared to 33 other metropolitan areas of similar size and characteristics. (source: Renewing the Region)

Others have argued districts should not be larger than a single high school.  I’d imagine there is a point where a district can be too small or too big.  The poll this week asks your opinion – should Missouri consolidate more school districts in the region? Vote in the upper right sidebar and share your views in the comments below.

– Steve Patterson


What I love about St. Louis

December 11, 2009 STL Region 10 Comments

I’m in my 20th year in St. Louis.  Although I have come close to moving elsewhere over the years at this point I don’t ever see myself leaving St. Louis.  I complain daily about this and that but I do so because I care.  If I didn’t I would have loaded the U-Haul years ago.  I’m just not sure where I would have moved.  Every city/region has issues.  The grass may look greener over there but it really isn’t.

Of course I love my many friends in St. Louis.  I love the quality of the locally owned restaurants in St. Louis.  But I want to list positive physical attributes that makes me appreciate the City of St. Louis.  Here is what I came up with, in no particular order:

  • 19th century street grid of (mostly) short/walkable city blocks. Although severed by highways much of the grid remains in place.  I love how some streets, such as Gravois,  cross the grid at an angle.
  • Solid feel of the mostly masonry structures. I love our rare wood frame buildings but the most ordinary streets, even if largely vacant, feel very substantial.  The subtle variety in colors and the different details are fascinating and show the pride of those who built the buildings.
  • Neighborhood corner storefronts and commercial streets. Much of our city was built prior to the automobile and as such it has the walkable street grid mentioned above.  Often the street corners have storefront buildings that once housed various merchants selling dry goods, meats, produce, bread, candy, and bicycles. In some neighborhoods these continue to in this fashion — visit the Hill to see for yourself.  Along streetcar lines we’d often see a collection of storefronts.  Today these and others make up some of our best districts in terms of architectural scale. Examples: Euclid in the CWE, Meramec & Virginia in Dutchtown, Ivanhoe, Macklind between Chippewa and Loughborough, Morgan Ford, North Broadway in Baden, Manchester Ave in The Grove, Auto Alley on Locust in Midtown, downtown, North 14th Street in Old North, and the Delmar Loop. You can see the Wellston Loop was once thriving – I’m optimistic it will be again.  These places and so many others have character that comes from their period and their age — it can’t be built new.
  • Adaptability of building stock to new uses. Warehouses, factories, schools and churches have been retrofitted with new uses from when first built. I love that we have tax credits available to make the reuse of existing structures possible.
  • Enormous potential for growth – economic and population. I can still recall that Saturday in August 1990 when I drove my friend Mary Ann’s Honda Civic into St. Louis along I-44 from Oklahoma.  By the time we reached Grand I was hooked.  In the years that have followed I’ve explored every part of this city.  St. Louis Hills is different than Soulard which is different than Hyde Park -  all good and all have potential for increased population.  Our main corridors can become densely populated routes with streetcars connecting them to each other and the larger region.  I can see St. Louis with a population double today’s population.  I’m as excited by the potential as I was that first day I arrived.  The rest of my life will be spent as an urban planner helping St. Louis and other cities reach their full potential.
  • Geographic location. Some like the mountains or warm climates. I like being in the middle, flights to either coast are not so long.  My family in Oklahoma is close enough to see annually.  Chicago and other cities are reasonably close.  I like that we have four seasons.
  • Mississippi & Missouri rivers. People seem naturally drawn to bodies of water.  For some they like the ocean.  Others it is living near a lake.  For me I like river cities.  I like the idea of the navigation, the power of the moving water.  I’ve seen prettier river towns but the Mississippi is a beast of a river.

If I hadn’t ended up in St. Louis I would have likely found another 19th century manufacturing city to call home. Perhaps Detroit or Cleveland?

I will continue working to shape St. Louis into my vision for the future.  That may involve negative or hostile views but I think St. Louis is worth fighting for and change doesn’t come without a fight.  I figure I’ve got about thirty years left and I want to make the most of them.  I can guarantee that I will never reach a point where I can sit back and say there is nothing else to be done — the city/region is perfect. Even if our population is doubled and our schools are the best in the nation I will still see room for improvement.

I’ve thought at various times I should live in a better place where things are more urban.  The truth is I like solving problems – urban problems.  Live in utopia and you have no problems to solve.  I’m emotionally attached to St. Louis, no question about that.  Solving urban problems outside the City of St. Louis are less emotional for me but just as thrilling.

– Steve Patterson


Local elected officials and social networking

Knowing what our elected officials are working on used to require attending monthly neighborhood meetings.  Not bad if you are free when the meetings are held and patient enough to sit through the entire meeting to hopefully get a clue what they are up to.  Not good if you care to know about more than a single ward.  How many meetings can one person reasonably attend per month just to be an informed citizen? Then add in the issue of just trying to know what meetings are held when, where and who will be there.  If you are parochial you only care about that which is within your ward — across the street doesn’t matter.  In St. Louis that means your 3.6% (1/28th) section of the city.  Many of us, however, take a broader view of issues and problems facing not just the city but the entire St. Louis region.  3.6% is not enough.

For a number of years now I’ve complained that too few of our elected officials blogged.  If you wanted to know what they were working on you had on track them down at a neighborhood meeting.  Even then you got the same old boring stuff, no real news about what they are working on.

With the rise of Twitter, the 140 character micro-blogging site, our elected officials can now easily reach those interested in knowing what they are working on.  Some of them have embraced Twitter as a way to easily communicate.

The following are elected officials from the City of St. Louis on Twitter:

The list above includes all ages, races & both genders.  It includes senior members and two elected earlier this year.  My apologies if I’ve left anyone off the list.  The use by those listed above varies.  Mayor Slay does not personally tweet. Others can go weeks between tweets.

The above is just for the City of St. Louis.  Our region includes hundreds of units of government.  St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley is also on Twitter.  But what about members of the St. Louis County Council?  Hundreds of mayors in the region? Heads of other counties in our 16-county region?  Newly elected State Senator Joe Keaveny is on Twitter.

I started this post a couple months ago.  Since then Twitter has added a lists feature.  So for this post I created a list with elected officials that represent part of the St. Louis region.  Right now the list has 20 persons from both sides of the river.  You can subscribe to the entire list or pick and chose.  If you know of others that should be on the list let me know.

With only 20 on this list this means that most of our elected officials are not on Twitter.  Many of you are probably not either.  Not everyone needs to follow every official.  What is important is that they are putting out ideas and asking for feedback.  The other day I sent feedback to Lt. Gov Peter Kinder.  I’ve sent a message or two to Senator Claire McCaskill as well as numerous local aldermen. With the local press following them as well you are likely to get better reporting.

If you go to your ward/neighborhood meetings keep doing so.    But I’m interested in the entire region.

UPDATE 11/13/09 7:50am: Just got word that Mayor Slay does do some personal tweeting – those with #fgs at the end. Good to know.

– Steve Patterson


Much of St. Louis region going (mostly) smoke-free by January 2011

November 3rd voters in St. Louis County approved a clean air bill covering their county (65% yes).  Prior to their vote the Board of Aldermen in the City of St. Louis passed a bill doing basically the same thing in the city, which is separate from St. County.

Both will go smoke-free on January 2, 2011. Contrary to reports, the citizen vote in the County is not triggering the city bill – in fact the County bill is delaying the effective date in the city by one day.  The city’s bill called for an effective date of January 1, 2011 unless the County ordinance began sooner.  From section 15 of the city’s bill:

This Ordinance shall be effective on such date that the Saint Louis County enacts Smoke Free Air legislation, or on January 1, 2011, whichever date is later.

Since the county effective date is 1/2/2011 it is one day later in the city.  The city’s language was poorly worded but the 2nd actually makes more sense anyway because you don’t want to try to change the policy on the night everyone is celebrating New Year’s.  I’d have made it effective on 12/31/2010 but such measures usually start at the start of a year, not the end.

The City’s law exempts small bars for five long years from the effective date.  So they will go smoke-free on January 2, 2016.  Here is the exemption language:

Bars in existence on the effective date of this ordinance in which only persons aged twenty one (21) years old or older are permitted to enter the premises, the square footage of the entire floor area of the level of the building on which the bar establishment is located is two thousand (2000) square feet or less. The square footage shall not include kitchen areas, storage areas and bathrooms. The bar shall prominently displays outside of the premises at each entrance and above the bar the following sign in lettering that is black bold Arial font at (ninety-eight) 98 point size: “WARNING : SMOKING ALLOWED HERE”. This exemption for bars shall expire five (5) years after the effective date of this ordinance.

A bar is defined in the ordinance as:

“Bar” means an establishment that is devoted to the serving of alcoholic beverages for consumption by guests on the premises and in which the serving of food is only incidental to the consumption of those beverages, including but not limited to, taverns, nightclubs, cocktail lounges, and cabarets.

My concern is that as most places goe smoke-free all the smokers are going to crowd into the small bars that permit smoking this exemption.  If that happens the non-smoking patrons of those places may shift to non-smoking bars to avoid the increase in smoke.  If this does happen that means these small bars will be increasingly dependent upon smokers. Instead of adjusting their business model to prepare for the coming smoke-free deadline they will be worse off than today.

Note that a new bar opened after January 2, 2011 it will be smoke-free regardless of the size.  Other exemptions include:

2. Not more than twenty percent (20%) of hotel and motel rooms rented to guests and designated as smoking rooms. All smoking rooms on the same floor must be contiguous and smoke from these rooms must not infiltrate into areas where smoking is prohibited under the provisions of this Ordinance. The status of rooms as smoking or nonsmoking may not be changed, except to add additional nonsmoking rooms.
3. Private clubs that have no employees, except when being used for a function to which the general public is invited; provided that smoke from such clubs does not infiltrate into areas
where smoking is prohibited under the provisions of this Ordinance. This exemption shall not apply to any organization that is established for the purpose of avoiding compliance with this Ordinance.
4. Outdoor areas of places of employment.
5. Tobacco retail stores as defined by this Ordinance.
6. Casino gaming areas as defined by this Ordinance.

I’m not overly bothered by these exemptions — except that last one.  Employees of casinos are not immune from the dangers of 2nd hand smoke.  Interestingly, the issue of casino workers exposed to smoke may get resolved in the courts.

Wynn Las Vegas is the second major resort operator to be hit with a lawsuit recently over secondhand smoke dangers. (Source)

One suit involved a pregnant casino employee.  A woman should not have to quit her job to protect her baby’s health (unless her job is something like a race car driver, stunt woman, etc).  Next steps will be to remove the casino exemption, pass similar measure in other Missouri Counties in the St. Louis area.  Ideally the state will finally pass a state-wide measure.

We’ve got a little more than 13 months until places must go smoke-free.  Hopefully some will make the transition sooner rather than waiting until the deadline. By going smoke-free before the deadline establishments can probably get some extra PR for doing so.  Along those lines, establishments that go smoke-free prior to the deadline may want to consider advertising that fact here.  Come January 3rd 2011 nearly every place will be smoke-free so by doing so early and advertising it they stand a better chance of not getting lost in the crowd of places.

On the other hand one restaurant owner told me before Tuesday he wanted to go smoke-free but wanted the law to require it.  He will continue as a smoking establishment until the deadline — he doesn’t want to offend his regulars.  He is glad it will become law so he is finally able to go smoke-free.  I can respect that.  I told him I’d visit him in 2011, but not before.

– Steve Patterson


Your favorite St. Louis brewery?

November 1, 2009 STL Region, Sunday Poll 18 Comments

For generations St. Louisans have been brewing and consuming beer.  From the biggest to the smallest, and everything in between, the number of breweries in the St. Louis area is impressive.

The poll this week asks your favorite local brewery.  I’m not asking which you consume the most, but which is your favorite.  They might be the same and they might not.

The list of breweries was taken from participants in the 2009 St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival (must be 21 to enter site):

I have tried about 5-6 of them but that means there is that many I haven’t tried.   In the event I omitted a local brewery from the poll I have enabled the “other” field so you can add in one not listed.  The breweries are presented alphabetically.

I see the corner bar/brewery as being part of an urban environment.  Applebee’s says they are a “Neighborhood Grill & Bar”  yet their neighborhood is often a suburban strip mall. Just not the same.

Most of these places are small brewers.  Others started small and expanded.  Most are in the City of St. Louis but there are exceptions.  Whenever I’m on Main Street in St. Charles I usually end up at Trailhead.  Going to Augusta used to be about wine for me but since I discovered Augusta Brewery I go for beer instead.

Brews from some of these brewers are available in other establishments/grocery store while others can only be obtained directly.  You may think it unfair to have A-B compete in the poll with small micro breweries.  Again, I’m asking for your favorite brewer.   I like A-B’s Amber Bach but that doesn’t make A-B my favorite brewer in town.

Fans of local beer can go to the stlhops.com forum where members post what beers pubs have in stock on certain days.  Technology and beer are a nice combination.  As I finish writing this post Halloween night I’m finishing off a local pumpkin ale.

Thanks to contributor Jim Zavist for the idea for this poll & post.  The poll is at the top of the right sidebar. If you chose to drink please do so responsibly.

– Steve Patterson