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How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population

January 20, 2022 Environment, Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population
Graphic from November 2020 post showing area predicted to have population loss.

The 2020 Census results results for St. Louis showed what I had predicted, the bulk of our population loss came from northside wards.  This was also true in 2010 and in 2020. No reason to think 2030 won’t be more of the same. We can sit back and do nothing, or we can help manage the situation — possibly reducing some losses in future.

By mange I mean see where population is dropping more than in other areas. We can’t just write of a third of our geographic area. I propose a group comprised of experts, residents, business owners, etc to examine data and evaluate possible solutions.

Here is some of the data I’d like to see on a big map(s):

  • Population by age & race
  • Parcels of land being used (water connection) vs unused.
  • Parcels of land with new or substantially renovated structures vs severally deteriorated, condemned, or vacant.
  • Parcels of land owned by the city, out of state owners, owner-occupied, LLC, .
  • Historic properties, sites.
  • Schools, current & former.
  • Employers and numbers of employees
  • Crime
  • Topography
  • Probably other criteria as well…

Since north city is not declining uniformly we need to see which parts that are doing better than others. Is this because 0f newer housing?  Access to transit?  All we know at this point is some blocks are stable and occupied while others are rapidly declining. Mapped data can tell us a lot, people on the ground familiar with their area can confirm or dispute what the data tells us. Get everyone on the same page, then reassess every few years and make adjustments as circumstances change for better or worse.

What we all need to accept is that it’s very unlikely these neighborhoods will see a major population growth. Ever. Thus some land can be returned to nature, used for agriculture, etc. The maps will show us the least populated areas with the worst housing stock — contrasted with pockets of denser areas with housing unlikely to be abandoned this decade. I’m not talking about large areas the size of Pruitt-Igoe, NGA-West, or Fairgrounds Park. It might be possible that smaller nature areas could be linked together by a trail system. A few great vacant school buildings not reused for residential might get filled with hydroponics to grow produce.

The major corridors like MLK, Page, Natural Bridge, Kingshighway, Grand, etc should remain. Many connecting streets would also remain. However, it’s possible in some areas we might be able to justify removing unoccupied streets and alleys. As St. Louis begins to look at replacing lead water supply lines those areas that’ll benefit most from the infrastructure investment should get priority over areas that can be back to nature by 2030. Old water & sewer lines might get abandoned completely in isolated areas.

The goal isn’t to cut off services to existing residents, but to use resources to strengthen and grow the existing strong pockets. On a block with say only one resident we can wait until that person moves or dies of old age. The children of longtime residents aren’t really interested in moving into the house their relative refused to leave. Conversely, a nice block with one newly-abandoned house needs help to make sure that one house gets maintenance and reoccupied as soon as possible. Quickly reoccupying a vacant building helps prevent others on the block from also being abandoned.

An example of a strong pocket would be MLK & Burd Ave. You’ve the Friendly Temple church and Arlington Grove housing (new housing around a renovated school that’s also housing). Substantial investment has been made, and this is home to many. We can reinforce the positives and look to expand upon that a block at a time.

Former Arlington School has been residential since 2013
Aerial after construction completed. Image: Google Maps

Just north of this pocket is a largely vacant area, part of the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood that has gotten attention for mass demolitions. Other bright spots throughout north St. Louis include numerous tree-lined streets with well-maintained houses — it’s just hard for everyone to see & appreciate the them with so much decay. Whenever I see people wanting to raze vacant “problem” buildings I do get upset, because tearing down buildings in a random manner doesn’t improve neighborhoods for the long-term. It simply removes the current problem while likely speeding up others being abandoned as neighboring  owners/residents die or move.  By designating different areas for bright spot village and others as moving back toward nature we can reduce fights over razing vs preservation. I can even imagine a decent house in an area set to become nature/agriculture –it might be kept as basically a farmhouse. It wouldn’t necessarily be razed, just reimagined.

Along the way we can reevaluate I-70, an old interstate that winds its way through north city. Can we minimize this as a separating barrier in spots? Can we create areas for interstate drivers to pull off and get a bite to eat while their battery electric vehicle (BEV) charges?

One spot I see as the center of a future village is the intersection of Grand & North Florissant. That’s in part of 2 current neighborhoods, with a 3rd very close. It should be the very center of a thriving area.Why here? The intersection of two corridors should be treated as special. Both Grand and North Florissant are angled toward each other, so a person living or working here can pick either corridor to travel south — southeast on North Florissant or Southwest on Grand. Thanks to the odd street grid they have easy direct access to different parts of the city. Going northwest on North Florissant will eventually get them into St. Louis County.

By 2050 I see north St. Louis as being dotted with nice little villages, with nature in between. Primary corridors will be a line of density with restaurants, retail, offices, and multi-family housing. Rail &/or rubber tire public transit will connect these villages to each other and the larger city & region. I see walking & biking within and between villages.  I see jobs growing produce outside and indoors, more jobs along the corridors.  I see trees — thousands of them providing some relief from increased temperatures. The major corridors will be tree-lined, many new nature areas will become forests. I see all races, proportional to the mix in the population. Some villages, like The Ville, are predominantly black (75%, not 100%) with strong black-owned businesses. Again I’m talking 30 years, not 3.

What I don’t see are big surface parking lots for big box chain stores. I also don’t see blocks and blocks of obvious vacant residential buildings/lots.

St. Louis should use some of the money from the NFL to kick start the planning process to examine north St. Louis as I’ve described — taking stock and what we have (and don’t have) and then collectively finding solutions to change the trajectory. In the process others could come up with better ideas.

— Steve Patterson

 

Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags

January 6, 2022 Featured, Local Business, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Retail, Taxes, Transportation Comments Off on Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags
The green car over the service pit is a Melbourne car from Seattle

Joey Pennywise sold widgets and wanted to increase sales. To do this Pennywise thought to buy 5 smart outfits to standout from generic & common widget salespersons. But Pennywise didn’t have the funds to buy the desired outfits.  Pennywise likes all things vintage and knows used outfits can be purchased much cheaper than those fancy new European outfits. Even after good cleaning and a tailor having to rework each outfit it’ll be cheaper ($3,700 vs $10,000).

This is where frequently generous uncle Samuel Moneybags enters the picture. Pennywise asks Uncle Sam for the money to buy five really nice game-changing used outfits. Uncle Sam grants Pennywise the requested $3,700.

All of Pennywise’s friends thought it would be better to get brand new outfits, even though they cost substantially more initially. They warned the continued cost to repair seams, replace buttons, fix zippers, etc would be easier to live with. Plus, they thought their friend should get something that’s fashionable now, not something worn many generations ago. Something better suited to the needs of the 21st century widget salesperson, not one from a century ago. The widget game just is different than it was more than a century ago.

After purchasing the used outfits Pennywise had them cleaned and altered to fit. Looked just like a widget salesperson from 1915. Additionally Pennywise got a new closet organizer to keep the outfits neat and ready.

Initially everyone was supportive, but Pennywise was often late to meetings because of wardrobe malfunctions. Plus walking in century-old shoes wasn’t nearly as fast as new sneakers. Still, sales the first few days were great, but then they dropped off considerably. Pennywise couldn’t afford to keep up with the expensive dry cleaning and fixing fragile threads. After failed attempts to get additional funds from uncle Sam, Pennywise reduced how often the vintage outfits were worn.  Until it was zero times per week.

Friends suggested Pennywise invest in the cleaning & repair costs, but there was no money left. So the expensive outfits hung in the beautiful new closet not getting used. Pennywise was still proud of the fact these outfits cost a fraction of what new outfits would have. The irony was lost on Pennywise.

Friends, miraculously all fans of Marie Kondo, said to wear them or give them up. “Sunk cost” proclaimed some friends advocating for getting rid of them. “They money has already been spent, spending even more isn’t going to change that,” they’d say. Over and over.

Meanwhile, Pennywise inherited a bunch of money from another relative, the family blacksheep Stanley K. Pennywise wasn’t sure if any of the new money should be invested in the vintage outfits taking up space in the closet. Pennywise surveyed friends and a majority said to use the funds for other needs, like sourcing better widgets. “Sunk cost!” Blah..blah…blah…

Then uncle Sam said if Pennywise doesn’t begin wearing the outfits soon they initial outlay would need to be returned. If not, small claims court to recover, no new requests will be considered. None. Pennywise depends on the generosity of uncle Sam,  but isn’t sure how to decide what to do.  The now-angry mob of friends begin chanting “SUNK COSTS!”, but this doesn’t help Pennywise reach a conclusive decision that will make everyone happy — especially rich uncle Sam.

Finally one friend (named Bla Gher) came forward, disclosing initial preference for more expensive modern outfits and opposition to vintage outfits, offered some additional accounting terms nobody had yet considered.

“Relevant costs” and Incremental analysis” Bla Gher said enthusiastically.  One friend in the group quickly stood and said “Sunk Costs!”  as others nodded in agreement without fully understanding any off the terms. Bla Gher explained that sunk costs are funds already spent that can’t be recovered, incremental analysis is a process of looking at all options and comparing the relevant costs — since sunk costs are, sunk, they’re not relative to the current discussion about figuring out what to do next.

Bla Gher repeated: the initial $3,700 cost of the outfits is no longer relevant to discussing future options.

Gher then outlined Pennywise’s possible options, all to be priced and evaluated:

  1. Do nothing: Leave the outfits in the closet to collect dust. Don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  2. Reduce sunk amount: Auction the vintage outfits, use that recovered money to remake the closet so it looks like it did before. Also sell all sewing machines, steam irons, bolts of fabric, buttons, etc.  And, like above, don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  3. Double down: Rather than the small amount to cover cleaning and repairs for a short while, put $3,700 from uncle Stanley into adding more vintage outfits so Pennywise can be seen only in a vintage outfit. Seven days a week, morning to evening. For analysis purposes, estimate if this would impress widget buyers enough to justify the additional expense.
  4. Mix & match: determine if anything, such as the closet, platform shoes, etc could still be used with those sexy modern European outfits. If so, Pennywise could expand the sales territory — serving the needs of more widget buyers and users. Funds to do this can come from $3,700+ of the money from uncle Stanley, and possibly more from uncle Sam! However, Joey Pennywise should no longer be involved in outfit decisions.

Bla Gher doesn’t know which of the above is the best option as the pricing and analysis hasn’t been done.

The End.

— Steve “Bla Gher” Patterson

Bla Gher concluded by saying until the above options (and any others) are impartiality analyzed there is no good way to know which option is best.

 

New (ish) Book — ‘New Mobilities: Smart Planning for Transportation Technologies’ by Todd Litman

November 18, 2021 Books, Featured, Transportation Comments Off on New (ish) Book — ‘New Mobilities: Smart Planning for Transportation Technologies’ by Todd Litman

Mobility is very important to our lives, and humankind continues to consider new/different modes of transportation. Both of my grandfathers were born in simpler times: 1886 & 1899. The latter was my maternal grandfather, he lived until the age of 97. He saw and experienced many forms of mobility in his lifetime. Though he died just 20 miles from his birthplace he flew to both coasts and drive/rode to many places in his long life….including visiting me in St. Louis in his last few years.

How we all get from A to B is so important from a technology, environmental, policy, etc perspective. A recent book from a transportation expert Todd Litman explores the subject:

New transportation technologies can expand our world. During the last century, motorized modes increased our mobility by an order of magnitude, providing large benefits, but also imposing huge costs on individuals and communities. Faster and more expensive modes were favored over those that are more affordable, efficient, and healthy. As new transportation innovations become available, from e-scooters to autonomous cars, how do we make decisions that benefit our communities?

In New Mobilities: Smart Planning for Emerging Transportation Technologies, transportation expert Todd Litman examines 12 emerging transportation modes and services that are likely to significantly affect our lives: bike- and carsharing, micro-mobilities, ridehailing and micro-transit, public transit innovations, telework, autonomous and electric vehicles, air taxis, mobility prioritization, and logistics management. These innovations allow people to scoot, ride, and fly like never before, but can also impose significant costs on users and communities. Planners need detailed information on their potential benefits and impacts to make informed choices.

Litman critically evaluates these new technologies and services and provides practical guidance for optimizing them. He systematically examines how each New Mobility is likely to affect travel activity (how and how much people travel); consumer costs and affordability; roadway infrastructure design and costs; parking demand; land use development patterns; public safety and health; energy and pollution emissions; and economic opportunity and fairness.

Public policies around New Mobilities can either help create heaven, a well-planned transportation system that uses new technologies intelligently, or hell, a poorly planned transportation system that is overwhelmed by conflicting and costly, unhealthy, and inequitable modes. His expert analysis will help planners, local policymakers, and concerned citizens to make informed choices about the New Mobility revolution. (Island Press)

Here are the chapters so you can see how it’s organized.

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: The Arc of Transportation History
Chapter 3: The Context of Transportation Planning
Chapter 4: A Comprehensive Evaluation Framework
Chapter 5: Evaluating the New Mobilities
Chapter 6: Analysis: How New Mobilities Can Achieve Community Goals
Chapter 7: Recommendations for Optimizing New Mobilities
Chapter 8: Conclusion

I couldn’t find a preview, but the author participated in a webinar discussing the topics in this book.  This is a long presentation, but I found it interesting,

Like most new books I receive, this book isn’t a splashy coffee table book. It’s a “deep dive” into the subject. If you’re also a policy wonk then you’ll love Todd Litman and his latest book.

— Steve Patterson

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New Book — ‘Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives’, by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett

September 24, 2021 Books, Featured, Transportation Comments Off on New Book — ‘Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives’, by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett

This is the first of three books I received in July, so they’re newish. My health insurance is better now so I’m getting caught up.

I’ve posted before about my interest in electric cars, but also interest in and use of public transportation. My electric “vehicle” is a 2008 power wheelchair which I use in combination with public transit. The able-bodied can use a bike with transit, instead of a wheelchair.

Like so many others, I realize switching all internal combustion vehicles for electric ones isn’t going to solve the major problems with the automobile: they require a lot of space, for example.  Today’s newish book looks at reducing the number of cars on our roads and filling our cities on huge surface lots or parking structures.

In 2019, mobility experts Melissa and Chris Bruntlett began a new adventure in Delft in the Netherlands. They had packed up their family in Vancouver, BC, and moved to Delft to experience the biking city as residents rather than as visitors. A year earlier they had become unofficial ambassadors for Dutch cities with the publication of their first book Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality. [see August 2018 post on their first book here.]

In Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives, Melissa and Chris Bruntlett chronicle their experience living in the Netherlands and the benefits that result from treating cars as visitors rather than owners of the road. They weave their personal story with research and interviews with experts and Delft locals to help readers share the experience of living in a city designed for people.

In the planning field, little attention is given to the effects that a “low-car” city can have on the human experience at a psychological and sociological level. Studies are beginning to surface that indicate the impact that external factors—such as sound—can have on our stress and anxiety levels. Or how the systematic dismantling of freedom and autonomy for children and the elderly to travel through their cities is causing isolation and dependency.

In Curbing Traffic, the Bruntletts explain why these investments in improving the built environment are about more than just getting from place to place more easily and comfortably. The insights will help decision makers and advocates to better understand and communicate the human impacts of low-car cities: lower anxiety and stress, increased independence, social autonomy, inclusion, and improved mental and physical wellbeing.

The book is organized around the benefits that result from thoughtfully curbing traffic, resulting in a city that is: child-friendly, connected, trusting, feminist, quiet, therapeutic, accessible, prosperous, resilient, and age-friendly.

Planners, public officials, and citizen activists should have a greater understanding of the consequences that building for cars has had on communities (of all sizes). Curbing Traffic provides relatable, emotional, and personal reasons why it matters and inspiration for exporting the low-car city. (Island Press)

This isn’t about eliminating all cars, just moving to fewer cars than today. Here are the authors explaining their view:

You can read the full introduction and much of the first chapter (The Child-Friendly City) on Amazon. (Kindle preview is longer than the softcover preview.)

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Few Exposed Brick Pavers Covered With Asphalt

June 10, 2021 Featured, North City, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on Few Exposed Brick Pavers Covered With Asphalt

Most older streets in St. Louis were paved in cobblestones or paver bricks, few exist anymore.  Asphalt paving is significantly smoother, just far less attractive. In 1953 the Cochran Gardens high rise public housing complex opened, but construction closed off 8th Street between O’Fallon Street and the alley south of Cass Avenue. Eighth Street was reopened when the high rise towers were replaced with the mixed-income Cambridge Heights townhouses & apartments, except 8th wasn’t connected through to the little stub of a street to Cass.

This October 2, 2019 view is looking south on 8th from Cass. You can see the land just after the alley, Cambridge Heights, and the downtown skyline on the horizon. In the foreground you can see brick pavers. It looked like it had been paved over decades ago, but most was long gone so the old bricks were exposed.
On May 5th I returned home tfrom a press conference at the Chain of Rocks water treatment plant to see city crews paving over the small amount of bricks.
Closer view
A couple of days later I went back to see the finished results.The concrete in the foreground was part of the new river bridge project, when Cass was raised in height over the interstate.

This half block of 8th Street gets very little traffic, the uniformity of the asphalt paving does look better than it did with patches of old asphalt and broken bricks. This is better, but I still miss seeing the bricks.

— Steve Patterson

 

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