Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Going West: St Louis and the plight of the American City

The sky was dark over St. Louis when I approached from the east, quite symbolic for a city that like Detroit and Baltimore has seen its fair share of decline, abandonment and social tensions arising from that.
Downtown as seen entering from the east

St Louis also reminded me once more what destroys a city:

  • build lots of freeways directly into and around your center
  • tear down lots of buildings so you can park all the cars coming from the freeways
  • create districts for government, offices and so on and build huge compounds that block the city street grid
  • Close ypur wonderful train station and turn it into an indoor mall downtown to suck the few remaining people people off the street
Saint Louis did all that.
The dizzying array of freeway options at
Broadway and Market

But like in all American Cities, urbanistas always remain full of hope. Cranes on the skyline, reconstruction of the area around the great Saarinen Gateway Arch, artists reviving Cherokee Street, neighborhoods on the rebound, young people coming in and being vested in "their city". I saw this first hand today in a coffeeshop in the
"Soulard Coffee Garden" 
historic Soulard neighborhood, a young couple, Mitch being a native and Kristen an import from Los Angeles, or Alaska, depending how far back one wants to go. L.A. is not a place for creatives, she says. I listened to what they suggested I should see, and it wasn't downtown or the arch, although they did name the City Museum, chock full with recycled finds from the city's storied industrial past.

I had gone to the Soulard neighborhood for a continuation of the "market study" (looking at historic urban markets). The Soulard Market was unfortunately closed on Monday and there were neither any vendors in the open sheds outside and the building for the indoor market was locked. The market is surrounded by old and new industrial stuff, hobos ask for money and one wonders for a moment if going here was a good idea. is very nice and a hidden gem. But then, just a couple of blocks further the community of Soulard with houses as old as in Fells Point, this neighborhood is not a bar Mecca or a great tourist attraction. Just the traditional corners bars dot the neighborhood and they look like dive bars.

Thanks to the millennial couple's
Lafayette Square with statue of a senator
suggestions I went and saw Lafayette Square, a beautiful and very large urban park surrounded by grand old houses,
Lafayette Square entrance and grand houses

that unlike those around Baltimore's square with the same name were occupied and in good shape. The statue in the middle of teh square, is not Lafayette, though, but a local senator.

I went to the already mentioned rebounding former neighborhood main street where the historic Cherokee Theater
Cherokee Theater under renovation
is located, I checked out Tower Grove Park but skipped unfortunately the Central Westend in favor of poking around downtown and the old Union trains station now occupied by a dying mall.

That was a bit depressing and the escape on I-70 towards Kansas City does not help, a really ugly landscape of highway junk and disposable stuff one cannot even call architecture covers the land for miles on end. At one point it says exit to "historic Ferguson", another reminder of the ongoing plight of urban-suburban America.

The homicide rate of St Louis was 159 in 2014, 30% up from the year before. The city population is is under 320,000.

Soulard historic market, battling
Lexington Market for age

Historic Souldard  neighborhood

The Soulard neighborhood is part of a bike system
but there is no bike share in the city yet

The grand houses at Lafayette Square

The overhead street signs in this old style look much
better than the standard edition green ones

Protected bikeway with margins on both sides and
occasional bollards

one of those deserted downtown streets near  Union Station
(Olive Street)

Market Street

Downtown ballpark: Who doesn't have one now?

The Metrolink Station at Union Station
Klaus Philipsen,
The huge Union Station train shed, no in part an indoor mall,
a hotel and a lake with restaurants under an open roof

The not so scenic western outskirts of St Louis

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