Friday, February 27, 2009

Campaign Irony

In boasting of all he's done for the city's neighborhoods, Mayor Slay's campaign commercial cuts to a scene of a brick wall falling under the bucket of a caterpillar.

Why doesn't he just do a montage of the Century Building coming down?

Urban neighborhoods depend on density for stability, so this is just another example of the cluelessness of our elected officials.

By the way, I'm not saying any of his opponents will be any better. Our politicians are dismally ignorant when it comes to building a sustainable, vibrant city, pretty much across the board. This especially applies to the aldermen in our most successful historic districts.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Word on the St. Louis Public School System

Does the administration building have lead water pipes or what?

What agenda underlies the special adminstrative board's assinine proposals?

Someone suggested to me recently that the Powers-That-Be want to destroy the public school system because it would be easier for them to control a less-organized collection of charter schools. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but this is St. Louis, after all.

Most assinine of all is to build new elementary schools in a district that already has too many buildings for its current population, one of which would replace Mann School in Tower Grove South. WTF? Have they seen a modern school building?

Less assinine, but equally appalling, is the deed restrictions to forbid charter schools in the buildings they close.

Oh yeah, that's right, it's only been a few years since they gave away the breath-takingly beautiful Stix School, and the charming Michael School to Barnes Hospital and replaced them with a gyp board box. Lead in their water is the only possible explanation for their mental lapses.

That, or none of them have had a good education.

Our school buildings are among our great acheivements as a city. It seems to me that the board could put them to better use; lease them out to generate income; invite our colleges and universities to make more use of them; tap the growing need for professional continuing education and involve corporations in supporting these critical neighborhood institutions.

Maybe if the board showed some imagination, we'd have a good school system.

Let's not hold our breath.

Destructive Stimulus

MODoT just doesn't get it. It's proposing to toss a paltry sum at the city of St. Louis to repave Memorial Drive, and spend a massive amount of money extending highway 141 in northwest St. Louis County. The bulk of the funds would go into rural highway projects. In other words, stimulus funds intended to boost the economy are going to be thrown away on the wasteful practices that got us into this mess in the first place.

Repaving Memorial Drive will do nothing to boost the economy. It is a place devoid of anything but motorists moving between freeways and that offers no opportunity for other development. Extending 141 will certainly lead to development, but it will be the same old story of new strip malls and big-box retail that will suck the life out of strip malls and big-box retail in other parts of the county. Suburban sprawl can only sustain itself on the constant duplication of existing infrastructure; there's just not enough population to support the rapidly expanding amount of commercial space that is cluttering the suburban fringe. MODoT's plan plays right into this wasteful cycle by opening new tracts of north county to developers who will build the boxes, take the profits, and disappear with the asphalt compactors.

The stimulus funds offer an opportunity to build the 14th Street Metrolink line, which will draw vital investment into North St. Louis and promote the development of sustainable commercial space that will actually feed neighborhoods instead of bleed them dry. Improvements to rail service between the state's major cities could relieve pressure on the interstates. A high-speed train between St. Louis and Kansas City would go a long way to creating sustainable freight and passenger transportation in Missouri, and bolster smaller cities along the way, such as Fulton, Columbia, and Sedalia. Instead of drawing traffic out of the small towns of Missouri, as the interstates do [just look at the tawdry development at every exit ramp], a rail line would spawn freight transfer depots in the decaying industrial districts of town all along the line, and bring visitors into the depots of downtowns that desperately need investment.

Last time I was in northwest St. Louis County [and I avoid it], it didn't strike me as a place that needs stimulus. Last time I walked Memorial Drive [which everybody avoids], it struck me as a place that needs massive redevelopment to turn back over to the pedestrians who sustain urban cores, not a place that needed to accomodate more cars.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thoughts That Occur in the Shower

I realized this morning what's the problem with America's economy, as horror struck at the thought that the 'rescue plan' will only worsen the situation.

America has destroyed its engines of economic growth. Jane Jacobs eloquently explained it to us nearly sixty years ago: cities are the primary source of economic strength. But in America, we have utterly wasted most of our real cities with suburban sprawl. We have funneled resources into a wasteful infrastructure that depends on a self-devouring cycle of constant redevelopment to sustain itself.

So, what's America's plan to pull itself out of this failing economy? Roads. An 'economic expert' on the Today show this morning stated that in order for the stimulus funds to have maximum effect on the economy, a large portion of them must be spent on new infrastructure that will stimulate new development. In other words, more new roads into virgin forests and undeveloped farmland; more big box retail and strip malls; more roads, sewers, and power lines that we won't be able to afford to maintain and will strap local governments with costs that will siphon funds away from sensible development.

If we don't break this cycle now, it will only continue to suck us into oblivion.

Dante, meet President Obama.

Architecture of the World:

Hindu God of the Week: