Archive for August, 2011

What does a Transportation Improvement Program mean for future of the Arch Grounds?

Monday, August 8th, 2011

The East-West Gateway Council of Governments is the designated regional planning agency for the St. Louis metropolitan region. East-West Gateway coordinates region-wide initiatives across metropolitan boundaries to fulfill its mission:

To help create a better sense of “region” among our unique local government constituency by acting as a catalyst to achieve consensus on regional issues, plan alternative actions, and aggressively pursue positive change in the physical, economic, and social environment.

One of the major responsibilities of the agency is to oversee the regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The TIP is essentially a schedule that allots federal resources to local transportation projects. TIPs combine the many government’s plans in the St. Louis region into one coherent regional strategy, clearing the way for specific federal funding channels to be available for transportation projects in our region. Included plans cover highway construction as well as public transportation and all significant highway and major transit projects must be included in the region’s TIP plan in order to land funding. East-West Gateway is currently in the process of issuing a new TIP for the period 2012-2015, a timeframe consistent with the 2015 City Arch River Foundation deadline for the completion of improvements to the Arch grounds.

Many projects included in previous TIPs have had significant impacts on the region. Several such completed or current projects are the new I-70 Mississippi River Bridge and the rebuild of I-64 from the City of St. Louis to Ballas Road in St. Louis County. The new inclusion of funding for improvements connected with the Arch grounds project puts highway funding for the Arch improvement effort directly on the region’s priority list.

TIP plans for the Arch grounds include $1,000,000 in Metro funding for improved cycling and pedestrian connections (classified as sustainable development) and $25,373,000 in MODOT funding for 1.65 miles of roadway reconstruction on or near Memorial Drive and I-70 from the Poplar Street Bridge to Washington Avenue (classified as preservation).

The specifics of the MODOT proposal have not been released to the public however the image shown on the cover the East-West Gateway TIP document features a view of the Old Court House shot from Memorial Drive at the depressed lanes. Whatever the exact nature of the $25 million in highway-related construction, it is troubling that automobile-centered transportation is being prioritized by a 25:1 ratio in the urban center of our region.

City Arch River is in danger of becoming a failed process

Friday, August 5th, 2011

The current circumstances of the Arch Grounds competition are causing some observers to draw comparisons to events that took place two blocks west and three decades ago. In that instance, the eight decade old process to create the Gateway Mall was redirected by the Pride of St. Louis Corporation. In the end, after several generations of effort and the demolition of several nationally-recognized works of architecture to open a view to the arch, Pride succeeded in quickly blotting half of the view with Gateway One in 1986.

City to River believes that such comparisons do a disservice to City Arch River, but the current City Arch River process is surprisingly deficient when compared to the best examples of large-scale public planning and design projects in St. Louis. An instructive example is the nationally-lauded process that resulted in the Forest Park Forever master plan and renovation. Beginning with 125 public meetings, Forest Park Forever turned itself into a collective ambition of the entire region by involving thousands of residents, professionals, and advocates in every stage of the project. Far from obstructing the process, this engagement turned out to be crucial to the successful reconstruction of one of America’s great parks.

The conspicuous contrast between the open and public effort to restore Forest Park and the City Arch River effort leads us to increasing concern at many deficient elements in the current process.

1. Difficult Deadlines
A continual undercurrent throughout the the City Arch River process has been the tension between ambition and an imminent deadline. 2015 should rightfully be celebrated as the 50th anniversary of the completion of the arch, however projects at the scale and complexity of City Arch River are not realized in half a decade. It is instructive to remember that, although the arch was completed in 1965, the arch grounds themselves weren’t completed until 1980 — 33 years after the Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley won the competition. We must prioritize achieving a project as transformational as the arch — even if it cannot be finished until the fiftieth anniversary of the completion of the grounds in 2030 — not a pared down and superficial imitation of a first rate design by MVVA in order to meet an arbitrary political deadline.

2. Shifting Goalposts
First, there have been a surprising number of extensive and substantiative changes to the initial design concept. Design competition concepts, such as those exhibited at the Arch last fall, usually undergo a meticulous process of adjustment and tweaking.
Visitors examine design concepts at the arch, September 2010

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that what is emerging from the other end of this process is a completely different thing.

The majority of popular design features including the sculptural river gauges, floating swimming pool, beer garden, underpass park and the entire East [side] Wetland Reserve appear to have been eliminated or indefinitely delayed. Additionally, recent renderings indicate that northbound Memorial Drive will be removed north of Walnut, severing connections to Laclede’s Landing.

These features have been removed in direct disregard to goals of the City Arch River project which prioritize elements that:

4. Weave connections and transitions from the City to the Arch Grounds to the River
5. Embrace the Mississippi River and the east bank in Illinois as an integral part of the National Park
7. Create attractions to promote extended visitation to the Arch, the City, and the River
8. Mitigate the impact of transportation systems
10. Enhance the visitor experience and create a welcoming and accessible environment

3. Lack of Public Involvement
City to River understands that a proposal of this scale immediately runs into problems of complexity and some features may prove infeasible. This exposes another problem with the current process: we have no idea why popular elements were eliminated. Aside from a press release promoting the insubstantial Report to the Community on January 26th, and a smattering of tweets, City Arch River’s public engagement essentially ended 10 months ago.

Limited evidence of a public process, as seen in a Report to the Community powerpoint

4. Waiting for Buy-in
The City Arch River implementation faces severe challenges: despite the wide-ranging value engineering evidently already taking place, the budget almost doubled in a climate unfavorable to governmental earmarks. At the January 26th meeting, Walter Metcalf announced that the budget for implementing MVVA’s City Arch River proposal was $578.5 million. This is considerably larger than the widely-reported $300 million National Parks Service estimate from 2008. Given the magnitude of this expense, it will be a tragic mistake for the project to continue to ignore any role for the public in the process.

If Pride of St. Louis and the Gateway Mall should be an example of what not to do, Forest Park Forever is a precedent that City Arch River should take to heart. Although the compressed timeframe of the process precludes the 125 public meetings used to establish a region-wide shared vision, it is not too late to begin to diligently inform the public of the process, and how we as a region can contribute to the realization of the MVVA plan. After all, the public process for Forest Park led to a 400% increase in funding; that funding began with coins from schoolchildren and private donations, but shared responsibility became a resource to successfully leverage corporate and foundation funding.

To echo distinguished local planner William Albinson:

Implementing the MVVA plan as presented would improve the Arch grounds. But would it accomplish the most important goals of The City + The Arch + The River Competition? Would it really promote extended visitation, honor the memorial and weave together the fabric of the city with the Arch and the river? Without the public confidence that can come from a better plan, only those parts of the plan that are easy, inexpensive or have a funding source are likely to be built.

If City Arch River can live up to its transformative potential, it must do so by realizing “this vision will once again require a commitment from the entire community…” and by having “the courage to think big and the wisdom to recognize that what has been so carefully restored must never again be left to chance” (Forest Park Forever 2009 Strategic Plan)

City to River Discusses Riverfront Connectivity with National Expert

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Several members of City to River were recently invited to discuss issues of riverfront connectivity on a tour of St. Louis with Dan Burden. Burden, named one of Time Magazine’s Six Most Important Civic Innovators in 2001, has consulted for thousands of cities and spends 350 days annually on the road.

Missed Connections
Despite his experience in a wide range of American cities, the total disconnection of St. Louis from the Mississippi River and the lack of life along the river took Burden aback. While circling the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on a warm Sunday afternoon he noted that there were no visible users in the entire south third of the park. To Burden it was clearly an issue of creating multiple comfortable connections between downtown and the arch grounds to encourage Cardinals fans to walk to the South end of the park and loft-dwellers to walk to the North end. Burden drew a direct comparison between our situation and that of Cincinnati:

View Larger Map

Mending the Gap
In Cincinnati, the riverfront is also isolated by a major interstate, but thousands of users are periodically drawn to see the Reds and the Bengals at their stadiums. However, the downtown riverfront contains few amenities outside of professional sports. For Burden, that means that St. Louis has great potential; whereas Cincinnati has the people but not the full-time amenity, we have the amenity of an outstanding park and international icon, but we lack the people. With the burgeoning population downtown, all we have to do is connect the dots. City to River believes that the most efficient way to consistently bring people to the arch grounds is to make them a part of downtown.

Burden saw a strategy for reconnection in the nearby St. Louis Riverfront Trail. Praising the artistic vision evident in floodwall murals and in Bob Cassily’s Rootwad Park, Burden suggested that any rethinking of connection between the city and the river must start by creating unique and livable places for people. City to River is in agreement with Mr. Burden and we continue to advocate for the most cost effective solution: the replacement of the soon-to-be redundant elevated and depressed highway lanes with a pedestrian-friendly boulevard from Poplar Street to Cass Ave.