The 90-day design refinement and budget process focused on transforming the MVVA winning design into a working plan is nearly half over. The brilliant images and vaguely defined ideas necessitated by a competition submission will either gel into reality, or disappear altogether. Other ideas, foreign to MVVA’s original concept, will be inserted into the plan and come to fruition.
It is essential that another category of ideas, those occurring beyond the 2015 deadline, be considered as part of a holistic refined design scheme. This includes removing I-70. MVVA has stated “the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear” and that a boulevard was only not presented in their plan because the deadline made completion too uncertain. The current refinement process ought to result in a plan that is wholly compatible with future highway removal.
The plan that results from this 90-day process will give St. Louis a look at what one can except to be built by October 28, 2015. Representatives of the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation has stated that this final plan could very well entail closing Memorial Drive to create a dedicated, pedestrian-only lid.
With the loss of multi-modal connectivity this closure brings to already fragmented portions of downtown, highway removal becomes even more necessary. Here’s how the boulevard and pedestrian lid will work together, and why the closure of Memorial Drive would make highway removal even more critical to revitalizing areas north and south of the Arch grounds:
(Click on images to enlarge)
South of Washington Ave, the boulevard follows the flowing contour of the Arch grounds, creating newly developable land (orange) that allows downtown to reorient itself towards the Arch and the river.
From Pine to Walnut, the boulevard would simply dip below the Gateway Mall, utilizing the current trench location. This move will simultaneously create the dedicated pedestrian Mall above, and provide logical access to MVVA’s proposed parking beneath Luther Ely Smith Square.
Land freed up to the east of the boulevard would allow space for food vendors and festival carts or other uses. Various existing businesses and underutilized buildings (purple) would benefit from restoring the street grid.
North of Washington Ave, the decaying elevated lanes would give way to a restored street grid. Consequently, the fragments of downtown currently disconnected by the highway would be physically and psychologically reconnected. This resulting connectivity would release a remarkably high concentration of quality development sites (yellow).
Coupled with both the proposed elimination of Leonor K Sullivan Blvd and the possible truncation of Washington Ave, the fragmenting of Memorial Drive would result in a decrease in connectivity to the north riverfront in general and notably Laclede’s Landing; arguably the St. Louis urban core’s only thriving riverfront district. The restored street grid that results from highway removal offers the solution to the connectivity issues these proposed street closures introduce.
With the configuration of a lid over the boulevard, the benefits of a pedestrian lid and the boldness of the Gateway Mall axis are accentuated while the collateral loss of connectivity north and south of the Arch grounds is mitigated.
Increased connectivity has long been identified as the goal to more economically vibrant, livable downtown. The final design plan for the Arch grounds must not preclude the best connectivity solution, as identified by all five of the competition’s finalists, and a large number of downtown businesses and organizations, as well as the National Park Service. We must plan now for I-70 removal.