Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Design Teams Express Support for Highway Removal as Bold Proposals are Unveiled

Yesterday, St. Louis got its first glimpse at the design concepts for the renovations to the Arch grounds and the riverfront.  The bold, stunning proposals unveiled by the five remaining contestants promise a bright future for downtown and the St. Louis region.

For some early impressions on the designs, I recommend checking out the UrbanSTL site, where I believe more detailed reviews will be posted in the near future.  The public also can view the design boards in person at the Arch grounds and at a traveling exhibit.  In addition, each team has released detailed "plan narratives" (downloadable at the CityArchRiver 2015 website) that provide key insights into the teams' ideas that are not immediately clear on the design boards.

Most notably, all but one of the teams has expressed support for the removal of the downtown highway as the ultimate solution for reconnecting downtown to the Arch grounds and the riverfront.  Here is some of what the teams had to say:

“City to River articulates an enormous number of benefits arising from such a scheme…”

          - SOM Team

“..the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear…”

          - MVVA Team

“Full Circle’s grand loop of transportation facilities could be easily integrated into its [City to River’s] design.”

          - Weiss-Manfredi Team

“We predict fanfare should the elevated highway that cuts off Laclede’s Landing be removed.”

          - The Behnisch Team

It is thrilling that the design teams, consisting of renowned architects and other professionals from around the world, recognize the benefits of highway removal and have prepared designs that are compatible with a new boulevard.  Now it is up to City to River and its many supporters to keep the momentum going.

Come to the Schlafly Tap Room Club Room tonight (7:30 p.m., 2100 Locust Street) to show your support for highway removal! Have your voice heard on this pivotal regional issue. The event is FREE.

View the event on Facebook and RSVP.  Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: See the St. Louis Business Journal's coverage of the design teams' support for City to River's proposal here.  The article also contains a list of some of City to River's key endorsers to date.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reminiscing on the Embarcadero and Envisioning St. Louis' Own Grand Boulevard

When I moved to San Francisco in 2002, I was extremely lucky to land a job at a great law firm handling some of the most exciting urban projects then underway in the city.  Most memorably, my firm represented the developer of the Ferry Building, which was at the tail end of a $100 million renovation and was on the cusp of opening as a marketplace dedicated to local and regional farmers and food businesses.  As a young attorney, I marveled over the opportunity to handle some of the lease-up work for the historic building and to tour the gorgeously restored space prior to its public opening.  Other Embarcadero projects that I was fortunate to work on included the mixed-use development of Piers 1 1/2, 3 and 5 (immediately north of the Ferry Building), and the renovation of the Waterfront Restaurant at Pier 7.
San Francisco Embarcadero, and Ferry Building
My involvement with the Embarcadero was far from merely professional, though.  Over the almost four years I lived there, I spent innumerable hours on and near the  boulevard.  Many afternoons, my wife and I would take a quick stroll to meet halfway between our offices (I worked in the heart of the Financial District, and she ran a day school near the base of the Bay Bridge), stopping for lunch at the Ferry Building, along adjacent Market Street, or in nearby Justin Herman Plaza.  Saturday mornings often included a trip to the Ferry Building farmers' market, and many of our walks through the city included tours of the waterfront.

In restrospect, it is hard to believe that, only a few years earlier, this beautiful, well-developed strip at the city's eastern edge was physically and psychologically cut off from the rest of the city.  Like so many other urban highway projects of the mid-20th century, the Embarcadero Freeway was a disaster in city planning, completely separating San Francisco from some of its greatest natural and manmade assets.  Removal efforts failed for decades, until the otherwise tragic Loma Prieta earthquake rendered the highway unusable and proved the city's fears of traffic gridlock to be baseless.
Embarcadero Freeway blocking Ferry Building
from the city, 1960s.

Although San Francisco and St. Louis are enormously different cities, they—and many other cities—share a common history of suffering the effects of poor urban highway planning.  San Francisco's residents are fortunate to have been reconnected to the Ferry Building, numerous waterfront piers, and the rest of the Bay.  The result has been a renaissance of the waterfront, an explosion of adjacent property values, and significant development including the projects with which I was fortunate to be involved.  As stated in City to River's blog, the boulevard today "accommodates large volumes of traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation alternatives, and is considered a huge success by almost all San Franciscans."

By the time most people read this post, St. Louis will have gotten its first glimpse into the possibilities for the future of its own waterfront.  Luckily, it doesn't have to take a natural disaster to reconnect our city to its own greatest assets, as the Framing a Modern Masterpiece competition—together with the rerouting of Interstate 70 over a new Mississippi River bridge—affords the region a unique opportunity to heal its wounded riverfront proactively.  When I reminisce on the Embarcadero, I envision for St. Louis' riverfront a similarly vibrant boulevard shared by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike, incorporating key intersections and urban connections, and free of abominable infrastructure barriers.  When the five design concepts are unveiled to the public on Tuesday morning, we will have our first clues as to whether the design teams share that vision.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Strong Support for City to River's Vision as Design Reveal Nears

This spring, St. Louis was introduced to the five remaining design teams in the "Framing a Modern Masterpiece" competition, as well as their design philosophies and sample projects.  Just over three months later, the region eagerly awaits as the teams prepare to reveal their designs for the Arch grounds and surrounding areas to St. Louis and the world.  Aspiring to weave the region's greatest natural and manmade assets back into the urban core, the competition represents an incredibly exciting--and potentially transformational--moment in St. Louis' urban history.

On a parallel track, the volunteer effort known as City to River has built significant support for its vision of replacing the downtown portion of (soon-to-be-former) Interstate 70 with an at-grade, signature boulevard.  In addition to positive feedback from the design teams and significant media attention in recent months, the group just released an impressive and ever-growing list of owners, developers, advocacy groups, non-profits, and other key stakeholders which have expressly endorsed City to River's goal.  City to River has not only become a critical part of the conversation of what St. Louisans hope the competition achieves--it has led it.

Clearly, though, there is more to do, and City to River still needs all of the community support it can get. That means you!  Every person who cares about the outcome of this process--in other words, about the City, the Arch, and the River--needs to get involved.  Here's what you can do in the next week:

1.  Join C2R to Review and Discuss Designs.  On Wednesday, August 18th, City to River is hosting a casual get-together at the Schlafly Tap Room at 7:30 p.m.  The event will give the public an opportunity to celebrate the unveiling of the design concepts, discuss the designs in the context of City to River's vision, and learn how to help City to River with its overall goal of strengthening the connections between St. Louis and its riverfront.  Attendees also can stick around to play "STLStyle Trivia" with Randy Vines of and Matt Mourning of  This is a public event and all are welcome, so please join us for a fun night!

2.  Comment on Designs.  After the five design proposals are unveiled next Tuesday (August 17th), there will be a small window of opportunity--until August 23rd--for the public to weigh in with the competition jury.  This is the chance St. Louisans will have to tell the jury which designs they like and dislike, and why.  Take the opportunity to fill out a comment form at any of the final design competition exhibition sites, and also submit comments at the official competition website.

3.  Contact Political LeadersWe need to continue to let our political leaders know that removal of the downtown highway is what the St. Louis community wants and expects to see out of the competition.  Contact information for some of the key political leaders can be found on City to River's "What You Can Do" page.

4.  Spread the WordPlease continue to discuss City to River's proposal with friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  Direct people to City to River's website and blog, which contain lots of information and answers about expected traffic impacts, development potential, and other issues relating to the group's proposal.  Now is the critical time to spread the word as wide as possible--by e-mail, your blog, your Twitter account, your Facebook account, letters to the editor, etc. 

I hope that many St. Louisans choose to be active participants at this important moment.   If you have any questions or want to get more involved with City to River, please contact the group at  We hope to hear from you!