Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Forest Park

Forest Park is one of St. Louis' 108 parks.  It is the largest park and is clearly the crowned jewel of the park system.  Per the city website:

Forest Park was dedicated on June 24, 1876, coinciding with the centenary of the United States Declaration of Independence. It played host to the 1904 World's Fair and Summer Olympics. The 1,300-acre park offers something for everyone — amazing destinations and institutions that challenge the mind, a Dual Path system that invites both leisurely walks and intense workouts, quiet places to picnic and read, and a variety of popular festivals and events — all set in the background of a city oasis, a place to escape it all.
This is one of the most visited places in the city.  The park benefits from a rare St. Louis County - St. Louis City pooling of public moneys with the creation of a special taxing district where the vast suburbs of St. Louis County pay taxes to Forest Park as part of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District (ZMD).  Just look at what can be accomplished when resources are pooled!  We have a world-class art museum, zoo, history museum and planetarium...all in Forest Park. Oh, and don't forget the Muny, Steinberg Ice Rink or the Jewel Box.
Bird's Eye View from Forest Park Forever (source)

The surrounding areas of this sprawling park include some of St. Louis' most swanky neighborhoods including Skinker-DeBaliviere, Central West End, Wydown-Skinker and DeBaliviere Place but Forest Park is also flanked by very affordable yet equally charming neighborhoods to the south including Hi-Pointe, Clayton-Tamm, Kings Oak and Cheltenham.
Now, you can't talk about the park without mentioning Forest Park Forever (FPF).
“At 1,300 acres, Forest Park is one of the largest parks set in an urban environment in the U.S., surpassing New York's Central Park by 500 acres. Much like other parks in urban cores around the country, heavy use — combined with decades of deferred maintenance — took their toll; by the 1980s, Forest Park was in an alarming state of decline.  
Forest Park Forever was created in 1986 as a private, nonprofit organization to work in partnership with the City of St. Louis to reverse this downward trend and strive to make Forest Park a premier American urban park once again.” (source)
Forest Park Forever has done an amazing job re-investing in the park. And the good news just keeps rolling in for the park as a historic donation was made:
June 10, 2015 – Forest Park Forever announced today it has received a gift of $30 million from Enterprise Holdings founder Jack C. Taylor and his family. This gift marks the largest donation Forest Park Forever has received in its 29-year history and one of the largest gifts to support a public park in the United States. The Taylor family has designated the entirety of this gift toward Forest Park Forever’s endowment, which provides support for the maintenance and operations of Forest Park. (source)
As a result of the hard work and dedication of FPF, the current state of the park is nothing short of stunning.  Not only has FPF raised a tremendous amount of money and volunteer capital for infrastructure and hardscape, they have paid special attention to wildlife-sensitive and Missouri-native plantings.  They have also done the little things, like not cutting down all the dead trees which are critical habitat for several denizens of the park.  
There are surprises around every corner.  Everyone likely has their favorite spots, and in order to properly take in this park as a whole, you have to do it by foot.  But that is not to say the park is only a pedestrian park.  The park is accessible by foot, bike, stroller, Metro Link, Metro Bus' Forest Park Trolley and car.  
Navigating the park has recently become much easier with the installation of beautiful and well-placed maps and way-finding signage.
So, in order to broaden the approach on covering this park, a collaboration was in order.  A recent effort of the City of St. Louis' Web Content Specialist/Writer was updating the data on the City's park website; they reached out to a small group of like-minded, outspoken park enthusiasts. That small group included, among others: Claire Wolff, Nick Speiser, Sonia Emmons and Liz Kramer from the website "Park Picnic Project" and myself; all city explorers vowing to visit and talk about each park in St. Louis.
We decided to get together and talk about ways to give Forest Park a proper shake. We decided to break the park up into four sections and split up to give the four corners of the park a different perspective.

Here are the arbitrary borders of our sections:

I covered section 1, Claire, Liz and Nick took sections 2 and 4 and Sonia covered section 3.
We made separate, in some cases repeat trips to the park to take it in and capture the essence of the park.  We converged over coffee and hot chocolate at Rise Coffee in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood to share photos, talk strategy and tell our stories.

One common thing that stuck out was that this park is functioning like a healthy city park should.  At most parks you will see fisherman, joggers, picnickers, kids playing, adults exercising, etc.  This park had it all and in the greatest numbers of any park we'd visited.

The park goers in Forest Park were from all walks of life.  More than any other park, this is a perfect cross section of all of St. Louis as well as the inner ring suburbs of Clayton and University City.   The level of diversity is high and it is easy to feel comfortable no matter who you are in the park.  There is something there for everyone, and probably many others.  The overall activity and healthy vibe in the park is infectious and inviting.

Not only are there world-class cultural institutions, facilities for multiple sports (jogging, cycling, softball, rugby, football, hand ball, racquet ball, cricket, tennis, golf, archery, etc.), ponds, lagoons, brooks, picnic pavilions, historical markers, statues, and fountains there are also woods in the Kennedy Forest on the southwest corner of the park.  This is more than just a tourist destination, it is a neighborhood park and a regional gathering place all at the same time.  This is everyone's space.

We took hundreds of photos and there is a lot you can say about the history and the recent renaissance of the park.  You could easily write a book about the Zoo, Art Museum, etc alone.  We decided to take the approach of keeping it short and simple and letting the photos do most of the talking.  
Simply jump to the sections below to follow each of our lenses and perspectives on Forest Park.

This final park post completes my personal goal to visit and write about all 111 St. Louis parks, now officially 108 parks after the City revisited the published list. Thanks to Liz, Claire, Nick, Sonia, Jeff Wunrow and Cari Cleeland. You guys make me hopeful for the future of St. Louis.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

St. Louis Street Name Pronunciation

I love St. Louisans who grew up in the city, live in the city and root down in the city.  Being an Illinoisan and now St. Louisan for 20 years, I get constant joy from hearing how people talk and pronounce St. Louis names and streets and buildings.  

These real people give us that local linguistic soul, dialect and annunciation that I've come to appreciate over the years.  Being in the near geographic center of the U.S. affords us the opportunity to get tastes of how different people talk in this country...we might just be the melting pot of American diction.  Drive just an hour south of St. Louis in either Missouri or Illinois and you'll hear the countrified rural drawl...not like the deep south, but definitely southern.  Drive north of Decatur, IL for a taste of the Polish/Chicago thing.  Near the Iowa border with Missouri you get a taste of the Northern Midwest thing (a taste of Brainerd from Joel and Ethan Coen's "Fargo") or Scandinavian diction.  Not Minnesota or Wisconsin...but getting a bit closer.

Scandinavian Midwestern Gold

Nationally, St. Louis is probably not recognized as having its own accent, but colloquially, we probably's just not well documented.  I think it is there buried in nuance  But a trained or curious ear can pick it up.

Look no further than local hip hop artist Nelly and actor/comedian Cedric the Entertainer discussing the nuances of pronunciations in the St. Louis black community on the intro track to Nelly's still kick ass recording "Country Grammar".  I love hearing that nuance when I talk to people.

St. Louis needs its own Alan Lomax, the famous theoretician of folk linguistics (and one of my favorite Americans), to investigate and record these weird sounds and dialects and pronunciations from my fellow St. Louisans.  St. Louis University should get a sociology or languages grad student to take this on :)

Anyhow, as I continue to traverse this city, I'm usually on my scooter which is the perfect vehicle to drum up conversations with strangers.  People want to talk when they see a dude on a scooter.  "How much mileage you get?"  "How fast does that thing go?"  "You need insurance on that?", "You look stupid on that thing" catch my drift.

Memories of Billy and Benny McCrary dance through my 1970s memory banks every time I turn the key of my low cc ride...

Anyhow, a two-wheeled vehicle, a motorcycle helmet covering my ears and a clunky camera around my neck means you can't safely use GPS, so I often find myself asking people for directions to certain buildings or streets.  Sometimes the street pronunciations I hear back are truly entertaining.

I am providing this list for new comers.  This is how the locals pronounce the following streets:

Gratiot = Gra'-chit
Gravois = Grav'-oy
Chouteau = Sho'-to
Goethe = Go'-Thee
I-64 = For'-tee

Your highfalutin French is not needed here kind sir, this is how we/they roll it off the tongue in the STL.

I will add to the list as new discoveries are made.

But back to our great street names...

The St. Louis Public Library has compiled a list of all the St. Louis street names with a brief history. Glen Holt and Thomas A. Pearson of the Special Collections Department of the St. Louis Public Library are responsible for this fascinating resource.  Thank you, gentlemen, for your hard work and tireless research.  Your efforts have helped me understand and uncover the mysteries of my city and for that I am very thankful.  

So thinking about the work of Lomax, Holt and Pearson, why not embark on a field recording of St. Louis Street Pronunciations?  You could have the proper annunciation and the colloquial one side by side.  

But this has got to come from the real St. Louisan's, the ones who live on these streets...and this won't be hard, because St. Louis is a porch-sitting paradise in the summer.  People line the stoops in most neighborhoods, especially many of the all black neighborhoods in North City.

I had a conversation with an old man that I will never forget when I was photographing a park in North City.  He was hilarious and cool.  If half the shit was true, you could write a graphic novel about his view of his neighborhood.  He about laughed me out of the conversation when I grossly mispronounced Cabanne was like I almost offended him...and I ended up laughing too.  I now know how pronounce Cabanne in a way that won't get me laughed at.  But, I still don't have the proper pronunciation cemented in my brain to either match reality with or enjoy the play of local vs. proper. 

I imagine traveling to the more curiously named streets...microphone and recorder in hand and getting a sampling of the street names as pronounced by the hoi polloi.  You could add these tiny .wav files in a link next to the street names on the directory.

Hey Glen and Thomas, if our paths ever cross, let's talk!

Meanwhile, I'll keep logging my weird street names and the way I hear people say them.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

St. Louis' Florist Row

Some industries tend to consolidate within a city.  Look no further than Produce Row in the Near North Riverfront Neighborhood where you can find fresh fruit and vegetables making their first stop in the city before getting re-purchased and distributed throughout Missouri and Illinois.

The long loading docks are abuzz with activity on most days and the scene is good.  Produce Row has been located near the intersection of North Broadway and North Market Street since 1953:

According to a 2011 story from one of the fresh produce industry's oldest trade publications, "The Packer":  
"...21 companies inhabited Produce Row’s 98 stalls, ranging from wholesalers, to foodservice companies, to brokerages. That’s less than half of what it was just 10 years ago, when 57 companies operated along “The Row.”  Still, those 21 companies simply occupy more stalls, making Produce Row a busy place most days — and nights. 

“I think we’re 100% occupied,” said Vince Mantia, president of William Mantia Fruit Co. “There are opportunities down here to stay in business.”  
Most of the hustle and bustle around the row takes place at night or in the early mornings, when most of the 18,000 tractor-trailers that visit the place annually come and go, leaving before the crack of dawn to deliver a shipment of goods to near or distant retailers or foodservice companies. 
“This is one of the most competitive markets around down here,” said Jeff Moore, vice president-sales for the Midwest region for Tom Lange Co. Inc., Springfield, Ill. “But it’s a friendly competitiveness. It all boils down to service, relationships and quality.”

The space between the two rows of buildings, which also serves as a parking lot, is known simply as “the street.” 
“Our guys walk the street at 6:30 every morning to see product, what everyone else is bringing in,” Moore said. “We’re seeing what we’re selling. That’s an advantage of being on Produce Row.”
Other industries are clustered as well, like Florist Row in the Gate District Neighborhood, but you might not know it.

Just south of Chouteau Avenue between Jefferson and Grand, you will find this charming cluster of wholesale and retail nurseries, greenhouses and florists.  Unlike the St. Louis Produce Market, Florist Row is largely open to the public, even offering weekend hours.  This is another one of St. Louis' more hidden gems that make city living so much fun.  But, why does it have to be hidden?  It wasn't completely obvious to me that this strip of businesses, creating a little clustered industry row, is right along LaSalle Street between Ewing Street to the west and Jefferson to the east.  Driving by on Chouteau Avenue, it is not "sold" to passers by.  I'd like to see a big metal and neon sign with an arrow pointing you to the strip...forgive my ham-handed computer skills, but something like this:

This could be a destination place for plant, flower, nursery enthusiasts (see Bowood Farms in the Central West End).  I've lived in a neighborhood just south of here for nearly five years, and never knew this was open to the public.  I assumed it was wholesale only.  Not the case.  There is a real opportunity for Florist Row to advertise and sell the strip a bit more to the hoi could only help.  And the Gate District would benefit from a little place making.

This is a great spot to get your gardening supplies in a relaxed, laid back setting. 

Walter Knoll alone has a great selection of indoor and outdoor annuals, perennials and tropicals.  The staff is very kind and the place has the locally owned, slower paced vibe that you don't get at Home Depot or Lowes.

Walk east from there, where greenhouses dot the streetscape and stop into one of the florists where you will find a small army of floral arrangers diligently creating delightful offerings for festive occasions or get out of jail cards for generations of desperate men :)

Ever wonder where those pre-arranged floral bouquets and arrangements come from?  Right here.

Upon our visit, we looked around and couldn't help but notice the fact that the diversity of the staff nicely reflected the diversity within this part of the city.  We overheard conversations about the Cardinals game, weekend plans, kids and the best flowers to work with this week.  It was a relaxed and homey feel yet abuzz with activity of ten or so folks clipping, arranging and packaging flowers for their final retail destination.  A great, locally owned, city scene.

You'll see young women shopping for wedding flowers, hobbyists and creative types gathering supplies for their work and moms and daughters picking out craft supplies.

Florist row is yet another reason to love St. Louis city living.

But, back to the "industry row" concept...when thinking about critical mass, as defined as the minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture, what are some other industries that could benefit from "a row"?  A cluster of businesses that all of a sudden become a place, a destination.

I am thinking a strip of our awesome local chocolatiers such as Bissingers, Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate, Merbs, Kakao, etc all setting up shop nearest Bissinger's new (awesome) location just north of downtown on Broadway occupying historic warehouses and factories.  How about a "coffee row" including all the local roasters.  A tasting room showcasing all the local brews would be fantastic.  Just think of the local flavor that could come from such a consolidation...not to mention the supply chain efficiencies...

Little Bosnia, Little Saigon, Little Sierra Leone...the possibilities are endless...concentrating businesses into a single, walk-able spot creates density and supports place-making.  Look no further than the Hill as a prime example.  Strength comes in numbers.  I like to make "a day of it" hitting all my faves on the's so easy to just park the car and walk to all the markets and restaurants.

What "rows" have you seen in other cities that you think would work in St. Louis?