I’m kicking off a five-part series on gentrification, modern infill development, rehabbing and urban clearance. The Botanical Heights Neighborhood is probably one of the best parts of town to explore these topics.
The shutting off of the Thurman underpass had some unintended consequences. One, it became a hangout for the knuckleheads to gather en masse. Broken glass and trash piled up and it became an eye sore and intimidating for the average person to traverse. Two, it separated communities.
However, this part of Shaw/Botanical Heights is prepping for a major transformation. In 2012 the Garden District Commission put together a design competition for improvement in the area. UIC was eventually chosen as the winning design and this will include repaving the street, installing new lighting and a bike path and pedestrian trail.
Inspired by a recent story on nextstl describing the UIC Vandegrove project, I learned that there is much activity in the Botanical Heights neighborhood including the new location for City Garden Montessori School and some housing rehabs and new construction around the area. I wanted to do a drive by to see the progress for myself.
Holy cow, creative and inspiring infill right here in South City? Indeed, and it looks dynamite. St. Louis has so many holes and empty lots, this city NEEDS infill to make streets contiguous and sound. You know not everyone wants to maintain a 100 year old home. Some people simply want new and presumably lower maintenance, higher energy efficiency but with city living amenities. Bring em on. St. Louis NEEDS more infill of all types...and we can do better than the more traditional suburban designs that already exist in much of Botanical Heights (complete with cut off streets to form cul-de-sacs).
This is a fascinating part of the city with so much potential to connect itself to the utterly amazing Shaw neighborhood and Missouri Botanical Gardens to the south and southwest and the dwindling (see SLU residential demolitions), but no less inspiring Tiffany neighborhood to the northeast and the burgeoning Forest Park Southeast neighborhood to the northwest. For whatever reason I love this part of town. The Willard Home Products and other factories are so well maintained and remind me of the old days when St. Louis MADE things and people lived near factories where they worked. This area has tons of potential.
I've circled the area of Botanical Heights that is getting a face lift.
I really like the idea of small chunks of the city undergoing a renovation. The neighborhood, a trusted/proven developer and an overall plan for several blocks will go a long way toward improving a small bit of the city that has had piecemeal or no development interest at all in the last 10-15 years. I think this is what St. Louis needs all over from north to south.
Again, note its proximity to Shaw immediately to the south of the I-44 barrier...now we just need to get rid of the out-lived Schoemehl pots and street barriers that were installed to impede access from the formerly problematic McRee Town to the burgeoning Shaw neighborhood. Now that there is positive activity and a larger school in this area north of I-44, the city needs to reopen the streets that the tax payers pay for to provide...here it comes...access from one neighborhood to another. Here's an example of the roads cut off at I-44, the unofficial barrier between Shaw and Botanical Heights.
Physical barriers between Shaw and Botanical Heights
To me, the reopening of a street means an area has "made it" and the ghetto behavior that got the roads closed in the first place is now in check.
Back to the construction work going on in Botanical Heights. In my opinion, this modern infill looks fantastic against our old brick beauties. Here's a fact: they don't build em like they used to. You simply can't, so our old brick, stone and wood beauties are relics of another era. Yet many of them have not withstood the test of time and disinvestment & neglect of owners, so there are plenty of empty lots in mostly all neighborhoods. Some areas such as Lafayette Square and Soulard have seen AMAZING new construction that fit in very well with the old classics...other neighborhoods have not done so well. I've got nothing against modern and crisp/clean lines...heck, I'd be happy if the empty lots on my block (in a local historic district) were filled in with well-done mod designs like you'll see below. It's simply a compliment if you ask me. One era saying to another: "here's the best design and materials of their respective times living together in harmony".
Check out this nice looking new construction underway in Botanical Heights:
I really like how the bright colors stand out next to the red brick on the older buildings.
And there are also plenty of old buildings/homes undergoing rehab:
Another good thing to see are the alleys coming back to life with new garages being installed. So many homes in St. Louis do not have off street parking, and I could see this as a big draw for potential buyers.
And there's evidence of future work that lies ahead:
As well as plenty of other opportunities in the general vicinity:
This new construction in and around McRee Avenue fits in well with the already in-use and/or recently renovated building stock along Tower Grove Avenue:
Notice the narrowing of the street by the addition of a dedicated bike lane and on-street parking.
And if that's not enough to get you excited about this area, there is also the expansion of the school building for City Garden Montessori and the rehab of a former filling station soon to be a wine bar/restaurant:
The former gas station at 4266 McRee in the Botanical Heights neighborhood (old McRee Town) is currently under a $400,000 rehab into a wine bar named Olio. It will be attached via structural hyphen to an adjacent home to the east on McRee, which will house a restaurant named Elaia. The restaurant and wine bar will be curated by Ben Poremba, co-owner of artisan meat shop Salume Beddu.
This project is a sub-set of the larger Botanical Grove development, in which Urban Improvement Construction has set about improving the once forlorn 4200 block of McRee with rehabs and new homes. The development also includes the stretch of Tower Grove just north of McRee, where a new bakery (Chouquette) is set to open soon and where City Garden Montessori School is set to move and expand. (source)
Check out the work being done on the restaurant buildings:
And the City Garden Montessori school complete with thoughtful placement of new street trees, landscaping and parking:
So go swing by and see for yourself the excitement under way near Tower Grove and McRee. I will update my neighborhood blog on Botanical Heights to reflect these amazing changes.
Public art is one of the things that makes our city great. Without a doubt, it's great to see new sculpture popping up all over the city. The most recent installment I discovered is the Plastic(k) Pavilion at Blaine and Thurman in
This amazing work of art is billed as a "shade structure":
“This shade structure is a good representation of our neighborhood because it’s half finished” announced Nancy Symeonoglou, president of the Botanical Heights Neighborhood Association at last night’s grand opening of the nearly completed Plastic(k) Pavilion, a shade structure which will complement the incoming playground at Thurman and Blaine in Botanical Heights.
Symeonoglou’s statement refers to the opportunity and momentum for future development activity in the area. Botanical Heights has seen recent activity in development as well as infrastructure improvements, decreased crime, and large community involvement in projects such as the Plastic(k) Pavilion and the Botanical HeightsCommunity Garden and Orchard across the street. However, there is also room for future development on vacant lots and boarded up homes. TheGarden District Commission as well as UIC + CDO have been working to stimulate more development projects in the area, starting with the Botanical Grove development, until the entire neighborhood is occupied.
The design of the Plastic(k) Pavilion was developed by a Washington University graduate architecture class led by Professor Ken Tracey along with community input, addressing safety concerns and preferences on appearance. Students are constructing the structure as well and should be complete in the next few weeks. Residents are currently organizing to find funding and designers for the playground that will be constructed adjacent to the Plastic(k) Pavilion. (source)
Wow! Wow! Wow! And here are some shots of the community garden across the street at Folsom and Thurman. It's complete with a fruit tree orchard, native prairie planting and several raised beds.
Congrats to the fine folks of Botanical Heights, Washington University and Gateway Greening for the wonderful progress. Keep it up!