SLU: Will it be a good next 15 years or not?

Reviewing all the news stories of 2012 got me thinking about the horrible stuff that unfolded at Penn State University.  One of the most vivid memories I will have of that whole incident was the image of the students defending Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, the football program and the University amidst some pretty ugly evidence. Through all that uproar and outrage, I'm reminded of how much a college can mean to a city, state and region as well as to people personally.  And how much the actions of one man (Sandusky), or maybe 1 regime (Nittany Lions athletics) can at worse tarnish the reputation of a respected university or at a minimum place an undeniably disgusting/greedy blackspot on the timeline of an historic collegiate sports legacy.

It got me thinking about the intense, blind loyalty or even love some have for their University and everything that it means and represents.  From sports teams, to school colors, to the institution itself, Americans generally LOVE their local college/university and sports teams.

I'm not getting that vibe here though.  St. Louis, a city of ~318,000 people only has 2 universities.  The extremely small Harris-Stowe State University and the much larger and renowned St. Louis University.

Here's a little background on Harris-Stowe:

Harris–Stowe State University is a historically black public university located in Midtown St. Louis, Missouri.  Founded in 1857, Harris–Stowe State University is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in Missouri. Founded by the St. Louis Public Schools as a normal school, it was the first public teacher education institution west of the Mississippi River and the twelfth such institution in the United States. During most of this period, the emphasis focused on teacher education, however, Senate Bill 153 enacted in 1993 enhanced the mission of Harris–Stowe to include a wider selection of degree opportunities.  Harris–Stowe State University was called Harris–Stowe State College until it was renamed in August 2005.
Harris–Stowe State offers over twelve degree programs including: Bachelor of Science in Education, Bachelor of Science in Urban Education, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with specialization areas, Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration, Bachelor of Science in Accounting, Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management, Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and Computer Technology with specialization areas. (source)

The second of course is St. Louis University.

Saint Louis University is a private, co-educational Jesuit university located in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. Founded in 1818 by the Most Reverend Louis Guillaume Valentin Dubourg SLU is the oldest university west of the Mississippi River. It is one of 28 member institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. The university is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. SLU's athletic teams compete in NCAA's Division I and the Atlantic 10 Conference. It has a current enrollment of 13,785 students representing all 50 states and more than 77 foreign countries. There are currently 8,406 undergraduate students enrolled in SLU as well as 2,437 graduate students and 2,942 professional students. This year’s enrollment marks the first year that SLU’s enrollment passed 13,000. Of all the students, 59 percent are from out of state. The university provides undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. Its average class size is 23 and the student-faculty ratio is 13:1.
Its Madrid, Spain campus has from 600–650 students, a faculty of 110, an average class size of 18 and a student-faculty ratio of 8:1.
Saint Louis University (SLU) is located on Lindell Boulevard, originally outside the City of St. Louis in an area originally called Lindell's Grove, and is the second-oldest Jesuit college in the nation. The first M.D. degree awarded west of the Mississippi was conferred by Saint Louis University in 1836. (source)

Not too shabby, eh?  St. Louis is such an important city when it comes to firsts in American history and westward expansion.  We are truly the Gateway to the West and SLU is a part of that amazing American story.  A potential source of regional pride if there ever was one.

Other regional universities including McKendree University, Maryville University, Washington University of St. Louis, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Fontebonne University, Webster University, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and Lindenwood University are located outside of St. Louis' boundaries in the suburbs and small towns in Missouri and Illinois.

So for all intents and purposes, SLU is our only major division 1 university in the city and even the region.  Washington University in St. Louis has a fantastic global reputation and is a trusted key partner with and

investor in St. Louis

in the East Loop, Barnes-Jewish Medical Complex, Central West End, West End, Forest Park Southeast, Skinker-Debaliviere, and other neighborhoods of St. Louis.  Wash U is ranked the

14th best University in the nation

, right between Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, MD) and Brown (Providence, RI)...not bad company, eh?  Wash U is essential to our region and have done and continue to do lots of great things for St. Louis even though they are located in University City, Missouri a streetcar suburban city of ~36,000 that abuts the western border of St. Louis.  Close, but no cigar (until the region can put aside its differences and just merge like other progressive cities/regions are doing)...Wash U continues to be a leader in the region and employs more people in the city than any other institution.

But back to St. Louis University...

For most of my time in St. Louis, I've lived far from St. Louis University.  Living in the farthest reaches of South City, I had such a fondness for SLU as an outside observer.  I'd occasionally drive around the Grand and Lindell area and look at that awesome cathedral and the old campus and just think what a beautiful setting for a school.  Furthermore, I split season tickets to Billikens basketball games in the Larry Hughes years, and became a big fan of his crossover dribble, Conference USA rivalries with other major urban universities, SLU basketball and the whole college game experience as a result.  Since then, SLU moved to a lower-grade conference that is way less competitive and has no local or otherwise rivalries...BORING to most outside of the die-hard fans.

However, I recently moved to a neighborhood much closer to SLU, so I've seen the other side of their campus in much more detail...the medical side mainly in the

Gate District

and the

Tiffany

neighborhoods. 

Now, I've got to be up front here.  I love SLU and want nothing more then for them to do well.  I root for them in basketball more than my alma mater.  They are now "my team".  If all goes as planned, my kids will attend undergraduate university here...and I'd be a proud papa.  My wife works for SLU, and she has a great job that she genuinely likes and really enjoys working at a non-profit higher place of learning.

Yet, St. Louis as a whole and especially residents and neighbors around SLU's main and medical campuses seem to be particularly split on SLU as a positive entity in St. Louis.  Some are adamantly against the destructive policies as seen near the medical campus in recent years.  They are tearing down all the homes immediately surrounding the medical campus.  Instead of trying to get medical residents, employees and students living near the hospital, center of advanced dental care, etc...SLU is demolishing homes, leaving more mowed weed fields/grass lawns with "No Trespassing" signs and zero development.  There are no communications, no plans revealed to those investing and living around the area, just seemingly mindless destruction and further isolation of the school from the city.

As a recent example, they are closing formerly through streets including Virginia Avenue in the Gate District neighborhood and taking away street parking presumably to guide patients and employees into pay lots that SLU owns.  Bye-bye urban street grid, hello fallow acres of nothingness and mowed weeds:

the formerly through Virginia Avenue near Rutger on SLU's medical campus

I'm not the first to make this observation,

those

much more

informed and articulate

than I have

drafted posts

on

these topics

.

I can't help but feel that SLU will continue its intents to fence off their campus from the surrounding neighborhoods and city.  They want no one other than SLU employees, students and associated patrons to be able to access the campus.  They are blocking out the residents with fences, no trespassing signs, etc.

Now on the other hand, SLU recently completed a beautiful athletic track for the Track and Field Team.  It is not fenced in, and neighbors are allowed to use it.  People play soccer in the middle, and walk/jog on the track.  It is awesome, has great views of Downtown and is a great place to get some exercise.

Secondly, there is a small garden/chicken farm right at Compton and Caroline maintained by the food sciences dept and the fruit, veggies, grains, herbs and eggs are used by the school and served to employees and students on the medical campus...this cafeteria called

Fresh Gatherings

 operated by the school's 

Department of Nutrition and Dietetics 

is AWESOME and my wife brings home great stuff from here, and we buy family and friends reasonably priced fresh bread and spices grown, dried, processed and sold as gifts and cooking supplies.  Anything the cafeteria can't produce, they get locally to the best of their abilities.  Miller hams, Cherokee street tamales, Missouri/Illinois farmed-raised beef comes from within 150 miles of campus, etc.

They have a summer culinary camp for kids.  It's freaking awesome.  I would love my kids to ride their bikes to this summer camp.

I mean, wouldn't you love to live close to the campus to walk to work or a soccer game or a basketball game or rock show at the student center?  I would.  I would love to fly the Billiken flag and be proud, but they seem to not want the citizens and residents of Tiffany, Gate District, Midtown, etc to engage as part of the SLU world...they seem to want to get rid of people and places on the periphery of their campuses.

Furthermore on the negative tip, the recent loss of the Pevely dairy outbuildings and smoke stack (latter of which was listed on the historic register) were destroyed to make way for an ambulatory care extension...that they all of a sudden said, you know what, never mind on all that.  And now those that live around here or own property around here have to have passers by witness SLU's abandoned piles of debris as part of their daily lives.  Thanks a lot for that.  To pour salt in the wounds of those who like historic buildings and cities vs. suburbs, SLU threatened to move to the county if they didn't get to destroy these structures even though they own acres of already leveled, vacant property throughout the city.  A slap in the face to this proud city lover and many others.

Ideally, SLU would engage the community in their plans.  Most rational thinkers and investors in the area would put up with the lingering mounds of debris and mourn the loss of the Pevely office building and smokestack...but, if they were going to build a shiny new urban building sensitive to the surrounding city, then I would be totally cool with it.  If they had a long term plan to build new housing for its residents, students, etc, I'd be all for progress.  But that is not how the current administration rolls/rules.  Wash U behaves much better in the CWE, they don't leave people hanging, make bullying threats to the city leaders and preservationists alike...they seem to respect the city and want to be part of it and build it up not isolate it and privatize it.

SLU's leadership seem suspect at best from afar.  A recent

vote of no confidence in the current president

, Lawrence Biondi, by the faculty and students further erodes my confidence in the institution and its future.  Or, maybe this is a sign of brighter days of transparency and community cooperation as opposed to my way or the highway tactics.

I can't allow myself to believe that Biondi or SLU is evil or hates the city it resides in.  I just think they are arrogant, ignorant and short sighted.  I would like to think that they are trying to improve the campus; but it seems only to the benefit of SLU and not St. Louis.  I don't think those currently in charge understand that SLU should be striving to be part of the city and not a fenced off entity who feels

stuck

in the city.  This is why I think many locals and residents of St. Louis can't fully get behind SLU like other American college towns get behind their school/team.  Penn State this ain't.  University of Illinois, Butler, Mizzou...forget it, nothing like that.

I'm trying to be reasonable and get on board...but Biondi's regime makes it nearly impossible.  I mean look at the beautiful, modern, Canon-designed research building at Grand and Chouteau...it is utterly beautiful and awesome; but they surrounded it with a vast expanse of grass and fountains and fences and dead space that will NEVER add to my city.  It's an utter dead zone devoid of anyone...student, resident, employee, anything.  An urban moat on the outskirts of a castle.

I am concerned about SLU as a neighbor.  I am concerned about them as a University.  I am concerned about their reputation.  So is the faculty.  I want to feel loyal to SLU and be proud of the institution as a neighbor.  SLU is a great place, I want nothing for them to succeed and grow and continue to educate and invest.  I want my kids to go here...I want them to be responsible and respectful to STL.

SLU, please turn those acres of green pastures into something before you knock down another irreplaceable building.  Show us a plan, quit closing down our streets, quit knocking stuff down without so much as a peep as to what is going on.  Quit bullying the residents of St. Louis.  St. Louis leaders, quit pandering to these bullies...you look cheap and unimaginative and intimidated...weak.

SLU is our greatest historic place of higher learning in the city limits.  Please, please engage the community in your future...it can only help build trust, Billiken pride and loyalty to a fantastic historic university.  I'm ready to wave that blue and white flag.

Here's to a better future...why not start in 2013.

Word Of The Day: Ghetto

Alright kind readers of St. Louis, I'm continuing my spiel on words.  Words that are misunderstood or words that are unjustifiably viewed as inflammatory or unecessarily provocative or words that no longer represent what they were originally intended to.  Our words and how we use them.

These words will of course have an urban connection or at least a St. Louis connection, as this is

St. Louis

City Talk...right?  I took a stab at understanding the history and current context of the word

Hoosier

back in June, 2012.  And now I will explore the word ghetto...a word I hear almost daily when talking to people about STL issues.  This word is commonly used and excepted universally...yet to some it's inflammatory.  Those who would rather bury their heads in the sand on issues of race would rather not talk about this stuff and I've been criticized for using the word in blog posts.  I was taken aback by the inflammatory nature of this word to a small elitist minority who don't like this word, and truly don't understand why this word would be taboo in any circle when it's so darn descriptive and used by nearly everyone regardless of race or class.  While I try to be responsible in my writing and thoughtful of the words I choose, I loathe censorship and the demonization of some very useful modern English words.  Ghetto is one of these words.

Certainly, language evolves to meet the needs of the present day.  As an example, think of what images the word gangster brings up.  The gangster of 1920 is nothing like the present day gangster.  Google it if you don't believe me.  1920's:

Now think of what gangster means to the general population since right around the time when NWA broke in the 1980's and still exists today and is self proliferated by black people across the country, who re-coined the term as the more modern 'gangsta':

The word carries the same definition, but the times define the image or the description as a very different one based on the needs of the current times.  It's still a great word that should never be taboo.  It evolved quite well to meet the society of the day. 

Furthermore, think of other recently validated words such as "ginormous" which was recently added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.  Enormous or gigantic just wasn't big enough, eh?  Ginormous burrito...it just rolls off the 21st century tongue so well.  Popular culture and technology usually drive new words into the language. 

Doh and phat were recently added

to the Oxford English Dictionary, which is widely considered the leading authority on the English language.  You may not like these words, but they are not taboo either...they should not be censored or forbidden.

But back to ghetto.  Some think this word should not be used in it's modern context.  Some in the politically correct set in STL think it's racially charged and should never be uttered by a white person.  I'm of the opinion after living in St. Louis for 18 years that not talking about issues of race and ignoring our problems are the worst thing you can do.  Get over yourselves St. Louisans...the city is split nearly 50:50 between white and black people.  We are equal in numbers so quit being so damn offended and thin skinned.  We are what we are and we need to talk about it and get along under honest terms.

Now let's take a quick run through the history of the word ghetto.

According to

Meriam-Webster, it's an Italian word whose first known use was back in 1611.  It's from Venetian dialect ghèto island where Jews were forced to live, literally, foundry (located on the island).  Other sources will tell you ghetto was originally used in Venice derived from the word Borghetto, meaning Little Borgo, a cluster of homes and buildings often outside Italian city walls, to describe the area where Jews, tradespeople or agricultural workers were compelled to live. In rural Italy, Borghetto is not necessarily a pejorative term.

So although the Italians are known for the origin, it is steeped in Jewish history and connotation.

And here's the

Merriam-Webster

 definition:

1: a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live

2: a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure

3a : an isolated group

b : a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity

So there you have it.  It's a word dating back to 1611 coined by the Italians with a strong connection to forced isolation/persecution of Jews.

But let's break down the 3 definitions cited.  The primary definition is the historical one, the secondary definition is the more current one and the third one is getting much closer to the modern day use of the word.

I think many in St. Louis know how the word is used today in the context of our fair city.  It's got nothing to do with people of the Jewish faith...nothing.   If someone asks you if you shop at the ghetto Schnucks, you know they don't mean the one with the killer latkes and matzo ball soup.

Ghetto isn't really used to describe an ethnic enclave either.  Few probably refer to 

the Hill

as a ghetto (Italian-American heritage).  Nor, 

Bevo Mill

as a ghetto (Bosnian/Croat/Roma immigrants).  Nobody thinks of the 3 neighborhoods of Dogtown as a ghetto (Irish-American heritage).  Few probably refer to

North Pointe

as a ghetto (more owner- occupied, middle class African-American neighborhood).

The modern use of the word ghetto is no longer really referring to a physical settlement or enclave or even a place at all; it might not even be a noun, rather more of an adjective to describe a run down, crime ridden, violent, low-dignity, hopeless kind of place.

Ghetto is not a bad word, at least I don't think it is.  It's a fact that today ghetto describes a particular behavior/mindset and scenario.  I've heard all races use it casually.  Google it and click on images.  You'll see both the historical and modern context illustrated for you quite clearly if you don't know what I mean.

It's an extremely descriptive word.  "Do you shop at the ghetto Schnucks or the one on the Hill?"  "Are the state streets ghetto by you?"  "I heard that alley is pretty ghetto." "Is your part of the block ghetto?"  "Yadi's tats are so ghetto".  This is how I've heard the word used in St. Louis.

Ghetto also desribes a behavior and a look more than anything.  Trust me, those described as ghetto go to great lengths to let you know they are ghetto.  Black people own this style and mindset...yet some white people emulated it for sure.  From the hair cut to the language to the volume of speak to the dress...it's a honed look that one tries very hard to achieve...being ghetto is not an accident these days, its a learned behavior. It's a look, a style, a lifestyle...not unlike 'hipsters' which I will tackle in a future post.  It's like a hoosier, only another set of people...it's proud ownership of a low-brow lifestyle and vibe.

Will this word continue to evolve?  Will it become a bad word that white parents don't allow their children to say for fear of them being accused as a racist?  Will it be something people say under their breath and pause before saying in mixed company?  Or, will it be a word that is completely shameless and free to use without offense or inflamation of the politically correct set...a word that hones in on a particular situation without confusion or ambiguity?  Where are we headed with this word?

In St. Louis we have no shortage of ghetto behavior and scenes in our neighborhoods.  One could venture to say it's our biggest problem at displacing and frustrating non-ghetto people.  This ghetto image and prevalence in many places of St. Louis displaces many people whether they admit it or not.  Ghetto carries a price.

Look no further than the tony areas such as the East and suburban West Loop, Central West End or Washington Avenue to see how a ghetto element can change things from fun to violent pretty quickly.  This ghetto behavior carries a tremendous additional overhead that businesses and residents have to deal with.  These areas are spending big dollars and resources to install cameras and extra security and police tactics to try and deal with ghetto behavior (or as the current mayoral office says: "knuckleheads" cause they are scared of the word's racial undertones).

Ghetto is a mindset, and it's prevalent in St. Louis.  It's overwhelming in some areas.  It's startling and scary at times.  The worst thing is the utter ignorance and self destructiveness that is passed down very openly to the next generation as ghetto "parents" beget ghetto kids in a self-perpetuating cycle that seems to only get worse in St. Louis.  I think choosing ghetto behavior is simply defined as willful ignorance.

I'm not alone in my fears of ignorance:

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thoughts?

Brightside Demonstration Garden at Vandeventer and Kingshighway

The

Brightside demonstration garden

at the intersection of Southwest Avenue, Shenandoah Avenue, Kingshighway and Vandeventer in the

Southwest Garden Neighborhood

is nearing completion and looking quite inviting and eye-catching:

Built in 2011, the Brightside St. Louis Demonstration Garden features microcosms of Missouri’s wetland, glade, prairie and woodland habitats. The garden is designed to help educate visitors on best planting and environmentally sustainable practices – ones that can be implemented in yard and neighborhood gardens.
Butterfly on milkweed at the Brightside St. Louis demonstration garden
Our goal with the demonstration garden, growing at the corner of
Kingshighway and Shenandoah, is to help build environmental awareness and cultivate environmental stewardship through educational workshops and interpretative signage. 
The Brightside Demonstration Garden includes a rain garden, a sedge meadow, a butterfly garden and lots and lots of Missouri native plants. Our garden is complete with stone pavers, porous concrete/asphalt, rain barrels and, coming soon, a cistern to enhance water quality by allowing water to permeate into the ground to recharge groundwater to restore urban streams, limit sediment runoff and naturally filter out pollutants.
Major funding to establish the garden was provided through an EPA grant Region 7 through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Come visit the Brightside St. Louis Demonstration Garden for yourself. The garden is open at all times. For group presentations, please contact us at the Brightside St. Louis office to make arrangements. And while you’re on-site, be sure to pick up native plant information courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation and Grow Native (source).

Brightside

 may be better known to many as 'Operation Brightside' its former moniker:

Brightside St. Louis, originally named Operation Brightside, was founded in 1982 by Mayor Schoemehl and campaign chairman G. Duncan Bauman, the then publisher of the St. Louis Globe Democrat. It was the response to a 1981 survey that was conducted in which St. Louis residents felt the number one problem facing the city was the fact that it was dirty.

Brightside and two other operations, the Lupus Foundation of America Heartland Chapter and Pro-Motion Physical Therapy occupy the handsome storefronts at 4640-4646 Shenandoah Avenue, just east of Kingshighway and Vandeventer.

Brightside offices along Shenandoah Avenue

Some of the interesting elements of this building are the porous paver stone sidewalks and the street trees planted between the building and the easement along Shenandoah.  The easement is planted with low growing perennials to suck up rain runoff.  It will be fun to watch these trees grow to see if this is a good model.

unconventionally placed street trees and easement plantings 

There is some public art sculpture/bike racks made of bike forks to emulate black-eyed susan and purple cone flowers right in front of the building where you can park your bike under the awnings should it rain:

The building's most familiar site from Kingshighway:

Some of the more interesting and progressive construction tactics and landscaping include porous concrete, paver stone areas, porous chat internal walkways, a no-mow zone around the building and rain barrels to decrease run off and use the rain water for the plants.  The choice of plants is top notch including natives to attract nesting birds and migrating butterflies.  These include Tussock Sedge, native grasses, American Beautyberry, New England Aster, Purple Prairie Clover, Woodland Spiderwort, Virginia Sweetspire, etc.

rain barrels on the back of the building to collect rainwater from downspouts

porous concrete was poured to decrease runoff on the south side slope

There are some iconic man-made elements to this space including the grand entryway on the sidewalk of Shenandoah Avenue that places a Monarch butterfly larvae creeping up the side of the gate transitioning into an adult butterfly floating toward the sky with large shade-providing purple coneflowers in the background.  This place will look great when the perennials are in bloom and attracting animals from insects to mammals.  I can imagine checking out a book at the Kingshighway Library branch across the street and sitting in the garden to enjoy the comfy confines of this space.

Here's a look inside the demonstration garden which is still a place of beauty due to the natural plantings and landscape on a blustery December afternoon:

chat walkway running parallel with Kingshighway

northern edge along Shenandoah Avenue

elevated plank walkway leading from the parking lot to the center of the garden

the eastern-facing view of the chat walkway from the Kingshighway side

the western-facing edge with tall grasses and stone elements

the photographer's assistant in yellow, fetching the wide angle lens

center of the garden provides a venue for education or other programming with  stone seating around the perimeter

Many foundations, personal and corporate donations assisted in the realization of this project, including gifts from the Cornelson Family Foundation, William A. Kerr Foundation, Employees Community Fund of Boeing St. Louis, Edward K. Love Conservation Foundation, Dana Brown Charitable Trust, Alberici Construction, City of St. Louis, Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources, and many others:

paver stones commemorating the donations of local business, foundations and personal donors

A city should attract the eye and bring interest from its busiest corridors.  It should enhance the environment and complement the walk along its sidewalks and transit stops and libraries.  It should provide a place to relax and view flora and fauna in an urban setting.  This demonstration garden achieves that.

The most up and coming neighborhood in the city

"Up and coming" is a label that could be put on many St. Louis neighborhoods. 

But, what does up and coming mean? It's highly subjective.  To me, it's a neighborhood that has already hit rock bottom and it on its way up and will be a desireable, functional, vibrant, active, stable, safe place in 5-10 years.  These are neighborhoods that have a plan in place to organize, market and revitalize itself.  There has to be an energy and continuity.  The plan can include residential rehabs, harboring creative nightlife options, attracting walkable dining, cafes, retail, businesses, etc.  A nice park for people to walk their dogs or go to chill, hang out with kids or jog/walk, etc.

You can make an argument for Forest Park Southeast, Fox Park, Benton Park West, Old North, Hyde Park, St. Louis Place, Gravois Park...maybe others.

I think Shaw, Tower Grove South, North Hampton, Southampton, St. Louis Hills, Boulevard Heights, Compton Heights, Holly Hills, Lindenwood Park, etc have already reached the promised land and/or peak capacity.  Some I mentioned above have a diversity of residents & incomes and urban/walkable places, some do not.  But the above seem to have reached a capacity of some sort, whether it be occupancy or urban framework.  That also plays into up-and-coming to me.  A place where all kinds of people want to live and feel comfortable.  A place with optimism and a future that feels exciting vs. staid and same old same old status quo.

So if you had to vote on St. Louis' most up and coming neighborhood what would it be?  You can vote for up to 3.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Recruiting New Citizens For The Future

We need more people in St. Louis.  We've lost ~500,000 in ~50 years.  I would not be surprised if we lose more in the 2020 census count.  A simple stop to the mass exodus would surely be touted by the city leaders as a success, even without a numeric gain in people.  This will be hard to listen to and hard to stomach.  It's like them saying:  "whew, we finally hit rock bottom, we can only go up from here".  And of course rock bottom will have been hit during their tenure.  So how are we going to get more people to choose St. Louis?  Where will they come from?

The obvious solution would be to merge the 90 cities and huge swaths of unincorporated regions of St. Louis County with St. Louis.  But I don't see this happening anytime soon.

In light of the lack of regional cooperation, we could try to go toe to toe with the suburbs and wage a campaign based on luring the generations of people who exited the city in droves for the suburbs.  But to me that's a tough sell.  I am of the opinion that people who left the city and still live in the metropolitan region did so for race and class issues and moving back would be considered a failure to many...a step in the wrong direction for the sons/daughters of those who exited for greener pastures in the staid burbs. 

So what are you going to do, where do you best focus your efforts?

For my money, you focus on folks outside the metropolitan region.  We need more people that can see St. Louis is a new light.  People who don't quit before trying, like so many naysayers in this region.  We need more immigrants, we need more diversity (other than just the white and black people who make up over 90% of the St. Louis population) we need outsiders with a fresh take.  Wouldn't it be great to have a Chinatown area of STL?  Build upon the small but amazingly awesome Hispanic/Latino community around St. Cecilia's and Cherokee Street?  Build upon the small but no less awesome Southeast Asian population we have...we need that to be a vibrant city.

And maybe above all, we simply need more employable/skilled/educated people living in the city.  Let's be frank for a moment and admit that we have a huge problem of high school drop outs living in this town with a very thin family structure to support them.  Sadly, their futures are not very bright and at the end of the day, they are not engaged in a positive future for St. Louis.  They are the face of crime and failures in our schools.

Some will say vocational training, education and family planning is what we need to elevate the current class that are willfully ignorant of a dignified lifestyle and wanting to put their kids in the best possible position for future success.  I agree, but it is going to take decades to reverse the trend of high school drop outs, poor parent/family structure and ghetto/thug mentality prevalent in St. Louis.  This is a societal problem and we need a quicker fix than that.  We need immediate action.  Immigrants can help dilute out the real or perceived problems we currently face with our reputation and our curb appeal. 

So how do we lure in productive members of society to be part of St. Louis' future?

In my mind there are two basic things:

1.  Focus on luring in young employable/educated/talented/skilled people in their 20s.
2.  Make St. Louis a national destination for immigrants from anywhere around the globe.

St. Louis is very affordable and cool and has huge underdog post-rust belt big city attributes.  The future is bright in St. Louis City and we need more hard working, intelligent, skilled minds and bodies here that can contribute and devote time to the things that will continue to right the ship.

Let's face it, being educated and/or hard working is your ticket to success in this country.  Success means financial stability.  Financial stability means more personal time.  More personal time means more community and volunteer time.  We need an informed electorate that can make educated decisions for our leadership and civic structure and will look past the color of a candidates skin to cast their vote at the ballot box.  That simply doesn't work and it's antiquated and boring and divides us. 

We need leaders that can focus their efforts on bringing in tax paying, productive members of society to St. Louis.  This does not mean turning your back on the droves of people who live here who are poor, uneducated and woefully unemployable.  It will bring in a generation that can help fix things and elevate our neighborhoods north to south and bring in a tax base.  I feel we are in this fight alone and will get little help and only increasing competition from the small cities and suburbs around us for the tax dollars and residents.

Why not have an urban outreach arm of concerned citizens to recruit at local and regional universities.  Advertising and communication efforts to recruit educated people to the city.  For example, there are some AMAZING agricultural universities in this country.  Maybe urbanists could team up with the Monsantos and the Wash Us and the Solaes and the Sigmas and the Cortexs to advertise the amazing local technology providers and researchers and team it up to sell the local amenities and urban renaissance that is St. Louis.  It's a cheap place to live and play...we should be at Cornell, Iowa State, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas A&M, etc touting our fine scientific employers and city living (which is what younger workers want).  This group could lobby the realty organizations to share the positives of St. Louis City living.  I cannot tell you how many professionals I've encountered from outside the region who were teamed up with a realtor that dissuaded the new arrivals (in some cases passionately) to not even SHOP the city.  That's damaging and misguided.  We need to be able to counter that.

People in their 20s are going to find it harder and harder to buy a home in the big U.S. cities if current lending terms continue to favor those with $ for substantial down payments and rents continue to raise as a result.  St. Louis is still cheap enough to make owning a home a definite possibility.

Secondly, we need to promote immigration from outside the U.S.  The last noticeable wave of immigrants came from Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, Romania, etc. during the political unrest and wars of the 1990s.  This immigration was a boon to St. Louis.  As a result we have new faces, language, dialects, food styles, traditions, minarets, etc.  These people have added to our culture.  Drive down Gravois south of Chippewa and count how many storefronts are occupied by former Eastern European business owners and patrons.  These people are hard working and industrious.  They want places to continue their heritage, lifestyle and culture.  The doors are of course open to anyone else who wants to go.  We are missing the boat by not acknowledging this group of people with 'Little Sarejevo' status or whatever.
We need another noticeable wave of immigration.  We need more dialects, we need more industrious people who don't say "I/we can't" before they even try.  I would like to hear current Mayor Slay or opponent Lewis Reed role out their vision for increasing our population and density in St. Louis.  Their policies since taking office are clearly not working.  Some new ideas need to be vetted and executed.

We need outsiders.  We need new blood.  We need more immigrants.

Kids In The City

Okay, I know most readers of my blog are urbanists, etc.  Kids and fatherhood are usually topics I try to avoid as most people I've met who read this blog are usually younger than I and without kids.  And, raising kids is obviously a pretty personal thing; stuff usually left off the Internet and kept private.  But, I see a crisis here in STL that is really worth talking about, and I hope to make a couple points without getting too personal.  But parents talking about kids and raising kids in a city vs. a suburb or small town can easily get personal fast.  So I hope not to offend or come across as judgemental on how/where one chooses to raise a family.

Let me start with a disturbing fact:

28,895 people up and left the city in the 10 years from 2000-2010.  21,999 of those who left (~76%) were under 20 years of age. 

(

source

)

Of the 21,999 people under 20 who left, the biggest block of 17,433 were between the ages of 5-14:  school age kids. 

That is a big loss, right?  Now give it some thought.  Is that a direct reflection of parents leaving the city because of the perceived and/or real problems with the public and charter schools?  You would certainly think so.

Another look at the numbers will tell you St. Louis showed a gain of young people in their 20s where an increase of 5,925 was observed.  A gain of 14,471 of the so called "empty nesters" between the ages of 50-64 was also seen.  Nice, we're doing good attracting young, post-high school people and parents of post-high school children who want a hip, vibrant, non-suburban lifestyle.  Yet, we're taking a beating on school aged kids.

I think this is telling of the greatest problems we have to face in the next regime and generations.  Schools and crime.  Whether perceived or real, these 2 problems displace more decent people than anything else.

It's going to be brutal to hear entrenched city leaders in the 2013 mayoral race talk about what a great job they are doing when clearly, people are voting with their feet and continue to leave, sinking us to < 319,000 people.

There's a very personal side to this story of kids being pulled out of the city by parents.  Here are my thoughts as a parent of 3:

One could surmise that kids are not welcome here; that STL is a bad place to be a kid or raise kids.  But, you've got to wonder, what kind of kids are leaving?  Are well educated/wealthy

St. Louis Hills

parents packing up the beautiful little college bound things in the leather seated mini-vans and heading for the greener pastures of Kirkwood, Wentzville, Millstadt or Chesterfield where the yards are bigger and the neighbors are more homogeneous, right-minded or well-heeled?  Or, are cognizant, active/loving urban minded parents who are trying to live a humble life in the public education system, in a used car in an affordable apartment/house, in a city neighborhood, packing it up because they've been frustrated and disenfranchised by their city public/charter school experience and can't afford or don't want to attend private schools?  Or, are young, low-income single moms with multiple kids leaving to find a way elsewhere because they can't get a footing in STL and are making a jump to the county?  Or lastly, are nice families who want the best for their kids hearing the sensational local news and reading the paper and deciding to not even research or consider options in St. Louis for their kids and are actively planning on vacating for the burbs once junior gets to be school aged...no questions asked? 

I don't have the answers, but judging by the numbers, the ratio is roughly 3 kids/teenagers per every 1 adult heading out of town.  If I had to guess it is probably more young, poor single mothers taking a couple kids and leaving.  If it were married families or committed couples, the numbers would be more balanced toward adults:minors leaving St. Louis.  A further look at the 2010 numbers will tell you that African-Americans are leaving at a much greater rate than any other racial class counted by the census.  Most losses were from the most run down north city neighborhoods where counts were ~ 20% lower.

Yikes.

Anyhow, the reasons for mass minor exodus are probably a little of all of the above (and possibly other) scenarios.  The thing I know for sure is lots of kids are leaving the city.  Each one a lost opportunity for the future.  Each one a citizen that will no longer identify with St. Louis as his/her childhood home or experience.

So where does that leave those of us who have chosen to stay in St. Louis with school aged kids?  More importantly, where does that leave the next generation of parents considering kids or with kids nearing school age?

Let me give you a taste of my experience with the SLPS...

I consider myself an active dad, I love my kids and my wife and want nothing more than for them to live a happy life where they can have some say in what they do for a living and work toward what they think is right or wrong in the world.  Choices are huge with me.  If you have no choices in your schooling and your career and your future in general, you can feel cornered and defensive...sometimes defeated.  And animals act weird and out of their element when they are cornered. Fight or flight is a psychological concept I've always been interested in and STL living keeps me on the edge of that fight or flight teeter totter.

Living in St. Louis can be a constant fight.  The odds are stacked against you when it comes to raising a family.  When junior turns 5, you don't just walk up to the local public school administration office to sign your kid up for the shiny new neighborhood school closest to your home where you are met with smiles and open arms and plenty of other happy families, familiar faces and neighbors with precious little things in tow.  It isn't like that.  Many of the employees at the SLPS have gotten/retained their jobs due to nepotism and other antiquated ways of entitlement.  Many are accountable to no one and the service you get is horrible and enough to turn a normal, dignified person away after the first interaction.  Many cannot speak proper English, many will yell at you, or are raging racists and will not file your requests if you get cross wise with them or call them out on their behavior or performance.  Yes, we recently gained partial accreditation and that is fantastic, but somebody needs to clean house in the administrative arm of the SLPS.  Many of the teachers, counselors, principals, etc work their butts off and are top shelf educators and administrators.  But if your VERY FIRST touch point with the public schools is some racist, non-coherent person who hates their job, that can be enough to make you walk away.  Why would you want your kids to be around this type of person, right?  It can only go down hill from here, first impressions are very important as a parent.  You can lose decent people immediately, before they have even given the educators and schools a chance to work with your kid(s).  And you know what the most popular move is for a parent who is disenfranchised?  You guessed it:  move to the burbs.

Furthermore, neighborhood schools were abolished for racial de-segregation reasons clearly needed at the time in the 20th Century, but not so much now.  In essence, this deseg action eroded much of what was good about neighborhood schools and played a hand in destroying the fabric of neighborhoods and adding a tremendous overhead of busing and extended school days for kids that should have more time to study and play then sit on a bus for an hour or more to get to a decent school, regardless of where you live.  I realize I am over simplifying the complex history of a deseg policy, but some parents who leave for the county just want their kids to go to school with their neighbors kids.  Simple, right?  Can't blame someone for that.

Additionally, some SLPS schools perform very poorly, some are not safe and have a tremendous amount of knuckleheads/punks filling the seats...many of these kids have no active parents who want them to do better and have more opportunities than they did.  Willful ignorance abounds.  Many have no responsible father in the picture at all.  That's just a sorry fact.  Some don't get any re-enforcement at home to focus on homework and they suffer as a result.  This obviously lowers the quality of education for others in the room and exhausts the teachers and the system.  The thing is, many of the SLPS are simply not an option for any normal, loving parent who wants a dignified, safe learning environment for their kids.

As a result, in St. Louis as an active parent, you have to work extra hard to find the more rare, suitable options for your kids if you want to live here and have them in the best position to get a quality education and childhood school experience.  It's not easy like it is in say west county, where you just pay your crazy high property taxes, fill out the papers at Parkway West and all the dominoes start falling and you are just a happy little fish swimming with the stream.  No, St. Louis isn't like that.  If you want the good options, you've got to fight for them and in some cases you've got to have luck on your side as well.

You have to be informed.  You have to be active and prepared for a

fight

 to get a decent way for your kids.  Sometimes that fight can be exhausting and sometimes contentious.  It keeps my finger on the eject button constantly.  If my kids are wronged and it's out of my control, I'll have to bolt for U.City (the Yale or Jail district), Oakville or Maplewood or some other civilized suburban city to try things out there.  Yet, there

are

great public, charter and affordable private schools in the city.  More choices exist now than they did previously and for that I'm thankful.  I think there are options a normal family who want their kids to succeed in an urban, diverse environment would consider.  I hear about more and more of them as I listen to other parents and neighbors talking.

I assume that many parents on the brink of a big decision to stay or go know that they are not up for the fight and choose the path of least resistance:  move to the burbs.  That may sound lazy, but can you really blame them?

With all that in mind, let me tell ya, raising kids in the city has been a blessing...so far.  It's a lot of work, and it takes effort.  Let me also tell you that I'd by lying if I didn't say we also have gone through some pretty serious fight or flight scenarios.  An STL parent puts up with lots of crap that many of my suburban parent friends simply do not.  However, these suburban parents don't live in places that I find nearly as interesting and beautiful, but that's another story.  But, it has been an inspiration to live here, one that is completely unattainable in many of the burbs.  The chances of meeting someone I see eye to eye with on many levels (including parenting) are much greater here than other places.  I know what some are thinking...those are adult, selfish needs and its just not right raising a kid in the city.

However, the honest story is that we think we are doing better for our kids future to live in a city where they'll be exposed to a much more broad spectrum of kids and experiences than what we had growing up in smallish towns.

Here are some pluses for me:  my kids are exposed to constant beauty, taste, history and arts in their surroundings. My wife has a background in the fine arts; it's part of why I fell for her back when I was 19.  We have a long history of enjoying the beauty that St. Louis offers in the museums, galleries, stores, parks, restaurants, neighborhoods, buildings and streets.  It's an inspiring place.  I'm a simpleton, and can appreciate a blooming tree in Tower Grove Park or a Marsden Hartley painting in the SLAM, or hearing a favorite song on KDHX and just be floored and completely happy.  I am all about feel and experience...and going out to lunch or hanging out in Ballwin, Olivette or Creve Coeur has never matched the fun and inspiration and welcomeness I've felt in STL spaces that fill old buildings where the brick and mortar and hand cut lumber add to the authenticity of the overall visit.  Take the same pizza and serve it up in a strip mall in Marlborough, MO or a renovated, former beer malt house in St. Louis (think PW Pizza) and I'll take the latter any day.  It will be the same pizza, but a better experience.  One I don't mind spending the cash on and one I'd recommend to friends.

My kids have attended a magnet school in the SLPS for many years now, and I love the building they are in, the neighborhood and many of the families/kids that go there.  The school draws people from all over the city and county from different economic backgrounds.  It's as diverse as a St. Louis school can be I suppose.  Additionally, as a middle class-raised in the suburbs white dude, I like the fact that there are African-American

authority

figures at their school.  In my up bringing there were black bus drivers, janitors and maintenance men, but few to no black teachers, principals, counselors, etc.  Their current principal holds a PhD and is an African-American woman.  So, playing with, living with, attending school with and listening/learning/looking up to people from different races is exactly what this city and America in general probably needs to get over a lot of the racist B.S. that holds us back greatly.

But the ultimate bottom line is this...I think they are getting an excellent education, and they are smarter and more focused than I ever was as a kid.  The public schools have many amazingly smart, dedicated and hard working teachers and administrators.  We've been lucky enough to have great teachers almost every year for all 3 of our kids.  We are happy, my kids are happy.  But you have to fight for these happy scenarios...the good thing is we are not unique, other families who have fought for their kids best interests are among us.  You walk together in great numbers and you get to be surrounded by extremely dedicated parents from all walks of life from all parts of the city...and you walk side by side with those that have chosen the good fight just like you.  The trials and tribulations are shared...but at the end of the day you're a city person who is succeeding with children that are succeeding as well.  You stayed, fought and just may win.

Now, I know there are plenty who don't have good things to say about schools no matter where they are.  I'm not trying to polish turds here, I'm not bragging, I'm not saying St. Louis has an advantage in any way over the 90 suburban cities in the county...I'm simply trying to explain that you can find a decent path for your family in St. Louis.  It ain't gonna be easy and it won't be perfect...but I don't think there is a perfect school anywhere.  I just wish parents and kids who are succeeding in St. Louis would speak up and tell their story a little...more on that in a minute...

Back to the census data...based on the numerical increases, I like the fact that we have thriving, energetic, young people in their 20s here.  They inspire me and make me hopeful for the future.  STL is an easy sell to young suburban or creative class kids looking for more than their boring childhood environs; or, gay people who want to feel more welcome than a rural/suburban setting can provide, empty nesting progressives seeking an active/walkable scene, entrepreneurs looking for a deal, immigrants who want to live/start a business on the cheap, lovers of architecture, history, I can go on and on about the easy STL sell.

But there's something we don't talk enough about:  we need families and kids that grow up here in order to be an even stronger city in the future.  Again, we lost 29,000 people from 2000-2010.  3/4 were under 20 years old.  Damn. It's the fight of our next decade to sell this place and retain middle class people with school-age kids.  Yep...I really believe this to be true.  It's bigger than crime and black/white racism.

Now that I've been a parent of ~10 years with 3 kids and the blessing of a devoted mom/wife that runs the family and is as up for the city experience as I...I know my kids are on a path to a life of beauty and respect for their surroundings and history and nature that I want them to have.

I must admit, I have a bit of a defiant spirit in me.  When I see and hear people I don't necessarily like or respect on any level railing against the city, I want to tell them to fuck off, or better yet, prove them wrong.  But the city really does stack the cards against you when it comes to raising kids with all the modern amenities and with all the suburban pressures that exist.  There's not cheer-leading squads, lacrosse teams, baseball teams at the city's best magnet schools.  Nor for charters.  If you want that stuff, you'll have to work hard to get them involved in CYC, YMCA or other ventures; or, you'll have to move to the higher tax districts and live in a place where you may not have a decent park, history, bar, restaurant or just "places" in general to be; or send them to private schools. 

The elementary city school my kids go to doesn't have organized sports teams, so you have to look elsewhere to get kids involved in sports.  The Catholic schools and the YMCA can help fill this gap..but again, it's extra work and $ for the parents to make this happen.  It's not part of the package.  This drives some away as well.

It's hard work and takes a lot more effort to raise kids to the best of your ability here in St. Louis and that is the honest reality of the current situation.  If you are willing to be active and put the extra work it takes to get your kids involved in the right situations for them, you can make it here.   You can be very happy.  Things are not as bad as the media makes it out to be.  The fact is, most people that complain and bitch about the city schools have ZERO first hand experience with them.  I would urge parents of young children to research the reasonable possibilities for an education before they leave.  Be part of the solution and not the ongoing problem.

In keeping with that last statement, I am going to try and do my part and take on a new side project...I will be researching city private, charter and public schools and interviewing parents on their experiences.  How do you get in?  Is there a lotto?  What are the costs?  Where do you go to get enrollment info and tours?  What are the other families like at that school? 

At the end of the day, I hope to have a guide (not unlike my neighborhood guides) for expecting parents and families/couples with kids to access real information from real people...not haters.  I hope to keep it real and talk about pros and cons.

If you are a parent with kids in a city school and would like to represent...drop me a line if you'd like to meet for coffee/beer/whatever and do a quick 30 minute interview of "your story".  I will respect your anonymity if you so choose.  We can also do an interview over the phone or email if its easier.

I honestly feel that we have hit rock bottom in many of parts of this city and that better days are ahead.  I feel that if decent, hard working parents with nice families who are mostly happy with their kids education would speak up, we could counter the negative stories and the uninformed haters as well.

If you would like to do your part, I can be contacted here:

groth_stl@hotmail.com

A Few Of My Favorite Things In 2012

Here's a list of developments or newly discovered things that leave me with a happy feel looking back at 2012 and eternally optimistic for St. Louis in 2013:

1. Partial accreditation for SLPS (baby steps)
2. Prop R passed:  reducing the number of alderman only makes sense when you lose 0.5M people in 50 years!
3. Prop A passed:  local control of police just makes sense!
4. Christine Ingrassia is running for alderman in Ward 6!
5. Griffin Delivery rocks and delivers to Fox Park!  It matches my core passions:  supporting small business, promoting walking/biking, kick ass food at my doorstep
6. The Central Library renovation is nothing short of spectacular.  I can't wait to spend an entire day there burning music and looking at old STL maps.
7. Urban Chestnut Beer Garden...they were able to take a surface parking lot and turn it into an urban oasis for European beer lovers.
8. Discovering the Cafe Ventana Muffaletta...I love sitting at the bar when the windows are open in the Spring and Fall.
9. MX building adding new life to the eastern portion of Washington Blvd.  Snarfs Sandwich Shop, Pi Pizza, the Collective and the movie theatre will make this a fun part of the street and a destination for people who LIVE here!
10. Siete Luminarias cactus sopes, tamales at the candy shop near California/Cherokee

St. Louis continues to be a city where I can constantly discover new things, enjoy raising my family, meet new/amazing people and feel optimistic in spite of all the negatives. 

Here's to a happy and progressive 2013!

The Central Library Renovation

The Central Library Renovation

Every once in awhile an amazing transformation occurs.  Our city molts and sheds its skin constantly revealing something new and utterly exciting.  The recent $70M renovation of the Central Library, the crowned jewel of our amazing library system, is nothing short of stunning.  This library has been etched into my urban experience.  I have memories of the old library which was magnificent, if not sometimes a little drab in feel. 

The renovation is an inspiration of what good design and execution can bring.  The old touches have been meticulously restored.  I am so happy it still feels like the old library.  However, the amazing use of modern lighting and new arrangements are nothing short of perfect. 

Modern Infill And Other Excitement In The Botanical Heights Neighborhood

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.

St. Louis: Brick City Becoming Beer City...Again

In passing I heard a local news story on one of those bets the Mayors of San Francisco and St. Louis made over who will win the 2012 National League Championship Series. 

The Mayor of the losing city will change his Twitter profile picture to the logo of the winning team for a day. Also, the losing Mayor will send food and beverages traditionally associated with the respective cities so the winning Mayor can invite the community into City Hall for a party to celebrate. Mayor Lee will send dim sum and Anchor Steam Beer. Mayor Slay will send St. Louis barbecue, toasted ravioli and a court of St. Louis brews, led by the King of Beers.  source

In the couple of seconds that took place before naming what the STL mayor would offer up, I was thinking what beer the mayor would choose from to represent our city...there are so many.  Then they said he would offer up several local beers.  Wow, how cool...

several

beers.  San Francisco isn't exactly a beer city...but we are.

I love the brewing history of St. Louis.  I love how the German immigrants lagered beer in the caves under our fine city in the days prior to refrigeration. They wanted to make beer like they had at home and keep their European traditions alive in the new country...and St. Louis was and still is a beer brewing heavy in the United States.  There were many breweries throughout the city and taverns on almost every neighborhood corner.  And with the influx of Irish, there were plenty of loyal customers (ba dum dum).

Ghost signs of these former breweries can be found all over the city:

Anyhow, I love how the Anheuser-Busch brewery was part of growing up near St. Louis.  The AB song

("Here Comes The King")

and the Clydesdales are synonymous with Cardinal baseball and the memory of Jack Buck and Mike Shannon together on the mighty KMOX meld very nicely into a lot of great memories.

I love smelling the hops in my neighborhood when the wind is just right.  It's simply a great traditional beer city....especially American lagers.

But the thing is, it's gotten exponentially better in the last 5 or so years.  If you like craft beer you are in heaven.  We have (if my numbers are correct) 9 microbrews in addition to the big one on Pestalozzi Street to choose from right here in St. Louis.  Did you know since the In-Bev takeover, we now brew Becks in St. Louis City?  How cool is that? 

And if that's not enough, there are another 2 micro breweries slated for opening in the near future.  Per a recent

Post-Dispatch article

 by the great "Hip Hops" PD reporter Evan Benn,

Alpha Brewing

is set to open by February, 2013 at 1409 Washington Boulevard in the Downtown West Neighborhood.  Here are a few words from the 26 year old owner Derrick Langeneckert:

Owner and head brewer Derrick Langeneckert, 26, a St. Louis native, says he plans to begin build out immediately on what will be a small craft brewery and modern-style tasting room with seating for about 60 people...Langeneckert chose a location downtown because he used to live there (he's since moved to south St. Louis) and wished he had a brewery within walking distance.  "Urban Chestnut is really more midtown than downtown, and 4 Hands is closer to Soulard. And Morgan Street is on Laclede's Landing, which is a different beast entirely. I just wanted something I could get to without having to get in my car."  His space is located in the back of 1409 Washington Avenue, facing City Museum. The front part of the building houses a credit union.

Another,

Heavy Riff Brewing

, is set to open in the awesome

Clayton/Tamm Neighborhood

of Dogtown at 6413 Clayton Avenue. 

So add that to the already existing list:

4-Hands Brewing

in

the LaSalle Neighborhood

Wow, what an impressive lineup; am I missing any?  It's hard to keep up, heck I haven't even tried all these yet.  How many other cities can claim 12 breweries in a city of ~320,000 people?  Many of the smaller micros are now being distributed in bottles including Perennial, UCBC and Six Row.  The suburbs and surrounding areas of St. Louis have a few as well:  O'Fallon, 2nd Shift, Schlafly Bottleworks, Crown Valley, etc.

What other American city has this kind of beer scene going on?  Boulder?  Milwaukee?  I think the Brick City takes the cake as the nation's Beer City capital.  Cheers to St. Louis!  Cheers to all the smart, dedicated young men and women working so hard to open small businesses in the city of St. Louis that give our city a feel and an identity.  Cheers to all those who support the locals!  Cheers to the tasting rooms and beer gardens popping up all over town that give us unique and soulful PLACES to hang out.  Thanks for choosing the city...Beer City U.S.A.

The New Mississippi River Bridge and Tucker Boulevard

The new Mississippi River bridge, ramps and surface roads are taking shape just north of Downtown in the

Near North Riverfront

neighborhood.  With my curiosity piqued by a recent

blog post

on UrbanReviewSTL related to the insane amounts of surface parking lots lining Tucker Blvd. where traffic from the new bridge will be routed south into the city, I decided to take a quick ride over there to check on the progress myself.

This is a historic project for our region and even our country.  You don't get many opportunities to witness construction of a bridge of this magnitude during a lifetime, so it seemed like more photos are in order to help document this work for future generations to look back on.  For more great info and photos of this project, click

here

 for a NextSTL story by Herbie Markwort.  I am fascinated by photos of bridge construction, especially the elegant

national treasure that is the Eads bridge:

A trip to the riverfront will provide you with excellent views of the massive, soon to be, cable-stayed bridge currently under construction.  This beauty will consist of two towers, with cables supporting the bridge deck.  The main span of the bridge will be 1,500 feet in length, with a total span of 2,803 feet.  Cables will stretch from the bridge deck to the tops of two A-shaped towers, which will reach 435 feet above I-70. According to the Illinois and Missouri Departments of Transportation, the new bridge’s main span will consist of 1,000 miles of 0.6-inch-diameter stay-cable strand, enough for nearly two round trips from St. Louis to Chicago. Nearly 15,000 tons of structural steel will be used, along with 8,600 tons of reinforcing steel. Some 90,600 cubic yards of concrete will be used in the foundation, deck slab, and towers. Upon completion, the bridge will be the third longest in the United States. (

sources

This bridge is no joke and it should look fantastic, especially if lit up at night.  The towers are visible from many different vantage points within the city and the cables are being installed now.  I'm glad we'll have something special here as opposed to another Poplar Street Bridge clone which is as ho-hum and utilitarian as a bridge can be.

So what are we going to name this new modern marvel?  How about the Mound Cities Bridge?  I love the connection to the Cahokians who erected mounds on both sides of the river.  And, Mound Street runs parallel to the ramps that enter St. Louis.

It seems like it would be a missed opportunity if we didn't honor modern-day St. Louis' and Cahokia's connection to the remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico circa A.D. 700 - 1400.

Another great call would be something to do with Lewis and Clark or the Louisiana Purchase.  You can't really call it the Lewis & Clark Bridge though, because the other cable-stayed beauty to the north in Alton, Illinois is named the Clark Bridge.

I read of someone else who suggested the Mary Meachum Freedom Bridge which would be another great call for memorializing our rich local history.

In the early morning hours of May 21, 1855 a small group of runaway slaves and their guides crossed the Mississippi River at St. Louis, attempting to reach a route to freedom through Illinois. Accompanying them was Mary Meachum, a free woman of color and the widow of a prominent African American clergyman. Even today, the activities of the Underground Railroad remain largely shrouded in mystery. This event is remarkably different because the group was apprehended and, since the slaves belonged to the prominent St. Louisan Henry Shaw, a detailed story of the escape was covered in local newspapers. Thus was preserved for posterity a rare example, with exact location, of an Underground Railroad event in Missouri – in fact, the first documented site in the state. In December 2001, the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing was dedicated as part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. (source

Anything unique to the area would please me.  However no such luck to date.  So far politician-supported names thrown out include "Veteran's Memorial Bridge" (which the MLK bridge used to be called), Ronald Reagan Bridge (he was from Dixon, Illinois...albeit > 250 miles from STL), "Jerry F. Costello-William Lacy 'Bill' Clay Sr. Veterans Memorial Bridge" (which just rolls off the tongue) was recently shot down or "Women Veterans Memorial Bridge".  Seems like we can do better, no?.  But at the end of the day, people will call it whatever they want.  You know the PSB is officially named the Bernard F. Dickmann bridge...but no one calls it that.

Anyhow, at an estimated cost of $667M, the new bridge was designed to reroute I-70 off of the Poplar Street Bridge which currently carries I-44, I-55, I-64, I-70 and U.S. 40.  The deck will carry 4 lanes of traffic and will be able to support another lane in each direction.  The bridge should be open to traffic as early as 2014 and full completion is slated for 2015.  The new bridge will forever change the skyline of our great city; and could be one of the most photographed/iconic structures in the region.

The bridge enters St. Louis near Cass Avenue and will take you northwest on the existing I-70 lanes or southeast through the city eventually spilling onto Tucker Boulevard.

Tucker Boulevard or Twelfth Street has been closed north of Washington Blvd. as long as I can remember.  The former Illinois Terminal rail tunnel that went under Tucker was filled in with huge styrofoam blocks and is still under construction.

This high profile stretch of road that divides

Downtown

from

Downtown West

has been an official city street since 1844.

Its name was changed from Twelfth Street to Twelfth Boulevard in 1932. It became Tucker Boulevard in 1979 in honor of former mayor Raymond R. Tucker.

(

source

)

I agree with Steve Patterson's conclusion that the glut of surface parking lots on both sides of Tucker is less than an inviting stretch of road and infill is greatly needed to make this look like a functioning urban street.  This used to be a vibrant section of the city and has been whittled away over the years to make way for get in/get out auto commuters, especially the Post Dispatch employees. 

Anyhow, projects this big don't come around very often, so the following is my attempt at capturing some photos of the work while still under construction and adding to the many others who are interested enough to photo document this historic project.

For many first time STL visitors, the trip down Tucker will be their first impression. The massive surface parking lots and dead zones are part of the true picture of Downtown St. Louis in its current state...until you get toward Washington Boulevard when things start to look like a real city.  However, if commuters and visitors choose to look up beyond the dead asphalt expanses, you are afforded some nice views of the city skyline. 

And if you are a pedestrian, there are plenty of careful details within the new infrastructure to catch your eye.

From granite curbs to island/median plantings:

To many new street trees and easement plantings, curb bump outs, drop off lanes for buses/taxis/cars and creative/non-standard paver stone patterns in the sidewalks:

To new pedestrian crossings, streetlights and signage:

The bridges are getting new fencing and the street lights are varied with a mix of modern and faux classic.  I like it, you?

Anyhow, take a walk or ride north of Washington Boulevard and witness for yourself this transformational project.  Hopefully investors too will note the opportunities of many, many more commuters and visitors entering the city on Tucker and will scoop up some vacant or under-utilized property to make this part of St. Louis part of St. Louis again!  Instead of some fast food row or other suburban ho-hum generica.

Yet, this project is by no means complete, so we can still hope for more sustainable investment in this part of St. Louis.  We have another example of the "clean slate" mentality that so many developers think is the ultimate necessity for new projects, only time will tell if it anything transformational really happens.

So far only McDonalds has ponied up with a typical suburban drive thru junk food restaurant.

Signs In The City

We need more metal and neon signs in this town.  They are vibrant and cool.  Prominent signs get people's attention and can even be

landmarks

Big, artistic signs say BIG CITY; they let you know that the place/brand is important and noteworthy.  The

Covenant Blu/Grand Center

neighborhood has done a great job with exciting signs both old and new.  Look no further than the Big Brothers/Big Sisters sign that wraps around the recently renovated building at Grand and Lindell.  Then you've got the Fabulous Fox Theatre and many others in the area.  See what I mean: 

photo source

 (B.E.L.T.)

Hotel Ignacio before and after prominent signage:

photo source

 (Count On Downtown)

City Diner jumped in with a fantastic new addition to a prominent corner of the neighborhood:

Notice how the neon lettering says "City Diner At The Fox"?  That means permanency and investment to me.  It means the Fox is here to stay and is a landmark, and City Diner is putting their hard earned money up to be part of the city and its surroundings. 

With KDHX and KWMU moving to Grand Center, why not put up some awesome signage there as well?  Heck, KDHX's new building even has the framework already in place on the rooftop.  Check out this photo-shopped vision of what could be:

It's simple:  Big city = big signs. 

We have lost some really prominent signs over the years, the most recent being the Globe Democrat sign on North Tucker.

St. Louis was once home the Globe-Democrat Newspaper which was in existence from 1852-1986.  It began operations on July 1, 1852 as the Missouri Democrat, which later merged with the St. Louis Globe. It was St. Louis' conservative daily newspaper for much of its long run.  Political commentator, syndicated columnist, author, politician, speechwriter, and broadcaster Pat Buchanan launched his career at the Globe-Democrat in 1961 (at the age of 23) as an editor.

St. Louis was once a great, influential city and the Globe was part of the city for over 130 years.  It was built to last and the sign they put on their most recent building on North Tucker Boulevard was bold as well. 

I witnessed the sign being dismantled and hauled away recently. 

Another great sign gone, another great part of our history erased.

New signs are needed to make bold streetscapes that people recognize and identify with.  They bring vibrancy and train the eye upward to the amazing architectural details our forefathers graced their buildings with.

I would like to see our city's myriad of ghost signs get repainted to their original splendor too.  (I would like to start up a business and do this if anyone wants to partner and research if there's a market)  I'd also like to see more businesses with cool signage.  Now I realize these are not cheap, and with the huge amount of turnover of small businesses, I can see why a new business like Big Shark or Left Bank Books entering a new market Downtown would not want to invest in a sign before they get a good understanding of the business they will do in their new locations.  However, if they are making a profit and plan on being part of the city, let's see some eye-catching big signs to mark their territory and get people's attention.  Be part of the neighborhood and the street scene!

St. Louis needs more artists painting signs on buildings.  St. Louis needs to make it as easy as possible for business owners to erect huge, attention-getting, artistic signs.

We deserve it.

Some facts before I move on...

I wanted to get some facts on the table before I move on to some topics like regionalism and cross-county cooperation. 

Whenever I say 'St. Louis', I mean it literally.  I don't mean the combined statistical region, I don't mean our TV market, I don't mean Cardinal Nation, I don't mean unincorporated St. Louis County, I mean St. Louis...the city, you know?  The place with the Arch and the Big Muddy to the east, Forest Park and Skinker Boulevard to the west, The bluffs along the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers & the old Chain of Rocks Bridge to the north and the St. Louis Skatium to the south (alright can you think of a better landmark between St. Louis and Bella Villa or Lemay, Missouri?)  Klebs Clothing or the River Des Peres would be righteous choices as well...

Anyhow, I don't point out these facts to further divide us or to be contentious in any way.  If I come across like that it's because I'm fed up with the fact that the majority of people I talk to DO NOT GET THIS.  I simply want the truth to be realized.  I am not drawing a line in the sand and saying St. Louis (my favorite city in the region) should separate itself from it's less exciting, but much more well-monied/well-educated influential neighbors.  It's actually quite the opposite.  I simply want to speak honestly and accurately about our region and my city.  In order to do that you have to face some facts:

  • St. Louis City is its own County as well. St. Louis is not part of St. Louis County. It is in St. Louis City County (I kid you not, I learned this the first time I used Turbo Tax to file...it's true).
  • There are 90 cities in St. Louis County (St. George just dis-incorporated) and huge swaths of unincorporated land, none of which can accurately be called St. Louis.
  • Each city in St.Louis County has its own political, tax and other city entities. They have nothing to do with St. Louis.
  • If you live in St. Louis County and work there, you don't pay any St. Louis income or property taxes.
  • If you live in St. Louis County or elsewhere in the region and work in St. Louis, you pay 1% earning tax to St. Louis.
  • If you work in St. Louis County or elsewhere but live in St. Louis, you pay an additional 1% income tax earnings tax to St. Louis.
  • If you live in St. Louis County you cannot vote on St. Louis issues (mayor, taxes, reducing the # of aldermen, etc); and vice versa.
  • As of July, 2011 official Census data, St. Louis had a population of 318,069.
  • St. Louis is the 58th largest city in the United States, wedged right between Santa Ana and Riverside, California. (source)
  • The Greater St. Louis combined statistical area's (CSA) population of 2,878,255 and is the 16th-largest CSA in the country, the fourth-largest in the Midwest. The Greater St. Louis area is the largest metropolitan area in Missouri. 
  • St. Louis has the 62nd greatest population density/square mile of land area, wedged right between Erie, Pennsylvania and Detroit, Michigan.
  • In the late 1960's the city and county voted for a special Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District to raise money based on property taxes in the county AND city to go toward funding essential cultural institutions in St. Louis.  The Art Museum, Zoo and Science Center were included; Botanical Gardens were added in 1983 and the History Museum was added in 1988 (source).   
  • On March 23, 2007, the Missouri State Board of Education ended its accreditation of the St. Louis Public Schools and simultaneously created a new management structure for the district. A three-person Special Administrative Board was created, with members selected by the Missouri governor, the mayor of St. Louis, and the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. The current board has authority to operate the district through 2013. The local school board remains in place but has no administrative authority over the district.  Cities in St. Louis County have their own school districts, distinctly separate from St. Louis'.
  • St. Louis does not have local control of its police force.  St. Louis County and many municipalities have their own police and fire depts.

A brief break from the facts into opinion:  what are the 2 biggest issues facing St. Louis?  Many will tell you the schools and crime.  Hmmm, we don't have local control of either...

Similarly clustered up, St. Louis runs the suffering Lambert International Airport located in unincorporated St. Louis County between the cities of Bridgeton and Berkeley, Missouri.   The state voted down our ability to lure in international cargo business with the 2nd largest economy in the world:  China (

source

).  We are being held back as a region by competing interests and entities that should be feverishly working together to stem the bleeding and disinvestment.  We have external interests more powerful than our own controlling many of our key local interests.  I feel the county and state work against St. Louis more often than not.  That needs to change.

But when we

do

work together, the results can be astounding.  For example, the Zoo, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens are world-class institutions.  Every property owner in St. Louis and St. Louis County should be proud of there contribution to these amazing places.  This is the premier example of x-county monetary cooperation that I can think of.  Another prime example of x-county fruit is the

Great Rivers Greenway District

, funded by a 1/10th of 1 cent sales tax raised in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County, which generates $10 million annually. We can all be proud of that one too, and the bike trails seen throughout the city and county unite us as opposed to dividing us.

Maybe I'm in the minority in thinking that this region is drastically over engineered from a political standpoint...but the simple fact is, both St. Louis and St. Louis County are losing population.  People are voting with their feet and vacating this region at alarming rates.

Here are some other Midwestern cities and how we compare:

  • Indianapolis, IN #12 in population @ 827,609
  • Columbus, OH #15 in population @ 797,434
  • Nashville, TN #26 in population @ 609,644
  • Oklahoma City, OK #30 in population @ 591,967
  • Kansas City, MO #37 in population @ 463,202
  • St. Louis, MO #58 in population @ 318,069

We are a tiny city bleeding residents.  We are a large metropolitan region that is fractionalized more than maybe any region in our country.  The political systems are bloated and the people are stubborn.  We are an

inbred

(read: promotes from within entreched ranks) region that doesn't like change and is wary of new comers and progressive thought patterns.  We're now seeing where that is getting us.  2010 Census data indicate that the mighty County of St. Louis has posted its first population loss in its short history.  The city is bleeding, the formerly shiny all white suburbs are aging and showing signs of slipping infrastructure, unsafe streets, mounting debt, etc.  The County population is wicking out to St. Charles and other green fields to find cheaper new construction and less pesky poor people, with their social ills and minorities.  We have to fix this.  We need to be honest about where we live and how services get paid for and who foots the bill.  We need to embrace our problems and assets as a unified region, not a bunch of petty little suburban fiefdoms and one formerly grand city.  We need to become the biggest city in Missouri.

Understanding these facts are an important place to start.

I am not from St. Louis, so I had to learn these things myself.  And don't believe the Interstate signs sprinkled throughout St. Louis County, they too are misguided in false local lore, as the "Welcome to St. Louis" signs exist miles from St. Louis' actual borders:

I hope these facts are clear and provide readers with the proper context when thinking about and debating regional issues in an honest manor.

Donnybrook-II The Next Generation

I am a big fan of the locally produced show "Donnybrook" on public television station KETC Channel 9. 

Per the

KETC website

:

The show that gives new meaning to the word “debate.”
Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Followed by Donnybrook…Your Turn at 7:30 p.m.
don-ny-brook (don’e-brook), n. [slang], a rough, rowdy fight or free-for-all
See what happens when five quick-witted, highly opinionated St. Louis journalists disagree on tough topics. This is not another dry, tame talk show. On Donnybrook, the issues are hot and so is the discussion. It’s a high-energy, no-holds-barred debate on the week’s news topics. With tongue-in-cheek, Donnybrook’s subtitle is “polite conversation on the issues.” With host Charlie Brennan, the conversation is highly opinionated and not always “polite.” The panel of regulars tackles tough issues and controversial subjects. The opinions are well-informed and widely divergent.

I like that they are discussing local issues and try to maintain a broad range of opinionated panelists.  It can be very entertaining.

But, after tuning in (off and on) for several years now, I can't help but think it would be fun to expand on the local show and have a sort of Donnybrook-II...The Next Generation.  One with even more emphasis based on St. Louis issues as opposed to the more regional or statewide topics.  An urban-progressive donnybrook so to speak.  I take from the next generation...Generation Y.

I believe the current panelists are all Baby Boomers.  And while I appreciate their perspectives, I think the next generation in their 20s and 30s (ones who want to live in a vibrant city) are the keys to St. Louis' future.  They will be the ones that move back in large enough numbers to maybe, just maybe, bring us to our first population gain in over 60 years.  I hear many of the baby boomers in St. Louis talking about why something

won't

work in St. Louis, and constantly pointing to events of the past 50 years in STL as to why something will fail now.  Now I get it, you have to look to the past to understand the future.  But you've got to admit, we've had among the worst 50 years in the history of any American city. We've been beaten, battered and left as broken.  I don't blame the boomers, they've seen St. Louis get worse and worse, decade after decade.  We've had failure of leadership and massive population decreases and a beautifully crafted urban city destroyed and abandoned...all in 50 years or less. 

But, maybe St. Louis is on the mend.  Maybe the more optimistic generation Y'ers will be able to pick up the pieces, forget the worst years in our history and be more prone to look forward more often than not to create a city they want to live in, not the one the boomers watched go to pot during their lifetime.

Back to the current Donnybrook panelists; do they represent current thought patterns in St. Louis?  Do they even live and have the right to vote in the city?  Based on the bios below, at least one (Wendy Wiese) does not:

Charlie Brennan
Charles Brennan is in charge of radio station KMOX’s top-rated weekday mid-mornings. Brennan has been voted St. Louis’ favorite talk show host four times in the Readers Polls of the Riverfront Times. In 1998, he was named Media Person of the Year by the St. Louis Press Club. Brennan was named one of America’s top 25 “most influential radio talk show hosts” in USA Today. Brennan has worked at KMOX since 1988, after working in Boston radio beginning in 1982. He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio and a graduate of Boston College. Brennan assumed the role of host in January 2010.
Ray Hartmann
Martin Duggan gave Ray Hartmann his first newspaper job as a copy boy at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Surprised? Don’t be. Despite the chasm in their political views, the two seeming adversaries know friendship isn’t limited by such boundaries. Hartmann founded The Riverfront Times in 1977 and with partner Mark Vittert, sold it in 1998. Today, Hartmann Publishing also owns St. Louis Magazine. Hartmann is a native of St. Louis and a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Bill McClellan
Letters to Channel 9 about Bill McClellan comment as much about his clothing as about his political opinions. Whether or not viewers regard McClellan as a sartorial icon, his style is as firmly entrenched as his love for his hometown baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. He joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1980, shortly after moving to St. Louis. He and his wife, a graduate of Washington University’s dental school, have been married since December 29, 1979, and have two children.
Alvin Reid
Alvin Reid is lead sports columnist for the Globe-Democrat, the latest stop in a 26-year journalism career that has taken him from Danville, Ill, to Little Rock, Ark., to Lansing, Mich., to Washington, D.C. and finally back to his hometown of St. Louis. Reid spent 12 years at the St. Louis American, where he twice was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Columnist. He also is a member of the 101 ESPN radio staff and in January 2010 became a regular member of Donnybrook.
Wendy Wiese
Wendy Wiese has anchored newscasts, interviewed local, state and national newsmakers, narrated award-winning documentaries, and has been a fixture in St. Louis radio for more than 20 years. A recipient of Ohio State Radio and Television News Directors and Missouri Broadcasters Association awards and a graduate of Visitation High School and Fontbonne College, Wendy is active with Catholic Charities and a board member of the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club. She lives in Chesterfield with husband Chris and daughters Kate and Maggie

This panel is made up of very experienced and respected journalists and broadcasters.  It's a good group of people and I like the mix of opinions; but, I'm wondering if a "Donnybrook-II:  The Next Generation" could draw from a broader pool of the hoi polloi...a more "word from the streets" take on debating St. Louis issues.

Maybe this would be a nice panel:

  • successful young city business owner
  • libertarian-bent, charter school loving, voucher wanting, govt-shunning person
  • fed-up ex-city suburbanite; but still loves the Lou, just had to leave though
  • unabashed cup half full city lover with heart on sleeve
  • preservationist
  • urbanity/density or death type
  • regionalism advocate = consolidation of regional political entities and boundaries or die!
  • city government insider willing to speak to the challenges of the status quo/baby-boomer/entrenched nepotism laden govt and what is needed to lead us toward brighter future

See where I'm going?

It would be nice to see a broader mix of people invited into the discussion as well.  Occasionally allow the host to invite experts and guest panelists based on the topic of discussion.

I'd also like to see the younger generation take on some of the subjects that really are affecting the city, but the older guard may consider too taboo or risky based on their generational purview.  Think how much different baby boomers and Gen Y see the issues of race, suburbs and quality of life...very, very different.  Wouldn't that be fun? 

How about a topic about immigrants in St. Louis.  What's it like to be a teen or young person growing up in an English as second language family living in St. Louis?  Invite a Bosnian-American, a Vietnamese-American, a Hispanic-American, a Somali-American for lively discussions. 

Or, being black in 21st Century St. Louis:  get a privately educated, de-seg educated, public school educated, etc mix of people from all over St. Louis City to speak up on the topic.

What's it like to be a white urban pioneer in Hyde Park, St. Louis Place or Old North St. Louis?

How about some more gritty subjects that get swept under the rug:  high rates of black on black murders, STL gonorrhea and syphilis rates among the tops in the nation, gentrification, what do county kids think of city kids and vice versa, why aren't there more indie/neighborhood businesses in St. Louis, why can't we retain the top educated people from SLU and Wash U in the city, top 10 FAILS from the previous generation...on and on...

As a Gen-X'er raised by boomers in the burbs/small town America, I think it would be fascinating to sit back and watch and listen to intelligent, out spoken people from Gen-Y in their 20s and 30s talking it up on the St. Louis we see now.  They are the ones who will bring meaningful change to St. Louis.  They are the ones with more optimism and less guilt and bagage.  They seem to have a more can-do spirit. 

I want to see their Donnybrooks.  How about it KETC?

Child Rearing In The City or Cheers to Dubb Nubb and SCOSAG For Bringing It All Back Home

Art is important to kids.  They need it in their lives as much as they need sports.  Fact.  The arts challenge kids to use their minds in creative and personal ways that sports don't always bring.  I'm not knocking kids sports as they are important, healthy and can be a hell of a lot of fun too.

I'm basing much of this opinion on the fact that my kids have been involved in several youth sports across several different organizations.  And, in the not too distant past, they went to a summer arts camp for a couple years called

SCOSAG

in Tower Grove Park. It wasn't cheap for sure (thankfully, the grandparents subsidized the venture), but my wife was staunchly in support of it. So, we sign em up, they have fun and it was creative and unique and they love Tower Grove Park as a result of going there. During the course of this summer camp, they discovered a part in the park called "the tree's knees" which is a grove of mature Bald Cypress against a man-made creek that flows through the park where you can race little boats down. It's one of those things that are very personal and I won't try to explain why, but parents likely know what I'm talking about.  It's simply got a good vibe and Tower Grove Park is now the backdrop to some very fond memories of the kids and us as parents as well.

Anyhow here's the crux of this post, and why, based on having experienced both sports and arts related kid activities, I feel more rewarded with a musical memory that I will always carry, instead of the fleeting charge I may get out of a goal or a base hit or a win (although that's a lot of fun too).

One day my kids came home from the camp with this hand drawn picture. I didn't know what the hell it was, but I liked it. It reminded me of a record cover with a track list. After awhile I learned what it was. The kids were talking over and over about a band that came and played at SCOSAG. They loved it, they sang it and hummed it and the melodies were subconsciously growing on me. I assumed it was kids music and I must confess I don't usually enjoy kid music, so I was naturally resistant.  I have heard Barney and others that could make the Dalai Lama wanna shank a mutha. But my oldest who had taken a recent interest in music was starting to gain my respect. He had to have '

Harnessed in Slums

' as the opening track on his new mixed tape, so I started listening to him a little more. He showed me the CD he wanted me to listen to. The artwork was similar to the picture he drew and is now framed in his room:

We were heading down to southwest Missouri on a long drive, so my wife brought the CD and insisted that we listen to it.  So I popped it in the mini-van CD player with full skepticism and hovered my elitist finger over the eject button. The first track caught my full attention, 2nd did too, by the 3rd track, the back of the van was rocking and I recognized the melodies I'd been hearing filtered through 3, 5 and 7 year old ears...this was not kids music by any means, but it was created by teenagers. 

Then it happened, track 4

'Soldier'

stopped me in my tracks and wife and I had a good, tearful moment in the front row of the van. Now, I'm a softy when it comes to lit, poetry and song writing (the greatest of all writing)...and I don't mind admitting that, music just has that power. I also have a soft spot for soldiers/veterans, especially ones who were forced (read drafted, not volunteered) to kill or be killed in war. So the song resonated and made me think of A Farewell to Arms, and All Quiet on the Western Front...World War I in general. It stopped me in my damn tracks. Everyone in the front row of seats was teared up, a quick view in the rear view mirror revealed the youngest two mouths agog staring plaintively out the windows worried about why mom and dad were upset and taking in what a sad lyric can do to people. The third row of seats had the oldest one teared up too. He got it, I got it, we all got it and marveled in the power of youth and the written/sung word.

Dubb Nubb is the band, they are from the suburbs of St. Louis. And they were teenagers when this album was recorded.  They are part of the underrated local music scene, they are now part of our life and experience and everything else. Here's the song I'm talking about:

You've got to read the lyrics:

When the war was over

I went home and cried into my pillow until dawn

I put my gun in the drawer

Sold my old clothes and bought some new ones, put them on

I lost my best friend in the battle

I watched him fall dead right into the snow

I lost me too much blood

But I bandaged up my wounds so nobody will know

It's alright, it's alright

I could have yelled surrender, but I thought that I could win the fight

It's alright, it's alright it's my own fault

I've been holding on to my own lies to tight

When the war was over,

I couldn't sleep with all these nightmares of my past inside my brain

I didn't win the medal

All I got are all these memories all traced across my face

It's alright, it's alright

I could have yelled surrender, but I thought that I could win the fight

It's alright, it's alright, it's not my fault

All these bullets have impaired my sight

Some day I'll go back to the battle ground

And cry for what was murdered, what was mine.

Let me say these words take me to somewhere very, very few words do. It's a WWI, Civil War imagery that gets conjured up and an amazingly sensitive take on a soldier's story, and to be transported to that place through the interventions of my child...that's good stuff.

This good parental memory would not have been possible without my kids experience at SCOSAG and seeing Dubb Nubb play for them.  My kids' opportunities growing-up and being introduced to so many different cultures, and experiences of sound and sight and taste and people and places, I feel are opportunities that are enhanced by my choice to be a city dweller and raise kids right here in St. Louis vs. the calm/staid cul-de-sacs of a suburban municipality. I like art and it's influence on our lives, and how St. Louis elicits thought and emotions on nearly every block.

I am sharing my joys and interests with the kids to the best of my ability; but as they grow, they share and teach me new stuff as well. I hope that when it is all said and done, they appreciate these gifts and broad experiences, and make the choice to hand them on to their own kids.  I hope that St. Louis is part of their experience and they realize how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful place with so many caring, dedicated, creative people in their midst.  Artists inspire me daily in this city...

The effect of this song didn't wear off, it still means a lot after a couple years.  So, I had to find out more about the song and get the scoop from the writer herself.  I was able to 

catch up with 1/2 of Dubb Nubb - Delia Rainey, who wrote the song.  Note that this was not a live interview, rather a list of

questions sent

/

answered

, so the flow is not interactive and conversational.  Anyhow, here are her replies to my questions:

I understand that you wrote the lyrics, is that correct?

Yes, I did.

Has this song had the same effect on your friends and other fans?

'Soldier' is definitely a big favorite among my family members and other people who have been listening to us for a while, since we don't play it at shows very much any more. Every time we do play it, everyone gets super quiet and people really pay attention. We really only play it at intimate acoustic shows where this is possible. 

How does Soldier stand out to you personally compared to the other songs on the record?

I wrote Soldier by myself while desperately heartbroken in my bedroom. It came to me very organically and was probably written in about an hours time. For me, it truly is the most genuinely written songs on the record.

Is the soldier in the song triumphant in beating war and getting over his past; or is it a depressing tale of having lost innocence and a piece of his life lost forever?

Definitely the second one. The Soldier in the song is a metaphor for me trying to 'soldier through' a really tough time in a relationship, and not being able to fix it in the end, or 'win the fight'. It's always funny to reveal to people who really love this song that it is about a breakup with my high school boyfriend when I was 16, which is super silly and embarrassing now that I am 20!

Was there special consideration to sequence it as the 4th track, right in the middle? It’s between two really upbeat happy songs.

I have no clue why we would've chosen to put it there, we made that album so long ago! We re-recorded Soldier for our most recent full-length with glockenspiel and violin added (Sunrise Sleepy Eyed 2011), and put it in a similar spot in the middle of the track list (track 5), but I think putting an emotional song like that in a the middle of a record is a good turning point; 'moving on' to the happier times with the next song!

On to the melody. Did you also come up with the melody? Was it written on piano or guitar? I love whistling as a melody maker, and the whistling fits this song perfectly.

Thank you!! I did write the melody. I am horrible at guitar, (and have since moved on to ukulele), but back when I wrote this song I was still pretty into playing a little kid learn-to-play guitar, and that's how this song was written. I think I get this from my Dad, but I am always whistling little tunes, and putting them into songs! I'm really fond of Andrew Bird's quote that whistling should be considered as it's own musical instrument.

Is that a mandolin? Was it single note plucked? Was that played by you guys?

Yeah, that's Hannah on mandolin. She is amazing at stringed instruments - she has been playing classical guitar since she was 10 and it's now her music major in college. She says, "I was tremolo-ing on one note at a time"

Was it recorded live together, or was it recorded on multiple tracks and put back together?

For this whole record, we recorded each song in one take, and all together! It also only took us about 3 hours to record the WHOLE album! It was crazy. We never do this anymore with our other recordings, so The Best Game Ever is a special one.

In the last 2 lines are the lyrics: “Some day I'll go back to the battle ground

And cry for what was murder, what was mine.” Or “cry for what was mine, what was mine”?

You were close!! The line is: "cry for what was murdered, what was mine."

Finally, since my blog is a STL centric one, I’ve got to somehow tie this back to my audience. 

Are you from St. Louis? If so, what neighborhood?

Yes!! We are third generation St. Louisans, and grew up in Olivette

What’s it like gaining traction in the music community here? Was it hard to get gigs when you were in high school?

We were lucky to be a part of a really supportive group of high school musicians from around the county that had house shows and stuff, and that's how we found our support group. For the release of Best Game Ever, we played on Cherokee Street at Cranky Yellow, and ever since then, Cherokee Street has been our favorite place to play - mostly at Foam Coffee. Especially our last year of high school, we were surprised by how many shows we were able to play. Some of our biggest shows were at Firebird and the Billiken Club, and we got the honor to play at the RFT music showcase and also Loufest after winning the high school battle of the bands!! Because of school priorities and our parents worrying, we tried to only play one show a month in high school.

Do you think your sound and writing style is influenced by St. Louis or Missouri or the Midwest in general?

We are SO influenced by where we are from. We love to write songs about our love for St. Louis and midwest nature. The glory of the city and then also the beautiful country side of the midwest where we have traveled has a lot of emotional meaning to us, which gives inspiration to write songs. Also, we use some 'twang' in our music, which definitely derived from St. Louis music.

Are you inspired by the city in any meaningful way as an artist?

Driving into the city and seeing shows with traveling bands and local acts really inspired us to become part of the St. Louis music scene. The DIY venues and supportive community we encountered really helped us keep going with our art. As well, the feel and scenery of the city inspired us to write a hometown song called 'Mound City Baby', which you can listen to on bandcamp:http://dubbnubb.bandcamp.com/album/sunrise-sleepy-eyed

So there you have it.   Cheers to SCOSAG and Dubb Nubb for being part of my kids' lives...and our evolving music collection and the St. Louis artist scene.  The CD is on the shelf and the kid drawing of the album cover in on the wall...forever.

Dubb Nubb are playing at Plush on August 2nd.

I've been everywhere man (in St. Louis that is)

Recently I completed my personal goal to visit and photo document each and every St. Louis neighborhood.   I didn't traverse each and every block of each and every street but I came pretty damn close.  With a camera in hand and gas in the scooter/car tank, I hit em all man.  My modus operandi evolved as the adventure continued (sometimes dragging on) for 27 months.  My only goal at the onset was to take plenty of pictures and let them unfold and tell the story of current day St. Louis and keep the commentary light and conversational.  You know, informal and simple; not a lot of academic analysis or historic perspective, to me that's being done so much better on other blogs/websites.  I didn't want to specifically point out exact locations of signs, scenes, buildings or homes.  I wanted people to have their curiosity piqued and maybe go visit the neighborhood themselves and try to find the things I noted in each piece.

I started by looking at a list of 79 neighborhoods, man where to start.  I thought, well there are many "Heights" neighborhoods, why not start with thosse.  So our maiden voyage was in

Botanical Heights

driving around with my wife in the car, me behind the wheel and her with the camera.  We had an absolute blast.  But I knew I was going to have to change my method if I was going to do a good job at this for the other 78 neighborhoods.  First of all, it's too hard to take pictures from inside a car.  Battling the sun, traffic, etc is a bear.  Just navigating the chopped up street grid, one way streets, cul-de-sacs, Schoemehl pots and multitudes of stop signs is a monumental task.  This was clearly a job for a more urban-friendly get a bout....the 125cc Yamaha Vino:

This fuel efficient and highly maneuverable scooter allowed me to get in and out of alleys, streets, up on sidewalks and everywhere else I needed to go to get the access and photos I wanted.  And in St. Louis, where scooters are rare, there's another benefit...they get people's attention and folks naturally want to talk to you.  And in some neighborhoods where the locals are not used to seeing white dudes, esp white dudes on scooters, I got a lot of social commentary that I probably wouldn't have had I been in a car.  Scooters are not something you ride if you want to assert your manhood, I get that.  And for whatever reason, guys doing their best to live up to the thug stereotype are seemingly programmed to hurl racial and homophobic slurs when seeing someone on a scooter in the hood.  It was actually pretty funny, and by the end of my treks, I could almost anticipate a block away who was going to hassle me, give me shit or try to front/threaten me.  Some prostitutes even grinned and wanted to talk as opposed to do business.  But the vast majority of people who came across me on the scoot with the camera around my neck were simply curious and friendly.  They would typically ask the 2 most common questions of all "what kind of mileage does that thing get?  How fast does it go?" 

Then came the issue of photographing from public property.  People would see me taking pictures and many would stop and ask me what I was doing.  This elicited many responses from anger/hatred related to the current poor state of many neighborhoods to jovial conversation and little history lessons and personal stories.  I have so many great stories in my head, some I shared in the neighborhood pieces, some I couldn't corroborate or thought too personal or I simply forgot the whole story before I wrote it up.  But usually, when I explained my intention, people would chime in and tell me what I should make sure and photograph.  People would point out their favorite buildings, homes, tree houses, restaurants, etc.  Most people are proud of where they live and want to talk about their neighborhood and their home.

I tried not to research neighborhoods before I went.  I wanted to be surprised and curious upon first witness.  I wanted this to be part of the experience.  And when I'd come up on something really unique, I'd ask the neighbors about it.  This was a lot of fun, and something I'll never forget.  St. Louisan's are generally very kind.  There are a lot of accents and dialects that I loved hearing.

At first I was kind of shy about pointing a camera at people or private property, but as I went on, my confidence increased and I used street smarts to know what was and was not a good scene.  Trust me, I got in a couple sticky situations.  I know a lot more about racism, ghetto scenes and other crazy stuff going on in St. Louis. 

Anyhow, my method for visiting a neighborhood ended up being:  go down every street, talk to as many people as you can, go early in the morning, take a shitload of pictures....come home with the feel and the stink of the neighborhood on you and the stories still fresh in your head and open up the gallery and write the blog based on the feel I had or the feel of the pictures I had just taken.  What I've got here on this blog is merely a snapshot in time of St. Louis' neighborhoods.

I hope to update these neighborhood posts from time to time, espescially as positive developments evolve and new census data come in.  My goal at the onset of this project was to become more informed about the city as a whole.  As a non-native St. Louisian and since moving to STL, an extreme southsider (Holly Hills/Boulevard Heights/Dutchtown/Northampton), I heard about North City being scary and dangerous.  I read about brick theft.  I read about "bombed out wastelands", I read about Paul McKee's delapidated properties.  But I had no first hand experience.  I'd get pissed when people in the suburbs would trash the city with no first hand knowledge.  I would staunchly defend the city carte blanche.  But I also know folks who thought I was being hipocritical when I'd defend the city and denounce that it's not a crime infest ghetto shithole.  They'd say, you know, you living in

Boulevard Heights

isn't the same experience, how can you tell me you know what it's like to live on the state streets or north city.  Yeah, they have a point.  So my goal was to visit every nook and cranny in St. Louis and form my own opinions and hopefully share them with like-minded people.

You know, to not be scared in your own city, or at least now where you might run into real non-random trouble is priceless to me.  I've refined my urban spidey senses and feel like I'm more street smart as a result.  I had to endure a couple weird and sometimes scary situations and some insane amounts of racism/anti-scooter commentary (funny actually).  It made me reach out to many other neighborhoods when thinking about where to live and hang out. 

In retrospect, I've looked back at the 79 neighborhood posts and realized I need to make some updates.  For instance, it took me awhile to get my sea legs with the process and I really fell short on some areas like Clifton Heights.  When I first started, I thought people would get pissed if they saw me taking pictures of their home/business, and this was evidenced in CH.  As it turns out, my overall experience was quite the opposite.  People in St. Louis love their homes and take quite a bit of pride in them.

I feel a bond with parts of the city I never will live in or frequent.  It is an emotional roller coaster to visit some of our worst neighborhoods.  Sometimes I would come back home with a camera full of destruction and negativity, a headful of racial insults and sneers, mean mugs and hate and be left trying to paint the picture in a balanced light.  I firmly believe that if you don't have anything positive or thought provoking to say, just keep your mouth shut.  Much of North City certainly falls in this category.  Sometimes it's a reach to find the positives; but they are there and ignoring them is the worst thing you can do.

I never wanted this site to be for profit, or copy protected in anyway.  It is all meant to be free, referenced, lifted, whatever for the good of St. Louis.  It's my 79 love letters so to speak.  With that in mind, some friends and readers criticized me for painting with too bright a brush...polishing too many turds...not keeping it real...when it comes to the downtrodden, neglected areas of the city.  Yes, I am guilty of that.  I don't see how tearing someone or something a new one on the internet does any good.  Unless of course you are directly working toward positive change in that area; then you have the right to intelligently criticize. 

What I hope this project did was encourage others to explore their own city.  To get people to start their own project related to St. Louis.  To open up people's eyes to the good the bad and the ugly.  To form more educted opinions of what this city is really like.

So anyhow, thanks to all for reading and linking, etc.  I never thought I'd have the responsibility of writing for an audience, but it came to that.  I learned a lot and met some new people I consider to be friends along the way and for that I am very thankful.   The top 3 neighborhood profiles based on readership are Hyde Park, Tower Grove South and Bevo.  I'm happy that there is interest in Hyde Park, a neighborhood with huge potential, yet not much of a spotlight on it. 

The content of this blog will be changing away from the neighborhood/photo based posts and getting into lighter stuff and focusing in on some other areas like parks and cemetaries, parenting in the city, gentrification, local activism, etc.

So here's the fair warning to all who have linked to this site based on the neighborhood posts.  The content is changing, so feel free to adjust accordingly. 

Cheers-Mark

St. Louis' own language: "Hoosier"

Starting off my series on words that have a STL connection or unique meaning, I wanted to explore the word hoosier. 

So you think you know what a hoosier is, eh? Well, I guess a lot of that depends on where you're from? If you're from Indiana, the word is a source of pride and local identity...ummm, not so much here. As a kid growing up in Belleville, Illinois just a mere 7.5 miles from St. Louis, I heard the term infrequently, but didn't really understand it, and rarely used it.  Some friends and family from the Metro East did use the word, but most don't.  I had to drop some knowledge of this fine St. Louis term on my parents among others. 

Hoosier has a very distinctly alternate meaning in the STL metro region than it does in other parts of the country.  From

wikipedia

:

Hoosier ( /ˈhuːʒər/) is the official demonym for a resident of the U.S. state of Indiana. Although residents of most U.S. states typically adopt a derivative of the state name, e.g., "Indianan" or "Indianian", natives of Indiana never use these derivatives. Indiana adopted the nickname "Hoosier State" more than 150 years ago.[1] "Hoosiers" is also the nickname for the Indiana University athletic teams. Hoosier is sometimes used in the names of Indiana-based businesses and organizations. In the Indiana High School Athletic Association, seven active athletic conferences and one disbanded conference have the word Hoosier in their name.
In other parts of the country, the word has been adapted to other uses. In St. Louis, Missouri, the word is used in a derogatory fashion similar to "hick" or "white trash".[2] "Hoosier" also refers to the cotton-stowers, both black and white, who move cotton bales from docks to the holds of ships, forcing the bales in tightly by means of jackscrews. A low-status job, it nevertheless is referred to in various sea shanty lyrics. Shanties from the Seven Seas[3] includes lyrics that mention hoosiers. Hoosier at times can also be used as a verb describing the act of tricking or swindling someone.

That last sentence is startling...ever been hoosier'd?  Another part of the above definition that caught me off guard is the use of the term for black people.  That just doesn't follow my experience.  The term hoosier has always been reserved for white people.  Agree? 

Either way, chances are, if you are a St. Louisian, or even a metropolitan St. Louisian in the burbs, you probably know exactly what a hoosier is and some version (likely with a mullet) comes to mind...and, it probably has nothing to do with Indiana University basketball.  Frankly, I love the word, it adds to our local flavor, history and it's a distinct description.  It's not a bad word, and the politically correct set that takes offense in it can get lost.  You've got to embrace this word...it works too well to not have it in your vocabulary.  Other variations of the term I've heard:  hoos-wah (noun), hoos (adjective), turbo hoos (descriptive noun).

For those readers who have never been to St. Louis, allow me to prove my point.  Go to google and type hoosier in the search box and select images.  You'll see many pictures of Hoosier brand racing tires, Indiana basketball players, and other Indiana-related images.  Nothing of the STL hoosier though.   Now type in St. Louis Hoosier and see what you get...ah, now that's more like it.  Here are couple of the images that popped up on the first page:

^Hot looks for hot times, indeed.  I hope this doesn't seem mean spirited, I'm not poking fun as much as I am fascinated by the conscientious, deliberate work that it takes to hone this look.  It's on purpose, it's not an accident...these men seek this look out...this is a big part of who they are.  Notice the shirtless theme? Notice the many photos taken at Busch Stadium?  The Blues get the local rap for having hoosier fans, but I think that is tied to the old days at the Checkerdome with it's cheap seats/beer and proximity to Dogtown that brought that on.  When the Blues moved to the Scottrade Center and starting charging major $$ for admission, the hoosiers started staying at home.  I think Cards game are more hooʒ than Blues games.

But being a hoosier is so much more than ridiculous tattoos, mullets and sleeveless shirts.  More than anything, it's an attitude...a thought process...a way of life.  Lord knows I've done things that are hoosier (usually involving duct tape); I get the mindset...it comes with the y chromosome...although women are not immune from being hoosiers.  Hell, there may be a little hoosier in all of us.  But, at their core, are hoosiers funny?  Or, are hoosiers mean spirited and destructive to a dignified way of life?  I don't general find the latter to be my experience, but I have seen some crazy fights and lewd behavior from hoosiers.  Usually alcohol induced.  There are some great South City bars that are prime hot beds for hoosier sightings....I won't name names, but I'm sure everyone has their own favorites.  I've generally found hoosiers to be harmless and even quite endearing.  They are tough to have as immediate neighbors though, I've lived that.

Let's give the regional aspect of the hoosier some more thought...

Today, is the STL hoosier more common in the suburbs of St. Louis?  Rural counties on the outskirts?  St. Charles and Jefferson County?  Or is the hoosier more prone to settle right here in the City of St. Louis?

Sure STL professional sporting events, Soulard Mardi Gras and other city events and locations are great for luring in hoosiers from far and wide.  But are they coming from somewhere else?  Are they coming from the STL neighborhoods?  Hoosiers used to be strongly associated with Carondelet and the Patch for sure, maybe even the 3 neighborhoods of Dogtown.  But is that true today?  Are they an endangered species, are they leaving for the suburbs and rural areas?  Does the modern hoosier still listen to classic rock or has he morphed to a more contemporary country music, a mod-hate rock/nu-metal ensemble as can be heard on  105.7 F.M., or even better yet, the urban white hip hop hoosier?

As a middle-aged guy, the hoosier vision that is etched into my brain is the one who identifies with Molly Hatchet or Metallica.  But the old KSHE 95, cut-off-jorts hoosier may be going the way of the dodo bird.  But I think his spirit will live on for my kids generation to continue to experience.  But the future STL hoosier probably will not have a mullet and a sleeveless shirt; the future hoos I envision is a more ghetto take on the original hoosier.  One who tries to identify with low-class black urban lifestyles (ghetto is another misunderstood word that I'll approach next...stay tuned).  I think there is a new brand of white trash or hoosier in town that has sprung up in the post hip-hop error.

What's your description of a hoosier?  Where are they most spotted?  Are they leaving St. Louis or gaining in numbers?  Will the STL hoosier live on, or is he/she a dying breed?  Is hoosier an endearing term (like homie) or is it an insult or mean-spirited?

Back to wikipedia:

The term "hoosier" began to take on its negative connotation in St. Louis during the mid-1950's when the Chrysler Corporation built a large automobile assembly plant in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton and closed a plant it had been operating in Indiana. At the time, the city of Fenton, was at the then-rural southwest rim of St. Louis county. During this time, Many former employees of the closed Indiana plant moved to Fenton for employment; so many, in fact, that entire subdivisions of new homes sprang up south of the plant, near what was then US Route 66. It became something of a local joke to refer to the new arrivals from Indiana as "hoosiers", and before long, anyone from the rural edges of St. Louis County was considered such.

That last sentence is an important tie to my understanding of the word.  I truly think this is a St. Louis and St. Louis County term...not used as universally in the Metro East and maybe not as common in St. Charles and other exurbia counties.

And finally:

Thomas E. Murray carefully analyzed the use of "hoosier" in St. Louis, Missouri, where it is the favorite epithet of abuse. "When asked what a Hoosier is," Murray writes, "St. Louisans readily list a number of defining characteristics, among which are 'lazy,' 'slow-moving,' 'derelict,' and 'irresponsible.'" He continues, "Few epithets in St. Louis carry the pejorative connotations or the potential for eliciting negative responses that hoosier does." He conducted tests and interviews across lines of age and race and tabulated the results. He found the term ecumenically applied. He also noted the word was often used with a modifier, almost redundantly, as in "some damn Hoosier."
In a separate section Murray speaks of the history of the word and cites Baker and Carmony (1975) and speculates on why Hoosier (in Indiana a "neutral or, more often, positive" term) should remain "alive and well in St. Louis, occupying as it does the honored position of being the city's number one term of derogation." A radio broadcast took up where Murray left off. During the program Fresh Air, Geoffrey Nunberg, a language commentator, answered questions about regional nicknames. He cited Elaine Viets, a Post-Dispatch columnist (also quoted by Paul Dickson), as saying that in St. Louis a "Hoosier is a low-life redneck, somebody you can recognize because they have a car on concrete blocks in their front yard and are likely to have just shot their wife who may also be their sister."

I don't agree with the Elaine Viets description.  Are hoosiers murderers?  My definition is a more harmless one...annoying, sometimes crude yes, murdering thugs, no.  I also don't think hoosiers use their look and lifestyle to intimidate others.  I could be wrong.

So who is this Thomas Murray?  I must know more.  He wrote a book called: "

The Language of St. Louis, Missouri: (American United Studies XIII, Linguistics, Vol 4) 1986". 

So I went to my trusty public library website to order a copy of this book from the central stacks.  It was shipped to my local branch (Barr) and in my hands within 5 days.  Damn, we have a great library system...but anyhow, here's the book:

Now, I take issue with Murray's sampling methodology because he chose not to interview any black people.  His research was done in the 80s yet he didn't speak to one black person...ummm, did you know that 1/2 the city is made up of black people.  He explains the broad range of ethnicities:  southern blacks, Czechs, Italians, Dutch, Irish, German, French, Poles, etc.  but when he sampled the population he excluded blacks and he goes on to say that St. Louis is now populated "almost exclusively by blacks".  Huh?  Did this guy look at the demographics of St. Louis at all?  Here's the paragraph I'm referring to:

It becomes clear, then, that the linguist who wishes to study "the" language of St. Louis faces the problem of selecting informants that will not bias the final results of the study.  Rather than choosing equal numbers of each ethnic sub-population of the city, I elected to avoid "pure" informants as much as possible.  None of the ethnographic collecting of data reported above was done in strongly ethnic sections of the city, just as none of my other informants came from any but an ethnically mixed background.  Furthermore, because one of the requirements to be met by all non-phonological informants was that both they and their parents had to have lived in St. Louis all of their lives, all of my data come from the mouths of white speakers.  It is true that Inner St. Louis is now populated almost exclusively by blacks, but the vast majority were born in other parts of the country and then migrated to the Gateway City; thus, I could not, strictly speaking, label their speech "the language of St. Louis."

Am I missing something here?  St. Louis has never been almost exclusively populated by blacks and in the 1980's there are plenty of black families whose parents had lived in St. Louis their whole lives as did their progeny.

Aside from disagreeing with his sampling methodology, I also don't think there's much to gain from this book regarding the word hoosier:

66. PEJORATIVE TERM FOR A WHITE PERSON
Hillbilly occurs in the speech of one middle-class female over the age of 60, but the popular favorite in all other demographic cells in hoosier.

And:

68.  PEJORATIVE TERM FOR A BLACK PERSON
The two favorite in this semantic category are hoosier and [the n-word (sorry, I can't do it)].  Hoosier is preferred most often by members of the upper class except males between the ages of 20 and 40, middle-class males over 40 and middle-class females under 20 and 40 to 60, and lower-class males under 40.  Spook is used infrequently by members of each gender and socioeconomic class, hillbilly is reported by one middle-class and two lower-class males over the age of 40.

The book has some insight on other debatable words like

crawdad

vs. crayfish and

soda

vs. pop.

Anyhow, hoosier is a word that has a completely alternate meaning in St. Louis.  Enjoy it, use, it...we own this word.  It's ours.  Cherish it.

I'd love to hear your personal take on the word and where you first heard it and where you are from (please be specific on the last one i.e. Des Peres is not St. Louis).

Jefferson Avenue In The Fox Park Neighborhood

Jefferson Avenue is brimming with potential as a commercial corridor.  Just take the stretch that serves as the eastern boundary of the

Fox Park neighborhood

which goes from I-44 down to Gravois.  I'm going to take some photos and talk up the western side of the street in this post.

View Larger Map

First of all, this is such a critical part of our city. It is the gateway to the south city neighborhoods directly south of the burgeoning

Downtown

and

Downtown West

neighborhoods which were two of the few St. Louis neighborhoods that actually saw a gain in population from 2000-2010. The 3 neighborhoods of

Fox Park

,

Benton Park West

and

McKinley Heights

are critical to St. Louis' future wedged between the successful neighborhoods of Compton Heights and Lafayette Square.  A strong, vibrant Jefferson Avenue could serve as the main corridor to the southeastern neighborhoods.  Some of these near south neighborhoods had taken a beating when people started packing it up for the burbs starting after WWII and continuing through the 1990's crack epidemic years when things were completely out of control in this part of St. Louis.

Things have calmed down from a crime perspective and historic tax credits urged rehabbers to come into these neighborhoods and help make a much needed change for the better.  There are lots of residual effects from those bad years, but these neighborhoods are clearly on the rise.  And Jefferson Avenue should be the attention getter and commercial business district that it could and should be to attract more people to choose this part of town as their home.

In its current state, Jefferson is a speedway where cars travel at high speeds mainly getting to I-44 and I-64. I would like to see a road diet here, similar to the changes made on Grand between Arsenal and Utah. Angled on-street parking, median plantings, street trees and wide sidewalks could make a major difference. Actually, just a little clean up and infrastructure improvements would go a long way toward making Jefferson less...um...gritty...and more inviting to a pedestrian/neighbor/visitor.

So let's take a look at what exists today along Jefferson on the east side of Fox Park.

Starting on the north just south of I-44, you have a typical suburban McDonalds complete with 24 hour drive through.  This place is always crowded and must do an amazing business being right off of a major Interstate off ramp.  it is also one of the main nutritional sources for many in Fox Park as evidenced by the excessive amount of littering of McD's trash throughout the entire neighborhood. Whatever you think about these junk food restaurants, this one is probably going nowhere anytime soon judging by the traffic.

Geyer and Allen Avenues dead end with a cul de sac preventing traffic to enter Fox Park from Jefferson.  In fact many if not most of the perpendicular streets are intentionally cut off at Jefferson; Accomac, Ann and Armand all dead ends.  Russell, Shenandoah, Victor and Sidney are the only streets one can use to access Fox Park from Jefferson.  Allen and Geyer pick back up on the eastern side of Jefferson in the McKinley Heights neighborhood only to be butchered again by I-55 and then picking up in Soulard again.

The 2000 block of Jefferson is more attractive between Allen and Russell.  Infill and rehab could transform this block.  I love the old sign on one of the available buildings in this block:

There are gaps between nearly every building between Allen and Russell where buildings once stood. The building just south of the McDonald's is literally falling in on itself and the sidewalk surrounding the building. The back half or so is completely missing and the second story is falling on the sidewalk. In this part of St. Louis, this kind of crap is completely tolerated. This is the ghetto element of the near south side that leaves an impression with passers by. It doesn't have to be this way, but it is. It gets better though as you head south.  Here's what the falling building and adjacent sidewalk looks like:

Again, there are many gaps where buildings once stood.  These are currently empty lots or surface parking, so this block does not appear very contiguous.  Here's are some other buildings between Russell and the McD's:

Just south of Russell, you have the 2100 block of Jefferson which currently has a former suburban fast food drive thru and restaurant.  I believe this used to be a Taco Bell and it now serves as an ATM.  I'm not kidding, it's an ATM.  This vacant eyesore was built in 1994. 

I can only imagine what beautiful buildings were destroyed to make way for the junk food restaurant...and now it stands vacant and shuttered just a few years later.  The point I'm trying to make is that destruction for these fast food joints is a major failure for our historic neighborhoods.  They almost always go out of business in a matter of 15 - 20 years or so, leaving major scars on the landscape and sucking the soul out of St. Louis.  Look no further than the former Burger King across the street in McKinley Heights...same story.

The good news is

South Side Day Nursery

(SSDN) has purchased the property of the former Taco Bell along with 2 beautiful brick storefronts/ and a large dwellings right at Ann formerly owned by DeSales Community Housing Corp. 

The Beacon reported on this back in December, 2011

and the buildings that SSDN are proposing seem like an upgrade over the surface parking and drive through ATM.  It appears to be built to the street with decent looking modern design.

South Side Day Nursery has been around for 125 years as a non-profit to provide kids with a safe and healthy place while their parents are at work.  They currently serve 97 kids between 6 wks and 5 yrs of age.  The new 19,000 sq. ft. building will increase the capacity to 140 kids.  More on SSDN from the Beacon article:

Started in 1886 by 15 Unitarian women, the Nursery's mission was to provide children with education and a hygienic place to stay while their parents worked. The first home was at 10th and Sidney, where they remained until 1954. The move to Iowa Avenue was caused by construction of Interstate 55.

The bad news (in St. Louis nearly all new uses come with a loss of our brick beauties) is that we are losing several classic buildings in the process.  There will be no intricate design or craftsmanship on the new buildings.  There was of course plenty of history and care and charm in the old buildings.

So the historic buildings have been demolished and the brick nicely palleted up for somewhere else. 

The Beacon article says the historic buildings will be taken down before the ATM/Taco Bell is dealt with:

According to South Side Day Nursery's plans, the store fronts and residence would be demolished and work begun before dealing with the American Eagle part of the parcel. 

So if this thing really gets built to the street with the design proposed, and the shuttered ATM is replaced, I'll consider this a net gain even though we lose more of St. Louis' treasure.  I'm sure SSDN will provide a great resource for many in the city and it will bring some life to a dead stretch of Jefferson....but it comes with the cost of losing a piece of our history and charm.  I welcome SSDN to Fox Park and wish them nothing but the best, but I'm disappointed they did not give this historic neighborhood enough consideration when it came to bulldozing the one thing that will draw more people to our neighborhood and our city.

The next block gets better.

Kakao Chocolate

,

the Warehouse

, the Way Out Club, Trader Bob's Tattoo are all spots for quality products and entertainment.  Just imagine if a few more businesses moved into these storefronts?  The potential is huge.  Another quality addition to the Fox Park stretch of Jefferson is

Tenth Life Cat Rescue

which will be renovating and occupying a currently empty building south of Kakao.

There are other businesses including a tire shop and a sock/resale shop among other things.  Successful neighborhoods need successful and useful businesses.  There are several spaces ready for immediate new life and other ready for future rehab.

I know cities need gas stations and other auto centric businesses, and the Fox Park stretch of Jefferson has several suburban examples:

Jefferson along the Fox Park stretch also has many beautiful homes and churches both old:

And some much needed new in fill to take care of those gaps:

A healthy Jefferson means a healthy near south side.  Jefferson is a major north/south connector.  We need simple beautification like sidewalk repairs and street trees.  We need on-street parking.  We need to attract more business, we need more infill.  We need a commercial corridor not an Interstate feeder.  We need a little TLC for the sidewalks, the trees, the street lights and everything else to spruce this stretch of STL up.  Otherwise we're left with the current state which just isn't good enough.

Here's to attracting more people and proprietors willing to be good stewards of their property and streetfronts.