+StL: Growing an Urban Mosaic in St. Louis
Analysis and Planning
"This ambitious plan, a competition finalist, envisioned creating a greenway network in the heart of St. Louis to unite a physically fractured city. Using a multi-functional, inclusive, and resilient approach that ties together currently isolated parks, neighborhoods, and cultural, social, and economic assets, this innovative concept uses public space and landscape strategies to overcome barriers caused by a tangle of 20th-century infrastructure, from freeways to rail lines to highway interchanges. Rooted in values of inclusion and sustainability, and respect for St. Louis’ storied institutions, this flexible greenway strategy knits together the urban fabric for a future that is economically sound, environmentally responsible, and socially unifying."
- 2019 Awards Jury
- TLS Landscape Architecture, Shanghai; OBJECT TERRITORIES; [dhd] derek hoeferlin design (Lead Designers)
- Borderless Studio; Bryan Cave; Amanda Colón-Smith (Dutchtown South Community Corporation); Econsult Solutions; Edesign Dynamics; EDSI; James Lima Planning And Development; Jason Purnell; Jeremy Goss; Ivan Valin; Kristin Fleischmann Brewer; Langan; Linda Samuels; Sal Martinez (North Newstead Association); Preservation Research Office; Project Controls Group; Prosperity Labs; Ramboll; Silman; Terra Technologies.
Downtown St. Louis is divided. Today, a shallow valley running east to west from Forest Park to the Mississippi River through the center of the city holds the infrastructure of the 20th century: freeways slip fluidly alongside bundled freight, regional, and commuter rail, each with their attendant interchanges, grade-separations, switching yards, and security. These strands connect the city to its region but create a physical and psychological barrier between the neighborhoods to the north and south. As in so many other cities around the US, this infrastructural void sits atop a neighborhood razed, a riparian ecology interred.
Our approach was founded in the assembly of a broad-based team of individuals experienced in the issues and engaged in the communities surrounding the project. Our masterplan proposal restores ecological, cultural, and economic potential within the space of this void, while simultaneously reaching deep into the surrounding communities to stimulate connectivity, strengthen existing places of value, and synthesize investments already underway. The result is a multi-directional armature that focuses efforts to build on St. Louis' existing strengths and fosters new urban futures with this incremental and flexible masterplan.
Asked by the Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) to envision an urban greenway in the heart of St. Louis between Forest Park and the Gateway Arch, our masterplan proposal, "+StL", envisions an alternative to the prototypical, resource-concentrating big landscape intervention project. Instead, following in the spirit of GRG's citizen-involved approach to building regional greenway networks, we propose a masterplan that resolves the connective and restorative ambitions at the core while investing in the communities, existing assets, and unique projects underway around this corridor. Our team was assembled on this principle and includes local experts, leaders, and advocates as well as designers, planners, engineers, and advisors with international experience, each committed to a team-wide design and decision-making process. The resulting masterplan proposes concrete measures to address the challenges of equity, public health, and mobility that the city is facing through a layered strategy of three components: Economic Assets, Ecological Loops, and Equitable Extensions. These three dimensions of our masterplan articulate strategies for distributing economic development, introducing biodiverse and hard-working habitats, and planning for equitable access to jobs, institutions, and public space.
PROJECT ETHICS: FROM CONFLICT TO SYNERGY
Big urban projects are too often sites of community division. Our meetings with resident and advocacy groups in St. Louis attested to underlying anxieties of displacement, waste, and inequality. A traditional definition of sustainable development attempts to balance environmental conservation, economic growth and social equity, though intractable conflicts between these corners of interest. +StL proposes to reimagine these tripartite responsibilities as catalysts with shared interests, not as opposing interests. Our plan considers three dimensions of access.
requires affordable, timely, reliable mobility as well as universal access to place and experience.
prioritizes inclusive programming and investments in neighborhood cohesion through partnerships with organizations, the spatial distribution of services, and a rich array of public amenities.
makes space for a variety of land-use types for affordable places to live, access to quality education and recreation, and entryways into work.
The hydrology of the central greenway was analyzed for opportunities to reduce loads on the existing hard infrastructures. The low railway basin site is topography ideal for intercepting stormwater, thus reestablishing native communities of prairie, woodland, riverside, and wetland. Tallgrass prairie habitat, reclaimed from parking lots and storage yards, will support local floral and faunal biodiversity and provide appropriate habitat for migrating birds. Active urban forest and prairie along the Greenway will provide important ecosystem and cultural services to the St. Louis area. Public interaction with newly visible habitats and species can be explored over boardwalks, trails, and bridges beside wetlands and drainage ways, reducing the barriers that prevent residents from enjoying nature in the city.
Beyond the low corridor, the Ecological loops constitute the green hydrological infrastructure to expand pervious ground and draw habitat corridors between the four major parks in St. Louis. The West-East route from Forest Park at Clayton Avenue and the Metro-Link line along the Union Pacific Railyard to Chouteau's Landing allows a new experience completely unique to St. Louis integrating ecology, woodlands, streams, and wetland ecologies with St. Louis' industrial railroad. The North-South loops connect Fairground Park, Tower Grove Park, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the neighborhoods in between them with the central East-West Greenway providing vital neighborhood access and habitat corridors for improved environmental health and biodiversity.
Though local assets are spread throughout St Louis, economic are concentrated along the East/West corridor that divides the city in half. The lowest car ownership, highest poverty rates, worst health indicators and largest concentrations of children in the city live in the areas north and south of the central infrastructure corridor. The alignment of the equitable extensions represents a starting point for the city to invest in greater access -- social, economic, and physical -- for some of the city's least served neighborhoods. Our team included individuals who have worked as organizers and advocates for these communities for many years. The proposed extensions to the North along Newstead and to the South along Compton will grow the neighborhoods such as The Ville, Penrose, and O'Fallon in the North and Gravois Park, Tower Grove South, and Dutchtown in the South. Extensive analysis was done to find ways to improve street cross-sections to add lighting, bike lanes, traffic calming measures to make these places safer for pedestrians. Likewise, our planners studied existing and planned transport networks and proposed expansions and improvements to public transit frequency and extension.
As part of the competition process, the GRG organized a number of stakeholder group workshops representing industry, commerce, and community groups. St. Louis is home to world-class institutions whose heritage linking to its preeminence as a river and rail city in the early 20th century. These institutions are still relevant, and we sought their input as a point of departure in our masterplan. A concentration of higher education institutions including Washington University, Wash U Med Center, St. Louis University, SLU Med Center, Harris-Stowe State University, and SLU Law School draw all levels of employment as well as student residents. Grand Arts District with its historic facilities like the Fox Theatre (1929) and Powell Symphony Hall (1925) along with newer additions like the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (2001) and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (1980, 2004), are anchors for a newly blossoming arts scene. Emerging and established tech industries are bringing new entrepreneurship and infilling derelict spaces in innovative ways. Though many of these assets are located within the central east-west corridor of the city, they remain disconnected islands in the center of the St. Louis.
We propose that large scale investment in any urban project builds from these centers first. Investment capital follows talent, and talent increasingly follows place. And the most dynamic and valuable places embrace diversity and inclusion, a mix of uses, and offer places for connection and fun. From Washington University and Forest Park, through Cortex, Grand Center, Saint Louis University, and Downtown, the Greenway will provide a new public realm and connective tissue, connecting the island in new ways through the center of the city. Enhancing access to these assets with new, well-programmed greenway networks can support the real estate market of their surrounding areas and attract new residents, companies, and investment.
Through loops, extensions, and assets, the +StL Greenway will build new experiences and new value into systems already embedded in St. Louisan life. The +StL Greenway will be a Cultureway, where everything about the DNA of the Greenway relates to diverse and inclusive expressions of arts and culture, becoming a beloved place in the city for its many diverse arts and cultural groups, individuals, and the broader creative community to work, present, delight, and inspire all visitors to visit the Greenway.
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