Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Carondelet Rec Plex and Mayor Slay moving to Boulevard Heights

Today the Post Dispatch has an article on the new rec plex being built in Carondelet Park.

I am very optimistic on this deal. I think this will add to the quality of life and add to the property values of the area. But, this is St. Louis....there are going to be naysayers on this deal. Believe me. Let's break down the story in the Post, my comments are in bold italics:

'Bulldozers are making way for a $20.8 million recreation center in Carondelet Park that is designed to give city residents a suburban-style place to heft weights and zip down a water slide.'

Some will complain about the loss of trees. High winds and lightning take out old-growth trees too, at least we get some progress on the loss of these old beauties. Remember, trees are a renewable resource.

Suburban-style? What does that mean?

The Southside Community Center, within view of Interstate 55, will have indoor and outdoor swimming and water park features. Its two-story building will include two basketball courts, weight and exercise rooms, an overhead jogging track and general meeting rooms.

This is great. The Southside needs an option for swimming. The indoor pool at the Carondelet YMCA is very small, but serves it's purpose. There currently is no outdoor pool. There is a pool at the Concordia Turner building though. I would imagine they will find it even harder to compete when this opens.

The YMCA of Greater St. Louis is in line to manage the gym and swim parts through membership fees, but the general meeting areas will be open to all residents.

"We're trying to provide some of the amenities that people have in St. Louis County, and make city living that much more attractive," said Alderman Fred Wessels.

Agreed. Loughborough Common also did that, for better or worse.

Scheduled for groundbreaking this fall is a similar center in O'Fallon Park, on the city's north side. Both are being built through a one-eighth-cent sales tax that city voters adopted in 2006.

Will the YMCA run the North Side center? Will their prices be the same. Will there facility be comparable? I certainly hope so.

Mayor Francis Slay, who is moving soon to a new home just south of Carondelet Park, plans to be among the center's first members, a spokesman said. Slay said city residents will be getting "high quality" recreation complexes.

Now this is the big story of the article in my opinion. Let me first say that I am not criticizing where a man chooses to live. I too live in the 12th ward where Slay is moving to. I believe he is moving to the Boulevard Heights new housing development. This kind of confirms was other bloggers say....Slay is a wanna be suburbanite. He could live anywhere in the city he wanted. He did not choose a uniquely St. Louis neighborhood like Downtown, Compton Heights, CWE, TGS, you name it. Instead he chose the most conservative, suburban like neighborhood in the city. I am not criticizing his personal choice. I kind of like the condos in this dev. as I've stated in previous posts.

Politically, this is kind of strange to me. He chose the furthest south reaches of the city. He chose a new housing development that mimics suburban designs. He chose the only GOP led district (Heitert's the only Republican alderman).

Does anyone else think that's a little strange? At least from a political standpoint?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Good Family Vibes in St. Louis

I know I'm in the minority when it comes to my beliefs and tastes regarding the City. This probably goes against the popular metropolitan region opinion, but I think St. Louis is a great place to raise a family. One of St. Louis' primary hurdles has to be retaining young families with school-age children.

I don't want to get into the school issues. I'd rather keep it on the bright side. Having 3 little ones 6 and under, we've recently discovered the following gems in the city. Here's why St. Louis kicks the suburb's and exurb's ass when it comes to kid friendly vibes:

The Tower Grove park wading pool and farmer's market: This is the place to take your kids on a Saturday morning in the summertime. Parents can shop for some tasty, locally grown produce and goods, get a smoothie, crepe or coffee from Hartford's stand. Then you can walk over to the beautiful wading pool directly adjacent to the market. There is usually live music playing at the bandstand. Many people are walking to the park from surrounding neighborhoods. Other's drive there. It gives you a really good feel for just how diverse the city is when it comes to different races, ethnicity's, economic situations, etc. It's a really nice scene with a good feel. Kind of like the Sesame Street episodes with little kids playing, shot in 1970's New York boroughs. I really love this place.

Forest Park streams near the Muny: Much like my last discovery, another place to get the kids cooled off in the summertime. There is a man-made stone based stream near the Muny. There is a surprising amount of water life (frogs, minnows, etc) and birds ranging from ducks to hawks to waders. There are plenty of trees for shade, and it is almost never crowded. The kids can take of their shoes, roll up their plant legs, and wade through the stream, crossing the shallow waters that flow over the huge, tiered stone structures. Definitely a great place to enjoy nature in a serene environment right in the middle of the city.

Christy Park Pedestrian Trail: Starting at Holly Hills Blvd and Christy in Boulevard Heights, you can travel south to Germania, then east to Morgan Ford, or west all the way to the Shrewsbury Metrolink stop. Again, almost never crowded, you can enjoy a leisurely pace with kids in tow. Also a great place let the kids practice on skateboards, scooters and bikes. There are hundreds of new trees that are starting to root and take shape. The cross walks at Loughborough and Germania benefit the ped, and stop traffic within seconds. It is well marked, lit and safe. I look forward to witnessing the extension from Morgan Ford east toward I-55.

Youth Bocce League at the Italian-American Bocce Club: This private club on the Hill opens their fabulously maintained bocce courts to the public for an 8-week children's league. This is a great way to get the kids out of the house on our grey winter Sundays. The games are only an hour, so no big commitment. They even have free shirts for the kids and throw a pizza party on the final week. These people are gracious and generous, and simply ask in return that the kids "work" a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the bocce club. Very good scene.

I didn't even include the obvious choices and benefits of St. Louis like the Zoo, Arch, Science Center, City Museum, etc. Those are all great too, but almost don't require further mention.

Am I missing others?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Urban Foot Soldiers

It's great to have Steve Patterson back in town and blogging once again. I really missed his presence while he was recovering from a stroke. It made me think once again about the need for a network of like-minded people located in various neighborhoods that could cover and fight for just causes in the city.

This group could have common goals, say smart development, citizen involvement in govt. decisions, pedestrian access, safety, etc. You could do it by ward, by neighborhood, aldermanic precinct, etc.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Chicago elitists and the underdog complex

I love the underdog. That's why I get my pets from the pound. That's why I like March Madness. That's why I like independent music. That's why I don't go to chain restaurants (when given a choice). I could go on and on and on.

I like St. Louis because it's an underdog city. Many people from the metropolitan suburbs and exurbs trash talk about or openly hate the city, yet claim her namesake, cultural institutions, sports teams, nightlife and parks. I hear this all the time. People who have lived in or around St. Louis who make the decision to leave for greener pastures love to let you know why St. Louis sucks when they leave. You'll hear them say: 'Chicago is this, the East Coast is that, this place is a cow town, it's a joke, you're all a bunch of rubes, you deserve what you get'. All things I've heard or read when people who leave STL, and once probably even loved STL, say to make them feel more validated in their decision to abandon or wash their hands of STL. If I were to leave STL, I would mourn. I would openly and unabashedly mourn. I would pray for her well being and future, although I'd have no part of it in my new digs. I would never, even with all the obvious faults (lame ass govt, suburban strip malls, messed up schools, racist tension, etc) say how happy I am to leave all that shit behind. But then again, I don't like to kick a dog when it's down. I am not an elitist, and again, I like and will bet on the potential of the underdog. Even when I lose, it's more fun to bet on the underdog.

I went to undergraduate university at Southern Illinois-Carbondale in the mid-1990's Many, many people attending that Univ. are from Chicago, or more accurately ChicagoLand (sub and exurbs). I had many, many arguments with friends and acquaintances about which city was better. They always won (in their minds). But there was one point that would at least make them sway from their elitist arguments. It'd come down to Smashing Pumpkins (Chicago band) vs. Uncle Tupelo (St. Louis band). I always won (in my mind), but it was tough because no one had heard of Uncle Tupelo and Smashing Pumpkins were extremely popular at the time. But once they heard how cool and different Uncle Tupelo was, they had to at least acknowledge my argument that St. Louis was cool and more underground than the behemoth that is the Windy City.

Chicagoans are elitists. No doubt about it. They love snubbing other Midwestern cities. They think they are somehow better than us. Just talk to a Cubs fan. Delusional at best. They love comparing St. Louis and Chicago. They hammer us on vibrancy, downtown nightlife, density, culture, architecture, investment, coolness, pizza, you name it. Chicagoans love bragging about how they're better than the "cow town" to the south. I get it.

Please bare with the music fanatic while I digress: I can make an argument about how the Rolling Stones are way fucking better than a small unheard of band. As an example, let's use Pavement, one of my favorite defunct bands that 90% of the people I've met have never heard of.

Chicagoan = Rolling Stones
St. Louisian = Pavement

Chicagoan argument: "The Stones are the best band of all time after the Beatles (NYC) and maybe the Zep (Los Angeles). The best, dude! Sticky Fingers (the Loop), Gimme Shelter (the Blues), Some Girls (Second City), Beggar's Banquet (the Lake). Enough said. You can't even compare them to Pavement (STL)."

But here's the deal, and what they don't seem to understand: The Rolling Stones are fucking great. Pavement fans get it. But Pavement is more special to those that love their music. It's a more intimate and personal relationship. You are part of a club if you are a Pavement fan. If I saw someone with a Pavement shirt, I would walk across the room and make a comment about the shirt, ask them what their favorite album is and ask if they bought the new Jicks record. If I saw someone in a Stones shirt, I probably wouldn't feel compelled to strike up a conversation. After all, everyone loves the Stones, right? Can't you get a stones shirt at Target?

My point is, the underdog is sometimes way cooler than the obvious elitist or populace choice.
St. Louis lovers are definitely part of a club. And it is not a high-falootin' club. It's a humble one, like the love for a mutt.

If I were alderman

What would you do if you were the alderman of your ward? Since I'm currently in the 12th ward, I'll let you know some of the things I'd do.

First, I'd run as an independent. Fred Heitert is a Republican. I don't think a Democrat would work in this pocket of the city. There are many older Catholics, police and firemen in this ward. I think the anti-abortion thing is pretty serious in this neck of the woods. I think people are very socially conservative. However, in the long run, party affiliation doesn't mean that much.

Actually, this presents an opportunity if you wanted to unseat the incumbent. One could run against Heitert in the GOP primary, and one could run against him in the general election. Can you do both if you are independent? Not sure. Anyhow, a team effort may be a good thing in this case.

Anyhow, here are some things I'd do if I were alderman:

Construct and advertise a personal aldermanic website during the campaign. If elected, I'd promise to have a simple poll allowing constituents of the 12th ward to vote and have their opinion be heard on agenda items that the alderman will vote on. I'd have an open forum for discussion on citywide and 12th ward topics. I'd pound the pavement to meet people and understand the concerns. I'd log and track the responses and post them as actions items. There would be goals around improvement. There would be citizen involvement and complete transparency on voting, funding and bills.

I'd have power point presentations at all neighborhood meetings, campaign events, public meetings, etc. Slides showing what our strength are and what is important to me in the neighborhood, what has improved in my years here and what needs work within the ward. I believe this would go a long way when trying to persuade voters. Pictures are worth a thousand words, no?

I'd start with pictures of the shuttered gas stations at Gravois/Loughborough and Gravois/Germania. The empty store fronts along Gravois from Holly Hills, south to Germania present an opportunity. With a little advertisement and marketing, couldn't we have a thriving little business and/or shopping area?

I'd be a staunch proponent for the Great Rivers Greenway as it relates to the 12th ward.

I'd be a staunch proponent for sidewalks in the Boulevard Heights neighborhood around Robert Ave., east of Morgan Ford. This is one of the only pockets of the city that I'm aware of that doesn't have sidewalks.

I'd commit to attending the Holly Hills Neighborhood Association meetings. The 12th ward covers parts of Holly Hills, but currently only Aldermen Wessels and Villa attend/give updates at that meeting.

I'd promise returns on calls and emails within 48 hours.

That's just a start. What would you do if you were alderman? What would you do if you part of city govt?

Boulevard Heights

I'm usually a skeptic of new residential construction; but, for whatever reason, Boulevard Heights is shaping up rather nicely. Maybe it's that the homes are built to have a matching distance to the street as the older homes. And I never thought I'd actually see vinyl siding that I like. I guess the different colors seem to blend well and the nice garden area between the streets matches those seen in Holly Hills along Federer. Also, detached garages with an alley seem to match the neighborhood as well. I am also interested in some of the homes currently under construction:

This is a fun project to watch develop.