Monday, September 29, 2008

Where do the burbs change to the city?

Traveling east on Conway Road, south on Ballas Road, east on Manchester to St. Louis. It starts to feel vaguely like St. Louis right when you cross Brentwood Boulevard. That's when I start to feel like I'm close to home. The suburban landscape let's up a little right there at the intersection near Frederic Roofing. Maybe it's just familiarity, "for a hole in your roof, or a whole new roof".

Heading east, seeing the Metro train tracks, brick, less mish-mash construction, people walking, it just starts to seem livable right around there.

And for you? North, south, east, west...when does it feel like St. Louis?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Holy shit, I'm white

I was in the mood for some light reading. I heard something on NPR about the newest David Sedaris book, so I went to Left Bank to make the purchase.

They didn't have the book in stock, but another one in comedy caught my eye:

"The Definitive Guide To Stuff White People Like, The Unique Taste of Millions" by Christian Lander.

This is some funny shit. And as it turns out, much of his findings hit very close to home. There is an entry (#25) on Davis Sedaris and another (#44) on public radio. Oh shit, I'm fucked, I'm white! Or wait, I mean, I'm set. Or....never mind, see for yourself.

Anyhow, there are 150 separate entries on, you guessed it, stuff white people like. It is written as a kind of guide for the reader who is trying to understand, and get along with urban white people. That is just part of the hilarity. If you are white, and offended, you are supposed to be. The last 7 pages are devoted to a check list and simple formula to determine just how white you are on a percentage basis.

I can't wait to see where I score. I'll post the numeric value and highlights as soon as I finish.

Since this is a STL blog, here's a pertinent entry from the book:

#73 Gentrification: "In general, white people love situations where they can't lose. While this is already true for most of their lives, perhaps the safest bet a white person can make is to buy a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood.
White people like to live in these neighborhoods because they get credibility and respect from other white people for living in a more "authentic" neighborhood where they are exposed to "true culture" every day. So whenever their friends mention their homes in the suburbs or wealthier urban areas, these people can say, "Oh it's so boring out there, so fake. In our neighborhood, things are just more real." This superiority is important as white people jockey for position in their circle of friends. They are like modern day Lewises and Clarks, except that instead of searching for the ocean, they are searching for old houses to renovate.
In a few years, if more white people start moving in, these initial trailblazers will sell their property for triple what they paid and move into an ultramodern home. Credibility or money; either way, they can't lose!
When one of these white people tells you where they live, you should say, "Whoa, it's pretty rough down there. I don't think I could live there." This will make them feel even better about their credibility and status as neighborhood pioneers."

Hilarious. Probably written with Brooklyn in mind, but applies to STL as well, no?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Exciting Projects in St. Louis

What are your most anticipated developments in St. Louis?

Here are some of mine:

The proposed Drury Inn at Kingshighway and I-64.
*This could extend the CWE, Barnes money and activity south to the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood.

The Bohemian Hill development in Lafayette Square.
*The addition of a some needed services in that part of town could be a main boost for that neighborhood.

The CVS drug store in Boulevard Heights.
*they are new to this market. If they can build an urban drug store (to the street with parking in back), I'll never go to Walgreens again.

The Great Rivers Greenway pedestrian trail
*The Morgan Ford to I-55 extension is nearly completed, the next step is from I-55 south to Loughborough Commons.

*I'm still optimistic it will add activity to this part of Downtown. I'm hoping it doesn't end up a TGIFridays, and a nail salon & instant check cashing strip mall.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Suburbanite Misconceptions

****Negativity Alert****You've been warned!

Working in the exurbs for nearly 14 years has taught me a thing or two about the misconceptions of non-St. Louisians living in the region.

Here are a few to get me started. I realize these are generalizations, but I've tried to compile the ones that come up time and time again.
  1. St. Louis County people refer to St. Louis as "Downtown", meaning the entire city is "downtown"

  2. Very few suburbanites know where to park for free at Cardinal games (maybe this is for the better). There are many, many spots for free within a 15 minute walk of Busch-III.

  3. When many suburbanites read/hear of new businesses, restaurants opening in the city, they will say it won't last. Nothing in the city lasts long.

  4. They think you can't be a pedestrian in the city. They fear muggings. Most of all though, they just aren't familiar with St. Louis streets and neighborhoods, and don't know how to get around.

  5. Few suburbanites will admit that racist tendencies influence their school district and home choices. I realize mentioning race is inflammatory to many; but, I truly believe this to be the case in my personal experience. I actually find it refreshing when the rare person is honest about their demographics needs.

  6. They don't realize that they are NOT living/working in St. Louis.

  7. They don't know where the city starts/ends and where the county starts/ends.

  8. Many exurbanites are completely unaware that there are nearly 10,000 Bosnian/Croatian/Roma living in St. Louis and the inner ring suburbs.

  9. Many exurbanites think you need a big yard to give a kid a "good upbringing".

This of course drives me nuts. Am I missing any?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Alley Power

Where does the alley fall in the urban experience? What does it mean? Is the alley the behind the scenes star? Is the alley to the house like the bass/drums to the band? The screen writers and cinemetographers to the actors and directors? The less visible star of the property and neighborhood? I'm not sure, but one thing recently became quite apparent to me: the alley can be an active, functioning addition to your property and immediate neighborhood.

I recently witnessed what I would characterize as a fully functional alley. There were children playing, it was spic-n-span clean, it was an adult meeting place (mainly male). It was beautiful.

It was akin to the familiar alley scenes in King of the Hill:

Again, there were kids grinding out skateboard techniques and riding bikes, kids peaking over fences to search for potenital playmates. It was a thing of beauty.

The next neighborhood I live in will have an alley. I've not yet experienced this in St. Louis. The roll out cart cannot compare to the dual dumpsters for yard and house waste. I long to have an alley.

The neighborhoods we are looking at for a potential move are Tower Grove South, Tower Grove East and Shaw. The occupied homes in these neighborhoods are generally very presentable from the street. However, a quick trip through the alleys can be a very telling story of the owner's, occupant's and neighbor's lifestyle choices.

We recently fell hard for a home between Compton Heights and TGE. It was priced realistically and had a lot of potential. However, a drive through the alley revealed a rusted out, flat-tired Winnebago, a trashed hooptie Caddy and garbage beyond belief. This was not a positive, active space. There was bad karma here. I can't have that. You can either take the chance with lazy, unclean neighbors and try to clean up the alley to the best your ability. Or, you can choose to not move there. You are either part of the problem or the solution right?

Anyhow, I am reengized with the possibilities of St. Louis City living from my recent alley experience.

St. Louis Rams 2008

The Rams looked woeful today in their season opener. Linehan, Bulger, Jackson...are these supposed to be our leaders? These guys look hapless. Remember how fun Sundays were when the Rams were good? Will we ever have that again? It's good for the city when the Rams are doing well, or at least competing. Bulger has no personality/offensive leadership, Linehan is hapless, Jackson is full of hot air and doesn't lead his team to victories. Who am I supposed to like on this team? Who do you rally behind? Who's going to save the rest of the season?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Continuity and the Neighborhoods

I read several STL blogs regularly. One of them is STL Rising. I find this offering a good mix of personal stuff and city related stuff. And, the author has a positive vibe. Anyhow, the following post has stuck with me:

Breakaway Union (August 11, 2008)

My favorite parts:

"St. Louis is described as a city of neighborhoods, and it is. It's like a bunch of little villages all pushed together. Each has its own flavor and personality. The neighborhood feel of our city is one of it's greatest assets. However, maybe all of the neighborhood distinctions aren't necessary? Maybe it's time to consolidate some neighborhoods? We talk about "addition by subtraction" (a topic for a future post), but maybe we should also consider how combining neighborhoods might make them stronger? Down in South City, a quiet area, the Southampton neighborhood (that's one word with one "h"), is gaining positive attention in the media. Neighbors have branded the area with a hip new name, "SoHa", and it's catching on."

"Soha has good momentum.So much so that maybe it's neighborhood organizations should combine? The distinction is so minimal, many people don't even know it exists. But according to official records, the area is actually made up of two neighborhoods - Southampton and Princeton Heights. The difference between them is misunderstood and the boundaries change depending on who you talk to. The city considers the boundary between the neighborhoods as Eichelberger, but the neighborhood organizations put it a few blocks south at Milentz...or is it Rhodes...Ask a neighbor, and many would have no idea what you're talking about. Some would tell you they live in St. Louis Hills, or give you their parish name. Some of the restauants and businesses in the area don't even think of themselves as part of Southampton or Princeton Heights, but rather, Soha. And why not, that's a buzz they want to be part of. A combined Southampton/Princeton Heights, aptly renamed Soha, would have double the population of each individual neighborhood. The combined organizations would carry double the weight down at City Hall. Major streets would be the boundary: Hampton/Chippewa/Kingshighway/Gravois. Board members of existing neighborhood organizations could form one new consolidated board. Fewer meetings would be necessary, and the area's fundraising base would be significantly increased. The combined groups would have double the membership."

Hell yes. How insightful and articulate was that? Hell yes, that hit the spot. (How inarticulate was that?)

What this town needs is a little continuity. A bridge between the fantastic neighborhoods and the mundane ones. The anchors of each zip code, region, neighborhood, whatever need to be linked, named and marketed to masses.

Everyone knows the Hill is a destination place. Same can be said of South Grand and Washington Blvd., etc. Why not capitalize on that popularity? Why not let the name brand spread. Share the wealth, consolidate the parties, entities, etc.

How hard would this really be? It certainly wouldn't be as hard as combining tiny municipalities like Brentwood and Richmond Heights. There is too much money and political gain at stake there. But, the point of combining neighborhood groups is brilliant. It combines resources and opinions and perspectives. It requires less meetings and hours and undirected/unfocused efforts.

Addition by subtraction. That is the best idea I've heard in a long time. I think that thought is worth continued debate and action. STL Rising, if you can make this happen once, as in the case of the Princeton Heights/Southampton example, it could set precedent. Maybe Boulevard Heights and Holly Hills would be next in line.

Daydream #367

sitting there and his cellphone went off
"Bad To The Bone" ringtone
and wondering how I could have lost respect any quicker
man, I gotta get out of here
12th ward blues are still blue

Daydream #368

The drum set was a good idea, right?
It was only 5 bucks
It has a bass kick, snare, crash and tom
Rhythm is important in the formative years
She shuddered when I mentioned adding cowbell