Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Spatial Mismatch: St. Louis Style

Spatial Mismatch: St. Louis Style

Like Steve Patterson, I recently had occasion to travel to the surreal Westport Plaza area in Maryland Heights, about 20 miles northwest of downtown St. Louis at I-270 and Page Ave.

The difference is: I took the bus.

This trek - almost 25 miles each way from my house on the Southside - took almost 2 hours each way. It exemplifies the concept of spatial mismatch: the growing gap in physical distance between the residential neighborhoods inhabited by low-wage workers, and the jobs for which they are able to qualify. It was popularized by Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson in his 1996 already-classic When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor.

The #94 Page and #33 Dorsett-Lackland provide MetroBus service to Westport. On either route, it takes nearly one hour to reach the plaza from the MetroLink station it services. As the route names suggest, each bus route winds through a number of different neighborhoods between Westport and that primary transfer point, MetroLink.

For some reason -- probably the heat -- I decided to ride the #94 Page all the way from the Civic Center MetroLink station downtown, out to Westport. This made the trip slightly longer, but saved me from waiting outside for potentially 20 minutes at the Wellston MetroLink station on Plymouth Avenue.

So, I rode a rather strange route, indeed, which twists and turns it's way through downtown via Spruce, Tucker, Clark, 7th, Locust, 9th, Washington, and finally Tucker again, before turning onto Martin Luther King Drive. Since, of course, the stretch of MLK from Tucker to Jefferson is totally non-residential, and now occupied largely by the St. Louis Commerce Center, the Gateway Classic Headquarters, and industrial or institutional uses, the bus really moved through that section. Then, I saw the section where streetscape improvements have been attempted, west of Jefferson on MLK.

This route then twists along T.E. Huntley, Franklin, Compton, back to MLK, and then finally onto Page, through the Lucas Heights and former Blumeyer areas, where a great deal of construction is ongoing, which looks pretty promising from a distance, at least. I can remember how desolate and largely vacant Blumeyer and its surroundings looked just five years ago; what's going on now can only be an improvement.

Further west, the bus passed MLK Plaza, a new shopping center on Grand between Page and MLK. It's not the most attractive strip mall around; it's primary anchor is a Save-A-Lot grocery store. Nevertheless, it certainly adds shopping opportunities that did not exist in this area for decades. After booking it down Page to Euclid, I saw another new shopping center, Roberts Village facing Kingshighway between Page and MLK. It seems to have more vacant spaces remaining than MLK Plaza does.

After passing Kingshighway, the housing stock is less decimated, generally, than along Page east of Kingshighway. But a lot of it is in poor condition. So, the bus stops a little more often in this stretch. Landmarks on this stretch include the Walgreens at Union Blvd. - and, amazingly, the Union-Page Drug Co. (361-2299) which still operates just across the street.

The Walgreens opened in 1998, making it the first new drugstore built in this area in many years. Kitty-corner from the Walgreens is Marie Fowler Park, dedicated to the longtime head of the West End Community Conference.

Other landmarks along the stretch of Page from Union to the city limits include Faith House, which started caring for "crack babies" in the early 1990s in a four-family in the Ville neighborhood (I remember touring the place in 1996 as a Youth Leadership St. Louis participant; it was quite moving) and recently opened a large new facility at 5535 Page; and the Monsanto YMCA.

Both provide valuable community services in high-quality facilities, but I have to say their buildings do not interact with the street at all; they are fenced in and heavily secured. Many of the churches on Page, meanwhile, have much more interesting architectural features and sweeping stairways leading directly from the sidewalk, even if some of them are not well-maintained. Likewise, while a lot of houses are vacant and have porches literally falling down, they still could be rehabbed by the right person. And occasionally, you notice little bright spots like Oak Court and Amherst Place, streets that seem to have pretty high owner-occupancy rates, sandwiched between Hamilton and Hodiamont off Page.

After passing the city limits, the view becomes less interesting. The housing stock in this southern portion of Wellston is mostly small shotgun houses, cheek-by-jowl with former industrial sites.

At Stephen Jones Ave., the Page bus takes a sharp left, then a right at Plymouth, passing the MET Center on the way to the MetroLink station. The bus stop is right at the front door - if it has one - of the new St. Louis Enterprise Center - Wellston. It is the newest addition to the network of business incubators jointly run by the St. Louis Development Corporation and St. Louis County Economic Council.

We return to Page via Sutter, passing Eskridge High School. Again, the view along Page is less than inspiring; although a few of the small bungalows in Pagedale are attractive, most of this stretch consists of industrial and commercial properties, with a particular emphasis on industrial in the Vinita Park area.

Just before passing I-170, we see the new Alberici Construction headquarters. Much lauded as a green building, it is nevertheless not easily accessible from the road, probably on purpose.

I probably don't need to even say that west of I-170, there's almost nothing architecturally interesting on the Page Ave. corridor. I was a little confused when I saw what looked like a strip mall with mirrored glass at 9900 Page Ave. Then I saw the sign, and it all made sense: Missouri Department of Social Services. Of course - the agency that serves the poor would be in the most foreboding edifice possible!

After that, the bus took a curious and speedy branch via Ashby, Baur Blvd, Schuetz (passing JCCA), and Lackland, then back to Page at Ball Ave. where the IBEW was picketing WB-11 TV.

Finally, the bus entered the main Westport office/industrial district, via Page, Schuetz, Westline Industrial, Weldon Parkway, and Fee Fee. I disembarked after about 80 minutes on the bus, at the corner of Fee Fee and Westport Plaza Drive, to explore the mall (if you can call it that) and await my appointment.


Urban Review - St. Louis said...

Joe - great post! I can't imagine taking that much time to get to Westport. I only get out that way once every 3-6 months so I don't feel so bad taking my car.

What is unfortunate is many jobs are there yet people are spending too much time commuting to those jobs. That is time away from their families.

The cost of sprawl is much higher than people think. - Steve

Anonymous said...

The Daniel Boone corridor for MetroLink expansion shows a line from Clayton to Westport by way of Page. If only increased accessibility to this regional employment corridor were not in the too distant future.