Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Transit Highs and Lows

Transit Highs and Lows

This new 'temporary' MetroLink schedule is frustrating. In case you're unaware, because of a new single-tracking arrangement in the vicinity of Forest Park station, service is now operating on a 12-minute interval schedule rather than the previous 10-minute interval.

The single-tracking and construction also causes delays so that they're not even necessarily keeping to that schedule very well. Plus, an ongoing erosion control construction project along the north side of the tracks between Ewing and Compton (at the back of the bus main shops and the Sigma-Aldrich facilities) adds additional delays.

So, although I'm still leaving home about the same time and catching the same buses near home as I used to, I occasionally arrive at WashU a few minutes late. Partly, it doesn't help that their Gold Line shuttle often runs 5 minutes behind, and even when it is on-time it often whips right by the stop on Pershing at DeBaliviere shared with the #93 Lindell.

The new, large center-platform station at Forest Park is nifty. I can't wait to see what they'll be doing with the LCD sign boards installed on each side. Perhaps they'll actually give the time - few stations have clocks anymore - and estimated arrival of the next train and its direction. That would be nice.

Anyway, the stairs for the new station are actually further away from the bus/shuttle stop on Pershing at DeBaliviere than the old access to the westbound platform. So, I have a couple times just barely missed the shuttle. And since the #58 Clayton-Ballas now only runs every 30 minutes, I just have to wait for the next shuttle. Occasionally I catch the #93 instead, but that means a noticeably longer walk to my destination, and it's usually scheduled about the same time as the shuttle anyway.

On the other hand, today I made it to Clayton business district, ran an errand, and came back to WashU within 50 minutes. Not bad considering it was all via the #58 bus. Somehow, I'm not sure it would be much faster via Cross County MetroLink, given the additional walking necessary to get all the way from the Clayton Central stop to Maryland at Meramec where my bank is located.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Remembrances and New Beginnings

Remembrances and New Beginnings

This past Saturday marked the 20th Anniversary of the Challenger disaster.

On the morning of January 28, 1986, STS-51-L exploded 73 seconds after liftoff above the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral. All seven crew members were killed.

Meanwhile, Kelly and I have started attending Epiphany United Church of Christ in the Benton Park neighborhood. We're not members yet, but I think we will eventually go down that road.

Epiphany is a very progressive church, with a diverse and active membership including many same-sex couples, among them our state representative Jeanette Mott Oxford and her partner Dorothy.

There are also a number of folks who have been members for decades, since Epiphany was created by the 1964 merger of the former Ebenezer German Evangelical Church (originally "Ebenezer Deutsche Evangelische Kirche" and located at the current Epiphany site since 1891) and St Andrew's German Evangelical Church (formerly located at Juniata and California).

It's not a huge congregation, but this Sunday they voted to appoint a new permanent pastor: Rev. Mary Albert, who lives in the neighborhood and was already a member of the congregation.

This is a pretty exciting time to consider joining such a progressive, activist community.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Crazy Crittenden

Crazy Crittenden

Crittenden Street is an unusual street partly because most of it is very narrow, and because for most of its length very few houses actually front on it. It appears to be a glorified alley, running east-to-west one short block north of Arsenal and south of Pestalozzi.

The exception to this rule is the last two blocks, from St Elizabeth Place (at the historic front entrance to St Elizabeth Academy, located on this site continuously since 1882) to South Grand in Tower Grove East.

The eastern terminus of Crittenden is 18th Street in Benton Park, adjacent to the I-55 off-ramp for Arsenal Street. From 18th to Indiana, it's about the width of a normal street, although some sections lack a sidewalk on one side.

West of Indiana, and straight through to Oregon in Benton Park West, Crittenden is about 1/2 the width of a normal street, and completely lacks sidewalks. It is informally barricaded at the alley between Ohio and Iowa within the SSDN campus. However, I've seen many cars drive around that, since a paved parking pad is adjacent to the street there.

Some time ago, the block from Oregon to Gravois was vacated to allow for a larger play-yard for the school now known as St Frances Cabrini Academy. It picks up again as a wide spot in the road off Gravois at Nebraska.

The next two blocks are similarly narrow, but with narrow sidewalks. Here, entering into Tower Grove East, the pavement is still brick. Between Pennsylvania and Minnesota is the former Grant Elementary School, currently being renovated into apartments. I saw a cute little cat on this block last night, but (s)he wouldn't talk to me.

Then, Crittenden mysteriously disappears, reappearing again as a very different kind of street in those last few blocks near Tower Grove Park.

Crittenden is a curious little street.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Strollin' in the Inner 'Burbs

Strollin' in the Inner 'Burbs

Over the last couple days, while running some errands, I've had the opportunity to walk through some areas of mid-St. Louis County; including western and southern University City, nearby parts of Clayton and Ladue, as well as Richmond Heights and the Brentwood shopping district along Eager.

Some things I've noticed:

  • Nobody else walks. I may see one other pedestrian during mid-day hours in an entire hour of walking, except of course in the Clayton business district proper.

  • Most streets do have sidewalks. Pretty much all the major streets like Delmar, Old Bonhomme, Brentwood, Forsyth, Maryland, Eager, Dale, Clayton, etc do have sidewalks. Some of the side streets don't; but that's also true of some parts of southwest city built in the same time period as these areas located generally west of Hanley but east of I-170.

  • Buses in these areas run every 30 minutes or so, and along a number of major and secondary streets. Yet at mid-day they tend to run empty or nearly empty.

  • There's loads and loads of money in these areas. Duh.

  • Sales taxes are kind of high, which probably translates into a high level of public services provided by these municipalities. Most have a pretty substantial park system, a fancy recreation center, and curbside recycling.

    The Brentwood shopping centers along Eager Road have a total sales tax rate of 8.075%, including 0.5% for the "Strassner Road Transportation Development District." At least part of these funds are for construction an extension of Strassner Drive within Brentwood to cross over the Cross County MetroLink line. That extension has yet to be built.

  • Development patterns are pretty varied, albeit definitely suburban. You'll find stuff ranging from 1920s to brand-new in these areas; not much older than that though. There are, of course, a lot of huge freakin' strip shopping centers. But there are also business districts that are more human-scaled.

  • I'm still not a particularly huge fan of these sorts of neighborhoods as a lifestyle choice for myself, because they are still too car-oriented for my tastes. However, for people with enough money and a desire to live close to all kinds of upscale shopping opportunities and to downtown Clayton, I can see the appeal.

    After all, within a short stretch of Ladue Road / Maryland Ave in Ladue / Clayton, you'll find not only the Ladue Crossing Schnucks, but also a Wild Oats Market and a Straub's. If you lived in a tony, pricey townhouse or condo north of Maryland in that section of Clayton or University City, you could easily walk to any of those stores; not to mention the Clayton business district, the Brown Shoe campus, and the fancy-pants Center of Clayton.

    Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    Magnet School "Neighborhood" Set-Asides

    Magnet School "Neighborhood" Set-Asides

    The St. Louis Public Schools lottery for admissions to Magnet Schools now includes a controversial allotment of up to 35% of seats in each grade for students who live within walking distance (as defined by SLPS Transportation) of a magnet school.

    MayorSlay.com has one spin; St Louis Schools Watch quite another.

    I think it's one of the silliest, least effective policy proposals to be rammed through the district in quite a while.

    Neighborhood children have always had the opportunity to apply to magnet schools! It's not as if they were excluded. True, there used to be a racial aspect to the application process: St. Louis County-resident whites had first priority after continuity and siblings. But that is no longer the case.

    For the past several years, everybody was treated equally, except for the very sensible priorities for continuity (meaning students staying in the same magnet track, i.e., Ames -> Carr Lane -> Central in the visual and performing arts track); and siblings (if the parent really wants to have multiple kids at the same school, although I honestly think that can cause more problems than it solves).

    But the neighborhood set-aside is not a policy that will work. In the southwest city neighborhoods where magnet school locations are concentrated, many families long ago opted-out of the public schools for a variety of reasons. For one, several were closed as neighborhood schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s by the judge in the desegregation case, because it would have been impossible to truly desegregate them if they remained neighborhood schools in 99% white neighborhoods. That's why the buildings were available for use as magnet schools in the first place. Sure, some of the neighbors many consider the magnet schools -- but they already could without this new policy!

    The real problem with magnet school enrollment is that everybody wants to get into certain schools that are considered top-notch, like the gifted schools (Kennard and McKinley), although even there because of rumblings they might be closed or cutback, enrollment is down.

    It's true, almost nobody came from the surrounding neighborhoods at the magnet elementary school I attended in the late 1980s: Mallinckrodt ABI, located at Hampton and Pernod. And it's not as if that school is hard to find. Most students were bused in from other areas of the city and county, including me, coming from way out in Oakville.

    Relatively few "county" kids like me were at Mallinckrodt, so we shared a bus with the much more popular program at Wilkinson near the western city limits. Many kids from Kirkwood, Webster Groves, and Maplewood attended Wilkinson, which at that time was the international studies/foreign language elementary school. That progam is now located at Dewey on Clayton Ave in Dogtown.

    Admittedly, I don't have a good alternative policy suggestion; but I am very skeptical this new policy will provide more opportunities for many people. One of the goals is basically to increase white enrollment so that they may increase African-American seats; but sadly I doubt this will happen.

    Here's a Story You Won't Hear on Public Radio

    Here's a Story You Won't Hear on Public Radio

    The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), Local 31 (Washington DC) is encouraging elected officials and other newsmakers not to give interviews to NPR, because of an ongoing labor dispute with the public radio service.

    Last week, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh refused to do an interview with the program "Day to Day" (not carried by KWMU locally anyway) because of the labor dispute.

    Details here.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Comparing NE U City with Pagedale

    Comparing NE U City with Pagedale

    Lately, I've been riding the #64 Lucas Hunt bus from Big Bend at Forest Park (on the Washington University campus) north to the Rock Road MetroLink station.

    This ride lasts only 15 minutes, but cuts through both the most affluent and most economically depressed sections of St. Louis County.

    The northbound run follows Big Bend adjacent to private streets north to Delmar, then heads east on Delmar, to north on Leland, west on Loop North, and north on Kingsland near the Parkview Gardens apartment district. The #64 is the only bus route that still uses this historic streetcar turn-around area on Loop North; although Heman Ave in that section has long been converted to a parking area / marketplace plaza., so it uses Leland instead.

    From there, it travels north on Kingsland to Olive, then west on Olive one block to north on Ferguson Ave., where it enters Northeast University City.

    NE U City, a predominantly African-American community, still has a fairly stable and comfortable feel. To be sure, it is very different from both the private streets and the Parkview Gardens apartment district (largely owned by WashU and occupied heavily by students) to the south of Vernon. And the industrial/commercial areas along Olive form an odd barrier there. Nevertheless, NE U City has convenient access to a fairly new (mid 1990s) Schnucks supermarket and small strip center at Olive and Pennsylvania (on the former site of Mercy High School). Right in the heart of the community at Ferguson and Etzel is Pershing Elementary School.

    But somewhere around the old bridge over one of the northern branches of the River des Peres (is that Engelholm Creek perhaps?) at Ferguson and Melrose, you enter Pagedale. South of Page, it still feels a lot like NE U City. But when you reach Page, decay is clearly evident.

    Pagedale and NE U City have pretty similar housing stock; if anything, Pagedale's may be newer. Both are predominantly African-American communities. But there's not much similarity beyond that. Pagedale itself is a fairly under-resourced community, similar to its eastern neighbor Wellston. It is part of the Normandy School District which, for better or worse, is not as highly regarded as the University City School District.

    At Page Ave, a bus transfer point, there's a Chop Suey place and a decaying corner commercial building, as well as a very suburban-looking church with a large parking lot along Ferguson. In the several blocks to the north, some houses are in good condition. A few new houses have been built, at 1361, 1365 and 1369 Ferguson, near the railroad overpass; but they are all ugly little vinyl-clad boxes. Nothing nearly as attractive as the nearby similarly-sized brick homes.

    Across the railroad overpass is a strange mix of institutional and industrial uses. On the left (west) we see the hulking behemoth of the now-closed and rapidly decaying former Lever Bros factory, and a school bus parking lot. Then there's Baerveldt Park, a small park carved out of adjacent Laurel Hill Cemetery, and then a lutheran church with a ridiculously huge parking lot.

    On the right (east) are a Southwestern Bell Telephone garage, St. Louis Music Company, NHS/Beyond Housing's Pagedale Service Center, Pagedale City Hall, and a Head Start center. Then we pass a row of homes, some in good condition but others boarded up and decaying. At St Charles Rock Road are still more down-at-heel commercial buildings. The bus turns east on the Rock Road for the one-block trip to the MetroLink station.

    After 13 years, the Rock Road MetroLink stop has yet to spur any development. Sure, some people may ride MetroLink to the Frison Flea Market, located in a former grocery store adjacent to the station and open only Friday-Saturday-Sunday. But this stop's main function seems to have been to replace Wellston Loop as a major transfer point between buses. The park-ride lot isn't even that heavily used here, because it's not visible from nor close to major highways or more affluent neighborhoods.

    There are lots of reasons for the decay evident in Pagedale, but needless to say, it is not exactly inspiring to pass through the area. It probably isn't very inspiring to live there either. I'm sure there are some nice blocks and many nice homes within Pagedale, but the overall picture is not one of success at the present.

    Although Pagedale is part of the St Louis County Enterprise Zone, it is not part of the Greater St Louis Regional Empowerment Zone; only Wellston is. So there are fewer opportunities for redevelopment incentives. Since the MetroLink stop at Rock Road is on the edge of the community, and no highways pass nearby, the decay is not as visible to most outsiders as that in Wellston. But it shares a common fate with its eastern neighbor, including the same ZIP code (63133) and fire protection district (Mid-County). Ultimately, redevelopment of Pagedale and Wellston must go hand-in-hand. Hopefully, the current residents will not be forgotten when that happens.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Inter-Campus Travails

    Inter-Campus Travails

    Last week, I happened to visit and utilize, at one time or another, four of the major university campuses in the region:

  • University of Missouri - Saint Louis
  • Saint Louis University
  • Washington University in Saint Louis
  • Harris-Stowe State University

    Each institution has unique strengths in its academic and community programs. Further, each has a different sort of architectural feel.

    Washington University in Saint Louis. I spend some time just about every day of the week here. WashU probably has the prettiest campus of the four, with the most consistent design theme. I suppose you could call it neo-Gothic. Here I'm really just talking about the Hilltop campus bounded by Skinker, Forest Park Pky, Big Bend, and Forsyth. The South 40 residence hall district is much more modern and mixed between 1950s high-rises and more recent replacement structures that sort of resemble the main campus architecture, but not that much.

    While Brookings Hall and the surrounding quadrangle complex are architecturally stunning and well-maintained, some of the newer buildings designed to look like it, such as Whitaker and Earth & Planetary Sciences, are a bit more sterile. And, although the campus is generally quite walkable, there's still a lot of surface parking on the eastern edge.

    Indeed, until recently, Bixby Hall was the only building on the Hilltop campus located inside the City of St. Louis. This huge "front lawn" (indeed, originally it was unpaved) forms an unfortunate barrier between the campus and the city, making WashU appear to be a literal ivory tower.

    Saint Louis University. SLU has a lot more architectural variation on its main (Frost) campus, located mostly between Compton, Olive, Vandeventer, and Laclede. St. Francis Xavier (College) Church is a magnificent and stunning feature, and a major city landmark. Nearby DuBourg Hall is also a rather nice building.

    But since SLU has expanded since the 1970s mostly by acquiring existing nearby buildings, many of which had other uses in the past, they seem to have lost some of the historic character of Midtown. Sure, Cupples House is really neat; and the business school complex is interesting as well. But most of the campus consists of 1950s institutional buildings like the former Xavier High School (now Xavier Hall), or the former Salvation Army / IBM office building (now the Humanities Building, I think, or is that McGannon Hall?).

    SLU's campus just has a more modern feel, not necessarily austere, but certainly not as posh as WashU. That's not surprising, given just how much more money WashU has than SLU. Nevertheless, the fountain and clocktower at (what once was) Spring and West Pine, is an attractive focal point to the SLU experience. It's not historic, but that doesn't make it worthless.

    Harris-Stowe State University. Harris-Stowe, meanwhile, is still an evolving campus. It's located between Compton, Market, Ewing, and Olive, making it still a fairly small campus. The original building at 3026 Laclede - the former Vashon High School built in 1927 - is now known as the Henry Givens Jr Administration Building. Harris-Stowe also owns the former Vashon Recreation Center facing Market near Compton. The Southwestern Bell Library is a great modern facility which hosts lots of community group meetings.

    I haven't been inside the new Emerson gym / theatre building yet; and another structure is rising on the north edge of the campus, probably to house the business school. However, the center of the campus is still not a focal point. Although it is grassy rather than paved, there is surface parking quite nearby. The paved walkways are still unfinished, and under the grass you can still see and feel the gravel and rock left behind by the demolition of the 1960s LaClede Town apartments.

    This is at least the third phase of development in this part of the city, given that LaClede Town itself was built on the former site of many 1870s and 1880s houses in the African-American community known as the Mill Creek Valley, cleared wholesale in the 1950s to enable industrial expansion and highway construction near downtown.

    Harris-Stowe is considered an historically African-American institution, although the Harris part of the name was originally the whites-only teacher training school run by the St Louis Public Schools; while Stowe was the equivalent (but certainly not equal) school for African-American teachers in training.

    Harris-Stowe's predecessors date to 1857 (Harris) and 1890 (Stowe), but it only became part of the state college system in 1979; and received its university designation about four months ago. So, it's still a public institution on the grow.

    University of Missouri - Saint Louis. UMSL, meanwhile, shows a kind of direction Harris-Stowe might be able to take given sufficient resources. Of the four schools, UMSL has the largest campus geographically, and the most students. It is also located in the most suburban location of the four, but has an advantage over the other three schools listed: it has two MetroLink stations located on campus. (WashU will too, but not until the end of this year at the earliest.)

    UMSL was founded in 1963, and the North Campus (the former site of Bellerive Country Club) is still where most academic facilities are concentrated.

    A while back I shared my impressions of the UMSL campus today. Generally, it's a sprawling and hilly place, but the student center provides a focal point that was formerly absent. Indeed, the elevated walkway connecting the student center with the major classroom complex (Lucas, Clark, SSB/Tower, and CCB) is busy at all hours of the day and evening. UMSL has almost as many classes in the evenings as during the day.

    A new feature of the UMSL campus is the "Ted" Jones Trail, which makes up the off-road portion of the North County Bikeway administered by the St. Louis County Department of Parks & Recreation. This trail starts at an odd location: under the MetroLink tracks near the UMSL maintenance facility located under the northeast parking garage off Bellerive Drive just south of Florissant Road.

    What's cool about this trail is that from that inauspicious starting point, it goes up, up, and over Florissant Road on part of the former Norfolk Southern (Wabash) right-of-way that Bi-State acquired years ago but did not use for MetroLink.

    The Ted Jones Trail continues northward, with a short spur providing a nice leisurely walking route from the UMSL campus to the UMSL Fine Arts Building and some athletic fields, located on the former campus of Cardinal Newman College off Rosedale Drive near Florissant Road. Although the UMSL shuttle goes there too, this trail provides a nice alternative route to walking along Florissant Road itself, which has no sidewalks.

    From there, the trail appears to go straight through a tunnel under the recently reconstructed I-70, and then all the way to downtown Ferguson. I don't think too many people know about this trail yet, but it seems like a nice leisurely place to bike or stroll, since there's really only one at-grade street crossing: Woodstock Road in south Ferguson, where trail parking is also available.

    Now we just need UMSL to build a bicycle path alongside East Drive on the North Campus and then across Natural Bridge to the South Campus, which would ultimately link the North County Bikeway with the planned St Vincent Greenway corridor to the south.

    A grade-separated walkway across Natural Bridge - although certainly costly - would also help connect the North campus and the South campus (where most on-campus residences as well as the Music, Optometry, Nursing and Education programs are located) more effectively and safely. It would also be useful for students walking to and from Normandy Middle School and Lucas Crossing Elementary Complex.

    Perhaps Great Rivers Greenway, UMSL, St Louis County, MoDOT, Normandy School District, and federal funding sources could be combined to make such an enhancement to pedestrian and bicycle access a reality. The topography would seem to suggest a tunnel, but a bridge might be more aesthetically pleasing. A location somewhere east of Woods Hall and the Music Building, and west of Normandy Middle and the former Normandy Hospital (now owned by UMSL) seems most appropriate. Connecting pathways would need to be constructed across the former hospital and Child Care Center of Our Lady properties to the south, whose grounds are also owned by UMSL.

    Currently, there is a road that connects the UMSL South Campus directly to St Vincent County Park; but because a small cemeterey originally associated with the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul is located on that road, it is usually locked and closed to all traffic. If it could at least be opened to pedestrians and cyclists, that would help make the connection to the south.

    While off-street bicycling paths are not always necessary, they are an excellent resource for providing additional transportation and recreation opportunities. Here, it seems like there's also the possibility of using such a greenway to provide a better connection between the pieces of the UMSL campus and with the surrounding communities.
  • Friday, January 20, 2006

    So Long to the Barricades/Planters/Sewer Pipes

    So Long to the Barricades/Planters/Sewer Pipes

    Just over six months ago, the City Street Department placed barricades at a number of locations on the streets in Ward 20 and Ward 9.

    Today I noticed the barricade on Nebraska immediately north of Juniata has already been removed.

    The one on Texas immediately south of Gravois was being taken out by street department crews earlier this morning. So it's probably gone by now.

    I wonder whether the experiment was deemed less successful than expected, or if indeed it was only planned to last six months, as the ordinance suggested?

    In some areas of the city, these kinds of barricades - called "planters" by some but really just concrete sections of sewer pipe - have been in place for years.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    Berated on the Bus

    Berated on the Bus

    When I got on the #10 Gravois bus this morning for the first leg of my morning commute, it was more than half-full, so I sat near the back.

    Sitting in the back row was a very likely mentally ill, perhaps homeless, guy who starting asking me for money and berating me, saying things to the much more reasonable guy sitting next to him, like "That pink man's eyes are probably red - 'cause he's the devil!"

    Needless to say, this didn't exactly make me feel comfortable, and many of the other passengers were increasingly annoyed as he shouted his insults at me, and later at other passengers as well.

    Around Tucker and Park, he got off the bus, and everybody was pretty relieved - including the driver. It seemed like one of the longer bus rides I'd had on that stretch! I swear we must have stopped at every traffic light in that stretch.

    Anyway, it wasn't exactly a big deal, but after what happened on Saturday, I'm still a little on edge.

    What a week!

    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Say "Bye-Bye" To Pensions

    Say "Bye-Bye" To Pensions

    It seems like the average worker in the U.S. today cannot expect much of anything from their employers.

    Sure, some companies, institutions and government agencies still provide decent benefits and pensions, often in exchange for a lower wage or salary. But the numbers are rapidly dwindling.

    Recently, Verizon announced salaried staff pensions would be frozen in June '06. IBM made a similar announcement recently as well.

    Meanwhile, Alcoa announced it would move to a 401(k) for all new hires.

    It seems like it's only a matter of time before this spills over into the public sector, long renowned for its good pensions.

    A couple recent posts on MayorSlay.com, from Saturday 1/14/06 and Sunday 1/15/06, suggest that one of the Mayor's goals is reducing "the unfunded liabilites of the public employees' pension systems."

    Admittedly, I'm not an expert on the details, but I do realize the city's financial obligations are substantial to these three entities: the City of St. Louis Employees Retirement System; the Police Retirement System of St. Louis; and the Firemen's Retirement System of St. Louis.

    Corporations and government agencies must keep their promises to their employees about financial security during retirement -- particularly "first responders" like police, firefighters, EMTs, and even utility company workers who repair downed power lines, etc. They have pretty damn tough jobs, so they deserve to at least have some sense of security in retirement.

    Often, I feel like I'm part of the problem in this debate - undercutting this struggle to keep pensions in place, because I'm a young worker with an advanced degree but willing to work for whatever I can get. And that's not much more than $10/hour, cobbled together from different sources, with no pension, Wal-Martesque health insurance, and no sick pay, vacation pay or holiday pay.

    Granted, I'm a helluva lot better off than a lot of other people, so I really shouldn't complain. Nevertheless, it is clear the days of job security and guaranteed health benefits and pensions are long gone -- even in the public and education sectors.

    While this may be beneficial to some workers, I think in the long-run most of us will lose. As the processes of offshoring and outsourcing continue -- both practiced heavily by public agencies and educational institutions as well as in the private sector -- even workers with advanced degrees and technical skills will have increasing difficulty in getting and keeping jobs.

    Offshoring impacts jobs both in call centers and in computer programming; and as India and other places in Asia build their capacity to do more and more complex work for dramatically less money than U.S. and European workers demand, this will continue.

    I certainly don't fault the average worker in India, China or Southeast Asia for taking whatever they can get to put food on the table. We've gotten perhaps too comfortable in the U.S. with our relatively extravagant lifestyles. But it's not like lower wages are causing that to change, because credit is still pretty readily available. So it's no surprise bankruptcies are still on the rise, in spite of recent changes in the law making them less of a "fresh start." Many of these bankruptcies are precipitated by burdensome medical bills.

    The big winners are still the corporations and their stock holders. While some middle-class workers do own stock, mostly through these much-touted 401(k) plans and through mutual funds, the stock brokerage firms take out a big chunk of the dividends in fees and commissions.

    Meanwhile, low-wage workers have no hope of owning even high-fee mutual funds. Many rely on ridiculously high interest "refund anticipation loans" to get by financially. If more of them had access to free tax preparation services that use E-File, perhaps that could be avoided.

    There's still usually a fee for E-File, but it's considerably less than the several hundred dollars charged by the big tax prep firms. Also, you'll notice their offices in "urban" locations are only open from January through April - sitting empty but with long-term leases the rest of the year! Only selected suburban locations, many catering to small businesses which need to file taxes quarterly, are open year-round.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    Gettin' Robbed

    Gettin' Robbed

    OK, so, I got mugged on Saturday afternoon, about 3 pm - in broad daylight, right on Gravois Ave. at Ohio/Lynch. Right in front of the architecturally magnificent St. Francis de Sales Oratory.

    Here's what's weird: the teenager who hit me upside the head, knocking my glasses off my face, took only the food (from Burger King, of all places) I was carrying in my left hand. Not my wallet, cell phone, or anything else. In the process, I also dropped the sodas I was carrying. Total loss: $14.48 in admittedly unhealthy food.

    Nevertheless, I was pretty shaken up by the whole mess. I got home ok thanks to a good samaritan neighbor who drove me the few blocks. But, I'm still feeling anxious about it. At least the pain in my right temple seems to have disappeared.

    We did call the police non-emergency number about an hour later, but it just didn't seem worthwhile to file a report. I know that's a bad thing, but I couldn't identify the kid; he came at me from behind.

    What was stolen was so trivial; but I was still pretty damned angry! I had seen this group of 6 or 7 young men walking along Gravois - it seems fair to call it a gang - but I should have been paying more attention.

    Anyway, it's not the first time I've had a strange altercation on the street with somebody, but it's the most recent and probably the most shockingly violent.

    I've had people throw stuff at me and yell profanities and insults from moving cars a few times - but that usually happens in the suburbs, where hardly anybody else walks.

    In high school, a (probably) homeless guy tried to take my tennis racket from me on the #95 Kingshighway bus. The tennis racket belonged to my school, so I didn't really want to have to pay for it, and I got it back after a small struggle. But after that I walked the mile or so from 5017 Washington to the Barnes Hospital (Richard C. Hudlin Memorial) tennis courts for practice.

    I also had a strange incident outside Saint Louis Centre one time where a young woman rammed into me, shouted something incoherent, but didn't take anything. That was several years ago.

    And twice my wallet was stolen at UMSL; once, from my bookbag in the library, and a couple years later, right off the desk in my dorm room while I was down the hall in the bathroom.

    Also I find it rather ironic that, as I had noted earlier on Saturday, I rode MetroBus all through "dangerous" North St. Louis that day, taking the #30 Soulard and #04 Natural Bridge to go to UMSL; and then taking MetroLink (the section that was open), the #94 Page from Wellston to downtown, and the #10 Gravois back south. I don't recall ever having problems in North St. Louis, either on the bus or while at a bus stop or visiting a library, store, agency, or school. Admittedly I don't spend that much time there, but I guess it could be I'm just a little more cautious when I do travel through or visit places there than in other places.

    So, I just need to be equally cautious everywhere I go, whatever time of day it is.

    Between this, our $400 bill from Laclede Gas based on a highly inaccurate estimate, and significantly increased minimum payments on some of our credit cards thanks to new federal regulations, I feel like I'm getting robbed from all sides!

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Ten Years of Web-ification

    Ten Years of Web-ification

    Today is the tenth anniversary of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch online, according to their own article.

    I might point out the St. Louis Community Information Network website appeared first several months earlier, in August 1995. At that point, it was a section of the St. Louis Home Page hosted by WashU.

    Arguably, the Post-Dispatch web presence has changed more over the years than St. Louis CIN has. The P-D moved through several different incarnations and business models, even creating StLToday.com as a separate business for a while, in a (rather lame) attempt to capitalize on the Internet bubble. In the process, they abandoned the "PostNet Communities" websites they had made available for small community groups to develop using Koz tools.

    Meanwhile, the CIN home page still looks a lot like it has since May 2000. Although, starting around May 2001, I started to make my mark on the CIN home page by constantly updating the links with various community events and special information links. Later, in October 2001, the first version of the CSB online complaint filing system, on which I worked extensively, was unveiled.

    A little later, Chris Dornfeld made his mark on the CIN home page, in the form of a patriotic new banner header unveiled on November 7, 2001 (my 23rd birthday), and about two years later, in December 2003, with his version of a "high-tech" banner header which is still on the site.

    A few months after that, Dornfeld left to take his current position, which also happens to be at WashU.

    Anyway, the politics and the business of the World Wide Web have changed a lot over the past ten years. I still think it has enormous potential, perhaps not for making a quick buck as so many people hoped for themselves, but at least in creating and redefining our collective sense of community.

    Saturday, January 14, 2006



    Early this morning I needed to go to UMSL, but since MetroLink wasn't running directly, I took the #30 Soulard bus northward from the Benton Park area, then transferred to the #04 Natural Bridge to go out west.

    In so doing, I waited a little more than 10 minutes at a rather depressingly desolate corner: Parnell St. and St. Louis Ave.

    Parnell is the northern extension of N. Jefferson Ave. that ends when it meets with Natural Bridge/Palm and Salisbury. It is a six-lane road, ridiculously wide. The stretch of N. Jefferson one block west is still pretty much a side street.

    There are still some industrial buildings at or near this corner, but few residences nearby. The number of vacant lots is just astounding in this part of town.

    But I wasn't scared. Sure, one I passed north of downtown, I was the only white person on either bus. That's not unusual.

    However, it can really weigh heavily on a person to see so much decay as is evident in this section of town. You can clearly see the evidence of past buildings and past lives. Finding the potential in this area is harder, but surely if I spent a little more time there, I would.

    There are lots of great assets not far away, like the Black World History Museum. And, amazingly, despite the dramatic population losses in this section of town, there are still three bus routes criss-crossing the area: the #04 on Parnell, the #30 on St. Louis, and the #41 Lee which turns from St. Louis onto Parnell as part of its twisty side-street route through the Northside.

    While the sidewalks are almost ground away, and the streets largely bereft of people, I still have hope this section of the Northside can be revived. It won't be what it was 50 years ago, before these super-highway like streets were built, but maybe it will be something even more interesting and unique.

    I just hope this area isn't just bulldozed for a suburban style subdivision of vinyl-clad garbage.

    Friday, January 13, 2006

    Attention Transit Riders....

    Attention Transit Riders....

    This weekend, MetroLink service will be replaced with MetroBus from Grand to Wellston stations.

    The buses will not serve Central West End station, which will be served by a 'shuttle' run of MetroLink.

    This closure is to allow for testing a new track cross-over near Forest Park station, as part of the Cross County MetroLink project.

    This will be in effect all day, Saturday January 14th and Sunday January 15th.

    Then, on Monday January 16th, although trains will be running again and (supposedly) the new Forest Park station center platform and elevators will open, both MetroLink and MetroBus (in Missouri only) will be operating on a Saturday schedule because it is Martin Luther King Day.

    Meanwhile, on the WashU shuttle system, Sunday is the last day of break schedule. On Monday (MLK Day) there will be no service at all; then Tuesday, January 17th, classes start again so the regular semester schedule is back in effect.

    I think I'll mainly be relying on MetroBus this weekend; who knows what kind of (non-)schedule MetroLink will keep.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Speculating for Praxair

    Speculating for Praxair

    MayorSlay.com says "Because of the density of our residential neighborhoods, it is going to be difficult to find a location for Praxair within the City limits. So, we will be expanding our search."

    Admittedly, I don't know how much they would cost to purchase or lease, but it seems like several parcels in the Union Seventy Center - which is zoned "K - Unrestricted" would be feasible. For example, 5441 Brown Ave and several adjacent parcels just south of the railroad tracks and the Pepsi bottling plant are vacant and still owned by the developer of the business park.

    Even if that's not an available site, several parcels are available within the Center, managed by Clark Properties.

    While this would still be pretty far from downtown, it's not contaminated with nuclear waste like (part of) the McDonnell Blvd. site, and not flood-prone like Carondelet Coke.

    Plus it's the equivalent of three blocks away from even the closest residences, across Natural Bridge in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood.

    Why not try to find Praxair a site in an existing business/industrial park within the city limits? Maybe other (more influential) tenants would object, however.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Rainy-Day Dreariness

    Rainy-Day Dreariness

    Commuting via public transit can be frustrating during inclement weather. Actually, commuting period is frustrating during inclement weather, because sometimes it seems to make people even less considerate.

    For example, the storm drain at the NE corner of Pershing and DeBaliviere frequently backs up when there's any significant amount of rain. Westbound drivers on Pershing heading north on DeBaliviere often zoom through the massive puddle, which overtakes most of the right turn lane. Delivery truck drivers are the worst. They cause major splashing which frequently drenches folks waiting in the bus shelter on Pershing, which serves both the #93 Lindell and the WashU Gold Line.

    Today I was lucky it wasn't raining that hard, really, so I just waited in the rain far away from the curb, practically in the Talayna's parking lot. It could be worse, of course, but one time I emailed MSD about this problem to no avail. They said I should call the emergency number; but this isn't an emergency, it's an ongoing back-up. It wouldn't be high priority since it doesn't impact any residential basements, for example. Nevertheless, it's quite annoying to get drenched like that.

    Also, today as I rode MetroLink through the Mill Creek Valley railyards, I reflected on just how under-utilized that land really is. Does it really make sense to use land so close to downtown and to I-64/US 40 to store trailers? Alongside MetroLink all the way from the Jefferson viaduct to the Compton viaduct, Norfolk Southern and BNSF store trailers and shipping containers that will later be placed on freight trains. While these do need to be stored somewhere, and this strip of ground is pretty narrow so it would be hard to use for anything else, it is nevertheless striking just how much that impacts the view from MetroLink for suburban commuters and ballgame attendees.

    Don't get me wrong - I love trains. I'm fascinated by the workings of railroads, so I like the little glimpse I get by riding MetroLink through the railyards. However, I question whether this is the highest-and-best-use of this property.

    The proposals to restore Chouteau's Pond seem kind of hokey to me, but perhaps there are places where the air rights over the railyards could be used as areas in which to develop new office, retail, or residential spaces. This would help connect downtown with the neighborhoods to the south much more effectively.

    For example, the distance between the Tucker viaduct and the 14th Street viaduct could certainly be spanned with a grid of steel and concrete (meeting seismic standards of course), and a high-density development constructed there, within a short walk of the Civic Center MetroLink station, the Robert A Young Federal building, Savvis Center, AmerenUE properties, and NestlePurina.

    With property still relatively cheap in downtown St. Louis, this wouldn't make sense right now. But if momentum keeps building, perhaps a project like this would be feasible in 10 or 15 years.

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Is Union Market Cursed?

    Is Union Market Cursed?

    In the mid-1980s, four different indoor retail venues opened in downtown St. Louis: Saint Louis Centre, St Louis Union Station, the Old Post Office, and Union Market.

    Of the four, Union Market had the shortest run - about 2 1/2 years.

    The building formerly known as Union Market, located immediately south of the Edward Jones Dome on the block bounded by N. Broadway, Convention Plaza, N. 6th St., and Lucas Ave., is today best known as the Drury Inn - Convention Center. And indeed, since 1989 or '90, Druco has held a long-term lease on the entire building.

    But the building is still owned by the City of St. Louis.

    Historical timeline:

    1866 - a public market is established on the site at the SW corner of Broadway and Morgan (later renamed Delmar, and still later renamed Convention Plaza);

    1924-26 - With the proceeds from the $87 million 1923 bond issue, a massive new facility complete with rooftop parking is built, to become the city's flagship public market, Union Market.

    1930s - During the Great Depression, with the market low on vendors, part of it is converted to an intercity bus terminal, mainly used by Greyhound. Trailways had a depot across the street, and the Union Depot housing several other lines was also nearby. This was the center of intercity bus transit in St. Louis.

    Union Market struggled along for the next several decades in this form, as a city-owned public market / garage / bus depot.
    (Postcard image of the building during this period)

    1964 - Greyhound moves out of Union Market into a new depot across Delmar. This depot was demolished in 1992 to make way for the Dome.

    1967 - The now more than half-empty market was renovated and leased to merchant tenants in an attempt to revive it.

    1982 - After a rent dispute, the city evicts the remaining dozen-or-so merchant tenants.

    1983 - Lipton Group enters a 50-year lease with the city, and starts a multimillion dollar renovation project. The investors in the project along with Donn Lipton include Anthony and Vince Bommarito (of nearby Tony's Restaurant fame), and Eugene Slay.

    1984 - Designated a City Landmark and National Historic Register site; this probably was used to obtain Federal Historic Tax Credit funds that were available at that time.

    December 1986 - The renovated Union Market opens to great fanfare. Almost immediately, the dozen or so tenants squabble with the management (headed by the Bommaritos) over various issues.

    Soon after, years of legal fights between the city and Lipton Group begin, regarding whether rent has been paid as promised. Several times the Comptroller's Office threatens to cancel the lease, as late as 1994 (after Drury had bought out Lipton's lease).

    March 1989 - After struggling with 12 tenants at first, later dwindling to 7, Union Market closes. Soon after, construction of the Drury Inn begins, adding two additional floors to the top of Union Market, and Druco exercises its option to buy the entire lease from Lipton.

    1991-92 - The city approves a plan, proposed by Drury and casino investor John Connelly, to build a new convention headquarters hotel. Union Market would be used for the lobby, parking, and some of the hotel rooms; and a new structure would be built on the block just west, bounded by Convention Plaza, 6th, Lucas, and 7th. This was to be opened about the same time as the Dome.

    1993 - The newly-elected Bosley administration eliminates the Drury/Connelly plan from consideration, in favor of building the convention headquarters hotel on the riverfront in conjunction with a major new casino development.

    1994 - The continuing fight over the Union Market lease was something of a red herring, used as one of the reasons why the Comptroller's Office would not support Drury's proposal to buy or lease the former Children's Building at 14th and Clark, across from Kiel (Savvis) Center. Kiel Partners had in their contract a stipulation that the vacant Children's Building must be either demolished or actively under renovation by the time the Kiel opened to the public.

    Ultimately, the demolition permit was approved and another beautiful historic building (originally built in the 1920s as the juvenile court and detention center, and vacated for that purpose in the 1970s when the current Enright Ave facility opened) became surface parking by the end of 1995. Still later, in 2000, the old City Jail next door was also knocked down, with almost no protests, to expand the City Hall parking lot even more.

    1997-98 - Civic Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO), a mid-sized business counterpart to Civic Progress, considers and rejects using part of Union Market (along with part of 555 Washington - that building is a whole other story!) for a blockbuster arts exhibition space.

    2006 - If you walk along the 6th Street facade, you can still see 1980s vintage decal signage on the doors indicating "Union Market - since 1866." Some interior fixtures still appear to be in place, although black plastic inside blocks most of the view. Drury Inn has added its own massive signage above these doorways, but these are not really hotel entrances.

    The block just west of Union Market (City Block 124) is now a surface parking lot. The entire block is owned by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA), one of the state-enabled commissions staffed by Saint Louis Development Corporation (SLDC).

    This block used to include a Firestone Tire auto repair center, and a crumbling 1920s parking garage built originally for Stix, Baer & Fuller whose flagship store was located on the next block immediately south. The garage and the Firestone store were demolished by LCRA in 2001.

    Stix built a replacement parking garage in 1964 on the block immediately west; that garage (for a time known as "St Louis Centre North" garage) is now owned by St Louis Parking Company, and is surrounded on three sides by the part of America's Center opened in 1993.

    With the now ongoing redevelopment just to the north and east of the Dome, including the demolition of non-descript 1970s industrial buildings to make way for The Bottle District, and the gigantic hole in the ground for the Pinnacle Entertainment casino, and Gundaker proposing major investment in the old Stix building (once that thorny skybridge issue is resolved), Union Market and CB 124 seem ripe for redevelopment, too.

    I suspect Druco still has 27 years left on that lease, so anything that happens with Union Market would have to go through them.

    Nevertheless, both Union Market and CB 124 are owned by the City of St. Louis. It will be interesting to watch what happens with this area.

    While doing something with Saint Louis Centre is arguably a more visible, higher priority project, the city has site control along Convention Plaza moreso than anywhere else in this section of downtown.

    LCRA and the Comptroller's Office Asset Managment section can and should work with Drury, Gundaker, the CVC, and the Convention & Sports Complex Authority to make CB 124 and Union Market more of an asset than the current surface parking lot and vacant ground-floor retail space, both of which thousands of people with significant disposable income pass on their way into the Dome on game days.

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    Happy 3rd Anniversary to the "Ramblings"!

    Happy 3rd Anniversary to the "Ramblings"!

    Ramblings by Joe Frank, urbanist -- this blog -- began its life on January 6, 2003.

    I even made a second posting that day.

    In July 2005, about six months ago, I started more-or-less daily postings on the blog, and soon after I made the comments feature a little more prominent, added a counter, and played with the RSS feed.

    It's pretty gratifying to see just how many people DO read this blog, and feel the need to respond.

    This also reminds me just how long I've been "on the 'Net."

    I got my first email address in summer 1996, but I never used it since home internet access was irregular at that point. It was eng360@umslvma.umsl.edu. UMSL VMA is long, long dead.

    When I enrolled at UMSL in fall 1997, I got a new address: s1021865@admiral.umsl.edu. Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. I used to carry a Eudora Mail floppy disk for storing messages so I could check it in the computer labs. Nevertheless, that same semester I enrolled in an intro to business computing class, which included some basic HTML training. Hence was born my first web site, probably in November 1997: http://www.umsl.edu/~s1021865. That site, too, is long gone.

    Eventually, I migrated that site to a much shorter address, but still on a free service: http://joefrank.tripod.com/. This address is still live, but because Tripod made it really hard to use direct FTP for free rather than their SiteBuilder application, I moved it over to my WashU account in March 2004: http://artsci.wustl.edu/~jgfrank/.

    So this blog has spanned the existence of two different hosts for my personal web site. For a couple years, I also volunteered to maintain the Marine Villa neighborhood web site, and since I personally paid for the marinevilla.org domain for six years, I am still the contact.

    Over the years, I've accumulated a number of email addresses that are still active and which I check on a more-or-less regular basis:

    jgfrank@wustl.edu - my primary account since mid-2003;
    jgfrank@stlouis.missouri.org - my primary account from 2001 through 2003;
    joefrank@excite.com - my first webmail account, probably acquired in 1998;
    mrjoefrank@yahoo.com - a second webmail account, probably started in 1999;
    frankjo@umsl.edu - my third and newest UMSL email account, this time as faculty;
    frankjo@stlouiscity.com - mostly mailings from City Hall, which I still check sometimes.

    So, I guess you could say I'm pretty well-connected. ;-)

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    5055 Arsenal

    5055 Arsenal

    5055 Arsenal Street is the address of the Schnucks supermarket "On The Hill" which of course is not really in The Hill neighborhood, so it's officially known as the Arsenal Schnucks.

    Schnucks got a building permit last month for a $350,000 renovation of this store. This store was built in 1984, making it not exactly new by Schnucks standards. So, it is showing its age in places. It is also not a 24-hour store, being open only from 6 am to midnight.

    Also later this year, the City plans to replace the adjacent Arsenal Street bridge over the Union Pacific tracks.

    This seems like smart timing: while the bridge is closed, cutting off access from the west, renovate the store.

    However, it does beg the question: what about the South City Schnucks at 3430 South Grand? It was built in 1989, and is about 20,000 square feet larger than the Arsenal store. No major interior building permits have been issued since it was built, although Schnucks did a fair amount of renovation work there in 2000.

    However, customer service, cleanliness and produce quality at the South City Schnucks certainly leave something to be desired. And the security guards are rather arrogant at times. So, many people who have other options choose to drive further west; it is, after all, the easternmost full-service grocery store in South St. Louis.

    If you're gonna pay the same Schnucks price, why not at least get better service and selection? If you're willing to sacrifice service, you could at least get better prices at Shop N Save in the already trashy-looking "new" Gravois Plaza.

    The 950 Loughborough Avenue store (built in 1978) is being replaced as part of the controversial Loughborough Commons big-box center, and already had some renovation work done back in 1996 after Schnucks acquired it in the 1995 buyout of National Supermarkets.

    The Gravois store at 7450 Hampton at Gravois, was extensively remodeled and expanded in 2000. Schnucks remodeled it along with the Affton and Webster Groves stores, eliminating the Schnucks Station Restaurant at each store. This store is 24-hours, and has great produce and meat selection. Plus it's conveniently located on several major bus lines, next to the Gravois-Hampton MetroBus transfer center. It was built in 1963, I believe as a Bettendorf's.

    The Hampton Village store is as fancy as any West County location, and is 24 hours. It was built in 1993 as a National store, and acquired only 2 years later by Schnucks. Ironically, Schnucks had closed and demolished their former Hampton Village store, in the old village market building, only a few years earlier.

    I've noticed a recent Schnucks trend in North County is to close two stores and replace them with one. This happened in Bridgeton, where a new store opened in late 2005 near St. Charles Rock Road and N. Lindbergh, replacing both the Carrollton store and the Breckenridge Hills store; and will happen again when the new Jennings store opens on the former site of Northland Shopping Center, replacing both the current Jennings store at Jennings Station and West Florissant (its sign is often visible upon approach to Lambert from the east!) and the Dellwood store at 10148 West Florissant.

    Indirectly, the same thing happened in North City, when City Plaza opened: the Newstead and Natural Bridge store closed immediately, and about two years later the North Oaks Plaza store at Natural Bridge and Lucas Hunt also closed.

    While these investments suggest Schnucks does not plan such a two-to-one pattern in South St. Louis, the closure of both the Delmar and Cass stores in the past several years does leave the Lindell store as the only one operating in the central corridor.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    Suburban Journals Article Today

    Suburban Journals Article Today

    Featured in today's South Side Journal, South City Journal, Southwest City Journal, Oakville-Mehlville Journal, and South County Journal (but unfortunately not in the North Side Journal):

    "The New Media: Bloggers Find Niche in St. Louis Information Scene"

    The following blogs are mentioned, generally in a positive light:

  • Steve Patterson's Urban Review - St. Louis
  • Dave Drebes et al's, Arch City Chronicle
  • Chris Westmeyer's Praxair Watch
  • My very own Ramblings by Joe Frank, urbanist!
  • Richard Callow's MayorSlay.com
  • Josh Wiese's 24th Ward St. Louis Politics

    There are also some less positive comments about blogging from Don Corrigan, Webster University prof of communications/journalism, editor of the Webster-Kirkwood Times and South County Times (a regional competitor of the Suburban Journals), regular contributor to the excellent St. Louis Journalism Review, and faculty advisor to the Webster University Journal student paper.

    Corrigan does note that blogging "keeps traditional media on its toes and keeps it from sitting on stories.

    However, his main arguments seem to be that "The people who commonly set themselves up as bloggers don't have journalism backgrounds. They don't understand the ethics of the profession," and "The vast amount of stuff that goes on blogs is just a lot of hot air."

    I appreciate Corrigan's concern about the fracturing of media coverage, but realistically, traditional print media cannot respond to ongoing events as quickly as bloggers can. Further, most letters-to-the-editor aren't going to be printed because of limited space availability. Blogging gives opinionated folks like me another way to make their views public.

    Newspaper reporters, editors, etc. deserve to be appreciated by society and by their employers for the work they do. I am a member of the "WashTech" technology workers' local 37083 of the Communications Workers of America (The Newspaper Guild is also part of CWA), so I am well aware of the major hits that news professionals are taking right now. Similarly, IT professionals are getting hit hard by corporate cutbacks in the form of outsourcing and offshoring.

    However, I don't think blogging should get much blame for these massive job cuts. The major culprit is the consolidation of corporate media, including TV, radio and print. The ever-greater push for more profits to please the stockholders is what's really putting the squeeze on newspaper workers.

    Admittedly, my house did drop our Post-Dispatch subscription last year, but that was due to continuing problems with on-time delivery and even moreso due to our need to cut expenses in the face of ever-growing bills and stagnant/declining income.

    Anyway, I never expected this little side project of mine to be getting so much attention: first the RFT in October '05, and now this.

    Appropriately, this Friday will mark the 3rd anniversary of my first posting on this blog!
  • Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    First Night St. Louis Review

    First Night St. Louis Review

    We attended First Night St. Louis in Grand Center again this year, but generally felt last year's program was much, much better.

    Others have complained that they didn't know about the $5 buttons required for admission to all indoor venues. I knew about that; but did have some difficulty acquiring them.

    The MetroRide store downtown at 7th and Washington was supposedly selling the buttons. However, when I stopped by on Friday, December 30th, they were closed all day. I guess MetroRide management figured there wouldn't be anybody downtown that day; they were also closed Dec. 23rd, Dec. 26th, and Jan. 2nd. The only notice of this closure was a sign taped to the door.

    The St. Louis visitors' info center to which MetroRide is attached was also closed, which also seems like a mistake; after all, wouldn't there be people in town for the holidays that needed information about things to do? Although the CVC has a blog, I saw no mention of this closure there.

    Since 12/30/05 was payday, I had planned to purchase my monthly bus pass and the buttons all in one stop. I didn't have enough money in the bank to make a $70 purchase any earlier than Friday. So instead, I ended up buying the buttons at First Night, and the bus pass on Monday at Shop N Save.

    Last year, since it was the 2004 finale, First Night had a lot of corporate sponsorships. National City Bank gave away wristbands, and I think the Lion King flashlights were a giveaway item, too. Admission was free, which is not usually the case; First Night usually did cost $5 in the past. I think it was free on 12/31/03 as well for the 2004 kick-off, but recall that was quite a mess, with traffic (both cars and shuttle buses) in Forest Park being tied up for hours. First Night itself was confined to the Zoo that year, I think, since most of the other really popular events did serve alcohol.

    This year, there was obviously much less corporate funding. And it showed. The craft-making events at Busch Student Center were pretty much closed up by 10:00, at least an hour earlier than scheduled. Given that attendance was much, much less than last year, that suggests they really didn't stock up on supplies at all. The only kid-oriented entertainment remaining at the BSC was one lonely sole making balloon animals in the lower-level lobby. I really felt for that guy.

    The food setup was less than ideal. All the vendors were crammed together in a single enclosed tent on Washington; and they seemed to run out of food too early. Last year, roughly the same area was used, but each vendor had individual access points, so separate lines could easily form. The other locales where "food" was supposedly available, such as the very sad looking "Flying Monkey Coffee House" (the former location of People's Coffee and The Commonspace) and a little stall on the front steps of the Sheldon, only had beverages and candy.

    I guess the upside is that traffic leaving was pretty light. The best deal for parking was the $4 SLU garage on Laclede. There was almost no traffic when we left, about 12:20 or so by the time we walked down there after watching the closing fireworks. Admittedly, we sat next to SLU's fountain at Grand and Lindell, but we didn't really hear the countdown. We probably could have used Metro to get there, but I didn't hear about any special service local buses - the brochure only promoted MetroLink and the "free" shuttle (with paid MetroLink ticket).

    Although the #70 Grand does normally have a 12:30 southbound run on Saturday night/Sunday morning, that's the last one. And taking the #70 would require a really long walk home. The #52 Clayton-South County goes within two blocks of our house, but I saw its last run go through about 11:20.

    Finally, on our way to the parking garage, we were waiting with a group of other pedestrians (mostly families with small children) to cross Grand in the signalized crosswalk at West Pine Mall on the SLU campus. The light turned red, and the walk sign came on... and then, a police car came zooming through northbound on Grand, narrowly missing the group of pedestrians. The police car did not have its lights and siren on; they just weren't paying attention.

    I'm used to seeing police violate traffic laws in my neighborhood all the time; I just didn't expect to see it during an event that attracts families from the suburbs!