Monday, December 03, 2007

3652 S Jefferson Ave

3652 S Jefferson Ave

The University of Missouri Digital Library now hosts a number of very cool high-resolution scanned image databases, including Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from prior to 1922.

Sanborn, of course, is still in business so their more recent detailed building-level maps, heavily relied upon by the insurance industry as well as by city planners, are still quite costly to purchase.

But the maps from 1880 to 1922 are in the public domain. So, although it's not 100%, you can at least search for a couple street names and get the tile for your own block.

For example, that fire hydrant in front of my house? Yep, it was already there in 1909.

Anyway, checking some nearby blocks, I discovered that 3652 S. Jefferson Ave. was once the location of a curiously named institution:

The Home for Aged and Infirm Israelies

Apparently, it was built in 1882.

I'm not sure when it was demolished, but the successor institution today is The Cedars at the JCA, located at 13190 S. Outer Forty Drive in Chesterfield.

And what is at that location today?

The German Cultural Society (Deutscher Kulturverein) which built its hall there in 1982, 100 years after the JCA-predecessor was sited there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This Illegal Immigration Thing

This Illegal Immigration Thing

Back in September and October 2000, I went on "spring break" while an exchange student at the University of the Western Cape near Cape Town, South Africa.

All of the group had student visas glued inside our passports. I recall having quite a long wait that July for my passport to come back to me after I mailed it off to the South African Consulate in Chicago (even now, their Chicago branch office has no website of its own!). Most of us were US citizens, one was German. We spent a couple days in Namibia during our spring break safari, then re-entered South Africa at a different Customs station.

At the border, we had no problem with Namibian border control agents, but at the South African station, we all were given crap because our study permits said "Single Entry Permitted."

So, an additional notice was glued into each of our passports that said "Report to Home Affairs."

For those seven days or so between when we re-entered SA, continued our trek, then came back to Cape Town and started classes again, we each may have been considered "illegal immigrants" of a sort.

Of course, once I figured out where the nearest Home Affairs branch office was, in a non-descript office building in the business district of Bellville (not Belleville), it was pretty quickly straightened out. Single-entry did not prevent you from leaving the country for a few days and then coming right back; it just meant you could not try to come back after your visa had expired.

Yes, I was probably treated better -- and certainly, in an expedited manner -- because I was a white foreigner, an American no less, who had shelled out a couple hundred bucks for my student visa. (My scholarships pretty much covered all the costs, although I'm still not 100% sure I was billed correctly by UWC for the dorm room, but I digress...)

Actually, I was able to leave the Home Affairs office, walk across the street to the local library, hang out for an hour, then walk back over to Home Affairs to pick up my passport, with yet another notice glued inside, with something to the effect of "Landed incorrectly on Visitor Visa" and citing some legislation/code number.

Bureaucracy at its finest!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gobble Gobble!

Gobble Gobble!

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! While the forecast of snow might be OK, the sleet I could do without.

You may ask "Where have you been?" Good question. It's been incredibly busy lately, both at work and with other stuff. Sure, I need to make time to blog... but I also need to make time to do a million other things that I'm not doing.

Some of my experiences over the last month have included:

* Spending several days in Washington DC and Northern Virginia for a professional conference. While the sessions were informative, the more fun part was exploring the city on foot and on the Metro. Those stations are so space-agey inside, and huge compared to the MetroLink stations. I am still unsure whether I prefer the turnstile-system, which the DC Metro has, over the honor system used here. Both have pluses and minuses, I guess. One think the DC system has, like the older traditional subway and El systems in other big cities, is attendants in glass booths at most of the stations. We certainly don't have that. However, the DC system does have some sections outside the central business district that operate at-grade, rather than in a subway. So in that sense, it is more like our system than a traditional urban subway.

Of course, given the high cost of housing and transportation in the DC area, I'm not sure it's somewhere I'd want to live anytime in the near future. I actually stayed at a hotel in Crystal City, a 1960s-planned community within Arlington, VA where all the buildings are connected with underground passageways to each other and to the Metro station. So, for that much at least, it was a pretty convenient place.

On the last night there, our organization sponsored a reception for members of Congress and their staffers, in one of the House office buildings. Afterwards, the place was so locked down we had quite a time figuring out which doors we could actually exit without setting off the alarms! Then we had to make our way from there to the nearest Metro stop. And I had dinner plans after that, which involved transferring at Metro Center -- where the crowds were incredibly huge -- to take the Red Line up to DuPont Circle. Later I found out about a shortcut.

Still, one night I walked up and down Pennsylvania Ave from the Capitol to the White House. Of course, you cannot really get anywhere near the White House; there's only one little spot where you can kinda see the front from the Ellipse side. And even though there were plenty of homeless people sleeping on benches outside various Federal office buildings along Pennyslvania, I felt pretty safe walking along there. Granted, I'm not sure any of those night watch guards at the various Federal buildings, the Canadian Embassy, etc. would do anything if something did happen, but it certainly seemed safer than you'd generally expect DC to be.

On the other hand, I had dinner with a cousin who lives in one of the inner-ring Maryland suburbs, a couple blocks outside the DC line, and she mentioned friends who live near the Washington Navy Yard just south of the Capitol complex who'd been mugged, etc. So despite the rapid gentrification and concomitant rise in housing prices in parts of the District, there's still a ways to go.

The other thing I noticed is how many of the ads on the Metro were from major Federal contractors -- especially at the stops at and near The Pentagon. It kinds of illuminates the obstacles that my small business clients have in even getting noticed; they certainly could not afford such an ad blitz.

* Several long drives for work after flying back from DC; one each week for the past several weeks. First, Columbia for a meeting at MU. Then, a presentation in Farmington. Then, a two-day overnight meeting at Big Cedar Lodge, located south of Branson near the Arkansas border. We also went to Cape Girardeau, but that was for my birthday, so I didn't have to drive that time. ;-)

After all that time on the highway, I'm glad we're just going a few miles for Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fortunate Rankings

Fortunate Rankings

How much does it matter how many Fortune 500 companies, or other similar rankings, are located in your city? Does it matter if the number goes up or down?

I have to say, the Google Maps applications on the CNNMoney website where Fortune magazine is hosted, are pretty cool.

I'm not sure how to link directly to the map, but you can zoom in yourself and see just where these companies are located. Granted, size is not everything; some of the best companies are, in fact, small businesses.

Regardless, the number of major companies headquartered in a community does impact the national reputation, the self-image, and most definitely, the scope of philanthropy.

In these days of multi-headquarters companies, constant mergers and acquisitions, and frequent threats of relocation both of corporate headquarters and of day-to-day operations, any listing and mapping effort like the Fortune 500 will inevitably be outdated the next day.

While I respect the work and mission of the RCGA, they do something slightly -- if unintentionally -- deceptive on their website.

On the "Business Snapshot" page you'll find this link:

"Greater St. Louis is home to 20 Fortune 1000 companies, nine of which are in the Fortune 500. It's also home to some of the country's largest privately held corporations."

However, clicking on that link leads you to the page "Major Employers." In the first section -- more than 10,000 employees -- zero of those entities are Fortune 1000 firms based in St. Louis.

  • BJC Healthcare -- That's a nonprofit organization; a very large one, yes, but exempt from many taxes (not necessarily all)

  • Boeing Integrated Defense Systems -- Divisional HQ yes, but Corporate is based in Chicago

  • Schnuck Markets Inc. -- They are privately held, most stock is held by the family members

  • Scott Air Force Base -- A growing operation to be sure, with numerous military commands vital to national defense and the war efforts, but a tax-exempt government installation

  • SSM Healthcare -- Another large nonprofit

  • United States Postal Service -- A quasi-governmental, largely tax-exempt corporation

  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- Of course, they're #1 on the Fortune 500, but their HQ is in Arkansas

  • Washington University in St. Louis -- Yet another large nonprofit

  • In the 5,000 to 10,000 employees range, we finally start to find some Fortune 500 & 1000 locally-based firms. Indeed, RCGA does have a separate page that lists them in descending order. But in keeping with my city focus, I'll list them in order of location.

    Fortune 500 HQs in downtown St. Louis:
    Ameren (#339)
    Peabody Energy (#431)

    Fortune 500 HQs elsewhere in the City of St. Louis:
    Anheuser-Busch Companies (#146 -- 2nd highest in STL, and the only one in South City!)

    Fortune 500 HQs in North St. Louis County:
    Emerson (#115 -- the highest ranking of any STL firm; I have to give them credit for keeping their corporate HQ here, in the same location on West Florissant Ave on the Jennings/Ferguson border, for nearly 60 years now)

    Express Scripts (#132 -- they too deserve some credit for relocating from the Riverport area to the new research park at UMSL, a sign of potential for that area, even if the site plan is a huge missed opportunity for transit-oriented development)

    Fortune 500 HQs in Clayton and points west:
    Smurfit-Stone Container (#303 -- not on the map because of dual HQs; located in Creve Coeur)
    Monsanto (#323 -- also Creve Coeur)
    Charter Communications (#409 -- Des Peres area)
    Graybar Electric (#450 -- the only one in Clayton, surprisingly enough)

    Fortune rankings 501 to 1000, based in the City of St. Louis:
    Laclede Group (#860 -- Downtown; holding company for Laclede Gas)
    Ralcorp Holdings (#905 -- Downtown; makes cereals under Ralston name; not to be confused with NestlePurina Pet Care, the division HQ for pet food, cat litter, etc. still located at the former Ralston Purina HQ on Checkerboard Square)
    Sigma-Aldrich (#924 -- based in Midtown at Spruce and Ewing, a surprisingly inconspicuous HQ location)

    Fortune rankings 501 to 1000, based in St. Louis County:
    Olin Corporation (#625 -- Clayton; with the sale of their metals unit, ranking might change)
    Energizer Holdings, Inc. (#636 -- moved from Checkerboard Square to Hwy 40 a few years ago)
    Solutia (#659 -- also along Hwy 40 in Maryville Centre)
    Arch Coal (#744 -- little-known locally, runs many coal mines; based in Creve Coeur)
    Brown Shoe (#752 -- Clayton-based, but rumblings of relocation are in the news lately)
    Furniture Brands International (#764 -- Clayton-based, used to be International Shoe Co.)
    Centene Corporation (#792 -- coming downtown soon, but of course still in Clayton for now)
    Kellwood (#841 -- another Hwy 40 west corridor firm, the company behind many familiar clothing brands, mostly manufactured in China though)

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Mississippi Ave Prediction

    Mississippi Ave Prediction

    With the closure of the Jefferson Avenue viaduct causing congestion on surrounding streets at peak-hour, and drivers to take crazy, zig-zaggy detours, I suspect that within a month of the reopening of the Mississippi Ave overpass above I-44, Lafayette Square-ians will lobby for "temporary" barricades to be placed on Mississippi immediately south of Chouteau.

    Currently, Mississippi is the only street that passes southbound continuously through the Square. Dolman and 18th are barricaded at Chouteau; Missouri provides access from Chouteau to Hickory, but is one-way northbound between Park and Hickory. While I doubt much traffic is detouring this way currently, it might increase slightly when the overpass re-opens.

    On the other hand, most suburbanites probably don't realize that route would take them straight to Gravois, only 1/2-block west of the I-55 southbound on-ramp. I guess we'll keep that quiet. Although I'm kind of getting used to taking Nebraska south across I-44 rather than Jefferson. It's just much less hectic. Too bad it doesn't go further north, say via a viaduct or grade-crossing through the rail-yards on Ewing. Not bloody likely.

    Apparently, according to a client who was in the office the other day, Theresa Avenue used to be a grade-crossing through the railyards, but the railroads closed it off some years ago.

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Stormy Water

    Stormy Water

    Today is Blog Action Day, when bloggers around the world will discuss one topic -- the environment.

    On Friday I covered the biggest recent environmental news -- the Nobel Peace Price announcement for Al Gore and the IPCC.

    So today I want to cover a local issue, which ties into some recent stuff by Steve Patterson.

    Today's Post-Dispatch indicates that the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) is finally, after many years of discussion, planning, and examination of aerial photography and the City and County property records, going to institute a charge for stormwater runoff based on the impervious surfaces on a plot of ground. Pending final approval by the MSD Board of Trustees, this plan would go into effect March 1, 2008.

    Currently, each sewer service customer pays 24-cents monthly for stormwater service, in addition to the usage-based (in the County) or flat-rate (in the City) amount that is based on wintertime water consumption. Of course, this flat rate charge is incredibly unfair. A shopping mall or factory owner pays the same as a single-family homeowner.

    While there will no doubt be (legal) challenges to this new plan, the basic idea is to drop the 24-cent charge, as well as the various MSD property tax rates. This will certainly simply the taxation structure in St. Louis County, where a variety of sewer-treatment subdistricts were put in place over the past 50 years to cope with the extra cost of extending or upgrading sewage treatment facilities in developing suburbs. Now, customers will pay 12 cents for each 100 square feet of impervious area. By 2014, that rate will increase to 29 cents.

    I generally prefer incentives to punitive treatments for environmental concerns, but I think this is really about fairness. Yes, as the Post describes, it will impact non-profits and other governmental entities like school districts in a pretty big way at first. But for many of these organizations, capital expenditures are easier to finance than operating expenses, because they can issue bonds that don't always require a tax increase. So, when it comes time to put a new roof on a school, or resurface a parking lot -- why not try a Green Roof system or something like Grasspave? Yes, the initial costs are higher, and probably not realistic for the average homeowner. But for large organizations with large capital, physical plant, and utility costs, savings in one of those line items could more than make up for the costs.

    Maybe, just maybe, some of these school districts, and for that matter the larger churches, would consider that they don't need quite so much empty surface parking, if they actually have to pay for it in the form of higher sewer bills! And the same could be said for New Life Evangelistic Center's proposed parking area at their Missouri Renewable Energy complex at 4716 Tennessee Ave. While grass-pavement technologies may be more costly, that could be wrapped into a capital campaign for the development of the center, and would actually be attractive to prospective donors to an operation such as that.

    Friday, October 12, 2007

    Congrats to the IPCC and Al Gore

    Congrats to the IPCC and Al Gore

    Everybody knows Al Gore, but fewer people realize that while he's the public voice of the battle against global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does the real heavy-lifting.

    When I was teaching and/or TA'ing environmental politics at WashU, and especially this past spring, I/we recommended students read the IPCC's work. Some of it is pretty technical, but if you really want the non-political, direct scientific evidence of climate change, and policy recommendations for what to do to mitigate the impacts of climate change and global warming, the IPCC is the penultimate source. While its findings have not been without criticism -- both from the global warming skeptics largely funded by certain industries, and from those who say the IPCC reports don't go far enough -- at least the IPCC has built some solid evidence of the enormity of the problem.

    I kind of hope Al Gore does not run for President again, though. I did work in a very minor role on his campaign in 2000, including interning in a tiny office at Boilermakers' Hall on S. Broadway, leafletting the WashU and UMSL campuses for his speech at UMSL the night before the Missouri primary (remember Bill Bradley was still running pretty strongly against Gore at that point) and participating in canvassing trips for Gore sponsored by Dick Gephardt's campaign office to Burlington, Fort Madison, and Keokuk, Iowa prior to and on the day of the Iowa caucuses. It was fun, but since it was an unpaid internship and I was simultaneously doing a paid internship at CDA/SLDC and taking a full course load along with being active in several student organizations, I kind of burnt out on it as the semester progressed.

    That said, I think at this point he is a more effective voice for getting Americans to understand how much impact we are having on the global ecological crisis. And though he's not perfect, he does get a lot of people (including celebrities who, like or not, do impact other people's opinions about the world) to take notice.

    But I'm glad the IPCC got the top billing on the award.

    Here's the notice from the Nobel committee.

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007

    Why Now?

    Why Now?
    I wonder...

    Who decided to close the Jefferson Avenue viaduct at the same time as the Mississippi Avenue bridge over I-44?

    Then again, one might just ask...

    Why did I choose this week to start driving to work, my ridiculously short 3.5 mile commute up Gravois/S. Tucker?

    Anyway, tonight because of congestion on S. Tucker, Truman Parkway, S. Jefferson, I zig-zagged home via S. 14th-Chouteau-Ohio-alley behind Flower Row (silly barricades...)-California-Lafayette-Nebraska.

    And I still made it in about 15 minutes! I guess I should quit complaining. Even at rush-hour, city residents have it pretty good, because we know all the alternative routes.

    Westward Expansion

    Westward Expansion

    As we await the supposedly impending doom of the New I-64 reconstruction/closure, let's consider just how many major institutions of the St. Louis community that once were located close to the Mississippi River, have relocated at least once in their history. Most have moved west, although some south and some north.

  • Washington University was originally founded as Eliot Seminary in 1853, with classes beginning in 1856 at 17th and Washington near the edge of what is today the Loft District. Of course, its current campus along the city-county line was built beginning about 1900, used as headquarters for the 1904 World's Fair, then occupied by the university by early 1905.

  • Saint Louis University started out much earlier, in 1818 near Market and 2nd Streets (on the Archgrounds today). It was called St. Louis College at first. When the Jesuits took over it moved, in 1829, to 9th and Washington. Interestingly, in 1836 the college first considered a "suburban" relocation, to property it had purchased just uphill from what is now East Grand and North Broadway (then called Bellefontaine Road) -- hence the neighborhood is called College Hill even today. SLU did not relocate at that time, but instead remained downtown until 1888, when it moved again to 221 N. Grand, the current location of its main offices, DuBourg Hall. Again, in the early 1960s there was talk of moving the campus to some property donated by the Frost family in Berkeley, MO. Instead, the property was sold to McDonnell Douglas and the proceeds used to expand the main campus eastward into the Mill Creek Valley redevelopment area, hence the entire campus today at Grand and Lindell is called the Frost Campus.

  • Maryville University started out in 1872 as a Catholic, women-only boarding school located at what was then a rural location: Meramec and Nebraska in Dutchtown. It moved to its current location near US 40/I-64 and MO 141 in Town & Country, MO in 1961. The former building became Augustinian Academy, the St. Anthony of Padua parish high school for boys, closed in 1972, burned shortly thereafter, and was demolished in 1973. The site today contains the Maryville Gardens senior apartments and post office, built about 1977-78.

  • Fontbonne University started out, also as a Catholic, women-only institution, but much later: 1923. It was located at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse, 6400 Minnesota, until the present campus at Big Bend and Wydown in Clayton opened in 1925.

  • Also, the sisters' girls-only Catholic high school, St. Joseph's Academy, was located at that same location roughly from its founding in a two-room log cabin in 1836, until 1925 when it also relocated to the Fontbonne campus. However, the growth of the two institutions meant the high school relocated even further west in 1954, just thirty years later, to its present location at S Lindbergh and Litzsinger Rd. in the West County suburb of Frontenac MO.

  • Another sister institution, St. Joseph's Institute for the Deaf, also has origins at that log cabin in 1837, and continued at various locations, including the Carondelet compound, until relocating to a complex at 1483 82nd Blvd. in University City in 1934. The complex was expanded in 1956 and 1967, but ultimately sold to another denomination with the Institute's relocation in 1997 to the extensively renovated former Kangaroo shoe office/warehouse complex at 1809 Clarkson Road in Chesterfield. Although I must have missed something on this one, because the 1997 Post-Dispatch article on the move describes it as the school's"eighth [location] during its 160-year history." The school's website is surprisingly missing most of that history.

  • OK, so this posting is incredibly Catholic-centric; I'll try to cover other religious and secular institutions' past locations and their dates of moving out west in future posts.

    Monday, October 08, 2007

    The Holiday That Isn't

    The Holiday That Isn't

    Today is Columbus Day, one of the most controversial and inconsistently-observed holidays in the United States.

    The Federal Government does observe Columbus Day. Missouri State Government offices do observe Columbus Day, as does the State of Illinois. Most banks are closed as well.

    However, the University of Missouri does not. Nor does St. Louis City (PDF) government, although of course we did have a Columbus Day parade on The Hill yesterday. Nor does Washington University observe Columbus Day. Indeed, the WashU PR department website today features an article strongly critical of the holiday.

    I think there's some irony in the fact that controversial Columbus Day was moved to the 2nd Monday in October on the Federal holidays calendar in 1971, the same year Martin Luther King Day became a holiday in the City of St. Louis -- a good 15 years earlier than the Federal holiday was designated.

    This is the 70th anniversary of Federal designation of Columbus Day, and the 100th anniversary of its first official celebration, in Colorado. Protestors attended the parade in Denver this year to mark their desire to call the day Indigenous Peoples Day.

    I cannot really complain about not getting Columbus Day off as an MU employee. After all, I still get four personal days and seventeen vacation days each year -- a pretty good deal for any employer. But it is kind of odd that, across the street, all the courts are closed, and at City Hall, while most offices are open, the vehicle and drivers license offices are closed, as they are operated by the Collector of Revenue (not by the License Collector, as you might expect) under a State contract. Also, traffic coming into downtown was unusually light at 7:30 this morning.

    Friday, October 05, 2007



    This was a big week for me in terms of networking events. Some are more interesting than others, but you just never know what kind of leads you're going to get.

    Monday began the week on a sombre note, with the visitation for a colleague's husband who died in a motorcycle accident in East Saint Louis.

    Things picked up on Tuesday with the St. Louis Business Expo at the St. Charles Convention Center. Yes, I drove out there; I had a load of stuff for our exhibits and "Contacts for Contracts" seminars to haul. Speakers from a variety of Federal agencies, the State of Missouri, and two major local prime contractors (Boeing Integrated Defense Systems and DRS Sustainment Systems) provided great information on how to do business with the government.

    Thursday was pretty full, with the monthly St. Louis Small Business Networking Breakfast at the Heritage House Apartments (2800 Olive St.) early in the morning, bookended by the Matt Lassiter talk just around the corner at Harris-Stowe State University's intimate Emerson Auditorium in the evening.

    And today, Friday, I made it over to the Renaissance Grand Hotel Ballroom for the Mayor's Business Celebration Luncheon.

    Each event has a different kind of focus and audience; the Biz Expo includes all kinds of small business people and (perhaps even moreso), folks trying to sell products and services to small businesses, but with the Contacts for Contracts angle you get a lot of government contracting specialists whose orientation is toward helping the small businesses try to succeed. At the breakfasts, you get a variety of small businesses plus, again, some service-providers, not to mention the new small business reporter for the Post-Dispatch.

    The evening reception for Matt Lassiter, whose book The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South is pretty popular in social science circles these days, attracted a different crowd. There were numerous Harris-Stowe, SLU and UMSL profs, plenty of starving students (undergrad and grad alike) from the sponsoring schools, plus faculty from SIU-E and Webster, also sponsors; and Chris Chadwick of FOCUS St. Louis, yet another sponsor of the talk.

    This was the first event of this type for the St. Louis Metropolitan Research Exchange, a loose affiliation of academic researchers interested in St. Louis, which is led by Todd Swanstrom from SLU, Terry Jones from UMSL, and Mark Abbott from Harris-Stowe, with participation from other departments at those schools as well as SIU-E and Webster. (WashU faculty are not currently represented in the group, owing to the passing of the late architecture prof Jackie Tatom.) In any case, the talk was well-attended and suggests good things for the future of this consortium of academics.

    Then, there's today's big luncheon at the convention hotel. This annual event has grown and grown, so that almost every major player in the local development community is represented, from small businesses to big developers, along with the politicians and economic development professionals (which I guess is where I fit). St. Louis Business Journal publisher Ellen Sherberg ran a tight ship, keeping things close to on-schedule. While I sometimes question whether these feel-good sort of events are really a good use of time, they do provide an opportunity to make or renew contact with a lot of people in a short time. Also, I did learn about a number of businesses and developers, large and small, who were receiving awards but were not previously familiar to me.

    Anyway, it's been quite a full week!

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    Tying Together Chouteau's Pond

    Tying Together Chouteau's Pond

    Yesterday morning I drove to work, and tried to figure out some route to enter downtown from the south instead of South Tucker. I admit it wasn't really that congested at 7:30 AM, but I just wanted to try it.

    Of course, I ended up going all the way east to South 7th Street, because no other streets between 7th and Tucker (AKA 12th St.) connect through.

    Instead, we have gigantic surface parking lots in the area where perhaps there used to be railway switching operations, but not really much to speak of anymore.

    For years, city planning and major developers have discussed recreating a prettier, less cholera-infested version of Chouteau's Pond in this vicinity.

    Of course, it would be a very different version of the Pond, which originally was formed by a grist mill that dammed Mill Creek near 9th and Poplar (roughly where MetroLink passes under Highway 40 today) and extended as far west as Union Station.

    But my thought is a bit different. Why not re-create the streets, at least to a limited extent, through this area? Rather than a linear park / office park alongside the lake, you could have a waterway that coursed under low-water bridges or something of that nature. The thing that's intimidating about development in the entire Mill Creek Valley (other than parking lots which, seemingly, can be put anywhere) is the overbearing presence of the viaducts. But if you re-insert human scale streets, it becomes a bit more inviting. Indeed, east of Tucker that should be more feasible anyway, as there are no major street overpasses. Fourth, Broadway, 6th, and 7th all pass underneath the railway trestles.

    The big obstacle is that NestlePurina PetCare has a massive complex in this area with a beautiful courtyard included, a kind of urban oasis, but one that is most definitely a private space. I would not expect that to change.

    I know there are probably plans already in the works for this area, because it's only a matter of time before the landowners realize that overpriced surface parking for stadium patrons (and, the rest of the year, discount parking for downtown workers) is not the highest-and-best use for this property.

    I just think extending the street grid southward, even if you couldn't reach Chouteau Ave itself, would be a far better fate for South 9th, 10th, and 11th Street than their current pathetic terminii into surface parking lots underneath Highway 40 and its access ramps.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    No Left Turn on Red

    No Left Turn on Red

    This morning I just about got creamed twice walking along Chestnut downtown by motorists (including a FedEx truck) making left turns from one one-way street to another while the traffic signal facing them was red.

    But in Missouri it is illegal to turn left on red from one one-way street to another. I know I'm still an inexperienced driver, but nowhere in the Missouri Revised Statutes nor in the Missouri Driver Guide does it say this is ok!

    Yes, you can turn right on a red, after stopping and looking for traffic (including pedestrians). That is, unless it is a location that has a "No Right Turn on Red" sign for whatever reason; i.e., Magnolia and Grand by the Missouri School for the Blind.

    But according to both Wikipedia and this very detailed web site, Missouri is one of eight states (as well as D.C. and Guam) that still bans left turns on red from one one-way street to another. The maneuver is legal in Illinois... which might explain why I was so confused crossing the street in downtown Chicago. Or at least, that's my excuse for today.


    PS: Happy 25th Anniversary, Smiley!

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    It Wasn't Me!

    It Wasn't Me!

    From the Post-Dispatch:

    "A one-car accident on Interstate 55 claimed the lives of a man and woman Saturday, St. Louis police said. Another man was injured.

    Killed were the driver, Joseph Frank, 24, of the 7500 block of Michigan Avenue, and a 37-year-old female passenger. Both were thrown from their 2000 Ford Explorer, police said. Police have not made public the name of the woman."

    KSDK has a photo.

    It wasn't me! I'm alive and well. I was driving a lot this weekend, but not at noon on Saturday on I-55. Of course, this did occur very close to my house, so it is a bit too coincidental. But I'm just fine.

    I think I was probably somewhere near Chippewa and Hampton at that time on Saturday, in fact. So nowhere near the accident scene.

    I did drive a lot this weekend though. Kelly and I hung out with her mom much of Saturday, eventually driving her home from South City to North County. Then we headed out to Troy MO for an anniversary party of one of her uncles, in a relatively new subdivision off a narrow, winding country road. I guess that's what happens in a county without planning & zoning.

    Sunday morning we bought a mattress on North Broadway. Then we spent much of the day visiting with my brother, along with my sister and mother, at his apartment in Chesterfield. He also works in Chesterfield, so it's not like he has a long commute at all.

    Anyway, we had a busy weekend so I didn't hear about this story until this morning, first from a colleague in the office (also named Joe, as it happens) and then from Alderman Schmid.

    So, everybody, I'm OK!

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    Fish and Chips Plaza

    Fish and Chips Plaza


    Why it that when misting, the metal sculptures on the plaza across Clark Avenue from Scottrade Center smell so strongly of vinegar?

    I'm sure it's not harmful, but it makes me feel like I'm at a fish and chips stand somewhere in London. Or more accurately, I am the fish and chips!

    The official name of this plaza is Kiel Triangle Park; it opened in 1999. You may remember years ago there was a restaurant and bar called The Jury Room facing 14th Street on part of the site.

    Look at this curious statement from the FY2000 Annual Report of the Bi-State Development Agency Board of Commissioners.

    "During Fiscal Year 2000, we opened the Kiel Triangle Park, a magical passageway to city government offices and special evening and sporting events. MetroLink passengers arrive at a bench-lined promenade flanked by a bald cypress forest and a burr oak prairie. At the top of the promenade is a unique arc of stainless steel boxes that radiate light, fog, and steam, animate the plaza and create an interesting, exciting atmosphere that serves as a welcome mat to the vicinity."

    Wow -- "a magical passageway to city government offices." If only it were truly magical, as in a passageway that rained down quarters, exactly enough to pay all your court fines, parking tickets, license fees and earnings taxes... and of course your MetroLink or MetroBus fare as well.

    Instead, it just transports you to jolly ol' England... or perhaps into a giant ketchup bottle.


    Wednesday, September 12, 2007

    Where Have I Been?

    Where Have I Been?

    I know, I haven't been on the blog for a while. I suppose I have been busy.

    Since I last posted, among the things I've done include:

  • Went to Steve Wilke-Shapiro's going away party, certainly an interesting experience with a mix of wide ranging personalities from across his contacts over the years in the city;

  • Spent a full week in Chicago attending a class on Federal Contracting offered by ESI International;

  • Met with or somehow contacted tons of clients.

  • During the Chicago trip, I was in class most of the work day, from 8:30 to 3:30 most days. But I was very happy I didn't drive the entire time! I stayed at the hotel where the class was held, a Hampton Inn three blocks north of the Chicago River, not far from The Loop. I did at least take a few longer trips on CTA than I had in the past; I even made it out to the PACE suburban bus system on a whim.

    But mostly, I focused on the area from Lincoln Park to The Loop. I walked around a lot on North Michigan (The Magnificent Mile) and all over downtown. Most days, the weather was amazing! I know that's unusual for Chicago, but it was also striking just how many people were on the sidewalks at all hours of the day, but especially at lunchtime downtown.

    I rode Amtrak to and from Chicago; it was, of course, a little bit late but it wasn't too uncomfortable for the most part.

    On my first day there (Sunday), I took the #151 Sheridan bus up to Lincoln Park Zoo, which was just packed with throngs of people. Later, I took the very busy bike/ped bridge across Lakeshore Drive to explore the beaches along Lake Michigan.

    Somehow, I doubt St. Louis will ever have a waterfront like that. The Great Lakes, as polluted as they are, still look much prettier than the Mississippi.

    Later I poked around Navy Pier, which was moderately interesting (and very busy) on Sunday night. I was really struck by just how many different places there are to eat and shop, in and around the downtown. Yeah, I didn't go to the Southside. I did go out onto Northerly Island a little bit, just to explore that part of the lakefront, via the express bus to Adler Planetarium. I didn't visit the museums though, because I didn't want to shell out all that cash when it was already past 4:00 when I got there.

    Anyway, for some reason I think on Monday afternoon I decided to hop on the Red Line northbound from Grand/State all the way to the end at Howard. Those "slow zones" on the CTA can get really annoying. Also, it's curious to see how many windows adjacent to the El are either bricked or concrete-blocked in closer to downtown, but as you get further north, they are more likely just views of cardboard boxes in attics and storerooms.

    Then I caught the Purple from Howard to Davis, in Evanston IL. There, I just got off and decided to board the #250 Dempster Street PACE bus, a very long route that traverses Evanston, Skokie (lots of synagogues), Morton Grove, Des Plaines (where I saw floodwaters held back by sandbags lining the road), then turns southward from downtown Des Plaines passing the Allstate Arena before ending at the O'Hare "Kiss-n-Fly" station.

    I then boarded the surreal O'Hare transportation system, then wended my way through the terminals to catch the CTA Blue Line for the long ride back into downtown, with way too many slow zones.

    Anyway, with what free time I did have, I tried to make it somewhat interesting. I probably shouldn't have eaten at McDonald's so much -- once, three times in one day, at three different McD's all within walking distance of the hotel! Of course, a couple of those were trips to the Rock N Roll McDonald's only a few blocks northwest.

    One of these days I need to go to Chicago for something other than a conference or class! Like, an actual vacation maybe?

    Tuesday, August 21, 2007

    Intrastate Highways

    Intrastate Highways

    Over the last couple weeks, I've taken a couple short business trips within Missouri. For better or worse, those trips timing and locations required me to drive, so I rented a car from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car downtown St. Louis office inside the Hilton at the Ballpark, One South Broadway.

    On Friday, August 10 we went to Columbia for a meeting. In the past, I've tried both MO-X airport shuttle service and Greyhound for getting to MU. But I have to admit, especially with the intense heat, driving was much easier! After all, neither the MO-X office nor the Greyhound depot are within walking distance of campus, so I took Columbia Transit to finish the trip, which not surprisingly extended the time it took by a good hour.

    Then last Thursday and Friday I had a meeting at Lake of the Ozarks. This was my first trip to the Lake region, and I didn't really have time to see much other than the Osage Beach Premium Outlets, which has a really bizarre configuration that makes it difficult to walk between stores. I did drive across the top of Bagnell Dam on BR 54, and saw the older part of Lake Ozark MO that grew up after the dam was built. But most of the development these days is suburban-resort sprawl. While BR 54 feels a little more like a car-oriented small-town, US 54 through Osage Beach is like Lindbergh or Manchester or somewhere in St. Peters, with large retail stores, fast food places, and some better restaurants and condo developments, dominating the landscape.

    I was not really sure how to get to the Lake; while the generally recommended route is I-70 to US 54, it just makes no sense to me to cross the Missouri River twice (at St. Charles and at Jefferson City). Plus the traffic can be horrendous around St. Charles and around Lambert Airport, even if you think you are going "against traffic."

    Then again, the route I did choose -- I-44 -- crosses the Meramec River twice (at Fenton and then at Eureka), but you hardly even notice that.

    So on the way to the Lake, I did get a bit directionally challenged -- shocking, I know. ;-)

    Basically, I started out west on I-44 at Lafayette Ave. (having parked the rental car overnight at work, and taken the bus from home about 6 AM). I stopped for gas and breakfast at MO 141 near Valley Park, then continued west to the rest stop between St. Clair and Sullivan. I exited I-44 at St. James to take MO 68, then US 63. But then I turned too soon off US 63. I took MO 28 southwest toward Dixon, basically paralleling I-44 rather than diverging. I should have stayed on US 63 to Vienna, then picked up MO 42 west.

    After realizing my mistake, I stopped in Dixon to visit the bathroom at the Country Mart, and to read my map. Somehow I decided to take MO secondary route C, a short connector to MO 133 west of Dixon. Then I took MO 133 to MO secondary route BB, where I saw my first sign like this.

    MO BB was an unexpectedly narrow, winding, hilly stretch that I was glad to eventually exit! But it did get me back on track: MO 42, near Iberia. I stopped at the gas station in Iberia to figure out my next move; turns out I was almost there! I made it west on 42 to US 63, and wonder of wonders, at that junction in Osage Beach there was.... a Walgreens!

    I did have some trouble finding the hotel where the meeting was, but that turned out OK eventually. On the return trip, I deliberately turned south from MO 42 at Iberia via MO 17, passing through the quaint-looking main street area of Crocker. But south of Crocker, MO 17 gets a bit tight, as it runs hard alongside (I think) the Osage Fork River. But after that twisty, narrow section alongside the water, you enter Waynesville along old Rt 66. I stopped for lunch at a Dairy Queen just down 66 in St. Robert, the town that is the gateway to Fort Leonard Wood. Then I entered I-44, quite a bit further southwest than where I had exited the day before in St. James. I stopped at another rest stop to eat my lunch, the one just west of Rolla. Then I stayed on I-44 all the way to Watson Rd., where I exited for a break at Borders Books & Music; and continued into the city via Watson/Chippewa and Gravois/Tucker.

    OK, so not the most exciting trips, but interesting enough for me as my first rental car driving experiences.

    Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    Another Blog By Me: Government Contracting St. Louis

    Another Blog By Me: Government Contracting St. Louis

    Yes, I know I've been a bit lax in my postings on this blog lately.

    And, so, you might ask, why would I start another one?

    Mainly, it's because I want to stay focused on urban development, history, transit planning, and local politics issues on this blog.

    But it's nice to have a place to just post some thoughts about what it is I do for a living these days.

    So that's the function of Government Contracting St. Louis.

    There, I plan to assemble timely information from various sources that should be useful to businesses considering government contracting.

    Monday, August 13, 2007

    Why Are There So Few Cell Phone Stores in the City?

    Why Are There So Few Cell Phone Stores in the City?

    Given the demise of the pay phone, cell phones are almost a necessity and very convenient as well. Except, of course, when something goes wrong. And even when they work just fine, they are expensive to keep up.

    If you just want a pre-paid throw-away phone and/or a recharge of minutes, there are innumerable places you can find that across the urban core. Since a lot of folks don't have particularly good credit and would find it difficult to get a cell phone contract, but still want the convenience of a mobile phone, that's not surprising.

    But what is frustrating is just how few actual stores operated by the cell phone carriers themselves that provide sales and service, are located within the City of St. Louis.

  • Sprint has zero stores in the city limits. The nearest is in Richmond Heights on Clayton Rd.

  • T-Mobile likewise owns zero stores in the city; but there is one in the U City Loop.

  • AT&T has one store (signage still says Cingular though), on Hampton Ave. near Pernod Ave. (When I was in elementary school at nearby Mallinckrodt ABI, I believe that was a produce market.) Curiously, it's on the same block as a Radio Shack, which also deals in cell phones but does not have the same services and access rights as a full AT&T store.

  • U.S. Cellular has one store, in Lindell Marketplace near Lindell at Sarah. Again, there's a Radio Shack just down the way, on the other side of Sarah in the same strip mall.

  • Verizon Wireless has one store, in Southtown Centre at Chippewa and Kingshighway.

  • Several years back there was an AT&T Wireless store at 7th and Olive downtown. It was open maybe two years, if that. I think there was also a Cingular store across the street; it too has closed.

    I just find it rather odd there are no retail cell phone company locations downtown, considering there are probably tens of thousands of cell phone users who work downtown, not to mention several thousand AT&T employees.

    Radio Shack, as already mentioned, has locations on Hampton and in Lindell Marketplace. Amazingly, they still have two other stores on the Southside: one in Gravois Plaza just down the way from the Shop N Save (about the only holdover store from the old K-Mart Gravois Plaza), and the other in the now half-empty Chariton Square strip mall on S. Broadway near Meramec St. Those two locations rely heavily on prepaid wireless sales though.

    Wednesday, August 08, 2007

    Functional Street Furniture: Pay Phones and Mail Boxes

    Functional Street Furniture: Pay Phones and Mail Boxes

    While crime, schools, traffic, pollution, and the like are constant concerns in the urban environments, sometimes it's the little things that make a difference.

    For example, traditionally blue mail boxes and pay phones marked street corners across American cities, places where private communications happened more-or-less publicly.

    Some months ago, Toby Weiss noted the on-street relationship between mail boxes and St. Louis Post-Dispatch vending boxes.

    But both mail boxes and pay phones are disappearing from city streets at a rapid pace, falling victim to cost-cutting measures in formerly government-sanctioned monopolies (in the case of the post office, a government-run monopoly) and the nearly-ubiquitous nature of alternative communications technologies like e-mail and cellular phones.

    Both are also victims of vandalism of various types, although that's always been the case. In recent years, pay phones have also come to be blamed for facilitating drug-dealing and prostitution activity, although the removal of incoming call acceptance capabilities has decreased that somewhat. In some places, pay phones are completely inactivated after midnight (much like many ATMs). I guess that's supposed to decrease illicit activity, although it makes them less useful in an emergency.

    I know of no official, publicly-available listings of all locations of pay phones and mail boxes.

    However, the Payphone Project and the Payphone Directory are interesting attempts at starting up a directory.

    Similarly, the Payphone Project folks have used Google Maps to create a Mailbox Locator. Another similar map is available from Mailbox Map; it seems slightly more accurate.

    One bizarre thing I've noticed about mailboxes in my neighborhood -- and there are not many -- is that they seem concentrated closer to the post office.

    Indeed, there's only one mail box anywhere within the interior of Benton Park West: at the NW corner of Arsenal and California. But within a three block radius of the Benton Park Post Office on Jefferson near Gravois, there are four! Likewise, it looks like there are five mailboxes within three blocks of the Maryville Gardens Post Office, but very few in the rest of Dutchtown.

    Our mail service is rather unreliable, including frequently torn, damaged or opened mail; indeed at one point we had complained so many times to the 1-800 number that the operator told us "our system cannot accept another complaint from you; maybe you should call your Congressman!"

    So we do not even try to give outgoing mail to the carrier or put in our mailbox; usually, I just take it to work, where there's a post office one block away, or if I'm feeling really lazy (that is, most of the time) I just drop it in the drop box in the lobby.

    I guess that's one of those "hidden costs" of urban life. My mom's mail carrier was always pretty reliable, but that was a rural route (although not in a rural area at all) in South County where mailboxes are along the roadside next to the driveways, rather than attached to the house.

    Actually, perhaps because of the high mail volume that comes from the center of banking, government and litigation that is downtown St. Louis, the City of St. Louis has a pretty high density of post office locations. There just aren't that many blue mail boxes in the residential neighborhoods. Come to think of it, I only know of a handful of mail boxes on the downtown streets; mostly you have drop slots inside office building lobbies instead, many of which are still connected to the mail chute systems emanating from many stories above. (At least, I know that's the case at both 1015 Locust and 100 N. Tucker.)

    For a long time, I didn't realize there's a post office in the ground floor of the Kiener Plaza West parking garage. It's called the Jefferson Memorial Station, at 111 N. 6th St. (There's also a Christian Science Reading Room next door at 115 N 6th St, another surprise. Pretty much the whole rest of the block is restaurants.)

    But 63101 -- downtown -- actually has two post offices; besides Jefferson Memorial, there's also Henry W. Wheeler at 1140 Olive, the one I frequent (and where I had a P.O. box for a couple years). There used to be a third location, inside (not surprisingly) the Old Post Office -- but that relocated to Broadway @ Olive, and now seems to have closed entirely. 63102 has no post offices located within it; it is served by the two downtown branches. Then 63103 is home to the Main Post Office/Carrier Square, at 1720 Market (which I also used to frequent, when I had an account at the former St. Louis Postal Credit Union).

    But it's surprising just how many post offices there are located in City neighborhoods. Maybe there are too many, given our population decline over 50+ years. But there's still a high volume of bulk mail and business mail, so perhaps it makes sense.

    List of Post Offices in the City of St. Louis

    ** = Does Passport Applications

  • Jefferson Memorial, 111 N. 6th, 63101.

  • Henry W. Wheeler**, 1140 Olive, 63101.

  • Main Post Office**, 1720 Market, 63103.

  • Soulard, 1914 S. Broadway, 63104 (I wonder who goes to this location? It's kind of hidden, unless you frequent the shops on S. Broadway east of S. 7th St. in the Kosciusko area).

  • Benton Park, 2700 S. Jefferson, 63104.

  • Jordan W. Chambers, 901 N. Garrison, 63106 (Garrison @ Franklin in JeffVanderLou).

  • Fairgrounds, 4323 N. Grand, 63107 (inside National City Bank, the former N. St. Louis Trust).

  • Marian Oldham**, 4021 Laclede, 63108 (This was where I originally registered for Selective Service, on 12/18/1996, while in my senior year of high school nearby at Metro).

  • Chouteau, 4120 Manchester, 63110.

  • Tower Grove, 3198 S. Grand, 63118 (This is a very small, storefront post office that I think is very cool; used to stop and mail packages there a lot).

  • Maryville Gardens, 2920 Meramec, 63111 (A large facility, it delivers to all of 63111 and 63118. It was built in 1978 to replace two smaller, 1950s facilities, one on S. Broadway near Holly Hills and another on Meramec close to S. Grand now occupied by Vogel Heating & Cooling).

  • Eugene Field, 625 N. Euclid, 63108 (Another small, neighborhood commerical district branch where I used to walk frequently from the old Metro location at 5017 Washington).

  • Frederick N. Weathers, 3415 N. Kingshighway, 63115.

  • Gravois**, 4455 Ridgewood, 63116 (Kind of hard to find, but very busy).

  • Southwest**, 3232 Clifton, 63109 (Also, kind of hard to find, but serves two huge ZIP codes: 63109 and 63139).

  • Gwen B. Giles, 1409 Hamilton, 63112.

  • Baden, 8390 N. Broadway, 63147 (Probably the newest postal facility in the city.)

  • There are also mini-post offices at the Federal Center (4300 Goodfellow) and Washington University School of Medicine (4580 Scott), not to mention several post offices in St. Louis County that service portions of the city, such as the Maplewood Post Office at 2800 Marshall just south of Manchester.

    But good luck finding direct phone numbers for your local post office. That is difficult, at best.

    Friday, August 03, 2007

    Downtown in 30 Minutes or Less Via MetroBus

    Downtown in 30 Minutes or Less Via MetroBus

    Yes, I have started driving. But that does not mean I have abandoned public transit. I just recognize that one needs to adopt a multimodal lifestyle.

    That means, when it's convenient and feasible, to consider other options besides driving a single-occupancy vehicle. Sometimes, that's walking or bicycling, although I do rarely bicycle just because I'm very much out of practice and, well, kind of lazy.

    But I still walk a lot of places, although that has to be tempered by weather conditions, the perception of safety both from crime and from traffic hazards, and time constraints.

    Many areas of the City of St. Louis are, in fact, 30 minutes or less from Downtown St. Louis via MetroBus. Of course, MetroLink gets you even farther in that time.

    MetroLink Estimated Travel Time:

    Civic Center to Sunnen Station: 29 minutes.
    Civic Center to Airport East Terminal Station: 29 minutes.
    Convention Center to Belleville Station (Illinois): 28 minutes.

    Selected MetroBus Routes Estimated Travel Times:

    #04 Natural Bridge:
    Convention Center MetroLink to Vandeventer @ Natural Bridge: 30 minutes.

    #10 Gravois:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Gravois @ Holly Hills: 30 minutes.

    #11 Chippewa:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Chippewa @ Louisiana: 29 minutes.

    #30 Soulard:
    Convention Center MetroLink to St. Louis Ave. @ N. Kingshighway: 29 minutes.
    Convention Center MetroLink to Arsenal @ Spring: 29 minutes.

    #32 Wellston-MLK:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Martin Luther King @ Sarah: 30 minutes.

    #40 Broadway:
    Convention Center MetroLink to S. Broadway @ Courtois: 30 minutes.
    Convention Center MetroLink to Riverview MetroBus Center: 27 minutes.

    #57 Manchester:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Manchester @ Sutton, Maplewood: 30 minutes.

    #74 Florissant:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to W Florissant @ Union: 30 minutes.

    #93 Midtown South County:
    Convention Center MetroLink to Grand @ Chippewa: 30 minutes.
    Convention Center MetroLink to Forest Park @ Euclid: 30 minutes.

    #94 Page:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Page @ Walton Ave.: 29 minutes.

    You get the idea. The general intention here is to illustrate just how quickly you can get to downtown St. Louis from most of the City of St. Louis. Of course, there are significant areas that are not within a convenient walking distance of a bus route that provides direct downtown access. In those cases, a transfer to another route is necessary, which slows the trip considerably.

    So I'm not saying transit is always the best option; just that it is an option to be considered, especially if you both live and work in the City of St. Louis or the closest inner-ring suburbs.

    And even for inter-city travel, flying and driving are not always the only options; although for most smaller towns in Missouri, driving is almost the only option aside from costly airport shuttle services.

    Amtrak, Greyhound, Jefferson Lines, and Burlington Trailways operate various routes throughout Missouri, but they don't go everywhere and they don't operate all that often nor (at least in the case of Amtrak and Greyhound) necessarily on-time or even close to on-time. Megabus offers direct express service to both Chicago and Kansas City from the Market Street side of Union Station downtown. I haven't tried it yet to see what their comfort level and on-time performance is like, but I do see the buses plying Market Street several times daily.

    My main point is that, while sometimes driving is the only option, it's not always the case. Alternatives can be considered; and even if you still chose to drive, at least you'd know you had other options.

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Shifting Winds of Independent Media

    Shifting Winds of Independent Media

    So, I've noticed some changing in the St. Louis City-based blogging and independent political publications scene in recent months:

  • Sadly, Marti Frumhoff passed away two months ago, just as her long-awaited Main Street St. Louis initiative was getting underway.

  • Dave Drebes' Arch City Chronicle ceases publication, and ACC blogging shifts to largely cover Missouri state politics, as Dave focuses more on his new project, Missouri Scout, a fee-based online information service. It's understandable, given the publication has never made a profit, according to the note Dave posted on the blog.

  • Brian Marston and Amanda Doyle continue to periodically update The Commonspace Blog, but the e-zine is pretty sporadic at this point and the physical space closed up some time ago. It's understandable, given they both have lives and jobs, Brian having recently taken up a position that I'm sure keeps him quite busy, program director of the North St. Louis YouthBuild at the Friedens Neighborhood Foundation in historic Hyde Park.

  • Antonio French's Public Defender (bka "Pub Def") has, arguably, picked up some of the ACC market, although it, too, seems to have a lot of coverage of State politics as well as City politics, and probably less school-board coverage than it used to have. Of course, Antonio has to pay the bills too, so he is the political director for President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed, on the campaign payroll as Mr. French will openly proclaim.

  • Brian Horton, one of my long-time fellow travelers in aspiring to be an urban planner, announced his relocation to Charlotte, NC to pursue a new career opportunity. While I have enormous respect for Les Sterman, Steve Nagle, and the whole staff at East-West Gateway Council of Governments, I'm sure Brian realized (as I did when I was offered a position there in 2002) that the structure of this region largely ties the hands of EWG in making meaningful, long-term plans for the growth and development of St. Louis. While EWGCOG has a lot of authority in allocating Federal transportation dollars, the priorities still are mostly determined in Springfield IL and Jefferson City MO. And land-use planning is, realistically, locked up within local governments who are loathe to give up that authority.

  • Steve Wilke-Shapiro, instigator of the blog, announced his family is moving to Des Moines IA for a career opportunity. Again, perfectly smart decision, and I hope the new contributors to that blog can keep the momentum going.

  • Not that it is as dramatic nor significant as the other shifts mentioned above, but it's true my new job and other important matters have cut into my available time and topics for blogging. Just like the others (no, no not like THE Others...), I gotta pay the bills!

  • So, where does that leave the local urban political "blogosphere"? (I hate that made up word, but I guess it fits here.)

    There's still lots of folks plugging away, including Michael Allen and Claire Nowak-Boyd (OK, mostly Michael these days...) at Ecology of Absence, which has garnered considerably more attention lately; and of course Steve Patterson at Urban Review.

    And I'm sure I am leaving others out; if you know of any local interest blogs not featured on my blogroll at the left side of this page, particularly St. Louis City-oriented political and/or urban design issues, please let me know.

    Anyway, even as the folks who were involved in the early days of Metropolis Saint Louis, the Rehabbers Club, and the growth of the local political/urban planning blogs, move on to bigger and better things, I'm sure something will fill the gap.

    The Urban St. Louis message boards sure are hopping these days!

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    Muppet Wiki!

    Muppet Wiki!

    Did you know there is a Wiki devoted to the Muppets?

    How cool is that?

    I like it.

    OK, carry on.

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    What Is It About Nebraska Ave?

    What Is It About Nebraska Ave?

    A lot of bad news seems to come from Nebraska Ave. in South St. Louis these days.

    On the way home from picking up dinner last night, I saw one of those impromptu teddy-bears-tied-to-a-lamppost shrines, so I assumed a child or teenager had been murdered -- isn't it lovely that's what I automatically assume!

    I got home and saw the news report about a man shooting his stepdaughter about noon yesterday in the street on Nebraska, so we thought maybe it was because of that.

    But it turns out the story is that a 35-year-old man was killed in a hit-and-run in the wee hours of last Saturday morning.

    I guess that's why the teddy bears confused me; this happened at Nebraska and Winnebago in front of Froebel Elementary School in the Gravois Park neighborhood, where I worked as a tech spec during the August 2006 primary election. I naturally thought it had something to do with a child who was a student at the school; putting up teddy bears to memorialize a grown person is not something I'd have expected.

    The noontime shooting yesterday happened several blocks further south, the 4500 block in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

    Back on June 26, a 19-year-old was shot and killed at 1:30 a.m. in the 2800 block, in Fox Park.

    Just over a year ago, on July 12 2006, a police car was stolen (!) by a woman who had just been arrested in the 3300 block. It was quickly recovered.

    Exactly 18 months ago, on January 24 2006, a 44-year-old cabdriver shot and killed a 16-year-old who was trying to rob him, in the 3200 block.

    Granted, Nebraska is a pretty long street that extends through several densely-populated neighborhoods -- Benton Park West, Compton Heights, Dutchtown, Fox Park, Gravois Park, Mount Pleasant, Tower Grove East, and The Gate District.

    Even including Compton Heights, this area has a lower per-capita income, higher rate of poverty, and higher population density than the city as a whole:

    Per Capita Income: $15,002 (citywide: $16,108)
    Individuals in Poverty: 28.7% (citywide: 24.6%)
    Families in Poverty: 26.2% (citywide: 20.8%)
    Population Density: 6,133 people per sq. mile (citywide: 5,580)

    This is not to excuse anything, but it is true that less wealthy areas tend to have higher crime rates. We could all do more to improve the situation, but sometimes it does seem rather hopeless.

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    The Carlyle Group and You

    The Carlyle Group and You

    More accurately, this would say "The Carlyle Group and Its Tenuous Connections to St. Louis and My Family History" but that's kind of long.

    You know who The Carlyle Group is -- a prominent Washington DC-based private-equity firm that leverages investments in all kinds of businesses and in real estate, with principals that have included prominent politicians of various stripes, most notably former members of the Bush and Reagan administrations.

    Like other private equity firms, Carlyle invests in numerous different kinds of businesses simultaneously; but they are not 1960s-style conglomerates inasmuch as they tend to plan for short-term ownership of their subsidiaries.

    Anyway, within the past month, two companies with generic-sounding names have come under the Carlyle umbrella: Sequa Corporation and PQ Corporation.

    PQ originally was Philadelphia Quartz; but it also has a large subsidiary called Potters Industries. And one of the divisions of Potters is Crestwood MO-based Flex-O-Lite.

    Flex-O-Lite makes glass beads for reflective paint used for striping highways and airport runways. They have been located in St. Louis for 60+ years.

    My grandfather Albert Frank worked as a burner operator at their former manufacturing plant on Flex-O-Lite Drive in Affton during the 1950s.

    Sequa Corporation, meanwhile, is a bit more like the old-line conglomerates. They make automotive parts, printing equipment, tuxedos, and aircraft engines and engine parts through their Chromalloy Gas Turbine subsidiary.

    Chromalloy Gas Turbine is the largest component of Sequa, and the only one retaining the name of the former Chromalloy American Corporation, a one-time Clayton MO-based conglomerate that Sequa acquired in 1987. Over the years, Chromalloy owned such things as what is today Washington Ave.-based CPI Corporation (once called Chromalloy Photographic Industries; later changed to Consumer Programs Incorporated).

    As best I can tell, though, the only remaining part of Sequa located in St. Louis is Precoat Metals.

    Precoat has offices at 1310 Papin Street in the Blanke Building downtown, but their St. Louis manufacturing facility is located at 4301 S. Spring St. in Dutchtown.

    4301 S. Spring is a large parcel at the SW corner of Spring and Bingham, so it includes the former Goeke farm at 3860 Bingham Ave.

    Anyway, these kinds of bizarre, tenuous connections seem to fascinate me.

    Later, maybe I'll share (if I can figure it out myself) how I'm distantly connected to one of Michael Allen's favorite people. ;-)

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    What is a Sheltered Workshop?

    What is a Sheltered Workshop?

    Have you ever looked at your tax bill and wondered "what's that 'sheltered workshop' tax all about?"

    Recently I've learned a little more about sheltered workshops in Missouri, and their important role in employing individuals that probably would not be able to get jobs anywhere else. They also provide a valuable service to government and industry in the form of contracts for manufactured goods and certain services like janitorial work.

    In short, a sheltered workshop is a small factory where people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities (and in some cases, physical disabilities) work. They do get paid, but have special waivers from the US Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division to pay less than minimum wage; typically, they pay 50% of the prevailing wage for the job.

    The Extended Employment Sheltered Workshops program of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Division of Special Education, funds about 20% of workshop budgets in Missouri. The legislation was passed back in the late 1960s, thanks to the efforts of numerous concerned parents of children with mental retardation who were becoming adults.

    According to the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers, the Missouri sheltered workshops operate primarily on an industrial model, where they generate most of their revenues from contracts for manufacturing work and some service contracts. In many other states, the per diem reimbursement rates from state government are much higher, because the program is more of a residential treatment and recreation center, with the work being secondary.

    But back to that tax bill: Another 10-15% of most sheltered workshops' budgets comes from local taxes authorized by the voters and administered by county SB 40 boards, called that because of the Missouri state legislature bill number that authorized them in 1968. Over the years, these boards have begun to provide funding for other organizations that provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities; but they started out primarily as a funding vehicle for sheltered workshops. About half of these boards are members of the Missouri Association of County Developmental Disabilities Boards. Each board is an independent body with its own tax rate, and allocates its funds independently.

    The local SB 40 boards are as follows:

    City of St. Louis -- St. Louis Office for Mental Retardation and/or Developmental Disability Resources (MR/&DD Office)
    St. Louis County -- Productive Living Board for St. Louis County Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (PLB)
    St. Charles County -- Developmental Disabilities Resource Board (DDRB)
    Jefferson County -- Developmental Disabilities Resource Board (JCDDRB)
    Franklin County -- Developmental Services of Franklin County

    These days, most of the agencies funded by these boards are not sheltered workshops, but community-support organizations. There has been some concern this diminishes the focus on sheltered workshops as a tax-supported employment initiative for the most severely disabled persons who need the programs.

    Nevertheless, we still have a large number of workshops in and around the St. Louis area; and several are good examples of regional cooperation in funding.

    In the City of St. Louis, there's:
    Industrial Aid at 4417 Oleatha Ave. in Tower Grove South;
    MERS Goodwill, one of the biggest ones, at 4140 Forest Park Pky. in the Central West End. Of course, MERS Goodwill is jointly funded by the St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Charles County boards.
    Project Inc. at 6301 Manchester Ave. in Dogtown (Clayton-Tamm); and
    Worth Industries at 4124 N. Broadway on the North Riverfront.

    In St. Louis County, there's:
    Canterbury Enterprises at 7228 Weil Ave. in Shrewsbury. Canterbury is also jointly funded by the City and County boards.
    Lafayette Industries with two locations, the original at 179 Gaywood Dr. in Manchester; and
    Lafayette Industries North (formerly ITE Inc.) at 4621 World Parkway Circle in Berkeley.
    Valley Industries at 143 B McDonnell Blvd. in Hazelwood; and
    W.A.C. Industries at 8520 Mackenzie Rd. in Affton, another very large operation, also jointly funded by City and County.

    In St. Charles County, there's Boone Center, Inc. at 200 Trade Center Drive in St. Peters. In addition to Boone and MERS Goodwill, the St. Charles board also funds TEMCO, Inc., a division of Emmaus Homes located on their Marthasville campus at 2245 Highway D in Warren County.
    The Franklin County and Warren County boards don't have websites, but they appear to support the TEMCO facility to some extent as well. Warren County also has another workshop, called Warren County Sheltered Workshop (no website?), located in Warrenton at 1760 HGP Ave.

    In Jefferson County, there's Jeffco Subcontracting at 2065 Pomme Rd. in Arnold. JSI is the only workshop in the county, and the only workshop funded by the Jefferson County board.

    In Franklin County, there's:
    Sheltered Workshop, Inc. at 1600 West Main in Washington; and
    Sheltered Industries of Meramec Valley located in Sullivan.

    The Franklin County board also seems to help fund River Bluff Industries located in Hermann (Gasconade County), and already mentioned TEMCO in Marthasville (Warren County).

    Also in St. Louis County you'll find a workshop for individuals who are blind, called Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. which has two locations:
    10440 Trenton Ave. in Overland; and
    8833 Fleischer in Berkeley.

    LHB is not a DESE Sheltered Workshop, so it does not get State or Local funding. What it DOES get, as do some of the sheltered workshops, is Federal contracts.

    Under legislation dating to the late 1930s, workshops for the blind (and since the 1970s, those sheltered workshops for the severely handicapped) are eligible for special preference in Federal government contracting. (They also qualify for five points extra consideration in State of Missouri contracting, which is why you'll see that Warren County Sheltered Workshop has the maintenance contract for the I-70 rest areas near Wright City, and indeed most rest areas are maintained by workshops in Missouri.)

    The Federal program for workshop contracts has long been called JWOD in honor of the sponsors of the legislation, all from New York: Senator Jacob Javits in 1971, and House members Wagner and O'Day in 1938. The name is changing to AbilityOne. The program is administered by a group ominously called "The Committee," a group of top Federal bureaucrats appointed by the President. (Its full title is a mouthful: The Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled.)

    Like Federal Prison Industries (aka Unicor), JWOD/AbilityOne is what is known as a "required source of supply" for Federal agencies. This means that if Unicor or a JWOD workshop offers the item for sale, Federal agencies must buy it from them. Unicor often issues waivers to this rule.... but The Committee does not do so as often.

    To get on the JWOD Procurement List, workshops must become affiliates of either National Industries for the Blind (NIB) (which happens to have its national technical center in Earth City) or National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (NISH). While there is no fee for affiliation, once a workshop gets a contract, they must pay back 4% of that contract to NIB or NISH.

    LHB, of course, is a NIB affiliate -- and they got over $8 million in Federal contracts just in Fiscal Year 2006. Most of the local Sheltered Workshops are NISH affiliates, but only one has the capacity to offer JWOD products/services: MERS Goodwill, DBA MGI Services. In FY '06, MGI Services got about $400k in JWOD contracts, mostly cleaning Federal buildings. JWOD products are marketed to Federal buyers under the brand name Skilcraft.

    The world of sheltered workshops is a little-known aspect of the government; arguably, it's not really part of the government at all, but given that these dozens of independent non-profits receive state and local tax dollars, as well as state and federal contracts in some cases, it is surprising how little attention they get. Most seem to be doing a great job in employing individuals who probably would have a great deal of difficulty getting and keeping jobs in traditional settings.

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    Transitory Trips

    Transitory Trips

    While it's true I have started driving quite a lot on weekends and sometimes on evenings, I still plan on commuting to work by bus for a while. Of course, I log many times more miles in the car on outings into the suburbs and the suburban-ish parts of St. Louis City (I seem to drive that Gravois-to-Chippewa route out to Hampton Village area a lot lately!), than I do on my little three-to-four mile transit ride into downtown from home.

    But I still run occasional errands via transit, preferably in the mornings or at mid-day.

    My usual AM transit commute is about 30 minutes total; riding the express bus rather than the local shaves off a few minutes, depending on traffic.

    So, for example on June 15 I rode the #10 Gravois local bus:

    Left home 7:01; Arrived bus stop 7:07. Waited until 7:14 for bus to show; got off at 7:29 in front of City Hall; arrived at office 2 blocks away by 7:33. Total travel time: 32 minutes.

    On June 25, meanwhile, I rode the #11x Shrewsbury express, because I left a little earlier:

    Left home 6:47; Arrived bus stop 6:54. Waited until 6:58 for bus; got off at 7:11 in front of City Hall; arrived at office by 7:15. Travel time: 28 minutes.

    And yesterday, I rode the #10x South Grand express, because I was running a little late:

    Left home 7:16; Arrived bus stop 7:22. Waited until 7:31 for bus; got off at 7:45 in front of City Hall; arrived at office by 7:49. Travel time: 33 minutes.

    These just illustrate some typical examples.

    Today, to drop off some videos at Hollywood on S. Grand, I made a much longer trip than usual. But I still made it within about an hour.

    Left home 6:30; Arrived bus stop on Arsenal 6:37. Caught #30 Soulard at 6:46; disembarked at Grand & Arsenal 6:52. Dropped off videos, got to bus stop on Grand 6:55. #70 Grand bus showed at 6:58. Disembarked #70 Grand at MetroLink station, 7:09. Eastbound train arrived 7:14; exited at Civic Center 7:19, walked to office, arriving by 7:30.

    You'll notice, however, that route this morning involved more time walking and waiting than it did actually riding the bus or train! I was only on the #30 for six minutes; on the #70 for eleven; and on MetroLink for five.

    There probably are ways to make these systems more efficient and user-friendly. Admittedly, I'm largely illustrating here the one thing that our transit system was originally designed to do: ferry commuters to-and-from downtown St. Louis, at peak-hour. It still does that reasonably well. However, for other destinations, I realize, it can be much more difficult to make the trip by bus.

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007

    Alternate Routes

    Alternate Routes

    So, yesterday I drove to and from St. Peters to give a presentation to one of our FastTrac classes.

    The class was held at the MU Extension St. Charles County office, which is located at 260 Brown Rd. in the part of St. Peters most people don't even realize exists -- north of I-70. Getting there, you pass along Main St. through the roughly eight-square block Old Town area, which was the entire town from 1815 until 1970, when massive annexations and development began.

    I used the Veterans Memorial Bridge on MO 364 -- better known as the infamous Page Avenue Extension -- to get out there. Actually, I pretty much avoided the Interstate system during most of this trip. Sometimes I wonder why other folks can't understand that, yes, there are alternatives to taking I-64/US 40 and I-70 for east-west car travel in this region.

    But you may also recall the Page Ave. Extension was, for a time, a cause celebre in the urban sprawl debate. Of course, I'm not sure how much it really has contributed to sprawl by itself, given that it just drops you off on MO 94 in the Harvester area, then you still have to take other roads to get to an Interstate. It does pass over the southernmost tip of Creve Coeur Lake, which is unfortunate to say the least.

    I actually used the direct connection onto Muegge Road from MO 364, which eventually leads to the Cave Springs area along I-70 in St. Peters.

    Coming back, I briefly hopped onto I-70 at Mid Rivers, then without changing lanes took the Discovery Bridge on MO 370 to re-enter St. Louis County.

    I can remember a time, c. 1993, when MO 370 had its westernmost terminus at MO 94 in St. Charles. Now, of course, it connects to I-70 about halfway between Cave Springs and Mid Rivers.

    370 seems like a much more likely culprit for promoting sprawl, as most of the area surrounding it has been developed into industrial parks and other businesses -- as well as New Town St. Charles -- that were previously inaccessible floodplain land. It may have also made it easier to access the northern reaches of uphill St. Charles, thereby promoting continued residential development there.

    Also, at least MO 364 has a dedicated bicycling path. While MO 370 has share-the-road signage and MRT corridor designation, the amount of debris that accumulates in the non-standard width shoulders along the outer edge of each roadway makes walking or cycling across the Discovery Bridge rather harrowing.

    By comparison, the Old Route 115 Bridge had a walkway along one side, with stairs leading down to Main Street.

    There's now actually less non-car access to St. Charles proper than there was 100 years ago! From 1904 to 1932, the old bridge carried a streetcar line.

    Anyway, once into St. Louis County I used the direct connection from MO 370 to Missouri Bottom Road, avoiding I-270 altogether. I cut through what used to be called the "Brown Campus" to access McDonnell Boulevard.

    And eventually, I made my way to North Broadway (via Halls Ferry). Now that is a speedway! From Baden south to O'Fallon Park, it's six lanes, and almost nobody keeps to the 35 MPH speed limit. South of O'Fallon Park, most of the high-speed traffic has hopped onto I-70, but the many big rigs can be scary at times.