Monday, March 31, 2008

Potemkin City

Potemkin City

Note: For some reason I thought "Potemkin village" was a slur against native Americans; turns out, it dates to 18th Century Russia.

Lately, I've spent a lot of my weekend time visiting model train shows and searching out places to watch real trains pass.

Something that strikes me is that our railroad corridors, historically central to the development of industry, are not just marginalized today -- they are decimated. Sure, the trains still run, and almost constantly past places such as Grand Avenue Interlocking immediately south of the Grand MetroLink station, where Amtrak, TRRA, BNSF, UP, and Respondek (overnight only) pass by almost constantly.

But the industrial areas adjacent to the rails are almost dead, especially on weekends. Some buildings are still active, to be sure, but many of the side streets through the industrial areas have so many potholes they are almost impassable. One particularly bad stretch is behind the old National Guard Armory -- an amazing building where my 6th grade classes went to play softball inside about 1990-91 or so. Anyway, Bernard Street and "lower" Spring Avenue behind and alongside the Armory are in atrocious condition, and it seems like nobody cares about that area despite its location right next to the SLU campus. (Then again, maybe it's best that SLU not get its hands on that property!)

And for that matter, some of the streets east of North Broadway are similarly depressing. Up there, it seems like more buildings may be partially occupied than it looks like, but still there are vast areas of vacant ground.

Sure, we still have massive railroad yards, but even those don't necessarily serve that much active local industry. They are instead remnants of an earlier era. Since 1978, Kansas City has been the 2nd-largest railway center in the US, surpassing St. Louis. KC has placed itself as a logistics center both in rail (as headquarters of "the NAFTA railroad, Kansas City Southern) and in underground storage (Subtropolis).

Indeed, many of the trains you see pass through St. Louis are either coal trains heading from the Powder River Basin in Montana, or container trains stacked with ISO containers mostly from China and elsewhere in East Asia.

1 comment:

Chris said...

The existence of Potemkin Villages is largely believed to be a myth.