Thursday, July 17, 2008

Where Is "Downtown"?

Whatever you think about the present and future state of (re)development in downtown St. Louis, it would help if the media and the general public -- particularly suburban and ex-urban residents -- would get the approximate location right!

I recall some years back there was much consternation because Mayor Bosley's staff counted the jobs at Anheuser-Busch (without the InBev part of course) as part of 'downtown' employment figures.

Of course, plenty of people are confused about where downtown St. Louis is. When I tell people I work at 100 N. Tucker, they say, "wow, that really IS downtown!" But then they may refer to, say, the National GeoSpatial Intelligence Agency complex at 2nd and Arsenal near the Brewery as "downtown."

And then we have The Washington Post, which I would not expect to have a real great grasp of St. Louis geography.

In discussing a certain Republican presidential candidate's recent visit to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard on Chippewa, the Post blogger wrote:

McCain chose to visit the original stand on historic Route 66; a second outpost exists downtown.

Uh, well actually, there's no location in downtown St. Louis and there never has been. In fact, according to the official Ted Drewes history, the first St. Louis location was on Natural Bridge in North St. Louis!

It all started when Ted Sr. opened his first ice cream store in Florida in 1929, followed the next year by an other store on Natural Bridge in St. Louis and the South Grand store in 1931. In 1941 the family opened a second south side stand which is the current Chippewa location, old route 66. By 1958, the south side stands were all that remained.

So, in fact, the South Grand store -- presumably what they were refering to as the 'downtown' store -- is ten years older than the Chippewa store.

And yet, I realize, the Chippewa store is the one that the general public -- i.e. suburbanites who somehow think it's a convenient stopover after a ballgame -- will most recognize.

Personally, I prefer the South Grand store. It's true, the surrounding neighborhood can appear a little dodgy, but no more so than my own neighborhood!

Anyway, it's not really that important I suppose, but just indicative of haphazard reporting. After all, a 5-second Wikipedia search turns up:

Downtown St. Louis is the central business district of St. Louis, Missouri, the hub of tourism and entertainment and the anchor of the St. Louis Metropolitan area. The downtown is bounded by Interstate 64 to the south, Jefferson Ave. to the west, the river front to the east, and Cole St. to the north. The downtown is the site of many corporate headquarters including A. G. Edwards, Edward Jones Investments, Energizer Holdings, Anheuser-Busch, and a host of other companies.

Uh oh, though -- the boundaries are fine, but the list of corporations could use a correction. A.G. Edwards is no more, A-B is in Soulard, Edward Jones is located out in Des Peres off I-270 and Manchester, and I think Energizer has moved their HQ to Maryville Centre area off I-64 and MO 141.

Actually, the boundary question becomes a little more complicated, although it still never takes in anything south of Chouteau. If you look at the Downtown St. Louis Partnership website, it says:

...the downtown boundaries of Cass Ave., Mississippi River, Chouteau Ave., and Jefferson Ave.

That definition has been used by DTSLP for a number of years, at least since the beginning of the Downtown Now! planning process, primarily to include substantial residential areas immediately north of Cole, most of which are (or were) public housing or subsidized housing of some type. To my mind, though, that area north of Cole is part of the Near North Side, not part of downtown.

Indeed, the official city neighborhoods map recognizes four separate neighborhoods as being within the area DTSLP counts as downtown:

  • Downtown: Bounded by Tucker, Cole (west of I-70), Carr (east of I-70), Mississippi River, and Chouteau
  • Downtown West: Bounded by Tucker, Cole, Jefferson, and Chouteau
  • Columbus Square: Bounded by I-70, Cass, Tucker, and Cole
  • Carr Square: Bounded by Tucker, Cass, Jefferson, and Cole

    Regardless of whether you use the city definition of downtown, the city definition plus downtown west, or the DTSLP definition, NONE of these include South Grand and Meramec, where Ted Drewes' oldest extant location is located.

    Anyway, I guess if I went with their definition though, I could advertise my house as located 'conveniently in the heart of downtown St. louis!'