The final day to submit comments and concerns to the National Park Service and the planning committee for the City+Arch+River project has arrived almost as quickly as it was announced. The groups are soliciting opinions from everybody — residents, businesses, those with general or vested interest; you just have to have randomly found it on their website, subscribed to their newsletter in advance or follow a few of St. Louis’ fine blogs who worked to post the info as quickly as possible.
The three questions asked are: 1) Do the purpose, need, and objectives reflect what you think the NPS needs to accomplish with this project? If not, what else do you think needs to be accomplished? ; 2) What concerns do you have about the potential impacts of the project to revitalize the park? How do you think these concerns could be addressed? ; 3) Please submit any additional comments in the box provided.I would encourage anyone who has a stance on the current design plan (or the handling of the initiative in general) to go to the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment page and share your thoughts, both positive and negative. You can check out City to River’s submitted comments on the City to River blog.
The City+Arch+River project has the potential to signal the start of a serious effort to advance our city to a higher status. For those who have been following its progress, you know there are some worrisome developments — from the radio-silence over the past seven months, the severe slashes to the original design and the questionable additions to its current iteration, just to name a few.
Following are my own additional comments, submitted yesterday:
While I have personal qualms with many of the independent features added or removed from the design, the many issues surrounding Memorial Drive, Washington Avenue and I-70 is the most impactful, and therefore presents the most potential harm.
When used in tandem with the existing Memorial Drive, the lid concept is a worthwhile strategy to mitigating the negative physical and psychological barriers of the sunken Interstate 70 lanes. It strengthens access points across four pedestrian walkways and succeeds in pulling the Archgrounds into the city, and vice-versa. However, the most logical concept of a simple lid within the boundaries of the existing North-South Memorial Drive has morphed into something that somehow complicates movement on a working street grid, encourages Interstate driving and limits pedestrian accessibility almost exclusively to the central lid. All this, while also creating new highway infrastructure which further separates this beautiful city and its equally stunning monument.
In an era where movement back towards the central city is picking up steam and where public transportation — and yes, even walking or biking — is becoming less socially divisive (be that due to rising gas prices or environmental awareness or other), it is unfair and irresponsible to take steps which further reward and expand the highway system. City to River, its organizers and its supporters have already done the legwork on a design plan that does away with what will soon become a superfluous Interstate connector.
By removing I-70 in its entirety — from south of Poplar Street to the new Mississippi River Bridge at Cass Avenue — Memorial Drive will take its rightful place as one of downtown St. Louis’ main boulevards, rather than serving as a glorified exit ramp. A true grid can be built, connecting all East-West streets to the park, opening up the Grounds to the full breadth of the city and, in turn, the full city to its visitors.
In time, it alone could be the major catalyst for lucrative individual developments in downtown St. Louis: south at Chouteau’s Landing, past the Archgrounds, adjacent to and across from the historic Laclede’s Landing district, near the Edward Jones Dome, past the Bottle District and onward, to and through North Broadway, Old North St. Louis and more. The resultant change would allow new visually-appealing, pedestrian-friendly connections not only from the Gateway Mall, but from Busch Stadium, Washington Avenue, the burgeoning Old Post Office Plaza district, and more.
All that potential (something St. Louis has in spades) is now under perilous risk, pending the decision making of City+Arch+River’s advisors, designers and backers. An Archgrounds corridor open to the city and free of loud, speeding vehicles signifies a forward-looking effort of growth and community. A decision to expand the highway infrastructure and terminate Memorial Drive in both directions continues a disgusting and disappointing trend of slighting forward progress for standard practice.