We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Yay for Christian Saller

Once again, there is some coincidence between what I have written about this election cycle and what Sixth Ward aldermanic candidate Christian Saller has stated.

Two days before my post of yesterday, " Election Next Week: Yawn! I Mean, Yay!", Saller posted this statement to his campaign blog:

I do not and have not disparaged my opponents throughout the course of this campaign. I am happy to be cordial and polite when we see each other in person and have made it my policy to avoid saying anything about them when I go door to door or otherwise interact with constituents in the 6th Ward. I have campaigned on my merits and why I think I would perform well as a full-time alderman with a strong emphasis on constituent service and economic development. In my view, the unfortunate tendency of some to attempt to "trash" opponents or to even subtly demean them in some manner diminishes the caliber of the entire campaign, so I have not and will not engage in such behavior. As candidates, we differ in style and substance, though I am willing to assume that we all have sincere and honorable intentions in our respective approaches to the job.

While it's easy to disagree with that last sentence, overall the statement is exemplary. Hopefully it will carry some weight with voters and other candidates, at least at some point in the future.

Preservation Board Meeting in Review

The Preservation Board meeting yesterday was short and pretty sweet. Credit is due to the current board members, who are a very thoughtful group on the whole who take their decisions seriously. The new members -- David Richardson and Mike Killeen -- are good fits for the board, and frequently make excellent points. Chairman Richard Callow continues to enrage haters by running the meetings effectively and efficiently while respecting the input of community members and applicants who testify. This is a good mix and creates the city's only regular forum for the public discussion of urban design policy. Attendance from bloggers, architects and activists is steady. Now, if only the board could increase the scope of its powers and solidify its decisions against the trump card of aldermanic blighting ordinances!

Here are some of the highlights of yesterday's meeting:

#5 Washington Terrace: Preliminary review of a plan to build a new house on one of the city's finest private streets. The discussion on design was interesting, although it fell along predictable lines. Many residents turned out to testify because the local district ordinance stipulates that the trustees of Washington Terrace must approve plans before construction. That's well and good, but not an appropriate covenant for the Preservation Board to uphold. There are courts of law for those fortunate enough to live on streets with restrictive covenants; the Preservation Board's enabling ordinance does not allow it mediation powers in such instances, as Commissioner John Burse pointed out during the discussion. Deferring decision in this instance would set a bad precedent for future ambiguity. Fortunately, the Board voted 5-1 (with Anthony Robinson abstaining) to approve preliminary review so that the builder can begin to work with staff at the Cultural Resources Office on design details. While more difficult, the trustees will have to enforce their own restrictive covenants without using a design review board to do so. If the approval covenant is important to most residents, they will enforce it. Perhaps the local district ordinance for Washington Terrace should be amended to remove the separately-enforceable covenant clause, since there is no way the Preservation Board should be in the business of upholding anything other than municipal design ordinances.

2352 S. 11th: Your typical already-installed glass block basement window case. However, the appellant got in a good line when told that historically his basement windows would have had bars. "Historically, my house was boarded up," he said. The Board voted 5-1 to uphold staff denial of his permit for glass block.

6811 and 6815 Magnolia: The owner of these two small frame cottages, contractor Joe Pauk, supposedly purchased them for rehab in December 2006 but quickly decided they were too far deteriorated for repairs. The houses are condemned by the city's Building Division, but Pauk has not had a structural assessment save his own. The appeal was denied by a unanimous vote.

2605 and 2619-21 Hadley: Haven of Grace took a big step by agreeing to retain 2619-21 Hadley and motball it for future use. Executive Director Diane Berry announced this during her presentation; chairman Callow wisely asked her to state on the record her intention to also rehab the building. Citizen testimony from myself and Claire Nowak-Boyd followed, although the news of the compromise changed the direction. However, along with other residents we are still concerned about the long-term integrity of the Murphy-Blair National Historic District into which much of Old North falls. That district has lost around 60% of contributing resources since listed in January 1984, which comes down to roughly 370 historic buildings lost in less than 25 years. I still think that 2605 Hadley is saveable, but I think that the good new design and density that Haven on Grace brings is important for the neighborhood. Under these circumstances, the compromise is fair.

Petition to designate the McKinley Heights neighborhood as a local historic district: Approved unanimously. The "opposition" that turned a previous public meeting on the matter into a circus did not show.

Good Deal in Alton?

Here is the entire description of a listing on CraigsList of a house for sale in Alton (asking price is $72,000):

1840's Historic Lincoln School Headmaster's Home for sale Furnished with Antiques.

The out-of-focus photos show an intriguing Federal-style home with appropriate wooden windows, located on a brick street. Maybe. It's hard to tell.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Election Next Week: Yawn! I Mean, Yay!

One week away from a primary election (the election in this sick city), one wonders why the city is so sleepy. One barely catches any news of heated arguments over policy, sharp ideological differences or the infectious charisma of up-and-comers. Of course, I live on the near northside in an odd-numbered ward. There is no local aldermanic contest, and the citywide candidates have barely been around these parts. But even if I lived elsewhere, the malaise would still be evident.

Yes, there are lots of yard signs in some parts of the city. But is there much in the way of political campaigning? The races that do get coverage seem mired in the politics of personality. The race for president of the board of alderman seems more like a painful ritual, and while I sympathize with Jim Shrewsbury's effort to stay focused on real issues I still don't feel excited or motivated to be concerned.

What I have seen is disappointing -- mud-slinging, innuendo, gossip and posturing. For some reason, political junkies are interested in the races although one find it hard to see why. Voter turnout should be its usual low factor. The city will sleep through Tuesday, and what a shame that will be.

Here we have huge issues: a state takeover of the public schools, the BJC lease, the plot to displace residents from the near north side and a tax credit to do so, the appropriate use of TIF financing, police residency, the need for comprehensive zoning changes, the ongoing failure of the city's ancient charter, the county's dumping of homeless people on the city, regional government, the new river bridge, the definition of blight, historic preservation policy, civilian oversight of police, the lead poisoning epidemic and so forth.

Perhaps I am misreading media coverage of these issues as popular interest in their resolution. However, I see an intense desire for citizens to become informed about these issues. People really care, and even their interest in the lackluster election this year is strong.

What people lack are choices at the ballot box. Renewed civic debate has yet to translate into political strategies. When it does, we will see a great flowering that will shake the Democratic machine off of its pedestal. For now, we can dream -- or not vote next week.

The sad fact is that the races on the ballot are important, and even if one does not find much to ignite them among the contestants, they will legislate for the next four years (don't believe the alderpeople that say they are only there to serve, because they do legislate). The race for aldermanic president is especially important, given that whoever wins will preside over the Board of Aldermen and sit on the Board of Estimate and Apportionment for four years. That is four years of blighting bills, TIFs, transitional school board appointment power and ruling on filibusters. Those are important powers, even if the smokescreen of political spin have clouded the air.

City residents, please vote next week but please help build better choices next time.

(For the record, I am a former Green Party committeeman -- and former Green -- who has spent much time aiding candidates in the city campaigning for real change. Also for the record, I do not expect libertarian socialism to be the basis of a St. Louis political party.)

Google Earth Map of McKee's Holdings Available

A concerned reader who lives in St. Louis Place created a Google Earth map of Paul J. McKee Jr.'s holdings in north St. Louis, and sent it in for publication on Ecology of Absence. The map, showing 500 parcels, seems to be short a few parcels (a closer number may be 540). However, seeing the satellite image of the landscape is much more vivid than any of our prior attempts to document the extent of the holdings.

It's linked here.

Quality Jobs Act Reported to Full Senate with Landbanking Section; Headed for Perfection This Week

On February 22, the Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Local Government of the Missouri Senate reported the Quality Job Act (SB 282) to the full senate. The bill is scheduled for perfection this week.

The Quality Jobs Act now contains the text known as the "Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act" proposed by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Sen. John Griesheimer (R-26th). That section creates a $100 million subsidy for super-scale urban land acquisition, and its backers have had no reservations in stating that its intended use is north St. Louis and one if not its only beneficiary is developer Paul J. McKee, Jr.

The full text of the reported bill is available here. The "Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act" comes first in the bill, starting on page one.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Watching the Brecht Demolition

Every morning comes one of the many internal negotiations of the day: Do I pass by the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings on my way to work?

I have a few choices for routes to work, so passing by the buildings is not necessary. However, as wrecking work progresses, I have to deal with the innate curiosity. How much further have the wreckers progressed? What does the column on that floor of that section look like now that it's exposed? And so forth. These are questions that I consider not only for my own curiosity but because I'm bound to get a few (and I mean very few in this case, given what side of Delmar these buildings are on) questions.

Most days, I take the hard route and pass by. Sometimes, I linger for awhile. The smiling workers are busy putting bricks up on pallets, knocking wall sections down. I watch, but only once have I photographed the scene. Usually, I am compelled to take a few photographs of demolitions, because the recorded details are useful for later research. This time, I have been slow to record what has to be one of the greatest buildings to be demolished in St. Louis since the Century Building.

Perhaps my lack of urgency comes from my deep personal disgust at this senseless loss -- one I haven't felt much before. Perhaps it comes from the fact that these buildings never received the preservation battle that they deserved. (Has any building in recent years?) Most likely, both. In the face of business as usual, investment in observing great loss alone can seem pointless.

I suppose that I will take the camera with me tomorrow, though.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Empty Space

The built environment tends to absorb trauma. Buildings, after all, endure countless abuses and serve as the settings for every possible pain a human being can endure. They keep standing through small fires and murders, gaining some new store of anguish with each event. When they are torn apart, their stored energies do not rapidly dissipate but become a part of whatever replaces them. This energy is no supernatural force, but rather is the inscribed force of historical and semiotic memory. People keep this energy alive through their responses to changes in the built environment. People remember changes in facades, storefronts, and so forth. People also strongly remember things that eventually disappear. Nothing so powerfully invokes the iconic recollection of a building than a visit to its site when it is gone. The mind projects the building as more than just a structure then; the building’s placement in the web of the individual memory is evident and gives the site continued power to terrify, astound or sadden. Yet the empty space itself cannot be said to embody any of the memories or to signify any of the history.

- Excerpt from my essay "From 0 to 1,776" (Omnitectural Forum, October 9, 2004)

Friday, February 23, 2007

St. Louis Fails to Make "Worst Waterfront Cities" List

The Project for Public Spaces has unveiled its "Worst Waterfront Cities." New York, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Boston, Tokyo, Seattle and Paris are the finalists. One wonders why St. Louis, one of the world's most famous river cities with one of the world's least-accessible riverfronts, is not on the list. Perhaps St. Louis is not large enough to catch the attention of PPS, or perhaps our abundance of amazing riverfront industrial architecture partly redeems our failures of public space planning.

Of course, in the eyes of the local establishment, the great waterfront plan created by Diana Balmori and Associates is tantamount to actually improving the riverfront, despite the fact that its price tag renders it "dead in the water" (yeah, I know) and its scope is limited only to the downtown riverfront that already is cut off from where people actually live.

More thoughts on the matter are online in Rob Powers' photo-essay "What's Wrong With This Riverfront?" (about our downtown riverfront) and my own "How Do You Get to the River?" (about one of my favorite river access points, soon to be rendered inaccessible).

(Thanks to Alan Brunettin for pointing out the PPS list.)

Almost All Parishes Closed in 2005 Sold

Old parish properties have new owners, uses - Barbara Watkins (St. Louis Review, February 23)

Out of the 20 parishes closed by the archdiocese in 2005, only two remain for sale.

Michael Eastman Exhibit Opening Tonight at SLUMA

From a St. Louis University release:

The Saint Louis University Museum of Art is pleased to present "Elusive Light: Michael Eastman Retrospective" which will be displayed in the Judith and Adam Aronson Gallery of the Saint Louis University Museum of Art. The exhibition opens with a 5:30 p.m. reception Friday, Feb. 23, and continues until July 15.

More of Eastman's amazing work -- much of which concerns elements of time, light and the built envirornment -- can be found on his website.

St. Louis Passes First Green Building Law

Last week, the Board of Aldermen passed the city's first "green building" law.

Sponsored by Alderman Fred Wessels (D-13th) and President Jim Shrewsbury, Board Bill 323 mandates that all city-owned new construction and major renovation must be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver or higher. (Read all about LEED here.)

The new law will be in effect for the next three city building projects, the two recreation centers being built with money raised by Proposition P as well as the Animal House.

Shrewsbury's office is also working on legislation to encourage green building in private construction and rehabilitation projects.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Demolition Proposed for Two Houses in Old North St. Louis

Two houses in Old North St. Louis are proposed for demolition by Haven of Grace, an outstanding social service provider. The conflict could not be any more difficult for residents of Old North -- past and future are colliding, and a decision must be made.

Read background on the matter here.

The matter will be considered by the Preservation Board at its meeting on Monday. Staff of the city's Cultural Resources Office have denied the demolition permit, and Haven of Grace has appealed. Staff is now recommending demolition of one of the buildings and preservation of the other.

Read the staff recommendation here.

Meeting details:

When: Monday, February 26 at 4:00 p.m.

Where: Conference Room, 1015 Locust Street, 12th Floor

How to Testify: Attend and sign up, or submit written testimony to Preservation Board Secretary Adonna Buford at BufordA(at)stlouiscity.com

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

St. Louis Has Two Entries on "America's Favorite Architecture"

The American Institute of Architects has published America's Favorite Architecture, a list of 150 buildings around the country chosen through a poll of 1,800 Americans. The results are questionable, although guessing why certain buildings are on the list and making sense of the list order provides endless entertainment.

St. Louis is represented only twice, with our ubiquitous Gateway Arch at #14 and beloved Union Station at #40.

Some of the results -- Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, two Apple stores in New York City -- will certainly puzzle locals wondering why the Wainwright Building, among other worthy contenders here and elsewhere, is absent.

Chicago critic Lynn Becker has excellent commentary on the list here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

MayorSlay Talks with John Burse

MayorSlay.com's latest podcast subject is my neighbor, architect John Burse. In his interview, John shares thoughts about the uniqueness of Old North St. Louis, what makes neighborhoods unique (and what makes others contrived), revitalizing the Gateway Mall and other things.

Listen here.

A Thought About Community Life

"Community life is by definition a life of cooperation and responsibility. Private life and public life, without the disciplines of community interest, necessarily gravitate toward competition and exploitation. As private life casts off all community restraints in the interest of economic exploitation or ambition or self-realization or whatever, the communal supports of public life also and by the same strike are undercut, and public life becomes simply the arena of unrestrained private ambition and greed."

- Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

Harris Armstrong Lives On

Instead of sitting at my desk working through lunch on Friday, at the urging of two friends I headed to Webster University to catch architect Andrew Raimist's slide lecture on Harris Armstrong. While I knew a fair amount about Armstrong before Friday, most of it was through facts gleaned from books and Raimist's own writing.

Armstrong's various work spread across the mid-century make so much more sense when explained by Raimist, who has a wonderful mix of true insight and eager passion for his subject. Raimist's narration against the backdrop of beautiful images projected screen-size make for a compelling hour and for a much more vivid examination of Harris Armstrong than can be found in any other way.

Thankfully, Raimist has published a large amount of his research on Armstrong and an equally vast amount of images. While this is more linear offering than the lecture, these are formidable resources in their own right. After all, few St. Louis architects have bona fide biographers, let alone anyone as intense as Andrew Raimist.

Please visit his websites:

  • Architectural Ruminations (blog)
  • Raimist's Flickr page (photos)
  • Peoria Prices

    This beautiful mess -- a rambling frame house with brick foundation in Peoria, Illinois. The house seems to retain a lot of original millwork, plaster and structural integrity.

    The funny thing about the ad is the promise that the house will appraise for $40,000 after "remodeling." In St. Louis, our similarly large and similarly messy masonry home with stone foundation will appraise for $160,000 after rehab. This frame house would be worth no less than $100,000 after repairs if it were located in the city of St. Louis.

    (Before you get too dismissive of Peoria real estate, check out this mansion that was "tuck-pointed 5 years ago with correct formula of lime, portland and silica sand" despite not having to be reviewed by the "hysterical commission.")

    People Will Be Talking on Thursday

    What: A get-together for anyone who likes to talk about architecture, urbanism, politics and St. Louis.

    When: Thursday, February 22 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.

    Where: The Royale, 3132 S. Kingshighway

    Who: Nameless faceless bloggers, real estate investors, professors, clowns, politicians, carpenters and anyone else who comes through the door.

    Contact: Michael Allen, michael-at-eco-absence.org or 314-920-5680.

    Saturday, February 17, 2007

    Post-Dispatch Breaks Details of Kinder Proposal Through Editorial

    A Kinder tax break - St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 17, 2007

    Read today's editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch if you want your heart broken. Decades of progress on the near north side are threatened by a proposal that does not prohibit the use of eminent domain, even in rehabbed areas like Old North St. Louis.

    Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, posing as some sort of urban hero, and Mayor Francis Slay have not once addressed letters, phone calls or emails from residents or community leaders afraid of the impending attack on the near north side's fabric. Yet they find the time to let the editorial board know they support a policy proposal designed to benefit one developer that has not been reviewed by St. Louis city planning officials, neighborhood organizations or St. Louis legislators.

    Here we see that our region's lack of leadership on development issues is staggering. As painful as it is to admit, the only "leader" here is Paul J. McKee, Jr., who assembled the land on his own according to a very well-developed plan. After ignoring citizen complaints and growing media coverage of the debilitating effects of McKee's plan, Slay now quietly jumps on board for this tax credit proposal. Republican Kinder has watched his party attack the poor and urban residents of the state without helping, but now acts as if he is enacting a grand gesture that is in fact a reactionary proposal.

    Meanwhile, McKee's companies are still acquiring properties at a fast pace and phony eminent domain letters are circulating in some parts of St. Louis Place, although the source is unknown. The near north side is wounded and suffering, and the leadership needed to heal those wounds is hard to find. Even if such leadership emerged, the Kinder proposal is a blueprint for unending pain and community-busting.

    Here is a challenge: Lt. Gov. Kinder and Mayor Slay should come meet with residents of the near north side in a public forum to hear their concerns, fears and hopes. So far, these leaders have not countered the rhetoric of this being a "unpopulated area" nor have they responded to the citizens whose lives they affect. What we on the near north side assume as a result is that we do not matter to them as constituents, and our removal is their end goal. After all, not once has the full text of Kinder's proposal circulated around here where it will have its biggest impact. Not one letter has been answered. Not one statement has come from these men that shows respect for the largely poor, African-American near north side population.

    Our assumption may be unfair, but we will never know without communication.

    Friday, February 16, 2007

    McKee's Project by the Numbers

    Paul J. McKee Jr.'s northside holding companies own somewhere between 100-400 acres of the JeffVanderLou, St. Louis Place and Old North St. Louis neighborhoods -- not over 1,000 as has been often stated. That's just bad math with no source.

    However, 100 acres is a huge amount of land in an urban area. The two largest vacant sites in the city are the 40-acre Carondelet Coke site at the southeast corner of the city and the 33-acre Pruitt-Igoe site near the intersection of Cass and Jefferson avenues. Those sites are just about the right size for large urban development.

    Perhaps the urban land acquisition tax credits now part of the pending Quality Jobs Act in the Missouri legislature could have reduced the minimum size from 75 acres to 30, with a cap of 75 acres. That seems like a reasonable change given the confusion and fear over the size of McKee's project. That range would guarantee smaller projects where community consensus would be easier to build. McKee's assemblage effort shows the difficulty of achieving consensus for projects on the scale that he apparently envisioned when he started.

    Time for the Weather

    There will be snow tonight, someone just told me.

    Oh, well. That's nice.

    Once upon a time, I watched the weather forecast every day, and looked at weather websites nearly hourly. That was back when the roof leaked and the walls needed rebuilding. Then, I looked at weather even more carefully when we rebuilt the walls and installed the new roof. After all, I am doing all of the scheduling for our rehab and that's a big responsibility.

    Now, we have many weather-sensitive items left, like window and door work and painting, but nothing that brings in the danger of water infiltration or debilitating work stoppage.

    If anyone thinks that means the good times are rolling at our house, be aware that the regained time is headed straight into catch-up work on long-delayed interior projects.

    As one can see, committment to historic preservation is no abstract proposition around this house.

    A Word from the Cave

    The developers' shills are now accusing critics of being "anti everything." Once again, when given an opportunity to learn from people with ideas we see the apparatchiks dust off the old "obstructionist" and "zealot" hatchets. Yawn!

    Obviously, they are counting on a city whose culture is stunted and whose citizens are eager to be commanded how to think. Unfortunately, the old St. Louis they wish to lord over forever has passed them by.

    Nowadays, citizens are better-informed about development projects than ever. If that is inconvenient to developers, so be it. These are the lives affected by the developers' projects -- the flip side of the debate.

    Complacency, submission and acceptance of whitewash campaigns are outdated. Try openness, dialogue and civic debate about issues. More innovative minds have already realized that the most effective development projects are those in which the most vocal critics eventually become stakeholders. Check the dreaded blogs and one will find praise for developers like Restoration St. Louis, Loftworks and others despite minor disagreements. These developers are those who don't try to suppress discussion and dissent, but assume that is part of a healthy civic culture.

    Honestly, finding someone who opposes redevelopment of Bohemian Hill or the near northside is downright impossible. To call smart suggestions for better development "obstruction" is to ignore the fact that there are more discussions of the built environment in St. Louis than in any other city. That actually helps development because it creates an intellectual culture interested in change and growth. (How many Milwaukee or Philadelphia built environment blogs are there? They would love to have some of ours!) After all, the odds in this state and this country are so tilted against a city like St. Louis, it's a wonder there are so many motivated people working on all sides of development. With a scarcity of quality old media outlets, and an abundance of vacant land and buildings, there seems plenty of room for consensus in St. Louis.

    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Bohemian Hill Plans Starting a Great Debate

    I have little to add to the debate on the Bohemian Hill project, which has gotten off to a fiery start. I am especially encouraged at the number of young people taking a serious interest in shaping the outcome of the project. If only we can become a city worth their sustained commitment, energy and passion...

    Built St. Louis' Bohemian Hill page is probably the best starting point for the issue. The second stop would be the embedded information in a recent post by Toby Weiss on Built Environment in Layman's Terms. Then immerse yourself in the discussion thread at Urban St. Louis.

    Until a real site plan surfaces, and the eminent domain threat is addressed, the debate will be in somewhat of a holding pattern for hard facts. That's not stopping the critics, though -- a good thing. I expect a lengthy and passionate process that will make this one of the year's biggest development issues. (In other words, the issue "Blairmont" could be if the masses truly cared about the northside.)

    Landbanking Amendment Sails Through Senate Committee

    Yesterday, amid the local smokescreen of "land trust", the Griesheimer amendment to the Quality Jobs Act (SB 282) unanimously passed the Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee of the Missouri Senate.

    Here is the available summary (full text has not been publicly released):

    This act creates the distressed areas land assemblage tax credit program, administered by the department of economic development. Tax credits issued under the distressed area land assemblage tax credit act, are non-refundable, fully transferrable [sic] income, corporate franchise, and financial institutions, tax credits. Tax credits issued under the act will be equal to fifty percent of the acquisition costs for the land, and one hundred percent of the interest costs. The tax credit program is capped at one hundred million dollars and the total amount of tax credits issued annually is limited to twelve million dollars.

    Numerous St. Louis citizens sent letters and made phone calls urging senators to delay the vote until there could be more local discussion, especially in the areas of north St. Louis currently affected by the "Sheridan Place" (or "Blairmont") land acquisition project Sen. John Griesheimer used to justify the new credits.

    As far as this writer knows, the only reply came from the office of Sen. Wes Shoemyer (D-18th), who inserted a citizen letter in the floor book for the bill. The St. Louis delegation was unusually silent on this very local matter.

    Comments in the press from Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Mayoral Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford made no mention of the hurry to pass this bill and the lack of citizen input, or the silence of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay in the face of impending physical and social upheaval hitting the near northside of his city.

    Collecting Stories

    I just stumbled onto an article on Gaper's Block about last year's visit of StoryCorps to Chicago. Following up on the amazing work of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration to document oral history and folklore during the Great Depression, StoryCorps traveled the United States last year over six months to record the tales of today's Americans:

    The aim of StoryCorps is to continue that work; listening to today's accounts and allowing for a shift in some of the particulars, you quickly realize that's exactly what it's doing. And, just as the WPA interviews were archived, with the permission of participants, their present-day counterparts are submitted to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress as well.

    The Chicago visit began with an interview of our friend Tim Samuelson, the city's official cultural historina, and his wife Barbara Koenen. However, StoryCorps selected a wide range of culturally-connected participants and, perhaps most important, interviewed many volunteers of all backgrounds.

    Reading this article coincided with an invitation that Claire Nowak-Boyd and I received to appear in a similar film project. The coincidence has got me thinking: Why doesn't someone set out to document the oral histories alive in St. Louis?

    While many people are doing the great work of photographing and researching places, some of the strongest and most compelling accounts of places come through stories, anecdotes and amazing recollections of this city. Many of the most astute observations about the places of this region have come to me from conversations with people who have never published a word.

    Obviously, a total historical documentation effort aimed at the built environemnt of St. Louis is impossible. There have been some impressive efforts, like the mostly-forgotten Heritage/St. Louis photographic survey of the 1970s that endeavored to photgraph every historic building in the city. There is the work of Larry Giles to collect and conserve hundreds of thousands of physical artifacts related to the story of this region and its architectural life. There are numerous collections of literature, artifacts and other items in institutions ranging from the St. Louis Public Library to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

    However, one thing not being documented much are the statements of those who have shaped and been shaped by the architecture and unique places of St. Louis. At a moment when we still have access to the people who participated in the early rehab boom of the 1970s as well as those involved in the urban renewal era before that, we have the chance to record those stories and idea that won't make it into print or into the form of a building. We could save the stories that we will regret losing.

    StoryCorps and other efforts do great work that inexpensive media makes very possible today. St. Louisans should consider whether or not such an effort would be beneficial here. At a time of great change in the shape and form of the city, when massive rebuilding efforts are underway, an oral history project centered on the built environment seems particularly useful.

    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    "Land Trust" Discussions Should Cover All of the Facts

    Expect much discussion of the near northside and "land trust" development in the next few weeks. This discussion could draw attention to the failure of our city's current charter to handle large-scale redevelopment in a responsible and compelling manner. The discussion might point to the wonderful development opportunities inherent in vacant land. The discussion could lead to a plan for action acceptable to many parties.

    However, don't be sidetracked to the point that the facts become overwhelmed by rhetoric:

    - This is a discussion started by the news that in the last four years Paul J. McKee, Jr. has accumulated over 400 parcels in a concentrated section of north St. Louis.

    - Many of the properties of the project are in violation of city ordinances.

    - The city of St. Louis fronted thousands of dollars to board up, demolish and otherwise maintain property owned by McKee. While the fees are reimbursed, due diligence for maintenance and security have been lacking.

    - The agents working on the acquisition project utilized secretive and questionable means, did not conduct due diligence in answering concerns from neighboring property owners and did not disclose the name of the actually responsible parties to community leaders and property owners.

    - The property acquisition has included multiple cases where properties sought by other developers were purchased -- including properties in known redevelopment areas.

    - City officials have not yet responded to concerns of citizens and community leaders who have asked "why has this been allowed to happen?"

    - Hundreds of mostly poor African-American residents have been relocated from Old North St. Louis, JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place. (Some of this may have been inevitable, given housing conditions under prior owners.)

    - Historic properties like the James Clemens, Jr. House (in danger of roof collapse) and the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings (under demolition) have been allowed to deteriorate under this project.

    - No legal policy directed the purchase of these properties.

    Obviously, the language used by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and mayoral chief of staff Jeff Rainford in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch article is encouraging as far as development of the Griesheimer amendment is concerned.

    As far as dealing with "Blairmont," that work has yet to be done. McKee's ambitious project may turn out to be a mixed blessing from which good can come. Hopefully a full discussion of developing a "land trust" will include the facts of record in the "Blairmont" matter. Only then can everyone work together to create sensible policy for the near northside and for large-scale land acquisition.

    "Land Trust" Idea Gaining Support

    Tax credits could revive land trusts - David Nicklaus (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 14)

    Kinder says the tax credits won't work for a developer who wants to displace residents. No more than 5 percent of the acreage in a targeted area can consist of owner-occupied homes, and Kinder said he's willing to consider language that will protect renters, too.

    Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff, says he's excited about the proposal. "This would be a bold stroke," he said. "We are cobbling together a lot of cool stuff in this city already. This would allow for something really innovative and imaginative and comprehensive."

    One immediate question:

    Does "innovative and imaginative and comprehensive" include Paul McKee's plans for the near north side?

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007


    There I was, one week ago, applying shellac to the joists under the roof of the third floor of our house. The roof job was complete, so I was clear to get the interior rehab started. My first task was cleaning the mold growth on the joists under where the roof had its worst leaks, which were held in place by kraft-faced insulation batts, a vapor barrier and drywall. (I had already removed these three layers, much to the chagrin of my lungs and shoulders.)

    I had called a remediation specialist who is an acquaintance of my father, and got his bid and detailed action plan. Then I set about saving myself nearly $4,000 by replicating his plan almost exactly to the letter. Obviously, the biggest step to take with a mold issue is tackling the moisture problem. With a new roof and the running of a dehumidifier for weeks, that step was done. The next step is getting rid of food for the mold that is disposable, like paper-faced drywall and kraft-faced insulation. Working alone, I HEPA-vacuumed every joist to remove spores and grow Then, using the advice of an old time Soulard rehabber, I sprayed a hydrogen peroxide solution in case there was an active growth in need of being murdered.

    Finally, I applied a coat of one of my favorite historically-accurate sealers, shellac. The remediation expert uses the shellac to encapsulate any remaining loose spores, so that in case of high humidity or a roof leak there is a low chance of new growth.

    Toward the end of the job, while standing on metal steps looking up at my brush strokes, a drop of shellac fell and somehow managed to land in the center of my left eye. The jolt of the direct contact was one of the most bizarre sensations of my life. Before this, my strongest rehab experience was clobbering my shin with a large wrecking bar while working alone in a house in Hyde Park with no water or electricity. That time, I fell over from the pain and laid on the floor. Then I got up and gathered my composure.

    This time, I spent a split second before reacting. The shellac drop wasn't spreading across the eye as expected, but still I moved and called out to Claire downstairs. I ran down to the bathroom and washed my eye out. The whole time I imagined what the consequence would be if too much shellac had gotten into my eye, and I had experienced damage because of it. (I already suffer terrible near-sightedness and inherited degeneration issues, so I suppose problems lie in in store regardless.) I asked myself, would it be worth suffering eye damage in order to rehabilitate a house that William H. Niedringhaus built in 1885 and only occupied for two years? A house that is virtually unknown in the city, and hardly of large significance? A solid Italianate townhouse that is one of many such buildings in this city?

    Did I have to answer? Of course not.

    That I was in a position to have this and other accidents happen to me shows my answer is "yes." To have one's blood mingle with a building that has survived over 120 years and likely will last 120 more is a chance at half-immortality no one should turn down.

    Feeling Blairmont

    [NOTE: I wrote this this morning on my break, but only had a moment to post it now.]

    I was working on some course materials for a professor, and the abbreviation "JVL" jumped out at me from the page. JVL is Jeff Vander Lou, a neighborhood very near mine on the Near North Side. Excitedly, I read the page to see what it was about. The article told a little bit about JVL community activism in the 1970s, and it made me go "Ohhh, so that's why those buildings on those blocks are rehabbed in that certain way! I wondered!" This is one of my favorite kinds of moments to have while reading local history.

    And then I thought, I should ask this professor if he knows of any more material specifically about JVL. I bet he does. I want to learn all about the history of the Near North Side. Man, this is right by where I went to middle school!

    But then, out of the blue, my mind filled up with the inky, angry thought: Why bother? It's not your neighborhood--it belongs to Blairmont now, and they will do with it as they please. Blairmont can, if they want, decide the future of those blocks and your block and the place where you went to school and some of the landscape of your father's childhood, and their opinion of it is clear from their actions. Their opinion of you is clear. Their opinion of the worth of your history is clear.

    I have to say, it's hard not to have thoughts like these when you live in Blairmontland (Sheridan Place? Is that where I live? ), but man, they never stop hurting. I was happy this morning, until now.

    And the song stuck in my head this morning is terribly, terribly appropriate, which doesn't help. In my mind, I keep hearing Regina Spektor singing: "And the history books forgot about us, and the Bible didn't mention us. Not even once."

    Monday, February 12, 2007

    McEagle Contributed to Griesheimer

    The People for John Griesheimer, campaign committee for State Senator John Griesheimer (R-Washington), on November 6, 2006 accepted a $650.00 contribution from O'Fallon-based McEagle Properties LLC. (This is found in the committee's 30 Days After Election filing dated December 2, 2006.)

    Griesheimer has introduced an amendment to the Quality Jobs Act (SB 282) that would create a $100 million state tax credit for land acquisition projects of more than 75 acres in the city of St. Louis. According to Griesheimer, a developer from St. Charles County is interested in the credits for a project in north St. Louis.

    McEagle Properties has ties to an acquisition project in north St. Louis that already controls over 100 acres in the JeffVanderLou, St. Louis Place and Old North St. Louis neighborhoods.

    Ask Your State Senator About the Griesheimer Amendment

    No St. Louisan that I know has seen the text of Sen. John Griesheimer's amendment to the Quality Jobs Act (SB 282), scheduled for consideration by the Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee on Wednesday. According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the amendment would create a $100 million subsidy for land acquisition related to development projects larger than 75 acres in the city of St. Louis. The amendment also has the backing of Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, who is credited with making the proposal.

    Supposedly, the subsidy is sought by a St. Charles County developer for a project in north St. Louis. While this developer knows about the amendment, neither my state senator nor my alderperson knows a thing about a proposal with huge ramifications for the city of St. Louis and its residents.

    We need to know exactly what is being proposed -- and why it is being proposed hastily without input from St. Louisans. A program like the one proposed potentially could be beneficial to the city, with proper input from seasoned urban developers, citizens and St. Louis elected officials.

    City residents, please contact your state senators:

    Harry Kennedy, D-1st: (573) 751-2126
    Jeff Smith, D-4th: (573) 751-3599
    Maida Coleman, D-5th: (573) 751-2606

    You can send email using this form.

    Also, here are the current members of the Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee:

    John Griesheimer, R-26th, Chair: (573) 751-3678
    Chris Koster, R-31st, Vice-chair: (573) 751-1430
    Jason Crowell, R-27th: (573) 751-2459
    Kevin Engler, R-3rd: (573) 751-3455
    Jack Goodman, R-29th: (573) 751-2234
    Carl Vogel, R-6th: (573) 751-2076
    Victor Callahan, D-11th: (573) 751-3074
    Harry Kennedy, D-1st: (573) 751-2126
    Ryan McKenna, D-22nd: (573) 751-1492
    Wes Shoemyer, D-18th: (573) 751-7852

    Again, emails can be sent using this form.

    Lt. Gov. Kinder can be contacted at (573) 751-4727 or ltgov@mail.mo.gov.

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Brecht Butcher Supply Buildings Under Demolition; Permit Altered

    Two weeks ago, the A.G. Mack Contracting Company began wrecking the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings at the northeast corner of Cass and Florissant avenues in Old North St. Louis. The historic buildings, owned by Blairmont Associates LC (30% owned by developer Paul J. McKee, Jr.), have sat empty since their purchase by the current owner in 2005. On October 6, 2006, a large fire struck the buildings and caused extensive but not insurmountable damage.

    On October 31, 2006, the city's Building Division issued an emergency demolition permit for the eastern two buildings of the three-building group. According to demolition inspectors, the two-story western building was to be spared while the other buildings would be wrecked with city money.

    Then, suddenly, salvagers removed the cornice from the two-story section beginning January 8. Demolition started on the two-story section, and a complaint to the city led to information from Demolition Supervisor Sheila Livers stating that all three building would be wrecked.

    The city's Geo St. Louis website shows that the original wrecking permit issued October 31, 2006 was replaced by a new one issued January 12, 1007.

    The reason for the change is unknown. Obviously, the loss of the two larger buildings would have diminished the visual impact of the two-story building. Yet leaving some part -- a part not at all damaged by the fire -- of the historic row would have been better than nothing.

    (Photograph from February 8, 2007. Most of the two-story section is demolished now.)

    Two Good Things About St. Louis

    The Royale Treatment - Eddie Silva (St. Louis Magazine, February 2007)

    Is this an article about Steve Smith or the cultural future of this city? Does it really matter, with prose this lovely?

    Cool to be Kind - Molly Languir (Riverfront Times, January 31)

    Amid depopulation and big-time real estate maneuvers, a quiet revolution is occurring on the near northside. Its leaders are the gentle Catholic Workers from the Karen House community, some of my favorite neighbors.

    While some might read articles like this and think we have a fine counterculture, others could come to the conclusion that many St. Louisans have redefined the city's cultural identity. Forget the easily replicated allure of new condos or the sports teams that other cities have. The really original things about St. Louis may pass undetected by most people, but they are providing desperately needed cultural continuity. Some people seem to truly think that St. Louis is a great city, and they translate these thoughts into actions.

    In fact, so many interesting people live here one could easily stop thinking about the old guard forever, if only they stopped stealing houses, leveling neighborhoods and pulling the city further into decline.

    Saturday, February 10, 2007

    Three Neighborhoods, Thousands of People

    If anyone tuned into last night's excellent program on the 6:00 p.m. news program of KMOV Channel 4, you would have seen a compelling, tightly-edited report from Russell Kinsaul.

    Just don't get the wrong idea. More is at stake here than Old North St. Louis with its eager young middle-class white rehabbers. The "Blairmont" project encompasses the lives of thousands of people, and the biggest impact is on a largely poor, African-American population. This population may not survive the development apparently envisioned by Paul McKee's McEagle Properties. (That project is in line to receive a large subsidy from the state of Missouri should a proposed bill amendment go through this week.)

    The concerns of renters in JeffVanderLou are as politically important as those raised by homeowners in Old North St. Louis. In fact, the fact that both share the same concerns show that the near northside already enjoys incredible diversity -- and an unfortunate deep bond in fear over the possible changes to come.

    In the future, that bond and that diversity could be improved by thoughtful, careful redevelopment efforts. Clearance would erase the potential for retaining the existing population that has maintained the cultural fabric of the area despite incredible obstacles posed by decades of disinvestment.

    Instead of viewing the area as a potential blank slate, would-be developers should see an area already possessing a great array of architectural, cultural and social resources. The focus needs to be on filling the gaps harmoniously to create a strong urban fabric for three very cool neighborhoods.

    These neighborhoods already are rebuilding block by block, neighbor by neighbor, house by house. While Claire and I are a part of this effort, so are many other people. We look forward to many others joining us in the next decade, and to seeing our fellow near northsiders stick around for the good future we share.

    Friday, February 9, 2007

    Blight Proposal Being Rushed In State Senate

    Tax subsidy backer cites St. Louis blight - Virginia Young (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 8)

    Imagine the possibility of a massive state-backed subsidy for large-scale urban revitalization in St. Louis.

    Bet you don't imagine it being spearheaded by senators from St. Charles County, arriving in a hurry with little warning and with almost no knowledge of the proposal among St. Louis development insiders.

    What could be carefully-crafted, responsible policy seems to be rushed and made without the insights of those with the experience at the "tough sledding" of development work in depressed parts of St. Louis.

    With some refinement, such a policy proposal might be appropriate. At the moment, the proposal raises concerns in St. Louis.

    Tuesday, February 6, 2007

    Brecht Butcher Supply Company Demolition Told Slant

    As I watch progress on the demolition of the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings, I hear music in my mind:

    I sit at my table and wage war on myself
    It seems like it's all, it's all for nothing
    I know the barricades, and
    I know the mortar in the wall breaks
    I recognize the weapons, I used them well

    This is my mistake. Let me make it good
    I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down

    - R.E.M., "World Leader Pretend"

    I think: A priceless cultural treasure falls to the folly of a mortal vision?

    What folly...

    Why do I shed a tear? Why do I take offense? Why do I dare publish an opinion on a matter ignored by most every upright citizen?

    Let me put it this way: Imagine that you live in a world with limited resources. There can only be so many beautiful things, so many bricks made, so many walls built. The beautiful buildings have aged and show imperfection, but are still lovely and give you great joy. Then, all of a sudden, one of the buildings disappears. You miss it as you pass by its site, but you quickly look at the other great buildings. Later in the week, another building falls. Then another, and another until your walks through your own neighborhood begin to seem like intrusions into a forbidden world of darkness. The world is newly strange, and a bit terrifying. When the remaining buildings begin to breathe life again, and find new owners, you catch a goog look at hope that this dark world will be transformed.

    Then, all of a sudden, an intruder arrives. Although the old cycle of destruction is over, this person doesn't seem to care. He takes the remaining buildings -- the ones eyed by your friends as future homes -- and he evicts their occupants, allows their ornament to be stripped, lets them fall over. Strange fires happen, and uncertainty returns to a reborn landscape. You cry out, but no one pays you heed as they navigate their comfortable landscapes. The intruder wears a mask and laughs at your plight. The worst part about all of this is that this is the finite world. When the last beautiful building falls, so goes the beauty in this world.

    What terror...

    Good Work in Hyde Park

    There is a brand new force for good in Hyde Park, and it's not an aldermanic recall! The Friedens Neighborhood Foundation is on a roll with an uplifting message of community empowerment, education and rebuilding one of the city's most needlessly distressed neighborhoods. Based at the historic Friedens United Church of Christ at 19th and Newhouse, the organization is working rehabbing historic church-owned buildings and launching the first northside YouthBuild Academy. The YouthBuild schools provide construction education to teens who have dropped out of high school, and provide students both a G.E.D. equivalent and exposure to the work needed to revitalize their own neighborhoods. What could be a better match than the new academy and the Hyde Park neighborhood, one of the city's most endangered architectural assets?

    Please peruse the Friedens Neighborhood Foundation website and consider making a donation of time, talent or treasure to one of the most inspiring neighborhood organizations in the city. The foundation truly is confronting the social causes and physical symptoms of neighborhood decline. We can't let them fail.

    Studying Downtown Park Space: Less is More

    According to a post on MayorSlay.com, the Gateway Foundation has chosen a team led by Thomas Balsley and Associates of New York and Urban Strategies of Toronto to develop yet another master plan for the ribbon of disconnected parks known as the Gateway Mall.

    Meanwhile, the Downtown St. Louis Partnership seems close to closing a deal to develop part of the north side of the 800 block of Locust as a plaza.

    With the Gateway Mall, nearly perpetually under construction and study since the 1920s, the city has a chance to make relevant a mostly unused belt of green space of dubious utility. With the plaza on Locust Street, the city could see a project that will end up as much an albatross as the mall did. A wiser plan would be to take the existing green space and bring it back to life instead of creating more open space downtown.

    Enclosure and density in balance with open space are the hallmarks of a thriving city. Seeming random and unplanned open space are tell-tale signs of a city struggling with its own identity. That's a struggle St. Louis need fight no longer; downtown has the amazing modern grounds of the Gateway Arch, the Gateway Mall and the American original Lucas Park. As the Gateway Mall study shows, what is needed is reconsideration and enhancement of existing space -- not creation of more poorly-christened park space.

    What better testament to the city's success could there be than a dynamic, visually punctuated Gateway Mall and a sleek new tower on the 800 block of Locust Street?

    Monday, February 5, 2007

    More People Blogging from Old North

    Over a month ago, I recognized the efforts of Gordon and Kira McKinney to open Old North St. Louis' first art gallery, The Flop House.

    I neglected to shout out the link to their blog for a very good reason: I had not seen it yet. While the cool couple share stories, jokes and rehab philosophy in the blog I had only experience that in person before, including for a few hours during the last power outage.

    Now you can "drop by" the house next door yourself. Anyone who remembers Nate and Kathy Sprehe's excellent 1411 Hebert blog may think that house blogs are a neighborhood trend. Perhaps they are; if there are others from around the city, please share in the comments section.

    Sunday, February 4, 2007

    Blairmont Site Assembly Heading to the Long Final March

    Has Paul McKee's Blairmont juggernaut slowed? Not likely. However, word on the street is that they various active purchasing companies -- including Sheridan Place LC, MLK 3000 LLC and Dodier Investors LLC -- are making contracts with close dates as far off as May. The hold-up may be due to capital flow issues, or perhaps it's a strategic timing to avoid greater scrutiny in the wake of recent publicity.

    If the hold-up is due to lack of working capital, that is not difficult to understand. A scan of their last day of recorded deeds, January 24, shows four sales totaling $333,500.00.

    These purchases are a house and lot at 2219-21 Benton Street with a deed of trust for $80,500.00, a house at 2545 Warren Street ($86,250.00), a house at 2507 North Market ($92,000) and a house at 2911 James Cool Papa Bell.

    These prices are very high for older homes in the St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou neighborhoods, but there's good reason for the elevated prices: these four homes were occupied and maintained up to date of the sale. No doubt, the families that owned and occupied these homes were not about to sell out their little acre for pittance, even in the face of the usual rumor-mongering Blairmont's agents have been caught perpetrating.

    As the Blairmont machine heads onward in the later stages of site assembly for the "bulldoze the ghetto" project, the last remaining properties are owned by reluctant owners, unyielding owners and unknowing owners. Now that the machine is trying to buy hold-outs and hard-to-locate owners, we may be witnessing the greatest displacement of residents since this whole messy business started in 2002. In the first few years, when few realized the plot, Blairmont purchased properties at sheriff's tax sales and bought vacant land and buildings. Then, the agents began soliciting sales and picked up properties owned by folks ready to sell. They also began making inroads with public agencies, including purchase of the old Benton School site at 2333 Benton from the Board of Education and a disposition from the Public Administrator's office.

    Now, all that is left are people who own property that they have intended to maintain as residences and businesses. Now, all that is left is a full-on assault against the strongest parts of near northside neighborhoods. That, and a grab for the crucial public lands.

    What will our political leaders say as hundreds of northside residents are displaced and a tremendous public land-grab is planned? So far, they are mostly silent.

    Saturday, February 3, 2007

    The BJC Park Lease and the Public Sphere

    To all those people who bemoan the fact that some citizens are hesitant to grant BJC Healthcare a 99-year lease of a supposed forgotten corner of Forest Park: please examine the public sphere in the age of neoliberalism. Under policies at all levels of government, the ideal of the public good has become politically gauche. To talk openly about holding the stewardship of park land by our city government over the economic benefit of BJC's expansion seems a political third rail, when even twenty-five years ago widespread opposition would have been a given, and few city officials would dare have favored a 99-year lease of public land to a private hospital group headed by a real estate developer.

    In the past few years, we have watched the public school system sell off or discard assets of the public trust; not so long ago, the public hospital system was dismantled; city government has gone from a collective trust among citizens to provide for their needs to a near-sighted machine for favors, cobbled-together compromises and defensive gestures. Things that should belong to the citizens have been sold off or promised to private interest, and there seems to be widespread acceptance among leaders that government is now a tool for endorsement and acceleration of market forces. Once, government was the check against those forces that ensured that no matter what the city's commercial fortunes the citizens had good parks, clean water, schools and the infrastructure needed for living.

    While the opposition to the Forest Park lease may be more symbolic than anything given that BJC already has a lease on the land it is posed to get, the opposition recognizes the precedent the lease sets for future "needs" by big corporations like BJC. The lease makes law the trend of using city government to aid the powerful at the expense of safeguarding the public trust.

    In that light, the lonely votes of opposition cast by Alderman Jeffrey Boyd (D-22nd) and Aldermanic President James Shrewsbury on the perfection of the lease deal are not foolish or ignorant acts. After all, BJC could seriously have chosen many other lands for the expansion project; the site is a red herring of epic proportion. They are the bare minimum we should expect of our elected officials in an age in which the very purpose of democratic government is under attack by hyper-capitalists who have managed to influence our government, nonprofit and intellectual spheres. This attack should be resisted everywhere, but it is especially pernicious on an urban city with relatively scarce resources like St. Louis.

    Thankfully, we have two representatives in city government who are wary of the attack on the public sphere. We may every well have a third, if Comptroller Darlene Green votes against the lease when the final and binding vote by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment takes place.

    Highlights from Blairmont's CV

    Just a reminder about Blairmont, geared specifically to the couple of folks who've tried to defend them to me lately:

    They haven't built any houses, and they haven't done any development. (Not that driving a bulldozer across an entire tenth of the City's landmass constitutes "development," but so far we're just in the "harassing and intimidating Near North Siders" phase of the project....)

    McBlairmont's only "developments" so far have included:

    --several illegal evictions, including at least one that nearly made a family homeless
    --three known fires in a period of about one month, including one which nearly burned an occupied building
    --trying to con a blind woman out of her home by lying to her about the contract she was signing
    --harassment of numerous home and business owners
    --informing or implying to property owners that they have or will have the power to blight
    --the removal of a family that had owned their home for over 50 years
    --numerous thefts and pillagings of great buildings. I myself witnessed part of the Clemens House porch being stolen--could it be that McBlairmont is deliberately trying to let that building get ruined? If it's not intentional, they are doing a great job of it anyway!

    Gee fucking whiz--what a lot of great "developments!"

    But who knows, maybe all these human rights abuses and cultural thefts are benefiting the abused Near North Side, and her poor and black residents most of all. Maybe it is I who have the problem, with my ridiculous notions of human safety and dignity.

    In other news, eating broken glass is good for you. Eat it every day! Film at 11!