Today's announcement that the St. Louis Cardinals will build out the Ballpark Village site with a softball field and parking lot in time for this year's All-Star Game is no big surprise. We all knew that Ballpark Village development was behind schedule, that the recession would stall the project further and that the Cardinals would hastily concoct some beautification plan before the All-Star Game. Yet this is definitely not what we wanted to show the world this year -- a surface parking lot instead of an urban development under construction.
The softball field, however, is a good idea that echoes one offered by Rick Bonasch in a blog post on STL Rising dated March 27, 2008:
What about bringing the site to grade, removing the Ballpark Village Parking Lot, planting sod, and building one or two small diamonds for amateur games?
Sometimes good ideas take time to be adopted. One year isn't bad in St. Louis!
The problem is the huge amount of surface parking that will be built on the site. While a softball field is whimsical, attractive and useful, a parking lot is the ultimate sign of the failure of civic imagination. Transitional uses can be helpful to an urban environment if they offer an activity as people await a development project. A new surface parking lot is not helpful to a downtown that has shed its stagnation for a new life as a vibrant cosmopolitan center.
I propose an alternative for the remainder of the Ballpark Village site that will represent the imagination that we all know St. Louis has. Here is my crude rendering of Ballpark Farms
Instead of a sea of asphalt, how about bumper crops of turnips, corn, greens and tomatoes growing in a new downtown farm? Ballpark Farms would offer more green space, an activity node, and educational possibilities for young fans. (High fencing around crops is required, though, to prevent trampling.) Ballpark Farms would show All Star Game attendees that St. Louis is good at coming up with creative, productive plans for its vacant land -- that even a patch of downtown dirt is an opportunity we know how to seize.