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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

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?


Anonymous said...

I thought BOTH a sleek new tower (Roberts) and an urban plaza were already planned on the 800 block of Locust.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Michael. Urban areas, particularly downtown areas, need density and critical mass to maintain the vitality and energy that characterize these spaces. Plazas and park spaces in small doses punctuate this energy. Too much open space smothers the energy.

For an example, one only has to look at the ill-fated State Street Mall in Chicago. In the 80s, all traffic other than buses was banned from the city's waning downtown shopping district, creating a broad pedestrian mall. What it did was suck all the energy from the street, spreading people out and making it feel empty. Traffic is back now, the sidewalks narrowed back to human scale. And there is new energy, new retailers and new life on State Street.