About Urban Workshop

Every day decisions both large and small are made that shape our urban environment. Many of these decisions are made with no public input or worse yet, with no particular knowledge of the subject at hand. A demolition is approved, a variance granted, streetlights chosen—and this is the process that over time creates our built environment. Where we live, where we work, where we travel are the result of this often mundane process. Only by being attentive to the choices before us can we effect a more livable future for our neighborhoods and cities.

That's the reason this blog exists. Want to know more? Here's a quick profile that Sustainable Cities Collective put together. I can be contacted at [email protected].

"Having long contributed comments to other blogs and forums, I established my own blog, the St. Louis Urban Workshop, in March of this year. It’s been a great way to connect to others with similar interests, and along with a Twitter account (@stlurbanworkshp), has introduced me to professionals within development, urban planning, and architecture whom I would have otherwise not met." Such are the words of Alex Ihnen, who is the Sustainable Cities Collective's second blogger of the week.

Born and raised in North Manchester, Indiana (with a population of 6,500), Alex was the first in four generations of his family to leave northern Indiana. He attended Indiana University and earned both a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's in public affairs. He has also studied at the University of South Australia in Adelaide and the Universita per Stranieri in Perugia, Italy. Alex is currently a Regional Director of Development at Washington University.

While at Indiana Alex won the Little 500 cycling race made famous by the movie Breaking Away. It was on a bike ride in Indiana that Alex met his wife Katie. While spending a year living in Italy both Alex and Katie joined Grifo Bike, an amateur cycling team, and raced throughout the country. They moved to St. Louis in 2004 where Katie attends Washington University as an M.D.-Ph.D. student. They are the proud parents of daughter Lucy and son Oscar. The family lives in St. Louis' Forest Park Southeast neighborhood.

Alex emails me that he was fascinated by St. Louis' history and built environment since the first day he moved there.

St. Louis is big enough that you can find whatever you’re looking for, yet small enough that an individual can become involved quickly. I serve on the Development Committee of the Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation; where we review liquor licenses, demolition permits, tax abatement requests, new businesses, and development proposals. I am also working with a group to design a new neighborhood park.

The amazing thing about becoming involved and promoting smarter urban development is the realization that seemingly small decisions are made every day that shape our urban environment, and often these decisions are made without any public input or consideration of alternatives. An emergency demolition is approved, a street is excluded from an historic district, a variance is granted, streetlights are chosen–and this slow, methodical process over time creates the place in which we each live.

More important to me than any stance on a particular issue is my wish that people would be attentive to the choices before us and how we can effect a more livable future for our neighborhoods and cities. Too few people are engaged in their communities, and this neglect has led to much of what we now dislike about our towns and cities. Because of this, those who choose to become engaged can and will have substantial influence.

From supporting transformative development in North St. Louis and urban planning to the removal of a sculpture installation that brought interactive life to an urban park, Alex wrote several blog posts in recent weeks that were picked up by SCC, approved for placement, and received much fanfare.

Last week, Alex departed from his traditional urban environmentalism blog posts and focused a rant against Ted Diadiun, Ombudsman for the Cleveland Plain Dealer–who called bloggers "a bunch of pipsqueaks." Alex wrote:

What Diadiun and others ignore at their own, and their company's expense, is the ever blurring line between a blogger such as myself (with a journalism degree and experience writing) and someone employed as a print journalist who writes a blog. Today, a blog (and the accompanying Tweets, E-mail, etc.) is at times used as a resource by traditional media, a tip sheet, a way to fill in the blanks, a way to keep informed of the minutia that make a good story, a barometer of what's happening 'out there'. It very quickly becomes a two-way street.

Diadiun is entitled to his opinion, but that dissenting view is why Alex does what he does.

He writes, "Engaging a system that some see as 'broken' is the best way to effect change. It’s easy to protest the demolition of a building. It’s more difficult to engage in the neighborhood process of producing a development code and plan that will mold our built environment."

If his blogging frequency and unique perspective is any indication, there are good things to come in St. Louis and Alex will be on the forefront of change.


NextSTL is committed to providing original stories and unique perspectives on a variety of urban topics such as architecture, development, transportation, historic preservation, urban planning and design and public policy in St. Louis. We're always looking to add new, diverse voices to the mix. We accept anonymous tips, pitches for story ideas, and completed stories.

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