It’s time to actively support transformative development in North St. Louis.

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The Saint Louis Urban Workshop’s mission is to “promote smarter development.” It’s apparent that development is needed in North St. Louis and my position is that we, as concerned urbanists, should be actively engaged, bringing attention to past and present problems and advocating for best outcomes.

“Northside,” as the project has been labeled will develop and evolve over the course of 10 years or more. There will be opportunity for public input and even trial-and-error. For one example, not all four “employment centers” will be developed at once. One will be on land created by a new 22nd Street/I-64 interchange, another will be centered on the Pruitt-Igoe site. If the final plan for the first center isn’t acceptable we can act and affect its development and that of the second and so on. Community input after a plan was presented in the same mode appears to have been successful in producing a more urban Walgreen’s store on Bohemian Hill.

Negative reaction to the McKee plan seems focused on the use of “public” money, fears of displacing current residents, disbelief that the project will be completed and distrust/dislike of Paul McKee and his past actions. TIF and other subsidies are commonly used to lure a Wal-mart from one suburban municipality to a neighboring one and this has rightly given the use of TIF a bad name. However, urban redevelopment of the type proposed is exactly the purpose for which TIF was designed. I do not believe that many will displaced and any displacment of current homeowners should be challenged strongly. And there is no guarantee that the project will be completed as envisioned, only effective State and Federal Government and local support by the City and residents can ensure completion.

Paul McKee has neglected many of his building and lots in North St. Louis, resulting in the destruction of historic homes and businesses which by any reasonable preservation stardard could have been saved. It’s unclear what can be done in this regard. An individual who does not mow their yard isn’t thrown in jail and nor should McKee. Regarding his properties McKee told the St. Louis Beacon, “Nobody paid attention to maintenance for 60 years. All of a sudden, a foreigner is buying property and they’re holding me to a new standard.” Right or wrong this is true, as any resident of the City of St. Louis knows, code enforcement is very selective.

Another common complaint regarding McKee was the secrecy he employed to acquire his property. To that he told those in attendence at the May 21st meeting, “I didn’t believe I could have purchased the land we did unless we did it the way we did. I was not going to stand up in front of you unless we had purchased enough land…to do something with it.” This is also true. Prices for lots and derelict homes jump quickly when word of development spreads and McKee would have been widely criticized for promoting a vision for a part of the city in which he wasn’t personally invested.

A loud portion of the opposition to this development vision are simply opposers. Propose an office tower? “No company would want that.” How about renovating the Kiel Opera House? “Waste of money and the Fox will close.” Have an idea for a condo tower? “But that would bring more people to my neighborhood!” Want to close an underused Interstate for rebuilding? “Store will close and there will be traffic chaos!”

Opposers do not promote smart development, they typically do not promote anything coherent. They claim to be disgusted with the status quo while vociferously opposing any change. Those who care about the City of St. Louis need to become engaged.

What we know of the vision for Northside is overwhelmingly positive: green building, job centers, residential infill, solar power generation, a streetcar. Despite some concerns, the vision for North St. Louis as so far presented is ambitious, transformative and smart. We should offer our full support to the vision and commit to addressing detailed issues as part of the long, ongoing development process.

Read the latest from the St. Louis Beacon here.

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