Jane Jacobs correctly and quite naturally identified having eyes on the street to be the mark of a safe, vibrant neighborhood; people entering-exiting street-level businesses, business owners looking outside, apartment or condo dwellers looking out from above… The Grove neighborhood, while quickly becoming more safe and attractive, continues to deal with excessive litter and nusiance crimes. This past weekend my home had a window broken by kids throwing rocks. It could have been prevented if one neighbor or passerby had told them to stop, but no one on the block was watching.
So what does this have to do with the planned Chouteau Park? If a new park is going to be successful, welcoming to families and safe, there need to be eyes on the park. Unfortunately only one side of the park land currently faces residential development (to the south across overly-wide Chouteau Avenue). The north side is I-64 in a deep trough, to the east is a small church on a large lot and to the west is a vacant lot which is currently on the market.
Given the current development, how can we activate the park? How can we ensure that people will use the park throughout the day and into the night, AND feel safe doing so? Several suggestions have been put forth: introducing a community garden (daytime users), a dog park, a restaurant/cafe, an amphitheater, water features and more.
I think that all are worth exploring. The park land is large enough to have many components serving many constituencies, but I believe that the single item that would best serve the park (and residents of The Grove) is a restaurant/cafe. Obviously it would have to done right. The Hartford Coffee Co. in Tower Grove South could serve a model. The Grove has the excellent La Dolce Via (perhaps they would relocate), but they have inconvenient hours and are closed as often as open.
Would it work? A restaurant/cafe at the corner of Chouteau and Tower Grove would benefit from the already significant north-south traffic on Tower Grove, already the busiest north-south route through the neighborhood. Of course the new eastbound exit ramp from I-64 onto Tower Grove will bring more potential customers as well.
But back to the point, a restaurant/cafe would put eyes on the park. Having just a couple employees and even a small number of customers would ensure a level of safety in the park. If those customers look up from their MacBooks once-in-a-while as they scroll through their Van Morrison songs, it provides just enough attention to increase safety. Outdoor dining could over look the park, adding more eyes and providing a very unique space. Even though there are lots across from the park that could be developed, I was glad to see that the majority at the meeting last night seemed to welcome the idea of a restaurant in the park.