Is There Reason for an Urbanist to Believe NorthSide Will Succeed Where Winghaven Has Not?

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Urban rebirth is occurring in cities across the country. Downtowns are adding residents and gaining a social life not seen in years. In St. Louis, neighborhoods like Benton Park West, Tower Grove East, Old North and Forest Park Southeast are more vibrant than they have been in decades. And now the biggest urban rebirth development project since Pruitt-Igoe has been proposed for a large part of North St. Louis.

Developer Paul McKee thinks that his $8B proposal will revitalize a two square mile area of the city, bringing jobs and residents back to a neglected part of the city. Today’s Post-Dispatch covers McKee’s Winghaven development and points out some of its shortcoming’s, failing retail development, fewer jobs created than projected, etc. While the Winghaven community is ideal for some, the development has not met some early expectations. What does this tell us about NorthSide’s prospects for success?

Winghaven is certainly a design failure to those who value urbanity and recognize its benefits, but the development met with initial success and remains popular to some. Mastercard moved close to 2,000 jobs there (though they moved from Maryland Heights with the help of millions of dollars of subsidies creating a zero-sum gain for the region) and according to the P-D the first 550 homes in Winghaven were purchased in one week in 1999. This was well before the housing boom of 2003-2007 and there was reason to believe that momentum for the development would continue.

Since then other developments have canabalized some of Winghaven’s retail and the critical mass of jobs and residents needed to support small businesses never materialized. Winghaven, which set out to be a different type of development altogether became just one of many places someone could move or a business could locate along the Highway 40 corridor.

The question is whether NorthSide is different. As someone involved in, attracted by and dedicated to the promotion of smart urban development I feel that there is an innate attraction to urban living. NorthSide and the City of St. Louis offers an environment and experience that cannot be duplicated in our metro area of nearly 2.5 Million people. There is already density to the south of the project area and while downtown retail still lags in some areas, there is not lack of cultural amenities. Downtown also provides quality mass transit options as well as quick access to our major Interstate highways.

I would like to think that a revitalized North St. Louis would be unique and attractive enough to lure jobs, retail and residents. Of course the developer is the same, but will the nature of the project define its success? Whether it’s Paul McKee or another proposal to remake a large neglected portion of the city, is there a push for urban development or will businesses and residents alike need to be pulled?

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