City Garden: “Transforming Downtown and Lifting the City’s Sense of Itself and Its Future”?

Metropolis executive editor Martin Pedersen and Robert Duffy, Associate editor of St. Louis Beacon and senior lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis have a dead-on story about City Garden in the November issue of Metropolis. The new park is not a silver bullet for downtown or St. Louis, but as the authors note, it is a place that directly contradicts many people’s perception of our city.

The piece is certainly worth reading in its entirety (it’s short), but here are some especially true and insightful comments on St. Louis as well as previously a unknown (to me) bit about the layout of City Garden:

The abrading of a city’s self-image is gradual. But once that dreary process begins, it gathers an energy of its own and becomes difficult to reverse. If a place is continually criticized—withered by condescension from without, and shame from within—a kind of civic inferiority inevitably results.

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We’ve knocked down some irreplaceable pieces of our built past. White flight has been supersonic; a racial chasm persists. Our primacy in booze and shoes went down the drain and walked out of town. The plant sciences and biotechnology should replace these industries, but we’re suspicious of science as ungodly, in spite of its being the region’s best hope for economic redemption.

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There’s often a perception around here that no one is doing anything smart. Forward-thinking residents, however, as well as visitors and immigrants who are unspoiled by familiarity, regularly remark on the quality of our architectural legacy and the vibrancy of our cultural life.

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Early on, the designers found a 1916 Sanborn map showing old property and foundation lines. “We looked at those and said, ‘Let’s trace some of that history,’” Byrd says. “So the central walkways are literal traces of the old alleyways between the two blocks.”