St. Louis Centre Skybridge Just One Example of Our Mistaken Infrastructure: I-70 Removal Should be Next

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{I-70 above Washington Avenue – photo courtesy of www.citytoriver.org}

The St. Louis Centre skybridge over Washington Avenue is coming down. Demolition got started with a street party this past Friday. People are excited to see the skybridge gone. It's removal is part of a redevelopment of the vacant St. Louis Centre and former Dillard's, now the Laurel. We should welcome this investment, but the removal of skybridge symbolizes much more than this, it's a recognition that removing people from our city streets and introducing infrastructure designed to segregate activity is a failure.

Today, the City to River blog takes this understanding and highlights the remaining barrier created by the elevated lanes of I-70 over Washington Avenue at the base of the Eads Bridge. Downtown St. Louis is undeniably urban and the best urban spaces are those that bring together many uses and people. This is the real gain from removing the skybridge. Think of any moment, in St. Louis or elsewhere, where you felt the city around you was alive. I'm willing to bet that scene didn't involve a pedestrian mall, a skybridge or an Interstate, but instead people, cars, bikes and maybe transit. Removing cars from people and people from the street is a 50-year-old failed idea. It's precisely this mix of people and purpose that is urban vitality.

Only the removal of I-70 from the Poplar Street Bridge to Cass Avenue will introduce a connected, multi-use, multi-modal solution to our mistaken infrastructure. The City+Arch+River design competition frames the challenge posed by our mistaken infrastructure this way:

The challenge is to take one of our country’s first urban park sites, weave it into the city fabric, explore the role of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as an active part of the downtown and a contributor to economic growth, celebrate the riverfront and mitigate the divisive “moat” of transportation around the site.

A new Interstate Highway System, burgeoning railroads and bustling barge traffic on the river, all signaled prosperity and dynamism for the area and for the nation. Today, those transportation corridors sever the memorial site from the river and the city, making the Arch grounds an “island,” isolating the Memorial from the activity and diversity of the evolving downtown and compromising public access and use of the historic area and separating the waterfront from the city. This Competition is about connections and weaving an urban park into the city fabric of St. Louis.

This language doesn't come from City to River, the National Park Service, who want I-70 removed, or any other advocacy group. This is the official competition manual language. Infrastructure is the problem, as it was with St. Louis Centre. Additional layers of infrastructure, pedestrian bridges, lids or lights will not correct the problem and will fail at "weaving an urban park into the city fabric of St. Louis." Let's continue removing failed attempts to segregate people and activities downtown. More infrastructure will only serve to prevent the interaction, the economic and urban vitality we seek downtown.


{a view of the current I-70 separating downtown St. Louis from the Arch and riverfront}

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