Cincinnati vs. St. Louis: Which Riverfront Would You Choose?

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A lot has been made of the changes coming the St. Louis riverfront given the Arch grounds competition; rightfully so given the presence of Saarinen's Arch. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is truly an iconic American place. But what makes a great city riverfront and would St. Louis be better with a different design altogether?

Looking at the progress being made on Cincinnati's Central Riverfront Park, I see a more active, more inviting, more interesting place than our own Arch grounds, Laclede's Landing and Chouteau's Landing. While there are differences, the parallels provide for an interesting comparison.

Cincinnati's stadiums are on the riverfront, pulling millions of people across Ft. Washington Way and I-71, their version of St. Louis's I-70. Cincinnati has a significant museum on the waterfront, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. St. Louis has the Museum of Westward Expansion. The Eads may be a more impressive engineering feat, but the Roebling Bridge is more accessible and inviting to explore. There's a Moerlein Lager House (think Schlafly Tap Room) with an open plaza planned in Cincinnati, while the Arch grounds may see a beer garden and Cathedral Square restaurant.

There exist many similarities, but the parks themselves have different functions owing to JNEM's national memorial status. It appears to be a benefit to Cincinnati that they have more freedom to design their park. So would you choose Cincinnati's riverfront with its museum, stadiums, development and parks, or JNEM and Arch in St. Louis?


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  • HazelStone

    I’ll take a church from the 1700s and a giant monument over two loathsome stadiums any day.

    • Alex Ihnen

      The current Basilica dates from 1834, but point taken. Unfortunately the only remaining building from the historic riverfront and the “giant monument” fail to rival the experience in Cincinnati. No matter what’s on the riverfront, the connections in Cincinnati are much better and it’s an easy walk across the Roebling to Covington. Obviously, some of these things can’t be changed.

  • The unique thing about Cincinnati’s riverfront is that once the masterplan is completed, the whole thing will feel like an extension of our downtown. Downtown will flow into the mixed use development at The Banks, with our stadiums on either side, and then to the Smale Riverfront Park. Eventually, Fort Washington Way (I-71) will be capped between Downtown and The Banks, and visitors may not even know they’re crossing an 8-lane interstate highway. Of course, it will be many years before The Banks is completed, and there is currently no funding in place to build the FWW caps, although the county and the city’s parks commission has applied for grants to do so.

    • Alex Ihnen

      At this point, or at some point in the future, will it even be necessary to cap I-71? I mean, development is happening and it’s a lively area without it. How many millions should be spent on capping? I’ve also never understood by a “cap” couldn’t be more of a sculptural wire mesh, or other visual cover without being a solid “lid”.

      • I think that without the cap, The Banks will continue to feel like a separate neighborhood from Downtown. It’s not that far, but you still know you’re crossing a loud, 8-lane freeway.

        As far as the funding goes, I believe Hamilton County Parks District is applying for federal grants to build the caps. So we may end up in a situation where it does not use any funding from transportation budgets, only parks budgets. That would actually sit well with me, as the caps wouldn’t be taking away money from other much-needed transit projects.

        • Alex Ihnen

          I think the caps are a great idea. I do think it would be interesting, and likely enough, to visually cap them and not necessarily create walkable parkland, etc. Closing streets and disrupting the downtown grid is a bad idea and again, Cincinnati seems to have addressed the barrier of highway infrastructure in a better way than St. Louis.

  • Charlesbryson02

    Two things come to mind immediately. First, St. Louis always has to “plan around” the federal Arch Grounds, whereas they do not in Cincinatti. If the city were to get control of that land, you might see other decisions being made. Second, the highway that cuts through Cincy is very different than the highway and streets that cut through the downtown area here. Again, if we were to be able to put a “lid” of some sort on the highway, we could better connect the downtown to the riverfront.

    • Alex Ihnen

      How is the highway in Cincinnati different than the one in St. Louis? A “lid” in St. Louis would remove several blocks of city streets and not better connect the park to the city. In Cincinnati, the city is connected to the riverfront by streets, the street grid itself is the connection. Throughout downtown and along the river, a person can simply walk from one to the other. In St. Louis you can’t walk straight from Busch Stadium to the Arch. Elsewhere along the riverfront visitors (and residents) find dead ends. In St. Louis we continue to take away connections with very little explanation or realization of what’s being done.

  • Cincyhombre

    Cincinnati,s Roebling Suspension bridge was the fore runner to the Brooklyn bridge and all suspension bridges that followed, truly historic and revolutionary.

    Cincinnatis Banks project is a combined park, entertainment and residential development is also connect to another large Cincinnati riverfront park, Sawyer Point Park.

    The arch is the main attraction it seems for St Louis’ park with marginal economic devopment arround it.

    Cincinnati has accomplished two things St Louis is trying with one feld swoop, their version of Ballpark Village and a beautiful and modern riverfront park.

    Seems that Cincinnati is always a few years ahead of St Louis in urban redevelopment.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Sitting in downtown Cincinnati as I type this, I have to agree. I’d rather spend time here than in downtown STL. They’re just difference cities, but Cincinnati has made some good decisions over time while STL has made some very poort decisions. The Roebling is rightly recognized and celebrated here while the Eads is marginalized and largely ignored in STL.

      • ZG

        I enjoy this blog very much, but this is pretty poor assertion/post. I lived in Cincinnati for four years and now live St. Louis, and to suggest that Cincy has made smart decisions versus St. Louis’ poor decisions really misses the mark. I think it’s mainly a symptom of the “grass is always greener” which plagues Cincinnati as well – I can’t tell you how many times native Cincinnatians bemoaned their city andpraised St. Louis. You’re impressed by recent developments, namely The Banks: this took well over a decade to build after initially proposed, and was scaled down time and time again – much like Ballpark Village. Furthermore – the Banks was imagined to be a unique reflection of the city but instead their anchor tenant is Toby Keith’s cowboy bar, a Ruth’s Chris, a Johnny Rockets, and a Jimmy Johns. The banality is palpable and can be seen in pretty much any Midwestern city. The Moerlein House is wonderful – it’s unique to the city, but, much like the two stadiums, it is very much physically separated from the core.

        • Alex Ihnen

          Good points. I mean the post as an open question. I think there is good in both places. However, if I think about which riverfront I would most like to visit, explore, spend time at…well, it’s Cincinnati. Despite similar infrastructure challenges, the Cincinnati riverfront is much better connected to the CBD than here in St. Louis. At a base level this comes down to geography – one can walk across the Ohio rather easily and the hills on the other side invited development, so there are historic towns there – and the presence of a national monument in St. Louis. The Arch grounds mean that no cafe, no brew house, no restaurant can occupy that 90 acres. The banks and Ballpark Village aren’t close to be equal, at least not until Ballpark Village builds 300 apartments and plans for 300 more, and adds a nationally significant museum and a signature local brewery. The Banks is only one part of the Cincinnati riverfront. There’s quite a bit else to explore.

  • Guest

    Cincinnati’s John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge is fifteen years older than the Eads… 

    • Alex Ihnen

      True. Thanks. Corrected.