False Connections: The Flawed Premise of Closing Streets at the Arch to Promote Connectivity

Call it "Isolating a Modern Masterpiece": Three city streets are being considered for closure or elimination as part of the Arch grounds redesign. This represents at best a misinterpretation of urban connections and at worst, the willful neglect of true connections in lieu of fulfilling long hoped-for, but deeply flawed changes.

Memorial Drive, Washington Avenue and Lenor K. Sullivan Boulevard (Wharf Street) may all cease to exist as we know them by the time the 90-day design planning period ends in mid-December. City streets are the basic building block of urban connections. Eliminating local streets, accessible to pedestrians, bicycles and automobiles, eliminates connections and further isolates the Arch and surrounding neighborhoods. This is expressly the opposite of what the City+Arch+River competition, and many concerned people over the years have identified has the connection and accessibility problems in downtown St. Louis.

As one of the design team finalists stated so well in their proposal, "No longer will we allow high-speed through traffic imperiling people walking and their quality of life. Our plan sees downtown as a destination, not a way-station." The reference is correctly aimed at I-70 and not city streets. Memorial Drive, Washington Avenue and Lenor K. Sullivan Drive do not constitute "high-speed through traffic," but instead are the very threads that weave downtown St. Louis together.

Removing these three city streets make navigating downtown a worse experience for commuters, shoppers and visitors. Removing connections makes downtown streets less predictable and more difficult to understand. Eliminate downtown streets and the "divisive moat of infrastructure" becomes a walled fortress. Again, the existing challenge of one-way and disconnected streets has been identified again and again as the obstacle to connectivity downtown.

The proposal to remove city streets instead of improve them is antiquated and ultimately rooted in the same mindset that gave downtown St. Louis super-block developments that we now understand kill street life and retail development. And yet, in 2010, on the very eve of putting to work at least a couple hundred million dollars to dictate the St. Louis central riverfront for the next five decades, we are pursing fewer connections.

{closing Memorial Drive, Washington Avenue and Lenor K. Sullivan Blvd further isolates the Arch grounds from the life of the City}

To be sure, the planned amenities of the Arch grounds should draw new visitors and ideas such as extending tree allees west into the city should create a better visual connection to the Arch grounds. There is enormous merit in the effort and the MVVA winning design. And as I have stated numerous times, simply getting anything done in this regard is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Yet, once we have applauded the effort to this point, we have a responsibility to ensure that the most is made of that effort, that real, substantive improvements are made, that the plan doesn't seek to simply enact long hoped for, but bad, ideas, that the end result does not close the door on opportunities that exist after the 2015 celebration. For the life of our city, and that of us, the residents of St. Louis, do not stop in 2015.