City to River: The Time to Influence Arch Grounds Design is Now

Over the past two weeks, the City to River organization has laid bare the choices in front of St. Louis for the Arch grounds redesign. They've examined the process, as it is, what the region's Transportation Improvement Program and $25M allocated to building more Interstate infrastructure at the Arch means for connectivity and highlighted a call to comment on the critical public scoping phase of the National Park Service environmental assessment.

Despite the lack of any communication from the CityArchRiver2015 Foundation, sponsor and organizer, of the design process, critical actions are being taken. If you support City to River's vision of a city truly connected to its riverfront, now is the time to say so. The NPS has quietly set up a comment web page and will accept public comments through August 30 (comment form here). The questions asked are offered without background and are rather vague. If you're curious as to where the project stands, read more at the City to River site, and check out the nextSTL story from the last public update.

Public comments are especially important in the process as the public engagement process promised by CityArchRiver has not been robust. The latest news update on their site is dated January 26, 2011, the same date as their latest Tweet.  The last traveling exhibit ended February 25. Without being a conspiracy theorist or overly cynical, the self-imposed deadline of October 2015 doesn't engender any effort to seek or value public comment. It's vital to remember that no matter the result, we will live with the outcome of this process for half a century.

Why isn't the call for public comment on the NPS environmental assessment being promoted by CityArchRiver? Likely because public comment and participation cannot speed up the process. And the speed of the process appears to be the driving force behind the effort, not good design or contextual improvement. How is it that there has been eight months of silence on a multi-hundred million dollar project that is the face of our city and region? City to River goes in more detail in the post: City Arch River is in danger of becoming a failed process.

As detailed here on nextSTL, the winning MVVA vision has already lost much of what made it valuable, and the price tag has risen to nearly $600M. The east side wetlands will not happen by 2015, if ever. The maintenance facility will remain within the park grounds, the ice rink and beer garden will not, lighted river water gauges are gone, the alluring Cathedral Square has shrunk dramatically and lost its restaurant and several city streets are now planned to be ripped from the street grid. The biggest change may be the plan to make the crushing maze of highway infrastructure even more crushing. City to River asks: Are we Trading Park Amenities for Even More Highway Infrastructure?

What should we now expect by 2015? Closed city streets, an expensive "lid",  more highway infrastructure, a new museum entrance and maybe a redesigned Kiener Plaza. Is that what we've asked for? Is it what the city needs, or what will reconnect St. Louis to its river? It's difficult to understand how the outcome CityArchRiver is drifting towards out of the public eye meets the vision originally sold to the community.

*I currently serve as Chair of the City to River organization