St. Louis Gets Another “Great Street” But That’s Not the Good News

So Washington Avenue from the Eads Bridge to 18th Street has been named an American Planning Association Top 10 Great Street for 2011. It's a well-deserved award that recognizes the near two-decade effort to revitalize the city's once thriving garment district. And the work continues with MX opening an Embassy Suites hotel, Pi restaurant, a movie theater and blues museum at the once-dead eastern end of the street.

The recognition is valuable as a market tool to conventions, businesses and residents. But what's really exciting is the city's newfound ability to inject itself into the national conversation. We know that some of our streets are world-class, attractive, vibrant places. We know that our parks, entertainment venues and cultural attractions are some of the very best in the country. We know that the local art scene and urbanist activist groups are producing great work. What we haven't known, is how to tell our story, to ourselves and to others.

The details of the Washington Avenue revival have been well-covered by various new outlets: National Register listing in 1987, creation of State of Missouri Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program in 1998, the 1999 Downtown Now! plan and many individuals efforts both large and small. All should be recognized and celebrated.

We're not talking about boosterism here, at least I'm trying not to. I mean, recognition of real, authentic success. We have it and have had it for some time. At least, there has always been a good deal to celebrate. For any number of reasons, St. Louis often doesn't appear in the larger narrative of livable, revitalizing cities. We're not a southern city (New Orleans/Nashville), nor a northern city (Chicago/Minneapolis), not a state capital (Columbus, Indianapolis) and often left out of the Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Detroit rust belt chic triumvirate.

We need to create our own narrative. While the naming of Washington Avenue as a Top 10 Great Street is a small step, it show progress. It follows the naming of the Delmar Loop in 2007 and Wydown Boulevard in 2010. Recognized streets are nominated and then selected by an APA committee. Characteristics and Guidelines of Great Streets as set forth by the APA are somewhat lengthy and although we do not know who nominated Washington Avenue, it's a good bet that a local organization or municipality did so, rather than an individual.

the Delmar Loop looking west from the Tivoli Theater
{the Delmar Loop looking west from the Tivoli Theater – image courtesy of Ben Evans}

Obviously St. Louis doesn't have fully 6% of the great streets in the country (it's not a quantifiable measure anyway), but what we do have is an effort to celebrate our streets. Because an entity took the time to nominate a great St. Louis street, thousands of individuals whose mental image of St. Louis was limited to the Arch and perhaps Busch Stadium, have gained a new view. That's big news.

So which St. Louis street most deserves to be a future Top 10 Great Street?

*images courtesy of Ben Evans