Salvaging St. Louis, Part II: Planting the Seeds for Repopulation

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St. Louis Place neighborhood - STLIn the previous part to this study, I explored the similar population trends of two major Midwestern cities, St. Louis and Detroit. Both cities have endured significant losses since their peak in the 1950 census. Interestingly, Detroit seems to absorb the lion’s share of critical attention for its persistent economic malaise, yet St. Louis has actually suffered a slightly greater loss: 62% within its historic city limits, compared to Detroit’s 61%. How has St. Louis evaded much of the stigma of decline that persistently dogs Detroit?

I offered a few big-picture speculations in the previous post, not the least of which is that, by and large, the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area (consisting of 15 counties and St. Louis as an excluded city, or 16 counties if one considers the even larger Consolidated Metropolitan Area) has remained stable or grown slightly over the last few decades, while in Detroit, even many of the suburbs are shrinking as well.

In addition, St. Louis does not owe its population explosion to the emergence of a single industry: it began growing into a prominent city decades before Detroit, and for a short time in the mid 19th Century, it was the largest city in the Midwest—bigger even than Chicago. Detroit, meanwhile, was still a humble town in the 1800s; then, after a surge of over 1,000,000 persons from 1910 to 1930 (the fastest growing city in modern history at the time), it enjoyed about 20 more years of unquestioned prosperity.

Most compelling for a person guided by empiricism as I am, St. Louis fundamentally looks better than Detroit. While it clearly manifests its population loss, particularly in the impoverished northern half of the municipal boundaries, the Missouri city doesn’t harbor nearly as many broad swathes of vacancy as its Michigan counterpart—and the southern half of St. Louis boasts a number of perfectly stable or even fashionable, recently gentrified old neighborhoods. I identified one other major influence that gives St. Louis an edge: its housing stock was older and suffered obsolescence to a greater degree than Detroit. While this may seem counterintuitive, it indicates that St. Louis owes its population loss much more to a housing typology that fell out of favor—people abandoned housing in St. Louis less because it depended on a collapsing industry and more because of how easy it was to construct a comfortable modern home outside the city limits.

The housing stock in St. Louis is on average much older; when St. Louis began to decline, people were abandoning 80 to 100-year-old brick rowhomes and duplexes because it was easier to start over than upgrade. Conversely, much of the housing stock in Detroit was only 50 years old when the desertion process began. While both cities suffered, postwar deindustrialization contributed far more to Detroit’s exodus than it did in St. Louis.

I have no doubt I am going out on a limb on this assertion, especially since St. Louis in particular can currently boast some aged brick attached housing that commands a fairly high price, since a few of these older neighborhoods have enjoyed a recent renaissance. And, of course, all the industrial cities of the north suffered the same outmigration concomitant with the decline in industry. But clearly some suffered more than others: in the Northeast, no one would question that Baltimore and Philadelphia’s attached housing stock have proven more prone to complete abandonment than, for example, Boston’s triple-deckers.

The remainder of this article will scrutinize the character of St. Louis’ housing, particularly in light of what I would consider one of the leaders in repopulating disinvested neighborhoods: the firm McCormack Baron Salazar, Inc., a pre-eminent owner and developer of affordable housing. While every major city claims at least a few prominent affordable housing developers, MBS has almost singlehandedly restored some neighborhoods in St. Louis that otherwise would undoubtedly bear the same devastating scars we can witness in Detroit. And it consistently ranks as one of the largest affordable housing developers in the country.

Lest this article come across as a promotional campaign for this specific firm, I attest now that I intend merely to use McCormack Baron Salazar as a method of winnowing a reasonable travelogue through the city’s vast and diverse array of housing stock, by directing attention on a handful of the firm’s developments in the city limits. I intend to evaluate their success at balancing current demands for housing amenities with a respect for St. Louis’ distinctive vernacular architecture—the style that fell so heavily out of favor but now enjoys a palpable if uneven resurgence. Not surprisingly, a preponderance of the major developments rest in the more devastated northern half of St. Louis.

This first, known as Murphy Park, stretches across several blocks centered at the intersection of Cass Avenue and North 19th Street, just a few blocks west of the former site of Pruitt-Igoe, one of America’s most infamous public housing projects—and among the first to face demolition after persistent failure to offer its low-income residents an adequate quality of life. To this day, the neighborhood (formerly known as DeSoto-Carr) is overwhelmingly African-American and low-income, though it holds a fraction of the population from its 1950 peak.

Murphy Park replaces Vaughn Towers, another public housing development that had fallen into serious disrepair by the mid-1980s. Across three phases, MBS built over 400 units of new, low-rise housing, providing individualized entryways and private yard space, along with park facilities, a swimming pool, and a community center.

While it bears the trademarks of relatively new construction through the lack of the patina of “traditional” St. Louis housing expected from this district in the city, it also eschews the suburban multifamily typology, particularly the type one would expect to see in the 1980s. Notice that the front doors all address the street, rather than turning toward the interior of the block with a centralized parking lot, as one might expect in the suburbs. MBS did not alter the original grid, as the high-rise public housing developers did in prior decades. And because different sections of Murphy Park adopt different styles, the community does not look like a development conceived from a uniform source or a single site plan.

Compare the photos above to the neighborhood that surrounds it. Here’s a photo with some older surviving housing nearby:

And some other new construction in the area; which looks every bit like something one might see in suburbia.

There’s nothing wrong with the housing in the above photo, unless you are vigorously anti-suburb. (I’m not, if that weren’t obvious already.) To be frank, such housing may very well align with what these moderate-income families are seeking, more than the conventionally urban townhome style promoted before. However, the more authentically urban Murphy Park development shows evidence of greater staying power: it is in consistently good condition. Meanwhile, some of the suburban stuff has fizzled.

Judging from the grayness of the wood, this conventional house has sat in semi-built limbo for at least a couple years. Since I don’t know the history behind this development, I will withhold further judgment.

Needless to say, however, the adjacent Murphy Park project shows no evidence of aborted construction; the entire initiative bespeaks of a unified vision that loosely conforms to the archetypes of an urban neighborhood will still providing sophisticated modern housing. The fact that it displays some stylistic variance helps mitigate the effect of looking “over-planned” or factitious. The success of Murphy Park ostensibly prompted HUD to conceive of the HOPE VI model for integrating affordable housing into an existing urban neighborhood context, based largely on the design principles applied here.

Approximately the same age as Murphy Park, the Brewery Apartments sit just a few blocks away and apply an entirely different development approach: meticulous historic preservation and adaptive reuse, in order to deliver particularly high-density multifamily housing in a neighborhood that otherwise would be bereft of residents.

The development consisted of the rehabilitation of three buildings that had belonged to the Falstaff Brewing Company, ten rowhomes directly across from 20th Street, and two new infill buildings. The total complex offers 140 units, with 75% of the units open to households earning less than 60% AMI (Area Median Income). Here’s a more comprehensive picture of the brewery complex:

And here are the adjacent rowhomes:

And a more distant view, peering through the trees from an intersecting streetscape:

It would take far more scrutiny than I allowed myself in order to identify the two infill buildings, which the development effectively integrates with the much older building stock. At the time of this publication, leasing rates for the market-rate apartments at the Brewery range from $700 to $940, from one to as many as three bedrooms, though no market-rate three-bedroom units were available. And it is easy to see why the brewery can lease to a market-rate clientele: redeveloped old breweries have flourished as fashionable residential real estate, especially for the urban young professional population that is less concerned with crime or struggling public schools. Based on my phone inquiry, the Brewery Apartments rarely struggle to find market rate tenants, indicating their desirability despite the general impoverishment of the neighborhood.

Most of McCormack Barron Salazar’s other St. Louis developments rest in more economically mixed areas than the aforementioned two. The Westminster Place Apartments sit squarely in Midtown St. Louis, an area that remained fashionable up through the mid-1960s. Just a stone’s through away sat Gaslight Square, a hub of taverns, cabarets, and, eventually, St. Louis’ counterculture movement. But the area declined steadily in the 1970s, and, although never upscale, it fell victim to particularly acute desuetude, to the point that by 1990, the City had demolished virtually all the structures in Gaslight Square. Westminster Place belongs to a series of public and private initiatives aimed at repopulating the 90-acre area. Like Murphy Park, it offers a diverse array of housing to accommodate a variety of demographic groups.

The end result stretches across several blocks in Midtown, with three developmental phases completed from 2007 to 2012, amounting to 392 new apartments and 80 homes.

Note the decorative brick street signs, which distinguish the neighborhood from the more conventional signage in the purlieus. Westminster Place itself—the actual road—features a mix of townhomes and single-family detached housing flanking a landscaped traffic circle.

Some of the apartment buildings adhere to the same archetype used in Murphy Park. Though their appearance may deviate from the structures of the Gaslight Square era, they still provide an above-average population density and a pedestrian orientation directly to the street—two characteristics that would be unheard of if MBS had abided by a more suburban vernacular. Tucked into the heart of the Westminster Place development is McCormack House, an assisted living apartment for low-income seniors, visible in the photo below:

Interestingly, the same block of Olive Street that hosts McCormack House also completely intermingles features more Westminster Place apartments with old commercial/industrial structures that remain largely vacant and decaying. Here’s one of the standard new buildings:

And here’s a relic from days past just a bit further down:

One of these dinosaurs sits directly across from McCormack House.

I would speculate that the above building is a sheath for concealing a menacing electrical sub-station, if it weren’t for the masonry scar to the building’s right, suggesting that a similarly sized building used to sit immediately adjacent to it. Who knows what’s going on here? These aging behemoths could belong to a stubborn landowner refusing to sell until the market it too hot, or it could be part of an eventual adaptive re-use that will attempt to salvage the façades. Regardless, the juxtaposition of old and new provides a needed anomaly. Otherwise, far all the artistry involved in integrating a variety of housing styles and types, Westminster Place still looks like exactly what it is: a new development to replace a completely devastated old neighborhood.

In order to avoid this article extending to uncomfortable length, I’m going to push the pause button. Part III will conclude the essay with an exploration of a few more McCormack Baron Salazar projects, along with a final analysis on the implications for intensive housing provision as a means of inducing repopulation.

_______________________________

*this piece is reposted with permission from American Dirt: Observations of Contemporary Landscapes – a site based in Indianapolis, but which ventures off to everywhere from New Jersey to Memphis to Philadelphia with regularity – click on the link above and check it out. First image by Mark Groth, all others by American Dirt.

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  • The 2nd to last photo is a owned by a couple that is trying to start an Ecovillage named Culver Way. They really want to redo the buildings into green friendly structures with mixed income housing.They have some great ideas for those building and the surrounding ares but they lack the money to do anything. I know this because I did a SLU capstone project for them. Check out their website http://culverwaycohousing.com/

    • guest

      Good example of a vision with no capacity to deliver. This idea/plan has been going on for ten + years.

  • John R

    I hope the author addresses why the traditional housing stock of North Saint Louis led to large-scale abandonment and decay while the traditional housing stock of South Saint Louis did not. If there are no major differences between the two, then his/her argument seems wrong and that there are significant other factors involved. Related, it also would be helpful to know what the population of Saint Louis would be if the rate of population loss south of 44 since the post-war peak held the same throughout the City. And conversely.

    • guest

      Racism

      • Alex Ihnen

        Yes, and not to get too crazy here, but there are reasons that blacks settled, or were pushed, into this part of the city. It was once the stronghold of German (and other) ethnic immigrants. I think (and could be wrong), that the building stock was a bit older – some of the oldest parts of our city – than the majority of the south side. It was also an area with many ponds/sinkholes/etc. and where cholera hit hardest (when the area was still very white). Let’s also remember that St. Louis pushed thousands of black residents westward when the riverfront was cleared, then pushed thousands north when Mill Creek Valley was cleared, then pushed thousands north and west when Pruitt-Igoe was cleared…Anyway – not offering any conclusions here, but I am interested in why the north side became the black side of the city.

        • guest

          The history of the Ville explains a lot of it. The Ville was the only part of the city open to blacks to own property. I think at one time, it was even a restricted black area before it became a part of the St. Louis city. Regardless, as soon as housing restrictions were lifted, and even a little before, blacks started pushing those boundaries, moving into neighboring blocks into homes with restrictive covenants. Court cases soon outlawed restrictive covenants, freeing blacks to move where they pleased. Which of course opened the door to block busing, white flight, redlining, That history really happened much more north than south. It’s all spelled out in the “Mapping Decline” book.

    • dempster holland

      two reasons: by about 1920, the north side had developed out to Union, about 3/4 of the way to the city limits. Ths south side had
      barely developed to Kingshighway.about half=way to the city limits..
      So much more of the north side was older than the south side.
      Next is the effect of racial segregation. Whites would not move into
      black areas and as the exodus of blacks to the suburbs exceeded the
      migratioin of blacks from the south, there was no other group to replace them; By contrast, the south side generlly attracted replace=
      ment population, at least to some extent, including immigrants and
      gentrifiers

  • RJ Koscielniak

    I don’t even know where I would start debunking this bundle of nonsense.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Don’t give up so easily!

    • guest

      Your obviously not referring to the comment section, right?

  • onecity

    I think the author is onto something here with regards to housing obsolescence, and while he may be overstating the case, as white flight most certainly played a larger role, from my own POV the idea has a lot of merit. I think in STL, for reasons that I suppose have a lot to do with *when* things were built, it is hard to find homes with the proportions, siting, and flexibility one finds in newer cities. For instance, there are many, many 25 ft wide by 120ft deep lots, which means a very small yard space especially if a parking structure is in the back yard. It means little space between homes, which can translate into little light. It means shorter front lawns, which often means little room to plant adequate trees. And so on. If the city could find a way to systematically resubdivide open land into 5000sq ft lots (45 x 120 or so), it would do wonders for the desireability of the city. There is a huge gap in the metro (it seems) between the 1920s and the 1940s as far as housing stock in urban street grids. When other cities were building nice bungalows on 5000 sq ft lots, STL was already built out. Building neighborhoods full of craftsman bungalows on 45 ft lots in all the razed areas would do wonders for the attractiveness of the city’s housing stock.

    • Alex Ihnen

      “If the city could find a way to systematically resubdivide open land into 5000sq ft lots (45 x 120 or so), it would do wonders for the desireability of the city.”

      This is quite likely an outcome of the land aggregation that has been done by Paul McKee for NorthSide.

      • guest

        Soulard is one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, and one of the most successful. Everything is not so simple. In a previous comment, the need for more economic analysis was suggested for this discussion. Another needed component is the human factor. Too much time is spent discussing architectural typology and not enough time discussing the human element driving neighborhood progress. Soulard was successful because of the people there (same for Lafayette Square, the CWE, and Shaw), regardless of architecture.

    • Adam

      i’m not convinced by the obsolescence argument. there are plenty of cities with housing older than St. Louis’ (or at least equal in age) that are doing significantly better in the population department. the CONDITION of much of our housing is certainly a factor in terms of property values, perception of crime, lack of capital, etc. but trends all over the country indicate that older housing FORMS are still popular.

      • guest

        And, property value is often a limiting factor on condition. When home values are so low that putting in money into an deteriorating home is considered a bad investment, housing conditions continue to fall.

        Do neighbors invest in home improvements when MBS does a new development down the street? Maybe. Where’s a planner when you need one? Aren’t they supposed to be analyzing this sort of thing?

      • Alex Ihnen

        Housing stock by core city & metro region (pre-1940). Not sure what the “core city” definition is for St. Louis:

        • guest

          Alex, I don’t think this chart helps to make the case that MBS is showing the way. MBS is mostly new construction, but as this chart shows, STL has the 5th oldest housing stock of any urban area in the country.

          STL can always build new buildings on vacant land. What’s needed is a strategy to preserve existing buildings and established neighborhoods. That’s a much tougher challenge than letting things decay to the point of falling down and then building new.

          Go outside the city for a minute to illustrate the point. Consider Maplewood. Or Ferguson. Or Bellefontaine Neighbors. These are all totally built out, established areas (much like St. Louis, except without all the decay and vacancy).

          So fast forward 20 years. Do we think about mass new construction to “repopulate” Maplewood and North County, or do we work to preserve what we have?

          STL obviously got burned once with the great migration out of the city. What do we do to stem the tide and preserve our stock of historic neighborhoods?

          • Alex Ihnen

            The chart wasn’t meant to show anything in particular – it’s just a point of reference since the issue was mentioned. Obviously this is a complex issue, and STL is and should be both rehabbing buildings and building new as part of any strategy to retain/gain residents, but at a basic level it would seem that the relative lack of demand for historic homes in the city and the old housing stock points to the need for more new housing (more housing variety). This article was posted as a conversation starter – and the conversation has been good. I personally tend to agree with a lot of the critiques and comments offered.

      • American Dirt

        Indeed, I mentioned Boston as an example of a city older that St Louis that has done better in the population department. However, it’s “triple decker” typology has proven more malleable–quite literally, since almost everything there is built of wood and is easier to append or reconfigure. Population loss in Boston more often took place because a triple decker that once housed six households now only houses two, but it didn’t result in such systematic abandonment.

        Conversely, Philadelphia and Baltimore, the two large cities most dependent on attached housing/rowhouses, have suffered WORSE, by and large, than St. Louis. It doesn’t help that when one home from a rowhouse series is abandoned and demolished, the stability of the party wall for the surviving neighbor houses also suffers.

        By no means is housing obsolescence a blanket explanation, but I still think that some housing typologies have proven more “abandon-able”.

        • Adam

          What % of Boston’s housing stock is built of wood? From my limited experience walking around Boston the VAST majority appears to be brick, though most are 3 to 6 stories as you mentioned (however, I don’t get why three stories would be less abandon-able than 2, all other things being equal). Also, I don’t see how either Baltimore or Philly have suffered worse than St. Louis. Both have lost fewer residents, percentage-wise, than St. Louis and Baltimore’s population is now double that of St. Louis despite it’s comparable size in 1950 (950K / 92 sq. mi. vs. 850K/66 sq. mi.). I don’t know… I’m just not convinced by these examples, not to mention all the variables that aren’t being considered.

          • Adam

            Or, to clarify, I don’t think “abandoned” necessarily implies “more abandon-able”.

  • Danny

    I also had a tough time with this article. In Part I, he discussed the decline of the St. Louis and Detroit metro areas and core cites, saying that though the core city of St. Louis may have fallen just as badly as or even worse than the core city of Detroit, St. Louis as a whole doesn’t seem as bad as Detroit, because the overall region of St. Louis has remained stable
    while all of Detroit has gone into a free fall. He then argued that even though inner city Detroit and inner city St. Louis experienced similar declines, the causes of their plight were different. While inner city Detroit fell out because of regional economic collapse, the disastrous decline of the St. Louis core was due more to housing obsolescence in the city. Because inner city St. Louis declined because of the more isolated cause of housing obsolescence and not because of economic over-reliance on a failing industry, the decline of the city remained more isolated to the core city while the rest of the St. Louis region was able to steadily grow (compared to Detroit).

    However, in Part II here, he says that even with St. Louis’ rapid core decline, again pointing to housing obsolescence as the culprit, the
    inner city of St. Louis still seems better off today than the inner city of
    Detroit. I don’t doubt that, but his explanation for the cause of this is a bit
    hard to follow and seems kind of off. According to the author, inner city St.
    Louis is relatively better off today than inner city Detroit because McCormack Baron Salazaar built some semi-attractive low-income housing developments in the northside while Detroit had no such developer. I know it’s a simplistic summary, but that’s the best I can tell. I suppose he is trying to say that because St. Louis’ inner city decline was due in large part to housing obsolescence, once more modern housing was introduced to the market, the inner city was able to stabilize a bit.

    The trouble is that it’s not MBS’ low-income housing developments which are creating demand in inner city St. Louis (an argument I don’t think anybody has ever made before now), but instead it is the formerly “obsolete” brick housing stock which has been re-purposed through the state historic tax credit. In some way then, the author’s argument (if I have it correct) does seem to hold, he just doesn’t connect the dots right. If you have a diverse and growing regional economy (compared to Detroit) but you have a lack of housing demand in your inner city due to housing obsolescence, if you modernize your housing stock, you can stabilize your city to some degree. He just didn’t identify the right trigger, probably because he didn’t realize the extent of the use of the state historic tax credit.

    I suppose looking at strictly neighborhood change in the worst parts of the two cities, the author may have a stronger argument in terms of the effect of quality low-income housing developments. Without MBS’ low-income housing developments in the northside, I suppose many northside neighborhoods would be much worse off. In this case, MBS has undoubtedly helped to stabilize some neighborhoods in the city, while according to the author, Detroit has not had such a player in their city. But in my opinion, the author vastly overstates the effect of these developments on citywide stabilization
    and performance.

    • guest

      Two responses: First, most of MBS projects are new construction, not rehab. Especially its most current projects. Even at Arlington Grove, the vast majority is new construction.

      Second, and more importantly, the question is whether MBS’s new construction is helping the old neighborhood’s around it? That would be the question worth analyzing. However, I bet there’s been little effect.

      Old people living in old, run down housing, benefit from a shiny new construction project down the block exactly how?

      • Alex Ihnen

        That would be an interesting study, but my thought is that the MBS developments have helped retain residents to a much greater degree than it has drawn people back into the city. Even where MBS has built, there has been 20%+ population loss over the past decade. What does that mean? I think it means that these projects are the only thing keeping the old neighborhood alive.

        • guest

          Probably moving people from aging stock to new buildings, which they prefer Not a good scenario for preserving our existing stock of historic buildings. The question remains, looming large: where/how do we preserve existing buildings in historic neighborhoods with weak markets? How does new construction aid in that goal? Or, like the lady on Donnybrooke asked when discussing the merits of historic rehab credits, “why do we need to preserve these buildings?” Ouch!

          • Alex Ihnen

            It’s not covered here, but buildings are being preserved. Large swaths of north St. Louis are not located in historic districts, meaning rehabbers do not have access to state tax credits for rehab – essential to making restoring a century old home possible. All-in-all, I’d say that St. Louis has done a very admirable job preserving our historic residential building stock over the past decade. There are many, many, exceptions and we lose far, far too many buildings that could be saved, but thinking in terms of preservation outperforming market demand, I think we’ve done well.

          • guest

            What historic rehabs are happening north? Hyde Park and Fairground are a mess. The Ville is being demoed away. Fountain Park and Lewis Place are suffering. And this is just talking north. Similar problems plague many southside areas.

            Our challenge is literally structural: large historic buildings with high development costs and extremely low property values. Market values in newly forming historic districts often do not support development costs, even with historic tax credits added to the mix.

            The biggest disconnection between rehab and feasibility of same is high development costs and low after rehab values. It’s an epidemic. And the public funders have become fatigued at the massive cost to save these buildings.

            There needs to be more economic analysis in this discussion. And don’t forget, all those MBS projects benefited from millions and millions of dollars in local, state, and federal subsidies – and the projects tend to create their own market through low income rentals, often with rent subsidies. Those kinds subsidies just aren’t available at the mom and pop/small developer level.

    • American Dirt

      Author here again. Thanks for your observations, and in large part I agree. Part II of the three parts was almost completely lacking in analysis. I essentially cut of the article prematurely because it was getting so long it verged on becoming unwieldy. I think you will see by Part III, in which I conclude with a few more MBS developments as well as a much more robust analysis–that its not as though MBS construction is any sort of panacea to widespread ills of depopulation. I’ve always recognized that looking at a single developer is superficial, but a supremely complex problem like this does need a certain degree of organizing unity. And, for whatever their shortcomings, MBS developments–on average–show at least a fundamental awareness of the historic vernacular that other companies don’t even consider. If the fundamental goal is getting people back from the suburbs, many developers would just as easily assume “build suburban”, the proof being the slipshod housing that went up just a few blocks away from MBS’s Murphy Park development.

  • Unfortunately for the author, it is historically apparent that
    out-of-date housing stock is not the biggest reason that Saint Louis
    lost so much of its population. Integration had a lot to do with it as
    well. My own grandparents are guilty of white flight. Completely
    unwilling to live side by side with the African American population.
    Additionally, the ability to move far away from crime and poverty in
    general also factored in heavily.

    The housing issue may very well have had something small to do with it. But if someone wanted to live in Saint Louis all they would have had to do was bulldoze the current place and build anew. That happens all the time. It’s already happened, as developers and the government have managed to level significant areas of the city for just such a purpose.

    One of the biggest reasons for inner-city revitalization is simply a cultural shift. Increased interest and appreciation, curiosity, for the urban core and old buildings, as well as a significantly decreased Caucasian cultural hatred for other races and cultures.

    • guest

      Pretty much agree with everything here except the “bulldoze everything” comment. Nowadays, there’s nowhere near the necessary public $$$ for that. So instead we have the slow fading away/erasure of neighborhoods (mostly north), due to abandonment, decay, and ultimately, demolition by neglect (no “plan”, just the force of inertia). That process would take decades to take its course in currently occupied neighborhoods, but if we don’t figure out a way to stabilize currently occupied areas, those historic places will gradually erode from our landscape as well, one building at a time. In the meantime, there’s plenty of vacant land to build a thousand new homes or so (read “Northside”), while established neighborhoods struggle. It turns into a values question. Do we value our existing neighborhoods, or do we prefer shiny new construction? We invest in what we value.

      • I think there’s value in “tendril-ing” new development (mixed income, full market, commercial, etc.) out from stable or fairly stable areas into distressed sections.

        This does double-duty of building up areas that had been abandoned/neglected while further centering and stabilizing those areas that are doing alright.

        The City won’t be saved by focusing fully on one or the other — instead we need measured, smart development that better connects and strengthens the space between.

  • guest

    What a bizarre post. Is this false advertising? The title talks about “planting the seeds for repopulation”, but what we get is a primer on MBS’s tax subsidized and public housing replacement developments. Does this writer understand that overall, these projects represent a tiny fraction of this city’s housing stock, and more importantly, the resources for more of these projects are being severely cut? Was hoping for a much more diverse conversation. SMH.

    • Alex Ihnen

      IMO – MBS is a great lens through which to examine St. Louis, its decline and possible resurgence (in population, at least). They’ve done more large projects in the city than anyone, and while clearly the city is much, much more than these projects, it’s an interesting look into how thinking about neighborhood rebirth has and is changing. This is probably better considered by looking at one firm, than trying to take a more encompassing view. It would have been great to include the North Sarah project and perhaps other plans for North St. Louis for contrast.

      • guest

        North Sarah is at least 1/3 public housing replacement, and maybe another 1/3 MHDC funded with the last 1/3 “market rate” (a difficult funding model to sustain). Architecturally, it’s beautiful. A development mostly, if not all, built on abandoned, vacant ground. Same goes for much of the MBS inventory in STL: New developments sprouting up on abandoned, vacant ground. St. Louis’s challenge is not so much how to build on vacant ground. It’s how to preserve intact neighborhoods, especially in weak market areas. The emptying out of St. Louis is not happening out of its vacant land. The emptying out is happening from currently occupied buildings. What’s the formula to stem that tide? Unless the formula for repopulating the city is through abandonment, demolition, and new construction (over decades) – aka Northside Regeneration, we will see continued depopulation of established neighborhoods (just look at Hyde Park).

        • guest

          Put more succinctly…the “market rate” piece is being subsidized by public housing/low income housing tax credit financing components. Without subsidy, these MBS projects don’t happen. Given the direction of public financing resources (downward, as well as increasingly to the suburbs/ strong market areas), that’s a problem for St. Louis.

      • dempster holland

        Reviewing all of the interesting comments to this article, I would make several observatins. The highlighted projects
        are very well done, and McCormickBaron is to be congrat-
        ulated for its excellent work in urban design. But a large
        city will of necessity have a variety of styles, and thus there
        will also be the sterotypical suburban style houing found
        east of st Louis u med school. Also, there are many small
        new developments in north st Louis, (see the area north of Delmar and west of Union) which receive little attention
        The basic urban planning process from 1960s to the 1990s
        in the city of st Louis morth side was to do nothing. First of
        all, there was no demand. Second of all, no developer wanted to go into northside neighborhoods and experience
        the excruciating process of receiving neighborhhod approval. Third of all, no one wanted to face the process of
        eminent domain and relocation. Since the neighborhoods
        were emptying out anyway, the most logical course would
        be to simply let abandonment proceed until enough land
        became available (one major exception was jeffvanderlou
        west of pruittt-igoe, which had a strong community base
        and access to capital)
        By the 1990s, tracts of land began to become available
        and the developments such as mccormick baron became
        feasible. More recently, McKee’s large scale redevelopment
        has become possible in the eastern portion of North St
        Louis.
        The future of north st Louis will depend on whether the
        redevelopment can attract sufficient private investment and
        whether the housing can become racially integrated. It
        will also have to be relatively crime free and with access to
        good schools. In any event, it will be several decades to
        see what happens, and there will be little that local govern=
        ment can do to affect what happens But the population
        will never be the same as in the old days. unless we find
        a lot of people willing to raise kids in a four room shotgun apartment

    • American Dirt

      Hi. Author here. I tried to make clear through the initial acknowledgement that MBS housing was merely a facile representative of the broader initiatives taking place in St. Louis. At any rate, the “more diverse conversation” will continue in Part III, where I offer a much fuller analysis of these developments’ merits and their shortcomings. Thanks for reading.