What to do With a Park That Wasn’t Meant to be A Park?

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Skinker_DeB Lucier Park

The Skinker DeBaliviere neighborhood planning process wrapped up with a public meeting at Grace United Methodist Church in February of this year. The plan lays out a vision for the next 30 years. The full final presentation for Skinker-DeBaliviere is available below.

The areas of contention among meeting attendees (the unraised subject of traffic flows and considering opening and reconfiguring streets is tabled for another generation) were how to implement bike paths along Skinker Boulevard and what to do with Lucier Park. Regarding bike lanes the options are do nothing, add something on the west side, or add something on the east side. John Hoal of H3 Studio, the consultant who has guided the process, stressed that there is a problem at present, and it will only get worse.

Lucier Park Options H3 Studio

Hoal again stressed currently there is a problem with the park. The options for Lucier Park are: do nothing, option 1, and option 2. Option 1 adds the property at Delmar and Hamilton and spruces up the park with trees. Option 2 builds back Hamilton and Washington Avenues, puts the main part of the park at Delmar, Hamilton, and Washington, and places a playground between Hamilton Ave and Hamilton Elementary School.

Land freed-up would be available for development. From the recent parks bond issue Lucier receives: repair rubber playground surfacing $12,522, install security lighting in park $25,000. From the $64M bond issue the neighborhood’s three parks will see $50,000 worth of improvements. $30M will go to Forest Park.

Lucier Park 1958 and Today
{Lucier Park 1958 and Today – Historic Aerials and Google Maps}

I agree with the consultants, the park is fundamentally flawed. It’s no surprise given that it was birthed from the demolition of apartment buildings and vacating streets. When redevelopment capital didn’t show up, the park was created. Other neighborhoods like Benton Park and Lafayette Square were built around their parks. They are greatly enhanced by them. As it is Lucier park is an asset for soccer and rugby players, but it is a liability the rest of the time. It adds nothing to the property values of nearby real-estate.

Lucier Park Toward DeGiverville Alley
{Lucier Park Looking Toward DeGiverville Alley}

Its flaw is that there are no eyes on the park. No buildings face it. Option 2 fixes this. With property facing the park residents take ownership of it, ne’er do wells see that they are more likely to be seen doing their shenanigans and go elsewhere. The rebuilt streets add frontage for development and improve traffic flow. Buses could access Hamilton Elementary from Delmar instead of going through the neighborhood.

Implementing option 2 requires a city-wide vote because it reduces the size of the park, winning that vote would be no small task. A successful ballot initiative spurred by concerns about a possible development on a corner of Forest Park south of Interstate 64 and east of Kingshighway, means that any sale or lease of city park space must be put to a public vote.

Lucier Park Looking North from Westminster
{Lucier Park Looking North from Westminster}

Another concern with either option is that breaking up the potential street wall on Delmar would discourage people from walking further east. Continuous development on the north side of Delmar, the trolley tracks and wires, a signature art installation at Delmar and Hamilton, and an open business in the corner space of the Alanson would overcome this.

We don’t have to accept the status quo. Remaking Lucier Park will be difficult, but worth it.

Lucier Park looking east where Washington Ave should be
{Lucier Park looking east where Washington Ave should be}

I’ve put a set of photos of Lucier Park on Flickr

Urban Design & Development Plan for the Skinker DeBaliviere Community – FINAL by nextSTL.com

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  • rgbose

    Curious, the city says the park is 2.97 acres, but according to an area calculator tool it’s 3.8 acres. http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-area-calculator-tool.htm

    Option 2 would be 1.77 acres for the Delmar, Hamilton, Washington part and 0.43 for the playground next to Hamilton Elementary.

  • John R

    Option 2, dependent upon a public vote and involving additional real estate/infrastructure changes, seems unlikely. But Option 1 appears to be an improvement over existing conditions and I think a high quality mixed-use building(s) on Delmar could help enhance the park as well. Not only would it add much needed life to that part of Delmar in general, it would be attractive to tenants utilizing the existing park as an amenity and enjoying the view from their generous rear balconies. (While sipping their lattes brought up from Comet Coffee’s newest location and enjoying the blazing speed of Loop Fiber as they work on the next amazing plan to revolutionize the world, this Vanguard of New Delmar can also report any suspicious activity in the park… what wonder citizens!) A pocket park on Delmar isn’t a bad idea, but such a use could go on one of the countless other cleared sites in the area awaiting renewed life.

  • guest

    Two interesting statements above:
    1) “As it is Lucier park is an asset for soccer and rugby players, but it is a liability the rest of the time. It adds nothing to the property values of nearby real-estate.”

    —It’s really quite sad that you see a park only in the most myopic economic sense. No matter if the park enhances the quality of the life of the residents (which you clearly state that it does). No, all that matters is the bottom line. This really is a seickening attitude, and far too prevalent in these days. Beyond that, it’s also silly to think that something that enhances the quality of life and overall health of the citizenry somehow has a negative economic impact.

    2) “Its flaw is that there are no eyes on the park. No buildings face it. Option 2 fixes this. With property facing the park residents take ownership of it, ne’er do wells see that they are more likely to be seen doing their shenanigans and go elsewhere.”

    —So the answer is to build more houses, a street, and take away parkland (and reduce a multi-use park to just a soccer field)? It’s highly debateable that the fact that there are “no eyes” on the park increases crime, but if you want to solve the problem, why not just create a police substation there (or hire a private security firm)? It would cost a lot, lot less, and take a lot less time. It’s also guaranteed to reduce crime. Option 2 is not even guaranteed to be a successful development (this site just published a good piece on St. Louis over-supply of housing. Do vacant buildings looking onto a field reduce crime?

    • rgbose

      No, most of the time it isn’t enhancing the quality of life for residents, that’s the point. The two should go together and for well-designed public amenities, they do.

      The occupancy rate in the neighborhood was over 90% in th 2010. New houses are being built on 5700 McPherson. I think new development fronting a reconfigured park would be successful.

      John Hoal couldn’t stress the downsides of the present park enough. I’d contact H3 for more on their thinking.

      • guest

        In what way is open green space for children and an excericse area for adults not enhancing the quality of life? That’s not even taking into account the positive psychological impact of open green space. I guess making people commute somewhere else for recreation and exercise is better for their quality of life (since the new proposed park will be smaller, it will be occupied a higher percentage of time if current usage continues at the same level). Perhaps they’ll stop exercising altogether. What a wonderful thing that will be!

        I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that people don’t use parkland because there is nobody watching them. I suppose this is news to all the joggers, bikers, anglers, golfers, boaters, walkers, painters, bird-watchers., etc., etc., etc. you see in Forest Park. Then again, solitude has never been a priority amongst self-proclaimed “urbanists”.

        If you insist upon having eyes on the park, you could hire a private security firm to watch the park for much less than a complete re-build.

        • rgbose

          If the premise of your question were the case with Lucier Park then there’d be few unhappy with it and little debate. Option 2 shrinks the park by about 35%.

          The running and biking paths in Forest Park mainly run along the edges where they are seen. The rape of a jogger there a few years ago happened where the path is concealed by foliage. The car break-ins primarily occur where it’s dark or at least not highly visible from buildings or other people in the park.

          Here’s one of Mark’s pictures of the park. Other than this there’s a playground which is included in either option.


          The consultant did say we could manage the problem, but it won’t address the fundamental flaw with it.

  • Mike A

    I think many of you need to look at the ENTIRE proposal from H3. There is a Lot more to this proposal than this park. Yes it’s a hot button topic and really a large part of the master plan, but there are other great aspects to Mr. Hoal’s proposal that should be discussed and there is a lot of thought behind the entire plan as a whole. It’s really worth looking at. Granted I am biased because I was a former student if his at Wash U. And I really admire his work for St. Louis city and the Forest Park master plan he implemented. But I really think there are a lot of other great ideas here worth discussing other than just debating one aspect of it.

    Personally I thought the big shocker was that the neighborhood seems so indifferent to the bike lane on Skinker? I’ve biked this way for the past 16 years and curse it every time. Skinker for bikers (both students and adult commuters) is a death trap, and it pains me to see so little interest in the safety of the people going thought their neighborhood.

    Another aspect to this neighborhood that I felt needed to be addressed was the increased amount of housing being bought up by the university. That can’t be good for property values. Sure, it keeps the ownership stable, but the users are in a way transient. With new people coming in/out of this neighborhood constantly. Why would I want buy a single family right next to a Wash U. Owned 3 or 6 family with noisy kids comi

    • rgbose

      Agreed there is a lot of good stuff in here. This with the TOD plan and the Parkview Gardens plan, it all is really a great vision.

      I wrote about the park because it was the topic of most contention at the last meeting. Plus if we really want to do option 2 it’ll take a vote of the whole city so bringing it here raises the profile of the issue.

      Here’s my coverage of the TOD part from last summer.

      The neighborhood is far from indifferent about bike lanes on Skinker, there’s debate over whether to go on the east, west, both sides of Skinker. Each has pros and cons.

      I’m told the apt buildings have housed a lot of students for many decades. It didn’t just come with WashU ownership. Plus they’ve been rehabbing a bunch of them. I used to live in one on Waterman and am glad to see them getting fixed up.

      The Federal money for the Trolley has come in. They are preparing the bid package.

      • Mike A

        Thanks for the clarification on the Bike Lanes. It really needs to happen, I guess i mistook the verbiage to say they really didn’t care either way on the bike lanes..not the placement, but wether they would happen at all. I really look forward to using those!

        Also, thanks for the clarification on the Trolley. I was mis-reading this article:
        and this article: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/loop-trolley-project-at-risk-of-losing-million-in-federal/article_9e05e275-dab7-5401-a8e9-ccb703149f12.htmlIt still seems kind of bleak for the future of the Trolley from my POV…plus i just don’t see how beneficial it is when it’s not really connecting anything besides the Museum and the Loop. Not to mention the Metrolink does exactly that now anyway. What is this trolley going to do that you can’t really do with Metrolink? Sorry to derail the main thread but it’s always been a thought I’ve had that probably is better served on that other post.

        I get the POV that Wash U. coming in and helping rehab the neighborhood might be a good thing for property values…I don’t discount that argument. However, I think that by doing this one could argue that it’s driving way potential buyers and inflating values on homes by long-time owners.

        I’m no economist but for someone like me who is in the market for a home and looking at potential locations to buy, I see this neighborhood as a viable choice. It’s between the Loop and Forest Park. It has 3 Metrolink Stations within walking distance from all corners. It has a lot going for it, but if the University keeps eating up the neighborhood, there will be nothing left for the rest of the area’s population to develop or take ownership in. I see it benefiting the University more than the families of that Neighborhood. And the housing values on the single family properties have elevated to a level that is mainly out of reach for a large amount of people. and those that can afford, will probably be looking a few blocks west anyway. So i’d say this neighborhood has a lot of good but also a lot of challenges.

        • rgbose

          All the stuff in the plan is continuant upon money being found. So it’s uncertain when bike lanes will happen on Skinker.

          The trolley money cam in a few weeks ago after those articles were written. The idea is that it’ll add to sense the sense of place and encourage development, especially east of Des Peres.

          I don’t think WashU owns any single fams in the neighborhood. I think it’s all apt buildings. They own some single fams in the neighborhood NW of FPP and Big Bend and this makes them nervous that they might demo for a big University building, though I think those fears are unfounded.

          What is happening is that single fam owners can’t get the price they want so they rent them out, often to students. He’s an editorial in the nieghborhood paper on page 2 about it. http://sdtimes.org/files/Download/SD_Times2013_09.pdf

          While rising property values are frustrating to buyers, it encourages rehab and owners to sell rather than rent their houses. There are some condoized buildings. The houses to the west is even more expensive.

  • Luftmentsch

    Just two miles from Lucier Park, there is a perfect example of a park that is completely surrounded by housing and meticulously well-designed according to urbanist standards. It’s called “Fountain Park,” and it’s a disaster. Two miles in the other direction, there’s the playground in Forest Park: totally surrounded by trees, blocked off from any “eyes” apart from those of parents and babysitters. Where would you rather sit and eat lunch? I love reading these postings (and often learn a lot from them), but there’s a tendency here for textbook principles to trump common sense. Kids in this area need properly graded and maintained soccer fields. Runners want a track. Families want clean, shaded, well-lit playgrounds set back from the street. Nobody I know is craving a place to sit and watch the trolleys go by.

  • Presbyterian

    Personally, I’d rather rebuild the whole Delmar street wall. I feel like we as a city have overdoes on open space.

    If we simply must have a park there, I like how option 2 defines it as a actual place (with a shape, with street walls, etc). With its amorphous shape fronted by garages and an alley, Option 1 still feels like undesigned ‘leftover’ space.

    • Don

      A downsized and defined park (shape, street-walls, etc) that offers an inviting pedestrian area (per the top rendering) with ‘eyes on it’ as described by Alex, a large playground, picnic tables, and dog park would be an ideal urban park for that neighborhood.

  • Luftmentsch

    The comments about “eyes on the park” is demonstrably false. There are 13 houses that look out on the park. (From the back, yes, but why does that matter?) Then there are the tenants of the Allenson building on Delmar, the apartments farther west, and even the houses on Hamilton – not to mention the school itself. My children’s soccer team practices at the park. I work out with my kids there. I have friends who play rugby. When my kids were younger, we constantly used the playground (as did my neighbors’ kids). How is that not a neighborhood asset?! Yes, the park is scary at night. Yes, it’s under-utilized. But those are problems which other neighborhoods have fixed in sensible ways without waiting for millions of dollars in new housing and streetscape transformations. Skinker-Debaliviere has treated that whole area of the neighborhood as a forgotten stepchild. It’s not mainly a design problem. It’s 1) a problem of history (everyone remembers “the really bad years”), 2) a problem of neglect (no lighting, no stands, horribly neglected fields), and 3) part of the challenge of living on the border of a very very poor neighborhood (to the north).

    • Alex Ihnen

      Whether a home faces a park, or shows its backside to it absolutely matters. Design isn’t “the” solution, but it can help. The park would greatly benefit from more eyes on it, and more activity spread across the day – no matter what we feel the current situation may be. The history of the park takes time to change. The other two issues can absolutely be addressed by the plan proposed. Sometimes renderings look overly dramatic, but what you’re looking at is investment in the field and the playground, planting some trees and adding residents who will take an interest in the park, its safety and upkeep.

      • Luftmentsch

        “Absolutely matters?” Why? If we’re literally talking about people looking out on the park, then, if anything, they are more likely to observe goings on from the alley (where they drive into their garages), from their backyards (where they sit on nice days), and from their upper-story back windows, where they tend to have unimpeded views. Urban design should not, in any case, deal in “absolutes.” Where is the flexibility that takes account of neighborhood particularities? “Option 2” is a $50 million solution to a $1 million problem. It will create a situation in which the perfect (once again) becomes the enemy of the good, i.e. where everyone sits around waiting for the grand solution rather than doing something now to improve what’s there.

        • rgbose

          What we have now is not good. John Hoal couldn’t stress that enough. Option 2 doesn’t cost $50M. In fact it would probably add to the tax base because there would be developable land facing a park.

          • Mike A

            just to add a little bit to the discussion here. I think there is equal emphasis on “eyes” meaning watching FROM the park and TO the park. Personally, i took it as, when there are houses that have their front door facing the park, that is a much stronger physical sign that the people using the park are being watched than a solid fence or garage door with no windows on it. The garage in the rear of the house will mainly obstruct the view of the park and is a much more private facade than the front of the house. So in my opinion, I think it’s more from both aspects. When you are in the park and see front doors facing the park, the park will psychologically feel more protected (Watched) than a bunch of solid garage doors. That works from the home owner’s perspective as well. Since a garage or covered fence or other barrier gains an additional level of privacy between the park and the house, the visual connection is less evident.

        • Adam

          It’s not just about the eyes inside the buildings. It’s also about the eyes on the streets and sidewalks in front of the buildings, which are more populated than the alleys in back. The front is public space. The back is not.

  • Don

    Given small size, use as a soccer field would greatly limit the use of the park in very negative ways. Open it up with a nice playground, tables, benches, etc so as to make it inviting green-space for the neighborhood to gather and enjoy.

    • Alex Ihnen

      The design elements are in no way finalized, but if you look at each, there is space for tables, a playground, etc. In option 1 (and the image of the top of the story), those elements are along Delmar. In option 2, they’re next to the school. One of the keys to activating a space is to make sure it’s not too big. You have to concentrate activity to have a place feel vibrant. Personally, I LOVE the idea of seating and a playground on Delmar – what a great place to watch the streetcar go by! Homes/apts need to be built facing the park as well – so maybe some combination of the two would make sense.

      • Don

        Agreed. I too love the idea of seating / playground on Delmar and agree that there needs to be ‘eyes on the park’, even if doing so makes the park smaller.

        I would also add a neighborhood dog park to the plans with gathering spaces around that element. Dog parks are tremendous urban assets that would bring people to the park every day and evening of the year, including the in the winter.

        My earlier point was that sports fields in such small parks take up way too much space while providing only for very limited use. There are much better uses of this limited green-space that would be a great asset to this neighborhood.

        • rgbose

          The plan is to put a dog park on Des Peres. Also the community garden on McPherson moves to Des Peres. And there is one presently on Westminster where Hamilton would intersect, and it remains in either option.

          • Don

            The plan for a dog park at Des Peres is at least 10 years old. I wasn’t aware of a dog park on Westminster.

            Because of limited land space, dog parks in the City tend to be small such that neighborhoods require more than 1. A neighborhood the size of S/D could easily support 3 dog parks.

          • rgbose

            That’s a community garden on Westminster. The top candidate for the dog park is on the east side of Des Peres by the Metrolink tracks north of the Des Peres School. It’d be a great way to activate that part of Des Peres.

          • Don

            yes, that’s been the plan for a dog park for 10 years or more. I worked on the project for a time many years ago. It’s a nice way to use that space, but the space is very small for a dog park only accommodating 10 or so dogs at a time (the City ordnance on dog parks proscribes dogs per sq feet of park). The Des Peres DP, if it’s ever built, would be a lovely addition to that area, but is not a solution for the entire neighborhood.

            Depending on the final size of the future Lucier Park, a much larger and more functional DP would be an ideal addition. Dog parks draw people 365 days a year, increasing not just park use, but pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks leading to the park, which is a benefit to any neighborhood.

          • MTL_STL

            I’ve always been interested as to why so many community dog parks in the area require annual dues and do not allow guest access. Wouldn’t allowing public access, help keep visitor’s coming and allow for a more likely chance that your dog will have other dogs to play with when you go there? I assume that this is to keep the area nice and not get over run. But it seems rather odd that if you lived elsewhere in the city and visiting an area that you can’t go into a dog park for the afternoon that you’re there (Wilmore Park, Shaw, U City, Maplewood, Soulard, Compton Reservior all have locked dog parks, the majority of which are in public parks). I’m not sure if this is just always been the case, but why are no dog parks funded out of general park funds? I can’t imagine the annual dues collect that much money.

            The large free dog (“sculptue”) park by SLU doesn’t seem too over run. Again the new 7 acre dog park to be installed by the dog museum in Queeny Park looks like it will also have an annual fee. That seems like it would be a great destination to drive out for a Saturday, but not if you have to pay $50 for one day of use.

          • Don

            In the city, the dog parks are operated by neighborhood not for profits. There is no funding from the city. The fees are necessary to cover the cost of operating the park, which includes waste management, water and simply maintaining the park surface. I think the SLU park is over used with the surface showing the damage — it was re-soded last year and that sod is all but gone.

            The fees also add the element of control by allowing screening. Dogs are screened for their health / shots and their temperament. Not every dog is appropriate for a dog park and no one wants their dog to be the next Buddy (click here:http://tinyurl.com/m3s6g4d) Membership is how important rules are enforced for the safety of pets and people.

      • dempster holland

        I grew up on McPherson where a streetcar went by every ten
        minutes. I don;’t remember anyone ever saying “let’s go watch
        the streetcar go by.”

        • Alex Ihnen

          No kidding. And I’m guessing some families once sat and watched at the traffic heading down the Interstate next to their new home. I wish a streetcar weren’t such a novelty, but it is. The highlights of my kid’s day? Seeing a MetroLink train. But more seriously, a streetcar adds a sense of life, of vibrancy and curiosity. When in New Orleans, it’s great to watch the streetcars pass, and this line will be very much like that one.

  • T-Leb

    Turn it into wetland or lake. Obvious environmental benefits.

  • STLEnginerd

    orienting a soccer field as shown in option 2 is an oversight. unless people like the idea of kids chasing balls into trafic.

    • Andrew Maynard

      The same for when the field may be used for rugby as extra points would fly onto Delmar. This is currently the home field for the St. Louis Bombers Rugby Club.

  • John R

    I’m having a bit of problem visualizing the Delmar frontage…. would there be any demo of existing buildings? Also somewhat of an aside, but do you have an idea of when work is supposed to begin on the various projects to be funded by the bond issue…. would the

    • rgbose

      The plan envisions redevelopment of the whole 5900 block of Delmar in either case. Option 2 would require demo of 5916 Delmar currently occupied by El Paisano and 5920 currently empty and owned by Joe Edwards. Don’t know when bonded park work begins.

      • John R

        Thanks…. seems like a waste to tear those down; both seem worthy contributors to Delmar streetscape.
        btw, I’d love to see Mark G. do a post on the parks project.

        • rgbose

          The plan shows redevelopment of much of Delmar and DeBaliviere. It all depends on what capital shows up when, where, and what it wants to do. Hopefully the form-based-code will be in place soon.

  • markgroth

    I like option #2 with the exception that it disconnects the park from the Hamilton school. I really think the school should have a strong voice in what happens with Lucier Park. They could/should expand their curriculum to include the park, a lot like Wilkinson does with Franz Park. To me, the worst thing about the park is the maze of one way and blocked off streets in that part of town make it nearly impossible to navigate. I’m pretty sure that is by design, but frustrating to someone who only visits the neighborhood/park. A side comment/question…how does H3 have the market cornered on park designs in St. Louis? I think they do good work, but would like to see some diversity in firms/ideas.

    • rgbose

      Well H3 hasn’t designed the park in detail, they’re identifying problems and offering solutions at a higher level. I doubt we’d try to shoe-horn in a soccer field if Option 2 comes to be.

      My understanding is that it’s a big to do for school kids to use a park.

      • markgroth

        I respectfully disagree with the schools using park thing. It not true for SLPS, private nor charters. They all use parks regularly. KIPP in Fox Park, St. Margaret in Tower Grove Park, Wilkinson in Franz Park, Lafayette Prep in Lucas Park, the list goes on and on. Who paid for the H3 work?

        • Luftmentsch

          Hamilton School has been strangely uninterested in the park. They even built a second playground on their own asphalt lot (free of trees), at a point when Lucier had a perfectly good, nicely shaded playground 40 meters away. In theory, though, yes, the school should be interested.

          • Mike A

            well, it is an elementary school right? K-5 students. That might be a little tough to manage when it’s across a street and not protected by school property. So I can kind of see their POV. This is also a part of the neighborhood still in transition I’d say and it’s hard to manage who will come in/out of this park. (I still remember being verbally accosted by young kids of this area (while on my morning commute to Metrolink) with racial slurs being called directly at me (i’m caucasian so that was a new experience for a 20-something grad school student)…basically hinting that I wasn’t welcome here. We’ve already established its doesn’t sound like a park that’s very well “watched” or protected. So would you trust your 3rd grader (for example) to have a safe recess in this park? Just as an example.

        • rgbose

          I think the planning was funded by the Skinker DeBaliviere Community Council, at least primarily. I’ll get back to you on that.

        • rgbose

          SDCC got the money from:

          Rise (2 grants)
          SD Community Housing Corp
          East Loop SBD
          Washington University