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Old 05-04-2012, 11:14 AM
 
Location: In the heights
20,115 posts, read 21,737,714 times
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I was just browsing about and noticed that St. Louis used to have well over 850K people at one point in an area in just 61 square miles which compares favorably with traditional small city heavyweights such as DC, Boston, and SF in terms of density. However, STL seems to have gone through a precipitous drop and doesn't seem to have the kind of infrastructure that DC, Boston, and SF have (the mass transit line, the relatively small number of freeways cutting through the cities, the large contiguous rowhouse/apt neighborhoods).

So what I'm curious about is whether STL ever had that kind of urban layout and infrastructure that those other cities had, but were simply destroyed/dismantled/unused or if the city was never quite like those others in the first place.
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:03 PM
 
Location: St. Louis, MO
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Great question, OyCrumbler! I can't wait to see the responses, especially from people who have lived in St. Louis for decades.

In the meantime, I'll tell you what I do know about St. Louis in the 1950s versus now, versus other cities such as Boston, San Francisco etc.

But first of all, let's start with some photos, because photos are fun

Laclede Ave Area


Looking toward Downtown (Pruitt Igoe on the Left!)


Downtown St. Louis


Downtown, looking toward Union Station


St. Louisans waiting for a Streetcar on North Grand & Olive


This is *apparently* St. Louis- can anybody identify where?



Anyway moving on

To answer your questions:

Infrastructure:
St. Louis did have a well rounded Street Car system from 1855 up until 1966 (see the street car map here when the bus system overtook it. I'm a huge fan of mass transit (not including buses) so I believe the decline of the streetcar system was a huge blow, but St. Louis was just following the lead of other cities at the time who believed that street cars / trams caused excess congestion.

As far as the interstates go, St. Louis (or technically, St. Charles) was the first place in the nation to get a stretch of the new 'Eisenhower Interstate System' (I-70) way back in 1956. The interstates that were built, effectively 'cut up' St. Louis, separating and effectively destroying some neighborhoods. As much as I love the convenience of the Interstate system, if you look at all of the interstates running through St. Louis compared to some other major cities, it's obvious why the effect was so damaging.

Furthermore, the Interstates made it easier for people to live further out into the suburbs. Instead of a 20 minute city drive at 35 mph and stop signs, they could now ride 20 minutes on the interstate, and live out in one of the newly developed 'suburbias'. The extent of 'White Flight' in St. Louis is profound to say the least.

Houses
St. Louis *does* have a lot of historic houses, and old houses, and even some row houses. In fact, it once had enough to fit all 850k+ people into it's limited city limits. Compared with today however, you'll find that a lot of the old brick homes were often 2 or 4 family homes back in the 1950s, and right now, the 'trend' seems to be converting the old multi-family homes into single family homes. Additionally, in the 1950s, Pruitt Igoe (although never filled to Capacity, estimates say a maximum of only 15,000 people ever lived there) stood slightly North West of downtown in the 1950s. If you're not familiar with it, it was a huge public housing project that was completed in 1954, and failed miserably.

Finally, a drive around North St. Louis will tell you a very, very sad story. Wastelands and vacant lots, one after another, dot the streets where houses used to be. They either burned, fell down, got demolished, or the brick rustlers got at them. If you refer to this article on Built St. Louis, it shows a great image of how many houses their once were on this particular city block, compared to now. Sadly, this isn't an isolated case. Block after block of North St. Louis is filled with this kind of blight and decay, unlike anything in Boston or San Francisco (more akin to Detroit).

Anyway, I hope that helped solve your question!

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Old 05-04-2012, 12:27 PM
 
Location: Saint Louis, MO
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To clarify, St Louis does have mass transit...it's just not as massive. The light rail hits a lot of hot spots, and extends into some inner suburbs. The buses run further into the suburbs. I did the car-free thing for 4 years in STL; it wasn't easy, but I was pretty broke.

The highway infrastructure in STL makes it very, very easy to live in the suburbs--people can love it or hate it.

STL has gorgeous neighborhoods. Definitely more single family homes in the city than you might expect--even some of my favorite areas, like the Central West End, are a solid mix of apartment and single family homes. Rowhomes can be found in Soulard, Lafayette Square. It's pretty much only apts/condos downtown in the loft district. What has happened on the North side is very sad, but not representative of the entire city.
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:36 PM
 
Location: St. Louis, MO
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Quote:
Originally Posted by billiken View Post
To clarify, St Louis does have mass transit...it's just not as massive. The light rail hits a lot of hot spots, and extends into some inner suburbs. .
Yup, the Metrolink is a pretty good system already, and will be even better when it gets it's proposed expansions
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Old 05-04-2012, 04:04 PM
 
Location: Silver Springs, FL
23,440 posts, read 30,618,996 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OyCrumbler View Post
I was just browsing about and noticed that St. Louis used to have well over 850K people at one point in an area in just 61 square miles which compares favorably with traditional small city heavyweights such as DC, Boston, and SF in terms of density. However, STL seems to have gone through a precipitous drop and doesn't seem to have the kind of infrastructure that DC, Boston, and SF have (the mass transit line, the relatively small number of freeways cutting through the cities, the large contiguous rowhouse/apt neighborhoods).

So what I'm curious about is whether STL ever had that kind of urban layout and infrastructure that those other cities had, but were simply destroyed/dismantled/unused or if the city was never quite like those others in the first place.
Are you saying that STL doesnt have the bolded?
Because thats not true.
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Old 05-04-2012, 05:11 PM
 
Location: St. Louis, MO
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the relatively small number of freeways cutting through the cities

- if you think about it (and per my first reply) that's not true either. I-70, I-55, I-44, I-64, I-170 (although that's technically in the County) and then I-270 in the county, is actually a substantial number of interstates for a city the size of St. Louis. It's more than San Francisco (when you don't count the Oakland side and down as far as San Jose of course). For memory, San Francisco only has I-280, I-80 and I-380 in South SF. Far fewer than St. Louis. In Boston (please correct me if I'm wrong) I only recall the Turnpike, I-90 and I-93 in the city itself. I-95 bypasses Boston if I'm not mistaken.

Either way, St. Louis HAS lost a lot of it's population through varying factors, but I don't believe a lack of infrastructure / city planning was one of them.

St. Louis, in my opinion, is a beautifully planned, thoughtfully laid out city. I even like the locations of all of the interstates (even if I never quite understood I-44). Coming from a city like Brisbane, Australia which only had two motorways for the majority of the time I grew up there (despite a 2 million + population, not including the Greater Metro Area), neither of which went anywhere close to the CBD (downtown), I thought the spiderweb of interstates in St. Louis was a dream come true.
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Old 05-04-2012, 05:30 PM
 
Location: Maryland Heights, MO
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We do have an awful lot of freeways, but that's likely one of the numerous reasons we don't see rush hour traffic in the same way many other urban centers do. Trying to identify some of the areas in the photos above, but highly doubt I'm going to have ANY luck.
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Old 05-04-2012, 07:38 PM
 
Location: St. Louis, MO
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I'm thinking the last photo *may* be 16th & Locust (as that is where the YMCA is downtown), but instead of gorgeous buildings following it, we now have a parking lot (surprise surprise there!), followed by a couple of newer (70s at a guess?) boring in fills.
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Old 05-04-2012, 08:03 PM
 
Location: Southwest Washington State
18,852 posts, read 12,473,150 times
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Default St. Louis



Is that first pic of Mill Creek Valley? That was also a failed housing experiment, wasn't it?

I have lived in the County for my entire life. I don't know why St. Louis went downhill, but at least part of it is due to poor civic leadership, IMO. Many jobs went out of the area, or at least into the Co. We lost major National Headquarters. There was major white flight, which continues to this day into St. Charles Co.

Even the county has stopped growing, but St. Charles keeps on. It is as if the central core has been largely abandoned.

Another really bad thing is the loss of manufacturing which used to be part of the fabric of this metro area. We do have some large Hdq. in this area. I'm thinking of Edward Jones in Des Peres. And we had the jobs from McDonnell-Douglas, the car plants, ACF, and so on. We don't have nearly the drivers that way that we did. (Obviously MCD is still here, now a part of Boeing. But it isn't the same.)
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Old 05-04-2012, 08:55 PM
 
Location: Maryland Heights, MO
3,229 posts, read 6,659,331 times
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So this picture still has me going. I originally thought the Locust Ave but the building doesn't match up, and I think the current YMCA building predates the 1950's, although I think the attire of those individuals does to.

Things i'm noticing in the photo. Some men are wearing sport coats and full suits, others are wearing long sleeve shirts/ties. there's one individual wearing a short sleeve shirt, but I don't get the impression that it's cold.

Shadows are being cast from left to right and fore to aft, including a shadow of a structure on the trolly cars, and individual shadows on people from other bystanders. Which makes me think we're looking West, and the YMCA building is on the Northside of the street. There's also a sign that clearly says "Lang" but I have no reference to what that company was.

As the trolly cars disappear towards the rear of the photo, it also looks like the street splits, or widens.

In all honesty, the area reminds of spots close to the Delmar Loop...anyone else?
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