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+StL Greenway: Growing an Urban Mosaic
Time:2020-04-15 Source: GFHS Views:23

Abstract: The +STL Greenway project is designed to amplify the existing assets of St. Louis while taking powerful measures to address the challenges the city is facing. To do this, we propose a layered strategy with three primary components: Ecological Loops, Equitable Extensions, and Economic Assets: we call them the three E’s. Combined, these 3 E’s address opportunities for economic development and access, performative landscape ecology, and equitable access to jobs, institutions, education, and public space.

The project reinforces what is already strong in St. Louis while bridging divisions and stimulating seeds of growth in areas that need further investment. The resultant + figure boldly joins North and South at the central East West corridor - the greenway must extend at least as far North and South as it does East and West while providing an armature for future projects by Great Rivers Greenway and others to plug into to further connect the project to the communities of St. Louis and beyond. Through this armature we grow a new urban mosaic for St. Louis, built on unique cultural identities, histories revealed, shared ambitions, and a new connective and productive Greenway.

Keywords: Greenway, Ecology, Equity, Economy

Downtown St. Louis is divided. Today, a shallow valley running east to west from Forest Park to the Mississippi River through the center of the city holds the infrastructure of the 20th century: freeways slip fluidly alongside bundled freight, regional, and commuter rail, each with their attendant interchanges, grade-separations, switching-yards and security. These strands connect the city to its region but create a physical and psychological barrier between the neighborhoods to the north and south. As in so many other cities around the US, this infrastructural void sits atop a neighborhood razed, a riparian ecology interred.

+StL Regional Aerial

      Our masterplan proposal restores ecological, cultural, and economic potential within the space of this void, while simultaneously reaching deep into the surrounding communities to stimulate connectivity, strengthen existing places of value, and synthesize investments already underway. The result is a multi-directional armature that focuses efforts to build on St. Louis’ existing strengths and fosters new urban futures with this incremental and flexible masterplan. 

Asked by the Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) to envision an urban greenway in the heart of St. Louis between Forest Park and the Gateway Arch, our masterplan proposal envisions an alternative to the prototypical, resource-concentrating big landscape intervention project. Instead, following in the spirit of GRG’s citizen-involved approach to building regional greenway networks, we propose a masterplan that resolves the connective and restorative ambitions at the core while investing in the communities, existing assets, and unique projects underway around this corridor. Our team was assembled on this principle, and includes local experts, leaders, and advocates as well as designers, planners, engineers, and advisors with international experience, each committed to a team-wide design and decision-making process.

+StL Bridge at Forest Park

      The resulting masterplan proposes concrete measures to address the challenges of equity, public health, and mobility that the city is facing through a layered strategy of three components: Economic Assets, Ecological Loops, and Equitable Extensions. These three dimensions of our masterplan articulate strategies for distributing economic development, introducing biodiverse and hard-working habitats, and planning for equitable access to jobs, institutions, and public space. The resultant + figure boldly joins North and South at the central East West corridor - we firmly believe that the greenway must extend at least as far North and South as it does East and West while providing an armature for future projects by Great Rivers Greenway and others to plug into.

Big urban projects are too often sites of community division. Our meetings with resident and advocacy groups in St. Louis attested to underlying anxieties of displacement, waste, and inequality. A traditional definition of sustainable development attempts to balance environmental conservation, economic growth and social equity, though intractable conflicts between these corners of interest. +StL proposes to reimagine these tripartite responsibilities as catalysts with shared interest, not as opposing interests. Our plan considers three dimensions of access. PHYSICAL ACCESS requires affordable, timely, reliable mobility as well as universal access to place and experience. SOCIAL ACCESS prioritizes inclusive programming and investments in neighborhood cohesion through partnerships with organizations, spatial distribution of services, and a rich array of public amenities. ECONOMIC ACCESS makes space for a variety of land-use types for affordable places to live, access to quality education and recreation, and entryways into work.

+StL Underpass Park

    As a performative landscape, our +StL Greenway integrates stormwater management for a healthier Mississippi River. St. Louis uses a combined sewer system, meaning in high rain fall events, the city’s water treatment plant cannot keep up with the amount of water coming into it. As a result, the city must bypass the treatment plant and pump untreated stormwater and sewer water directly into the Mississippi. Our proposal mitigates the need to do so by collecting urban rainwater runoff in the Mill Creek Valley and passively treating it in a series of woodland streams and wetlands.

StL Wetland Park

      St. Louis was built on industry, much of which is still operating today. Rather than relocating or removing this industrial heritage, we propose embracing it and integrating ecological habitats, pathways, and recreational experiences with artifacts of industry. Not only is this pragmatic and cost effective, it is also healthier for the surrounding city. Increased tree canopy will buffer the diesel emissions from train engines, improve air quality, and create shaded environments for recreation. Activating and illuminating these spaces at night will create safe routes for walking, cycling, commuting, community groups, and local neighborhood residents. Rather than treating the railyard valley as “back” of St. Louis, we propose making it a new “front” for engagement and experience.

We see branches into north city and south city as equal in importance to and complementary to the obvious east-west connection between the Arch and Forest Park. Several key extensions to the + diagram can link more parks into the greenway network while providing equitable extensions into neighborhoods the most in need of investment. Invitation as much as access is needed to bring residents of underserved neighborhoods into the greenway network.

We propose integrating Market Street and Forest Park Boulevard as a continuous Great Street. Rather than treating these two streets as separate on and off ramps for Interstate 64 we propose integrating them as a grand boulevard in the city. Three of the on/off ramps can be decommissioned with minimal impacts to traffic and converted into bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways that connect to the greenways North and South. In the space between these pieces of infrastructure, we propose a one-of-a-kind Archeology and History Museum. There could not be a more powerful site to explore the deep history of St. Louis than at the Highway and the Mill Creek Valley Urban Removal Project. Artifacts and building remains would be collected, studied, and displayed together with work by contemporary artists and writers in St. Louis. Located adjacent to Saint Louis and Harris-Stowe Universities, we imagine temporary and permanent exhibitions. The work of Damon Davis, a black St. Louis based artist, is currently shown in one of the courtyards, and Hiwa K an Iraqi immigrant working in St. Louis is shown in the other. Rather than infrastructure that divides, we propose a space that brings people and ideas together for display and debate.

+StL Spaghetti_Archeology Museum

      The +StL Greenway must bridge divisions to create a more robust city that people will believe in, invest in, and live in. The Greenway extends into some of the most financially, infrastructurally, and socially challenged neighborhoods in St. Louis. The extensions north along Newstead and south along Compton will grow neighborhoods such as The Ville, Penrose, O’Fallon, Gravois Park, Tower Grove South, and Dutchtown. Improving bus frequency, sidewalks, roads, and street lighting, and introducing protected vegetated bike lanes will enhance quality of life and amplify ongoing efforts. This project can bridge the long-standing divide between Missouri and Illinois. Inserting a lightweight bicycle pathway on the MacArthur Bridge and pedestrianizing the underutilized Eads Bridge would bring more equitable opportunities for both sides of the river.

Investment capital follows talent that follows places embracing diversity and inclusion. Parks, institutions, cultural venues, social facilities, and small, medium, and large businesses are all considered “Economic Assets.” The Greenway will connect, strengthen, and build from St. Louis’ existing assets that are strong or under-performing in their capacity to catalyze economic growth due an underwhelming public realm - and support expansion of economic opportunities city-wide. A network of high-quality Greenway infrastructure can leverage placemaking as a key component of an economic development strategy.

The three “E’s” will build from strength, diversify, and amplify existing assets in St. Louisian life. The DNA of the Greenway relates to diverse and inclusive expressions of culture, becoming a beloved place in the city for its many diverse groups, individuals, and the broader creative community to work, present, and inspire visitors. It will support inclusive growth enabling access to economic opportunities by creating safe routes to jobs for those from neighborhoods with limited mobility. The Greenway will knit together dynamic urban districts that have an eclectic mix of businesses, residents, and institutions that promote vibrancy throughout the day.

A prairie and wetland is proposed at the base of the local watershed on the site of a former parking lot and between the MetroLink and Amtrak alignments. The large, low-lying landscape relieves loading on nearby storm-water infrastructure and offsets surges from adjacent event parking areas by diverting water into a series of interconnected basins. The tall grass prairie habitat supports local floral and faunal biodiversity and provides appropriate habitat for migrating birds. This biologically productive site anchors the southern end of the greenway and provides opportunities for environmental education, bird, frog, and bat watching, short nature hikes and prairie picnics--unique recreational programs for emerging Ballpark and Chouteau’s Landing neighborhoods.

+StL Spaghetti_Archeology Museum

      Our team’s goal is to convert parking lots into wetlands, highway pilings into green pillars, streets into greenways, and rooftops into meadows, with the goal of keeping stormwater out of combined sewers. We have identified multiple opportunities for capture, conveyance and retention, throughout the Greenway, ranging from large scale detention ponds surrounded by treatment wetlands to modestly altering existing infrastructure for beneficial reuse. Our team’s proposals for interventions may represent the most ambitious single rainscaping effort in the region and has the potential to provide a host of secondary amenities that will enrich Saint Louis’ cultural and natural environment.

The hydrology of the central greenway was analyzed for opportunities to reduce loads on the existing hard infrastructures. The low railway basin site is topography ideal for intercepting storm water, thus reestablishing native communities of prairie, woodland, riverside, and wetland. Tall grass prairie habitat, reclaimed from parking lots and storage yards, will support local floral and faunal biodiversity and provide appropriate habitat for migrating birds. Active urban forest and prairie along the Greenway will provide important ecosystem and cultural services to the St. Louis area. Public interaction with newly visible habitats and species can be explored over boardwalks, trails and bridges beside wetlands and drainage ways, reducing the barriers that prevent residents from enjoying nature in the city.

Beyond the low corridor, the Ecological loops constitute the green hydrological infrastructure to expand pervious ground and draw habitat corridors between the four major parks in St. Louis. The West-East route from Forest Park at Clayton Avenue and the Metro-Link line along the Union Pacific Railyard to Chouteau’s Landing allows a new experience completely unique to St. Louis integrating ecology, woodlands, streams, and wetland ecologies with St. Louis’ industrial railroad. The North-South loops connect Fairground Park, Tower Grove Park, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the neighborhoods in between them with the central East-West Greenway providing vital neighborhood access and habitat corridors for improved environmental health and biodiversity.

+StL Long Table

This project showcases issues of resilience in non-coastal cities in developed countries which are very different that how “resiliency planning” has been defined in places like New York or San Francisco. For example, St. Louis lists the following “shocks & stresses” as their resiliency planning: Aging Infrastructure, Aging Population, Crime/Violence, Declining Population/Human Capital Flight, Extreme Heat, Inadequate Educational Systems, Rainfall Flooding, Riot/Civil Unrest, and Tornados. Many of these have little to do with climate but instead with structural problems of a metropolitan area with declining population and tax base.

The proposal demonstrates the complexities of intervening in struggling urban contexts. It illustrates how a multidisciplinary approach – reflected in the team and the proposed solutions – is required to intelligently address issues in a comprehensive manner since things remain completely interdependent in the urban ecosystem.

Article and photos by OBJECT TERRITORIES, [dhd] Derek Hoeferlin Design, and TLS Landscape Architecture.