Letters to the Editor

I truly enjoyed reading Eddie Silva's article about South African architect Jo Noero's vision for renewing St. Louis ("Shelter from the Norm," RFT, March 3). At last, someone that has a realistic but positive vision for St. Louis! One that truly understands that people, living in the city, make the city. Hear that, St. Louis? St. Louis is not defined by the endless dwelling upon the 1904 World's Fair. Nor has the Arch ever signified St. Louis in any meaningful way, so let's stop pointing to it as our symbol of progress. Our downtown renovation has been to destroy the city wholesale and export the bricks. Was that progress, or sheer destructive waste of what we could have been as a city? The Arch resembles a tombstone over our civic mess.

Let's listen to this man and his ideas. His ideas are practical, doable, exciting. He's got us sized up right in many ways -- we have shot ourselves in the foot -- but he also sees a lot of opportunity here, if only we'd stop shooting ourselves in the foot. Why shouldn't we see the opportunity, too? Surely it's time to stop running away from our city, and from each other, and begin acting as if we live here.

Thank you, Mr. Noero, for coming to St. Louis!
Karen Hammer

To the Editor:
Despite the occasional hyperbole, we should be grateful to Jo Noero for his insights into St. Louis architecture, planning and development. His analysis is humane, democratic and unerringly urban.

He may not be aware, however, that the chief victims of the clearing of the riverfront south of the Eads Bridge were a number of historically significant warehouses blessed with some of the finest cast-iron facades anywhere in the country.

And now, after more than three decades, the Gateway Arch has become such a St. Louis institution that decrying the structure itself is akin to tilting at windmills. But surely it remains proper to question, even today, the extensive and unnecessary "pastoralizing" of a large stretch of riverfront that accompanied the Arch's construction.

Much more consequential from a demographic and perhaps even an architectural perspective, though, was the federally funded bulldozing of the Mill Creek Valley in the late 1950s. Denounced by some critics at the time as a "Negro-removal" scheme and anti-urban to its core, the destruction of every residential block from Union Station west to St. Louis University left the city with an enormous suburban hole in its very heart that has not healed in 40 years and quite likely never will. This surely qualifies as the city's "original sin" in the urban-planning arena.

And, finally, the multifamily housing in the "new" Westminster Place may be foolishly and absurdly grandiose in name. But the buildings themselves seem to emulate the traditional St. Louis four-family flat far more than they pretend to be postmodern, subdivided versions of the opulent single-family houses of Fullerton's Westminster Place. A far better yardstick of comparison with late-19th-century single-family housing would be the "quasi-urban," free-standing homes built right around the corner by the same developer.

What is most annoying and genuinely wasteful about Westminster Place is the design of the accompanying commercial development on Lindell Boulevard. From a neighborhood perspective, of course, any well-managed new businesses should be embraced with open arms. But the project itself once again reflects the strip-mall sensibilities of suburban design, particularly in its orientation to the street and the daunting size of its parking lots.

Harold Karabell

To the Editor:
If the structures pictured are representative of the work of architect Jo Noero, then I say, "Thank you, but no thank you." "Ugly," "sterile" and "oh my gosh, no!" are the thoughts that come immediately to mind as I looked at page 19. As to Westminster Place, I like the way it looks. It's pretty, appealing to the eye. I do not know how "livable" it is for families. Has anyone asked the people who do live there? I do know the notion of suburbia in the middle of a city is not a bad idea. It may be the best of both worlds ... the sprawling homes of the suburb coupled with walking closeness (or a short drive, bus ride) to the amenities of the city.

Noero's analysis of the displacement of the poor by the Arch has the merit of truth. The intent of the city fathers, was, without a doubt, to make the poor disappear from view. However, they were living in squalor. There are many reasons for this (the tenements were built to cram in the bodies of workers, who were viewed as another machine, to lending/lack of lending to the poor -- a.k.a. black people -- to purchase and/or maintain the housing). To the extent that squalid living conditions were eliminated, hurrah! The displacement issue is still unresolved and probably won't be in the near future. For shame, but true. Class divisions are something no one wants to talk about or acknowledge.

Lastly, while I like the models shown on page 22, people in St. Louis like -- no, love -- to sit on the front. It is a "class" thing. Drive through St. Louis Hills one afternoon in the spring or summer; drive through North Pointe (one predominantly white, the other black). You will note people sitting on the front porch or on the stoops or even in the driveway of the garage. The models shown may have courtyards that ensure privacy, but do they accommodate our St. Louis predilection for sitting on the front, "watching the world go by"?

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