The Gospel According to Paul

Developer Paul McKee Jr. envisions WingHaven as a "New Urbanist" planned community where everyone will live, work and get along. So why does it look so much like suburbia?

The multistory Enclave luxury-apartment complex, with its dense suburban architecture, sits incongruously amid cleared fields in the rolling, forested hills of St. Charles County, about 30 miles west of downtown St. Louis. With electronic gates at its entrance and surrounded by a high security fence, it looks like nothing so much as a monument to a cult leader's paranoid fantasy. Around it are empty treeless fields, a free-fire zone, perhaps, with the grass cut low so that even a mouse could be seen from the upper-story windows.

But for that desolation, nothing visibly distinguishes the Enclave from other suburban apartment complexes in Maryland Heights, Sunset Hills or Creve Coeur. The Enclave is within walking distance of nowhere. A bag of groceries or gas requires a bit of a drive, let alone getting to school or work.

Yet the Enclave is different. It is part of a grand social experiment by a private developer to see whether the layout and design of streets, office buildings, stores and homes can change the way people relate to each other, the way they think and behave.

WingHaven developer Paul J. McKee Jr. in one of the "neighborhood electric vehicles" (NEVs) that he sells to residents for $10,000.
Jennifer Silverberg
WingHaven developer Paul J. McKee Jr. in one of the "neighborhood electric vehicles" (NEVs) that he sells to residents for $10,000.

A mile farther up the road and over a hill, the mammoth MasterCard Global Technology and Operations Center grips an HOK-designed 10-acre lake. Nothing -- other than perhaps its size -- distinguishes the MasterCard building from any other multistory office building in Maryland Heights or Chesterfield. It, too, is part of the experiment. So are 23 residential developments that, when completed, will contain 1,264 single-family homes, as well as 650 apartments.

The experiment is called WingHaven, and its developers predict that, when fully built, more than 20,000 people will live or work here. And the Enclave will no longer sit in eerie isolation.

Though the experiment is barely half-done, some people are already proclaiming it a stunning success. "WingHaven will be cited for the next 25 years as a great example of a new form of urban development," says Richard Fleming, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

In the jargon of developers, WingHaven is a "masterplanned, mixed-use community," as was Chesterfield when Louis Sachs began developing it in the 1960s. Modern office buildings and a commercial strip are taking shape along this stretch of Highway 40, and new single-family homes sprout farther inland in developments with pretentious English names such as Falcon Hill, Hawthorne Village and Wake Forest. There's a community clubhouse with tennis courts and a pool, and an 18-hole golf course. Walking trails wind through WingHaven, and blooms in the landscaped median strip provide a colorful contrast to the monochromatic roadways.

WingHaven takes up 1,200 acres, nearly the size of Forest Park or downtown St. Louis. Unlike downtown, the developer uses rolling hills and remnants of second-growth forest to screen parts of the project from each other. Drive around the new roads of WingHaven, and, as in many a suburban subdivision, the overwhelming impression is of newness and orderliness, of comfort and sterility. Far from the urban chaos, here is a place free of the problems and squabbles of older, disordered environments.

Don't, however, call WingHaven just another subdivision, at least not within earshot of Paul J. McKee Jr. His goals are much loftier. McKee aims to relieve the pressures that make modern life unbearable, or at least unpleasant. He aims to teach St. Louis how to embrace diversity, how to create a real community. Along the way, he plans on turning the St. Louis area into a high-tech mecca.

McKee doesn't have a reputation for being a starry-eyed idealist or social reformer. The crusty, white-haired 56-year-old construction executive is better known as a hard-charging businessman, an entrepreneur's entrepreneur. He co-founded and chairs four companies, and he was just elected chairman of a fifth, Enterbank Holdings Inc., the parent company of Enterprise Bank. He's been credited with engineering the hospital mergers that created BJC Health System while he was chairman of Christian Hospitals. He also is a leader in the "biobelt" effort to make St. Louis a leading center for biotechnology.

And he doesn't like subdivisions.

"'Subdivision' is a bad word around us," says McKee, chairman of McEagle Development Corp., the builder of WingHaven. "What we did is, we pulled the people together and created community in a different way. It's not 'I got my own piece of ground, and I want to hide.' It's 'I want to be part of a greater community.' It's a whole different approach."

McKee's rap against conventional subdivision development goes something like this: By clustering people of similar income together, subdivisions have promoted class division. By creating separate and distinct zones for different types of activities, they have subdivided people's lives, geographically separating home from work, from play and from education. That fragmentation has made modern life complex and stressful. More important, perhaps, subdivisions cut people off from community.

"We conflict the idea of a subdivision versus the idea of a community," says McKee. "Subdivisions don't build community, they segregate people. We should divide land, not people."

It's the flip side of the criticism of public housing as warehouses for the poor [Najeeb Hasan, "No Place Like Home," RFT, July 18], which led to the HOPE VI federal housing initiative for mixed-income housing -- except, in this case, the developers of the older subdivisions are the bad guys, and the new developers of places such as WingHaven are the ones ending such warehousing and segregation.

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