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"?

Jo Ann Anderson

To the Editor:
As homeowners in Tower Grove East, an economically and racially diverse neighborhood in St. Louis city, we read Eddie Silva's article on architect Jo Noero with great interest. We applaud Mr. Noero's efforts to renew the Bohemian Hill neighborhood and commend him for hiscontinued on page 6Letters to the Editorcontinued from page 2appreciation of our city's architectural heritage. Mr. Noero speaks eloquently of the need to "increase the density of those centers in the city that are already functioning well" and laments the many "wonderful abandoned buildings" that exist despite our so-called housing problem. On a whim, we looked up his name in the phone book and learned that he lives in the predominantly white, upper-middle-class suburb of Webster Groves. Where Mr. Noero chooses to live is certainly his business, not ours, but we were struck by the irony. As Mr. Noero no doubt recognizes, the most pressing problem St. Louis faces is not really our "conservatism" or our "naysaying attitude." The origin of all our problems -- our abandoned buildings, our shrinking tax base, our struggling schools -- is the mass exodus of middle- and upper-class residents from the city into the suburbs.

Rene and Christian Saller

To the Editor:
I read with increasing horror Eddie Silva's article about South African architect Jo Noero. Tooling about town in his "compact blue Geo," this new member of Washington University's School of Architecture ("I'm switching to engineering") really has it down: "The single worst decision the city made was to build the Arch. The Arch ... (is) a pathetic and hopeless symbol.... You see it sitting here with that stupid parkland around it which no one can actually use. I don't know any citizens of St. Louis who use it."

And then we take a look at Jo Noero's buildings on page 19. Wow. What a distinguished collection: the Botswana Parliament Building, Soweto Careers Center, an addition to Archbishop Desmond Tutu's home and Funda Community College in Soweto. I trust these were photographs taken during -- rather than on completion of -- construction. Looks like a pretty strange collection of half-finished junk to me.

But then Jo Noero is politically correct, yessiree, anti-apartheid and all that (all of which is well and good), but are his egalitarian (running toward socialist) political views sufficient in themselves to transform his ugly ducklings into Prince Charmings? I rather think not, and I rather believe any of us who rather like good old St. Louis, including its fabulous churches, cathedrals, universities and other wonderful structures, and are honest with ourselves, didn't finish Silva's ode to mediocrity.

Dutifully, we read on: "Noero's career as a practicing architect might never have emerged were it not for a fortuitous introduction to Archbishop Desmond Tutu." Ah, there we are. If Tutu hired Noero to build the addition to his house, then this is for sure the guy we want to rebuild St. Louis. No more questions. Finish reading the resume. He's the man.

Give me a break, Silva, and as for Noero's super-keen (and ever-so-biting, ooh) observation about the uselessness of the parkland around that "pathetic" Arch, tell him to park his blue Geo downtown some Sunday afternoon and watch me ever-so-happily walking my dog through the magnificent Arch grounds, pausing here and there to peer upwards toward one of the most powerful and elevating structures ever designed and built in this country, which gives me endless hope and inspiration as I plan for the week ahead.

Samuel M. Glasser


To the Editor:
Regarding the March 3 "Commentary," "A Dangerous Call to Arms": Wow, I've seen inaccuracies from Ray Hartmann before, but this takes the cake. At least he got it part right; he is making a dangerous call.

Since he's against Proposition B, what's he for? Ray is for safe working conditions for criminals who have a government guarantee of unarmed victims (including the elderly and women). Ray is for stripping people of basic human rights. Ray is for the continued existence of one of the last Jim Crow laws on the books. Ray says, "Get the picture? Proposition B isn't about permitting some law-abiding citizens to protect themselves better" (as it is now) but rather "It's about virtually everyone having an inalienable right."

Yes, we've got your racist, anti-human-rights picture, Ray.
Sal Sawyer

To the Editor:
Hey, Ray, thanks for the heap o' hypocrisy today. Didn't you once live down in Jefferson County, the firearms capital of metro St. Louis? Believe me, plenty of folks down there are packin' heat, permit or not. And last time I checked, there was no pattern of arguments escalating into shootouts in Imperial or Pevely.

Compare that to the city, with ongoing gun-confiscation programs and a vocally anti-gun police chief. You'd think it would be the safest place in the world, right? Tell that to the infants and children shot in recent drive-by incidents.

To the landlord who collects cash rent in dangerous neighborhoods, a concealed weapon will protect him from the hungry robber. To the woman who works the late shift, a concealed weapon keeps her safe when she walks out to her car. To the rural gun aficionados, it will simply make lawful what they're already doing.

So tell us the truth, Ray: Lawful concealed-carriers are contributing absolutely nothing to the epidemic of violence. It's urban thugs, who carry concealed weapons illegally, and the liberal journalists and police chiefs who empower them, who are the real problem in America. But, hey, at least Chief Henderson has to live in the city.

Nick Kasoff


To the Editor:
As a veteran of 15 years of the culture war on WGNU radio, I enjoyed the article on Ray Ytzaina and Virginia McCarthy ("Radio Active") in the March 3 edition of the RFT. The article by Tom Crone did have some troubling aspects. Granted, both hosts had difficulty with their political and social nomenclature. I believe the thrust of the article attempted to marginalize conservative talk shows by incipient comments about black helicopters and the like. Other comments, such as Ray's "playing center field" and the implication that Virginia is no more than a call processor, gave lie to those of us on the station who tackle the controversial issues, directly and without equivocation. I suggest in the future you look for conservative hosts with better credentials who are more representative of the verbal combat that takes place on this unique St. Louis radio station.

W.A. Borst


To the Editor:
"When We Are History," by Melinda Roth (RFT, Feb. 24) is a very well-written story. Thank you for doing the research and printing it. A minor point, though: The half-life of uranium is 4.5 billion years. That means that half of the original element decays into daughter products, radium and then radon, in the 4.5 billion years. Complete decay would require 10 half-lives, or 45 billion years (or possibly slightly more, just to be sure).

Dale Iffrig


To the Editor:
I am writing to congratulate you on your article "Breaking Down the Wall" (RFT, Feb. 17).

Annie Malone, a 111-year-old multiservice agency, grew from representatives of five prominent churches -- Union Memorial United Methodist Church was one of them -- and we were created in 1887 to fill a need for abused children. Our agency's mission continues to be to serve families and children. It is that mission that infuses our goal in the welfare-to-work program, particularly our concern for the children whose parents may lose their benefits. We have hired four people who were welfare recipients at different levels throughout the agency with above-minimum-wage jobs and benefits. One is now in training as an office manager.

In your article, you correctly pointed out, in quotes from a variety of inter-viewees, that faith-based organizations (FBOs) are faced with a dilemma. You quoted Linda Kessler, "Many churches don't understand outcome-based funding; they just want the money so they can do good with it." This contract is performance-based and must meet the contractual requirements before being reimbursed by the state.

It was in recognition of this dilemma, and in a spirit of collaboration, that Annie Malone called several organizations, including Union Memorial, to provide a subcontracting arrangement to give them access to the welfare-to-work contract with the Missouri Division of Family Services. Annie Malone wrote and was awarded the contract. Union was the only FBO, and we prided ourselves in including an FBO and other community organizations in this process. We applaud the efforts and success of Union; a number of us of the congregation were involved in the beginning of the church's outreach efforts.

The welfare-to-work contract was new for the state, FBOs and private entities. There was a steep learning curve for the state, prime contractors and subcontractors. Our relationship with the state through previous contracting assisted because we had built mutual trust, accountability and capability to implement a contract in accordance with terms of the contract and the law. Prime contractors' relationships are with the state by law, subcontractors' relationships with the prime.

Annie Malone's goal as an organization is to assist FBOs and other groups to develop the capacity to contract with the state to serve families and children. We cannot provide all the services needed and welcome the newly found interest of some churches that have become involved in providing services to needy families. We applaud those churches that over the years have provided outreach services without the assistance of the government. I hope they will continue to do so.

I trust that as a community we will recognize needs and become advocates and service-deliverers using any positive approaches to caring. Christian duties must exist beyond the churches but be with all of us every day!

Jean Neal
Chief Executive Officer
Annie Malone Children and
Family Service Center

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