Monday, November 9, 2009

Trading Streets for Density in the CWE

Buckingham Court, North Court and South Court in 1958. The buildings
on the Park East and Nine North sites were demolished many years ago.

Thursday evening I attended City Affair, a monthly discussion of urban affairs and quality of life issues in St. Louis City.  This month our program was a tour of the recently completed Nine North Condominiums by Opus Development followed by some discussion about urban infill.  

The Nine North site (outlined in orange) just prior to construction.

Over the past year I had watched the project come out of the ground occasionally walking or driving along Euclid.  Not until Thursday however did I realize the size of the footprint of the project.  I knew that Buckingham Court had been closed to Euclid and that the new building was being built halfway into the street.  Somehow I did not realize though that the small street called South Court that connected Buckingham to Laclede had also been closed and completely blocked by the new structure.

One of the few downsides of this development:
A large blank wall now blocks South Court off Laclede.

Generally blocking and closing streets is not a good urban planning.  Closing of streets forms super-blocks, reduces connectivity and creates isolation.  Jane Jacobs devoted an entire chapter in The Life and Death of Great American Cities to the need for small blocks and plentiful streets in a vibrant city. The City had previously closed South Court when they made improvements to the surface parking lot, so the Opus is not to be blamed for that.  While auto traffic has been eliminated along Buckingham from Euclid, a landscaped pedestrian path is still available.

The public garage entrance at what was Buckingham Court at Euclid.

The landscaped walkway that connects Euclid and Buckingham Court.

A fountain on the rear elevation of the Residences at Forest Park Hotel
 facing the walkway.  Compare this with the blank wall of the garage.

Despite the closure of streets, Nine North is a great development.  For St. Louis it is a fairly innovative mixed-use project that combined the construction of a public parking garage by the City's Treasurer with private development of a condominium building with ground floor retail on Euclid.  All of this on what had been a surface parking lot for many years.  The project adds residential density and hides the parking with retail and a short row of condos on the second floor.  The development contains a very nice roof terrace with pool on top of the garage.
The Euclid elevation of the Nine North Condominiums carries the massing of the Forest Park Hotel to the south with a contemporary look.  The well composed building is a refreshing change from the giant blank walls of the Park East Tower, also by Opus.  The storefronts are also nicely scaled to fit in with the streetscape of Euclid.

Although a bit more isolated now, Buckingham Court remains a quaint street of pre-war apartments and converted condominiums, truly an oasis in the big City.

Just a few blocks north is the Argyle Garage which includes retail along Euclid and the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library.  This development like Nine North eliminated a small street, Argyle Avenue, along with six 6-family apartment buildings.  I supported this project because of the added storefronts along Euclid which had been the sides of apartments, but adding a few floors of residential on top would have made this a much better development.  Unfortunately the project was conceived in 1999, a few years before condo-craze hit St. Louis.

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