Searching for a Bold Vision in the Gateway Greenway Competition

By on September 5, 2018

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  This summer, Great Rivers Greenway announced the winning team of their Chouteau Greenway Competition, which sought designs to connect the Mississippi River to Forest Park. All of the firms involved are highly respected firms that generated some excellent ideas.

The competition entries, however, reflect a longstanding problem of St. Louis, a lack of self-confidence and bold vision. The city of St. Louis grew from a handful of structures along the Mississippi in the early part of the 19th century to become one of the major cities in the country by the 1900s. It did so because of strong confidence on the part of the city’s leadership and a steady series of big ideas.

That confidence was lacking for much of the 20th century and for the most part is still lacking today. St. Louis continues to fall further and further behind comparable cities. Which brings us to the Gateway Greenway competition.

The goal of the competition was to plan for a “unique greenway through the heart of St. Louis — from Washington University and Forest Park all the way to downtown and the Gateway Arch.” Despite this vision, however, all of the competition entries made rather modest proposals, e.g. some bike lanes here and there with some greenways along the way and a few bridges to cross major roadways. So what is missing?

The large vacant area through the center of the city is the path of Mill Creek, now relegated to a large underground sewer. This is the area where trains are or were located. The creek was dammed near the Mississippi early in the 19th century, creating Chouteau’s Pond. The pond was drained in 1850 for health reasons and to provide a place for the train system that was coming. As the trains arrived, so too did many industries that relied on trains. Trains and industry dominated this zone of the city until the late 20th century.

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