On August 27 the Framing a Modern Masterpiece competition, meant to reinvigorate the Arch grounds and reconnect St. Louis City to our river, will effectively end. The competition jury's evaluation period will conclude and one vision from five remaining design teams will be selected. That choice will reshape St. Louis for decades to come.
The official competition manual presented to the five finalist design teams hoping to redesign the Arch grounds describes the challenge of reinvigorating the Arch grounds as finding ways of "connecting and weaving an urban park into the city fabric of St. Louis." The only way to accomplish this, the solution that more and more downtown businesses and organizations support is to replace I-70 from the Poplar Street Bridge to the new Mississippi River Bridge with an at-grade boulevard.
While the Arch competition is meant to address a variety of challenges spanning from Kiener Plaza to the east riverfront, this portion of I-70 must be removed for any redevelopment to be given a chance at success. Removing barriers will reconnect the Arch grounds to our city, allowing us to reclaim our streets and our river.
The Missouri Department of Transportation says that a new boulevard would need to accommodate no more traffic than Kingshighway at Forest Park or Michigan Avenue at Millennium Park in Chicago. A boulevard reconnects our streets, adding options for pedestrians and drivers alike. It makes it easier to enter downtown and for visitors to get to the Arch. In anticipation of more residents, workers and Arch visitors, added options increase traffic capacity and access for everyone.
A boulevard also sets the stage for real economic development, creating new opportunities to leverage the millions of Arch visitors to the city’s benefit, encouraging them to shop and dine downtown. And unlike previous solutions, such as the expensive and under-used tunnel to the Lumiere Place Casino, replacing I-70 would eliminate the need to continually create new infrastructure to fix our existing barriers.
Great boulevards epitomize the energy and vibrancy of a city. Cities are most alive where different modes of activity intersect. A grand boulevard says in no uncertain terms that you stand at the threshold of a great city. St. Louis deserves a great boulevard.
We have one of our nation's great icons at our doorstep in Eero Saarinen's incomparable modernist masterpiece. And yet, in a city that loves outdoor patios and sidewalk dining, it's absurd that we cannot sit at a café across from the National Park and take in the majesty of our Arch and river. It's shameful that many hotels and businesses turn their back to the monument because of the barrier presented by I-70.
We have considered lids and pedestrian bridges, we have built tunnels. St. Louis needs to end our addiction to adding more infrastructure to fix our current barriers. The solution is less, not more.
The people of St. Louis will own the results of this competition, and while I'm excited to see what the best architects and designers in the world can imagine for our front door, we must speak loudly and demand that any plan for redevelopment not include half measures or phased promises.
A boulevard or Interstate is our choice. We can't be afraid to get this right. We must let our political leaders, the design teams and the competition judges know that St. Louis wants our streets and river back. We want I-70 removed.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Alex Ihnen is the editor of the urbanstl.com website which covers urbanism, architecture and development issues in St. Louis, and a Steering Committee member of City to River an all-volunteer citizens group with a mission to advocate for improved connections between the communities of the central riverfront and the Mississippi River.