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Commentary Detail

Celebrating the Arch Grounds Competition
Commentary by: Alex Ihnen
Aired September 29, 2010


Thereís a reason that the Arch grounds as we recognize it today took more than three decades to complete.

The National Park Service, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration, railroads, two states, two cities and more have responsibility for the park or its immediate surroundings. And all this in a metro region famous for its lack of common cause.

We now have a winner in the second great international design competition meant to transform our riverfront and revitalize the Arch grounds. A team led by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates has earned the opportunity to transform the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial by October 2015.

That an international design competition has been successfully completed is no small accomplishment. The CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation deserves credit as the only organization that has been able to get all of the necessary parties at the same table, focused on the same issues and dedicated to the same outcome.

As a result of this extraordinary effort, we now have the opportunity to bring the Arch grounds into the life of our revitalizing city for the first time. The building of I-70 coincided with the completion of the Arch itself and we have been separated from the Arch and our riverfront ever since.

Mitigating and ultimately transforming the crushing maze of infrastructure surrounding our symbolic heart will come in steps and take years.

St. Louis excels at the grand gesture. Art Hill, the Gateway Mall and the Arch are inspiring, but the smaller experiences of walking through the park, or the visitorís experience at the Arch have been neglected and often leave a more lasting, and all-too-often, negative impression.

What the Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates winning design does is improve the visitor experience at every point. In their words, they build literal and figurative bridges from the City to the Arch to the River.

The pedestrian experience is improved, the museum will be expanded and a new west entrance built. Remote ticketing will allow visitors to explore downtown while waiting for their ride to the top of the Arch.

The north and south ends of the grounds, as well as the existing ponds, will see significant change and even regular visitors will be introduced to them for the first time. The east side of the river will finally, truly, become part of the National Park as originally intended. There more one looks, the more there is to be excited about.

Whether or not you have been following the competition or would have selected the same design team as the competition jury, this moment and this opportunity is something we should all celebrate and support. We have the right process, the right design team and now we must provide the right public support.

Letís congratulate the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation, the National Park Service, the City of St. Louis, the team led by Michael Van Valkenburgh and others and join them in helping to make this vision a reality.


(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Alex Ihnen

Alex Ihnen

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.

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