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Take the new Mississippi River Bridge plan and add to it the civic debate on improving the Gateway Arch grounds in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Between these two emerging projects we could have the most tremendous chance to redefine the "front door" to the city since the Arch itself was built.
While the Danforth Foundation is talking about remaking the Arch grounds with a new museum and attractions, the fundamental flaw of the memorial is its isolation from downtown. Sure, we could add more elements to a park that's cut off from the city, but we'd be better off using our energy to improve the connection between downtown and the memorial.
The unsightly raised and depressed lanes of I-70 sever the memorial from downtown. When the new bridge opens, I-70 will no longer need the lanes through downtown. Building a lid over those lanes has long been a civic goal, but the price is upwards of $90 million - before you price out that new museum. How about a simpler solution: get rid of the depressed and raised lanes. Make Memorial Drive a parkway with a 35 mile per hour speed limit, and it will be both easy to cross on foot and lovely to drive. Through traffic could continue between I-70 and I-55, but it would be sent into an attractive urban corridor with full Arch view rather than through the ugly incline into the depressed lanes.
Place the parkway on the edge of the Arch grounds, and there will be space created for shops, cafes and attractions on the edge of the beautiful Arch grounds. With activity and access much improved, the grounds would surely draw more use. Most important, the memorial and its green space could be enhanced without being altered. Can you imagine how great our city would look?
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Michael Allen is an architectural historian and historic preservation consultant working in private practice. Most recently he served as the Assistant Director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the region's historic preservation advocacy organization. He is also editor of Ecology of Absence, a website with accompanying blog that documents and analyzes changes in the built environments of St. Louis, Chicago and other Midwestern cities. His articles on architecture and policy have appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Beacon, St. Louis American, Arch City Chronicle and Omnitectural Forum. In addition to his professional work, Allen has been rehabilitating a house in the city's Old North St. Louis neighborhood for the past two years.