Thursday, July 9th, 2009

St. Louis: City Garden and the Millennium Park Effect

The first time I visited St. Louis might have been one of the most depressing city trips I’ve ever taken. First I arrived at a nearly deserted airport, then took a taxi ride through a sea of industrial decay, only to arrive at a rather bleak downtown. One of the key fixtures I recall was a more or less empty grass mall through the center of downtown. It was sort of like the war memorial mall in Indianapolis – only no memorials, just plain grass. Along with cracked sidewalks, mostly deserted, it summed up how pathetic the city seemed to me.

Today, the downtown of St. Louis has changed remarkably. Tons of old buildings have been renovated into condos and there is new life where there was once barren nothingness. Downtown has added 5,000 new residents, and over $4 billion has been invested just since 2000.

And even that dreary grass mall has been transformed into a new urban park known as the City Garden. Here’s a rendering:

Note the uninspiring buildings and still excessively wide and underutilized streets. Now imagine it with just a barren grass plaza in there. Not good. While this area still has a ways to go to get livened up, this new park would appear to be a huge improvement.

First a few facts about the park. The cost was approximately $30 million, paid for by the Gateway Foundation. The landscape architect is Nelson Byrd Woltz from Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s 2.9 acres and spans about two city blocks. The park is unfenced and is designed to be entered or exited from almost any points. There are a variety of features, including cultivated terraces, a limestone arc wall, a plaza and cafe, three fountains including a “spray fountain” where children can play, and 24 pieces of sculpture from a variety of artists.

If this sounds similar to Millennium Park in Chicago, it should. This park is similar in size, and has a number of similar features. The spray fountain is obviously inspired by Crown Fountain in Millennium Park for example. Indeed, I was told by someone in St. Louis directly that they consider this their Millennium Park. The city is hoping that like the Chicago version, this one also sparks redevelopment in the area.

The comparisons are interesting, but there are a few differences between them. The price tag for one. Millennium Park is over ten times the price. Of course, it also spans a railroad track and has many other features. This is clearly a much smaller scale effort. For example, while Millennium Park features bespoke, site specific artwork, it appears that the pieces in City Garden are mostly existing pieces purchased for display in the mode of a more traditional sculpture garden. Artists include Mark di Suvero, Julian Opie, George Rickey, and Tom Otterness.

This isn’t the first time a city has drawn comparisons to Millennium Park. Indianapolis refers to the Indy Cultural Trail as its Millennium Park. This appears to be a sort of shorthand not for a specific type of facility, but rather for the use of signature landscape architecture as a transformational element in a city. A “Millennium Park Effect” by analogy with the “Bilbao Effect” for starchitect buildings.

Someone asked me what the lessons of Millennium Park were. I assume this was in the context of how those lessons could be applied elsewhere. Frankly, I think mostly people will draw the wrong lessons, and that most of what is great about Millennium Park can’t be transported elsewhere.

Millennium Park is a spectacular space. But as I’ve long noted, Chicago’s excellence lies not in its spectacular monuments, but in its magnificent workaday neighborhoods and throbbing commercial heart. To take away Millennium Park and its ilk as key to Chicago’s success is to mistake the frosting for the cake. Chicago has Millennium Park because it’s a great city, it’s not a great city because it has Millennium Park. To try to replicate merely the effect of the built environment is to miss the point.

Also, the large crowds drawn by the park are enabled by the massive size of the Chicagoland region, its huge tourist base, and the gigantic employment and student base in the Loop. Building Millennium Park was like throwing gasoline on an already raging bonfire. Yes, it will make a nice explosion, but the fire was already going. The vast bulk of downtown areas do not have anything like this, thus what they can hope to gain from similar ventures is much less.

Also, Chicago can afford to indulge in spaces that are only energized by the presence of large numbers of people because, well, there are huge numbers of people around. In smaller cities, you need to plan for spaces that function effectively when there are few if any people there, while hopefully being adaptable to larger crowds as well.

That’s not to say that St. Louis should not have built this park. Far from it. This will be a huge improvement on the space and a big step in revitalizing that depressing mall. (The entire mall is 1.1 miles, so there is still a ways to go). The fact that they spent much less than Chicago is appropriate given the phase of development they are in and the benefits they are likely to achieve.

However, unlike the Indy Cultural Trail, which appears to have been conceived independently of Millennium Park and which is a very different type of facility, this one was clearly explicitly modeled on it. I might suggest that St. Louis tone down the superlatives and direct comparisons, and let this park speak for itself. The danger is that expectations are set so high that they cannot be met. That would clearly be unfortunate since there is a lot of good here.

Here’s the site plan:

Note: The following images are third party links:

Mies van der Rohe meets the Modern Wing. The design probably could have been a bit less Chicago-centric. We get it already.

It looks like the park is well patronized so far. It did just open, so crowds checking it out are to be expected. Hopefully these keep up over time.

I should note that I have not yet gotten the opportunity to visit this in person. So consider these comments provisional. They were based on photos from others and information provided by the City Garden organization. I wanted to go ahead and put something out on this as part of my effort to give more coverage to cities like St. Louis that I haven’t always focused on as much.

Topics: Architecture and Design
Cities: St. Louis

47 Responses to “St. Louis: City Garden and the Millennium Park Effect”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think Houston's Discovery Green is another MP clone.

    My thought is that MP is really an amped up version of Union Sq. Park and places like that, a kind of public space that Chicago never really had much of. (Maybe Haymarket Sq. hmm)

    I don't know how much this blinding stroke of insight can help other towns. Just know know you can build something like MP without needing a 500 ton bean and faces which shoot water, just get an arch or something and a water feature, and places for employed people to sit, and you'll be fine.

  2. Anonymous says:

    In a sense, the MP comparisons continue because we continue to talk about them. The best example here is the "we get it already" comment about the restaurant. Look, just because there's something like this in Chicago doesn't mean that Chicago owns it. St. Louis suffers from a "we're not Chicago" syndrome, and has ever since the railroads moved north.

  3. thundermutt says:

    But anon, knowing that…if Chicago has something first, why does STL make such an obvious copy?

  4. Indy Rock says:

    Why is that fugly 10 story building in the middle of that mall? Seems like poor planning to me.

  5. Jarrett at says:

    This sort of imitation is a natural feature of the ecology of cities, I think. It reflects our deeply ambivalent attitude toward genuine originality.

  6. Branden says:

    The new plaza is certainly an improvement. Several years ago when I was in architecture school in St. Louis we were brought down to the mall to learn what not to do. There was literally no one around on a beautiful weekend day. (I wonder how much this has to do with the massive Forest Park out in the older suburbs serving as a sort of "park center.")

    The next block west, a large sculpture by Richard Serra consisting of large panels of core ten steel sit all alone in a grassy field. You can walk around it, but they are just identical steel rectangles and the cloistered interior feels unsafe and separated from the city. One of the design intents of the piece was to enhance the experience of the the city and encourage interaction. In the sun, the steel was so hot you couldn't go within two feet of it.

    The ugly building sitting in the middle of the mall was indeed a failure of planning. The entire space was once a dense part of the city before it was torn down. The last two historic buildings to be demolished put up a fight, but are long gone. The new one built a matter of years after the old ones were razed and is still a sore spot on the mall.

    The building is, incidentally, across the street from one of St. Louis' best buildings: Louis Sullivan's Wainright Building (another little slice of Chicago in St. Louis).

    The transformation of Downtown St. Louis has been dramatic, but still doesn't feel "alive" as of a month ago on my last visit. The streets are too wide, there are too many vacant lots and parking garages and a lot of mundane architecture.

    Washington Avenue is the bright spot in all of this. On that street north of this park, the sidewalks are packed and business seems to be booming. The streetscape there is also quite unique and beautiful.

    I think the community has stepped up with development creating new retail and residential in Downtown, but now it's really time to get the streets right. So many of St. Louis' streets are grossly wide and even intimidating for pedestrians.

    St. Louis' historic urban built environment is vast, though, so in time they will achieve a critical mass.

  7. Matt says:

    First off thanks for the post about STL.

    As as resident of STL I will say the park has been so far a huge success. It has been very well patronized, well above the previous open grass fields. The impression though that this was intended to be STL's Millenium Park is not really true, maybe only in the sense of providing an improvement over what was there prior. It's first and foremost a sculpture park, and having been to both they are quite different.

    Couple other notes – since the modern wing and this park opened within a month of each other, I doubt the restaurants design was taken to copy the Modern Wing.
    The Fugly Building – It got built when it looked like the mall plan would not go through and now we're more or less stuck with it

  8. Anonymous says:

    Working as I do for a landscape architecture firm (I'm an urban planner, not an LA), I know how challenging it is to get something even 1/10 this fabulous built.

    Folks who criticize this achievement… well, there's your classic "don't you dare stick you head above the corn stalks and get noticed" Midwestern mentality.

    I grew up near St. Louis and I can understand how folks in St. Louis can go negative about the city's prospects given the way revitalization in the core city has progressed in fits and starts. But that's no reason to slam Citygarden. Every Midwestern city needs more of these signature public spaces.

    Hopefully, the impulse to improve the public reahm will spread to the adjacent streets, which, like downtown Indy and other Midwestern cities, are hopelessly over-engineered.

    I hope also that the public sector responds in kind when the market recovers. There are a number of attractive destinations in the downtown St. Louis core (about a square mile).

    City leaders need to super charge this core, improve the streets and improve its marketplace appeal visitors, future residents and private investors, especially the dismal streets. More art, more food, more music, more festivals and events, more shopping, more workers, more residential.

    St. Louis has better weather and a longer outdoor season than Chicago by at least two months. They need to leverage that. And, if they can ever reconnect to their river culture, physically and spiritually, they'll have a compelling natural resource to leverage as well.

    As Brandon said, the city has a significant built environment, but they need to build a signature critical mass in the core and then link it to the good things that are happening in other nearby neighborhoods.

  9. hharrington says:

    The park looks nice, but I think St. Louis is focusing on the wrong area. St. Louis should take a page from my hometown, Louisville, and copy waterfront park. St. Louis could really have a nice waterfront that would invite even more investment and reconnect the city with one of it's greatest assets.

    On a side note. 5,000 people moving into downtown St. Louis is a lot less than I thought. Louisville, which has a much smaller urban core (but one that is much better connected to it's neighborhoods) has had about the same number of people move downtown.

  10. Jim Iska says:

    I think it's true that St. Louis should direct more attention to its waterfront but this step is important as it follows the main axis of the city, that is to say away from the water. I think part of the success of the layout of Chicago is the fact that our main axis runs north and south, in the same direction as the waterfront, meaning that much of our downtown area is only a stone's throw from the Lake and Grant Park.

    My general feeling about Millennium Park as well as City Garden is that while I'm not entirely crazy about their over-all designs, at some point it's hard to argue with success. If they bring life into the center city, all the better.

  11. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for all the comments.

    I think St. Louis picked the right place to start. That Millennium Mall is like a City Beautiful plaza minus the, well, City Beautiful treatment. I'm very interested to get back down to St.L because I think is going to make a huge difference in the feel of downtown.

  12. John M says:

    I think one of the problems with St. Louis's waterfront is that as compared to Louisville and Cincinnati, the other side of the river is very industrial and ugly. No matter what they do to the riverfront on the Missouri side, it's still not going to be much of a view.

    STL is one of my favorite cities, and I am glad to see some progress downtown. One blessing and curse that STL has is some great urban neighborhoods both in the city and the inner ring suburbs. Obviously, most cities would kill for St. Louis's 19th century housing stock. On the other hand, with some many neighborhoods begging for restoration, downtown might not be as appealing as it is in a place like Indy, which has more pedestrian housing stock.

  13. David says:

    I just spent about 1/2 a day this past Monday in downtown St. Louis with my family. It was a nice break in traveling from Kansas City to Indianapolis. I must say I was impressed with the Mall. Most of all I was impressed with the old buildings that lined the south side of Market Street (I believe I have the street name correct). Very few cities are privileged to have as many grand, old landmark buildings as St. Louis.

    One the downside I was disappointed with access from the Mall to the Mississippi River. The Gateway Arch is an amazing monument, but the design of the monument's yard cuts the city off from the river, at least in the area around the Mall. Did I miss something? Is St. Louis another example of a city that happens to have a river (i.e., Louisville)?

  14. Alon Levy says:

    The park seems deserted in the photo. It looks good from the air, but apparently nobody uses it.

  15. Anonymous says:

    There are several problems with some of the comments here. Anyone saying that City Garden is "obviously" a Millennium Park clone either hasn't visited City Garden or is simply incorrect. Second, St. Louis cannot create a waterfront park like Louisville or Cincinnati or Pittsburgh due to the nature of the river at the city's waterfront (routine flooding, very fast moving). Of course more could be done, but the riverfront likely isn't what some here are thinking of.

  16. thundermutt says:

    There is already a waterfront park in STL, right under the Gateway Arch. Inside the museum there is an extensive write-up on the effort to get the RR trax put underneath it…pre-dating the Millenium Park effort by at least 40 years.

    Connecting the new park to the greenspace around and under the arch at the STL riverfront seems like a no-brainer, much like Millenium Park connects to Grant Park.

    And anon, if you think the Ohio River at Cincinnati, Covington, Newport, and Louisville isn't fast moving and doesn't flood…think again. Covington and Newport are protected by levee/floodgate systems. Cincinnati's riverfront park is just a long reinforced slope, but it serves the purpose of a levee to keep floodwaters out of downtown.

  17. Indy Rock says:

    Let's not forget Indy's own White River State Park. It's quite nice in it's own right.

  18. Anonymous says:

    It's been a while since I've been in dt STL. Does this park continue all the way to Union Station? There is a fountain there called "The Meeting of the Waters", which I thought was a nice urban space.

    I also like the light rail system. Gives an option of getting around downtown.

  19. ardecila says:

    The streets are over-engineered? That's funny – when I went to StL two weeks ago, I was struck by how narrow and intimate the streets were compared to Chicago, especially in the dense part north of the Mall.

    I didn't see City Garden, but I did see a wonderful modern plaza at 8th and Locust.

    Overall, the nicer areas of St. Louis are pretty decent, even by Chicago standards. They provide a great place to start revitalizing the rest of the city, which includes downtown.

  20. Bellevegas says:

    This is a great discussion about my favorite city and hometown, and I want to chime in.

    I think one important fact about St. Louis is that there are fantastic, dense, urban neighborhoods throughout the city, not just downtown. So downtown is not the only option for those who want an urban lifestyle as it is in Indy. Also, Forest Park and Tower Grove Park are world-class public spaces, they're just not downtown.

    The idea of riverfront parks is different for a city like Indy, where the waterways are non-navigable, and St. Louis, where there are working railroad tracks, barge ports, and other industry. As thundermutt said, the Arch ground itself is a riverfront park, but it's separated from the rest of downtown by an interstate.

    I really enjoy the bike trails along the Indy canals and the White River, and St. Louis has made a lot of progress in this area. There is now a great bike trail heading north along the riverfront from downtown. There are three bridges across the Mississippi for pedestrians/bikes, including one mile-long bridge that is exclusively for pedestrians and bikes. That bridge (the Old Chain-of-Rocks) is truly beautiful.

    Regarding the City Garden, I haven't seen it yet in person, but it certainly looks like a success. The plaza as it existed before actually sucked life out of the area. The streets bordering the mall were widened as part of a 1930's plan. Not a good idea.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I confess my observation of "over engineered streets" is based partly on my memories of downtown St. Louis having wide major streets with little traffic, and partially on observations made via Live Search to determine if my recollections were correct (I haven't visited downtown since the Fall of 2007).

    Perhaps the Live Search images were taken on on a Sunday morning when traffic was light, but I see lots of one-way couplets with 3+ lanes (and little traffic) and not may vehicles. One-way couplets tend to encourage speeding in locations that should favor pedestrians, especially along the major east-west streets.

    Chicago's Loop also has numerous one-way couplets in its downtown, and they are not pleasant for pedestrians. But, the demand of various office / retail / residential / entertainment uses creates high volumes of pedestrian traffic that forces vehicles to drive more slowly and more defensively, so people on foot have some sway.

    I agree St. Louis also has a number of two-way streets that maintain a sense of urbanity that favors pedestrians.

    So, let me re-phrase. St. Louis has a number of major streets in key locations that need to be made much more pedestrian friendly. This includes better streetscaping (look at the aerials in Live Search—downtown St. Louis is like a concrete desert) and better ground level uses, as others have pointed out.

    Chicago's investments in streetscaping and tree planting has paid huge dividends in the amount and economic value of private sector investment that has followed.

    If the public sector won't invest in the property they own (roadway right-of-ways), why should the private sector do anything with the property they control?

    Every Midwestern city, not just St. Louis, should take note. Get a grip on your departments of transportation… get the deadwood out and the progressive thinkers in.

    Public space enhancements (including parks and plazas) are not just nice things to do when the money is available… they are key economic development drivers.

  22. The Urbanophile says:

    Alon, that aerial view is a rendering, not a photo. Media accounts suggest that the park has been pretty well mobbed since it opened.

    anon 9:21, I don't want to say that this is literally a clone of Millennium Park. Rather, the whole idea of doing a major signature piece of urban landscape architecture to revitalize a moribund space is clearly MP inspired. That mall has been vacant for years. Why didn't St. Louis do this 15 years ago? Obviously, MP caused people to think differently about spaces like this. What's more, the inclusion of the fountain to play in, the Miesian box of a visitors center, etc. would appear to be very much inspired by Chicago's lakefront. I'm not saying that St.L couldn't have developed them independently, but the fact that it did not until after MP is telling.

    That's not to say copying a concept is a bad idea. What is that Picasso supposedly said about great artists stealing? There's no reason not to take a great idea from elsewhere and adapt it to the local context.

  23. The Urbanophile says:

    thunder, technically Millennium Park is part of Grant Park. Thus it operates under the same building restrictions as Grant Park. That's why the Harris Theater is built underground. (It is probably a violation, but no one challenged it in court).

    anon 11:33, the Mall goes all the way to Union Station, but this park is only a part of the overall Mall. A Mall master plan will supposedly be released soon.

    Bellevegas, you are very right that St. Louis has a historic building stock and density that puts most Midwest burgs to shame.

  24. thundermutt says:

    To expand on my earlier comment about connecting to the riverfront: those wide east-west one-ways cross the interstate, which is below grade.

    A deck similar to the one Philadelphia built over I-95 to connect Penn's Landing to Society Hill and Center City would function just fine there. Or, to save money, a "Cultural Trail" type connector could steal a lane from each bridge.

    Tourists go to the Arch and the convention center. Pulling them through downtown on the Mall should be a priority for St. Louis.

  25. nolilite says:

    I visited CityGarden in STL and was WOWWED by the thoughtful design, creative landscaping and fun sculpture.

    Perhaps most appealing was the interactive nature of the area: water features where kids of all ages can play in the fountains and wade in the pools; bouncy squares responding to jumping feet that make bells ring; and rocks and sculpture for climbing!

    The Urbanophile is correct: this delightful oasis should be enjoyed and critiqued for its own uniqueness and spirit of fun.

    Thanks, Gateway Foundation, for a great gift to St. Louis and its downtown visitors.

  26. nolilite says:

    In response to other remarks about the STL mall from the Arch to Union Station:

    Many mall plans had been introduced through the years with little action or leadership. The "ugly building" seen in the picture was one greedy developer/investor's "land grab & quick build" when an early green mall plan was introduced, probably in the 70's. No one was pleased about it, except the developer. So much for city politics!

    Speaking of city politics, Citygarden came about due to the nonprofit Gateway Foundation… perhaps to liven up the downtown area near the stadium for next week's All Star game. Perhaps NGAs get things done faster!?

    I think I am correct in saying that the Gateway Foundation also offered the option to use the funds to bridge the depressed highway with a greenway to connect the downtown area to the Riverfront.

    A greenway connector bridge has been a longstanding wish of planners, architects, local commentators and academics, as well as the citizenry for years. The concept is a no brainer! It would be interesting to know what road block(er)s or pols have impeded its implementation.

    Downtown STL is a work in progress…albeit a slow one.

  27. The Urbanophile says:

    nolilite, thanks for stopping by and for the comments. I agree St. Louis can be very proud and pleased with the park.

    Though some like Jane Jacobs criticized city beautiful type malls as sterile zones, I think they can be an asset if done right. Hopefully as St. Louis redevelops the rest of the Mall it will continue to mature as an asset.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I have only lived in two places in my life, Hong Kong and Chicago. I have also spent considerable time in St Louis for work and actually I have been struck by two thngs, how important the suburban communities are, and what a desert the downtown is. It sucks that it is a food desert too. What are ppl supposed to do if we don't have a car and we want to goto the supermarket but there is nothing around but a 7-11. In Chicago we are very conscious of food deserts but the hardships they cause are to the poorer people, but to have somehng like this downtown is a deterrant to future growth. How are you supposed to get people to buy rehabbbed buildings converted into condos if it's a food desert? The park is a wonderful addition, but some basic amenties still need to be considered. I love st Louis but just not the downtown.

  29. Alon Levy says:

    Anon, occasionally food deserts can become less arid once more high-income people move in. In the gentrifying neighborhood I used to live in, you could see one of the stores grow slowly from a glorified bodega to a decent supermarkets. And in the high-income neighborhood I live in right now, even the bodegas have fruits and vegetables.

    You're right that de-desertification is hard, which is why it's usually done on the margins. Gentrification often occurs right next to neighborhoods that have already gentrified, as such neighborhoods are nearby retail and entertainment centers.

  30. Matt says:

    Just a couple of notes for the last couple of posters.

    Food Desert – In the last couple of years a smallish grocery has opened in the CBD and fortunately Schnucks – the largest grocery chain in STL – is opening a full service market on Ninth (which happens to be just three blocks north of Citygarden)
    Interstate Bridge – The funds were to come from the Danforth Foundation, but they seem to hurting in the current economic environment and I think the "Lid" as its called locally is up in the air. Also there is the concern that with out a repositioning of the Arch Grounds into less of a passive space, the Lid may not make much of a difference.

  31. Joe says:

    Just wanted to add my comments to the thread. I was in St. Louis last week and was quite pleased to see the new City Garden. It's not Millenium Park but it's a great addition to downtown and the Gateway mall which has lacked artistic spaces/monuments that you find in other cities. Having left St. Louis in the early 1980s after St. Louis Centre and Union Station opened, only to see them now closed or suffering, I am skeptical of large developments. But City Garden appears different and is a good complement to the more organic development taking place in neighborhoods such as Locust St, Washington Ave, Benton Park, old North St. Louis, Lafayette Square and even the alternative neighborhood that is growing on Cherokee St. Those areas were still losing population/investment or just starting to be developed in the early 1980s. I believe the growth of these neighborhoods and others in the city will lead to more traffic downtown, especially if the north/south extension of Metrolink is built. It's a fun/inviting space with great art that can only add to life in the city. Why not add more on the Gateway mall and make St. Louis the sculpture city?

  32. Paul Wagman says:

    Aaron, thanks for a thoughtful and insightful piece on Citygarden. In one important respect, however, I beg to differ. You write that Citygarden “was clearly explicitly” modeled on Millennium Park. That is not even remotely the case. It is true that there are certain common elements between them – plantings, sculpture, and water – and that these, along with the downtown location, are bound to invite comparisons. But it is also true that there are common elements between the work of Homer and Emily Dickinson. Millennium Park is eight times larger than Citygarden. It had multiple designers, architecture and historic elements on a grand scale. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects visited many contemporary parks and sculpture gardens as part of its research for designing Citygarden; Millennium Park was not one of them.
    — Paul Wagman, spokesman for Gateway Foundation

  33. Roy says:

    Like some of the other commenters from St. Louis above, I want to thank you for the thoughtful post.

    I've enjoyed visiting Millennium Park and I love Chicago (except for the Cubs). But I'm not sure about the Millennium Park comparison. The more appropriate comparison for Millennium Park is the Arch and its grounds. The Arch and Millennium Park share a similar scale. The Arch draws about 4 million visitors a year (more than Millennium Park). And it’s the place in St. Louis for free concerts (Sheryl Crow/Elvis Costello last weekend; Sonic Youth next weekend). In fact, when I first saw the Bean in person, I smiled at Chicago’s clever version of a shiny, squat arch.

    I think the Arch is much cooler than anything in Millennium Park, but Millennium Park is a much more successful public space because of the activity and wonderful architecture that surrounds it (the result of the “throbbing commercial heart”).

    For St. Louis, Millennium Park provides many lessons on how the Arch grounds can be improved. The connection between the Arch and the rest of downtown has become a major issue in St. Louis in recent months, and Millennium Park has been repeatedly cited as an example of how a park can be seamlessly connected to the rest of a city.

  34. The Urbanophile says:

    Paul, thanks for stopping by. Having not yet seen the park live, perhaps I overstate the direct design transfer from MP. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to check it out in person soon as I realize I'm overdue for a St. Louis road trip.

    I do think the notion that the concept of this park was likely inspired by MP, directly or no. The "MP Effect" is less about the precise design than it is about the idea of a transformative piece of urban landscape architecture.

    I do think this looks like a very nice park, which I hope realizes the aspirations you've set for it.

    Roy, I don't think you've got much to worry about with the Cubs this year.

  35. thundermutt says:


    One aspect of Saarinen's best designs (IMO, North Christian Church and the Arch) is that they are set off by a passive landscape that was designed around them, partly to make them the landmarks they have become in just 45 short years.

    In the Philadelphia suburbs, one of the biggest parks is Valley Forge NHP. Big swaths of it are open greenspace, "passive". Yet that is where locals go to throw Frisbees, fly model airplanes and kites, and just let kids run off steam.

    "Passive" space can be a good thing. With all due respect to the folks at PPS, not every inch of an urban enclave park needs to be programmed and packaged as an experience.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I am happy to see St. Louis getting well-deserved accolades for City Garden, but I grew ever more disenchanted as I made my way through The Urbanophile's piece.

    I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, then lived in a number of cities – including Chicago for 3 years – before settling in Manhattan 12 years ago. I could play the one-upsmanship card, too, and say why New York is superior to Chicago, but how is that relevant or interesting? I don't see why it matters whether City Garden was inspired by Millenium Park – whether it was or not doesn't in the slightest detract from the urban accomplishment it represents. The condescending attitude that pervaded the piece was unnecessary and unwarranted, particularly in light of the fact that the author hasn't even visited City Garden.

    As anyone who appreciates urban spaces knows, renderings, photos and models do not the experience make. Five or so years ago, I retained the firm Weiss and Manfredi for a project here in New York at the same time they were working on their amazing sculpture garden for the Seattle Art Museum. No amount of flowery description by the architects about that project or "tours" through the models and drawings prepared me for how incredible it was to actually experience the SAM garden in person.

    My advice to The Urbanophile is to stop with the Chicago superiority complex and go visit St. Louis – appreciate it for what it is rather than what it's not, or for what you perceive, rightly or wrongly, that it's trying to be.

  37. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 9:56, I can appreciate sentiments. To put things in context, I should mention that I've had much tougher things than this to say about Chicago design examples in the past. And I do think very highly from the City Garden project from what I've seen of it. I look forward to getting a chance to see it in person.

  38. Anonymous says:

    A Correction

    Brandon writes: I wonder how much this has to do with the massive Forest Park out in the older suburbs serving as a sort of "park center."

    I just want to point out the Forest Park is located in the St.Louis CITY limits, not "out in the older suburbs." Skinker Blvd is the boundry line dividing St.Louis City from Clayton, MO and University City, MO, both located in St. Louis County.

    St. Louis CITY is not part of any county.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I visited citygarden a week ago..its beautiful alright, and much better than the bare grass lot it replaced. But I found the adults and children swimming, and sitting in the fountians disturbing. Were they designed for that purpose?

  40. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous 11:06 – No, the sculpture park was in no way intended to be a swimming pool. The spray fountains were certainly intended for play, but the people who were misusing the park as a public swimming area have (thankfully) been corrected. You'd think people would have had more common sense, but at least their bad ideas created one more job: there's now a guy paid to stand around and tell people they can't swim.

  41. Matt M. says:

    To the last two Anons: BORING. Let people swim. Why are people so uptight? The Citygarden folks brag about a place with no limits: why impose this one?

  42. Anonymous says:

    Yes Matt M…Let them swim..I'm sure its safe..and plenty of clorine can be added to kill the pee.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Matt M Of course… visitors should sit and swim in the fountians and pools. Plenty of clorine can be added to kill the pee.

  44. will you won't you ? says:

    There IS chlorine in both water features at Citygarden and the size of them is such as to encourage children, mainly, to enter–which they do! So far the only adults I've seen in the water are just accompanying kids. Citygarden is a spectacular success, in my opinion. Now:if only the boring Gateway One building might come down to provide a clear view through to the Old Courthouse, vendors with little carts be allowed to sell food along the park's periphery (how about hot chestnuts in the winter?), and some cafes develop along streets with a view of the area, we'd be jumping. Further rehabbing of the space around the lonely Serra sculpture and of the "mall" all the way to the Old Courthouse should be next–followed by, yes, better access to the river and archgrounds. But Citygarden is the lynch pin. Visiting the first time, I was thrilled with the reaction of visitors, all ages and races, all smiling and interacting. Citygarden has accomplished what, unfortunately, the austere Serra sculpture–beautiful as it is or might seem if correctly lit and placed–could not. Instead of inspiring connection, it seemed mainly to echo of the abandonment around it.

    But thngs are looking up in St. Louis, and the restoration and loft developments in the marvelous architecure that does remain downtown ia wonderful to see! I'm retired and live in an inner suburb but am thinking of moving down. What's going on is that inspiring.

  45. Anonymous says:

    I live in Saint Louis and I only just visited the City Garden last week for the first time. I really liked it. Little by little there are wonderful things happening here and an ever growing art scene.
    To anyone interested in following the art scene activities here there is a great resource in this:

  46. Anonymous says:

    I love CityGarden. It is so vibrant and the laughs and joys of the children are wonderful to experience. STL has so much to offer and without fees or price tags, you can go most places and have fun.

    Please remember that the arch and the connected riverfront is a National Park. STL has fought for development, but the government says no! Also, the mississippi is prone to flooding, decreasing usability and development alongside. The nearby Laclede's Landing looks great and provides opportunities.

    I moved to STL from Chicago and love STL. The weather, activities, arts, and sports make it an idle city!

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