New York Times story, “In the Shadow of the Arch, a Fight Rages on Land Use”

December 19, 2008

arch-artyEveryone in the world surely recognizes the stainless steel sculpture called the Gateway Arch as a symbol of St. Louis. It’s 630 feet high and 630 feet wide at its base. Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947, it’s a U.S. national monument located on the Mississippi riverfront in downtown St. Louis. It was opened to the public on July 24, 1967. I can see it from the building where I work.

St. Louis has had an important position geographically throughout U.S. history, and the Arch commemorates that. To fill in some gaps you may have in our history here, the largest pre-historic North American settlement outside of Mexico was in the immediate St. Louis region and was home to 20,000 Native Americans, known today as the Mississipians. Later, in the late 160os/early 1700s, the area to become known as St. Louis was settled by French Canadian fur traders, while the area was still a wild frontier. In its early history St. Louis served as a strategic point of trade and defense at the confluence of two of the world’s largest rivers. It has been variously ruled by the Spanish and the French. It was purchased from the French by President Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase. At the time, it was the farthest west that most European immigrants to North American had dared travel, and those visitors were hardy souls, indeed. The city has served as this nation’s “gateway to the west”, and settlers passing through left what they felt was “the civilized world” to head west and stake a claim on open land.

c Parker Botanical

c Parker Botanical

The monumental Arch was completed, as noted above; however, the master plan for the site on which it sits, i.e., the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, was not fully realized. The Gateway Arch is rightfully a major tourist attraction, and one of the big issues as a result of the master planning issue is getting to the Arch safely and easily. St. Louis is very “walkable,” but the Arch is cut off from the main part of downtown by some very busy streets. It’s not pedestrian friendly, and this was not part of Saarinen’s vision, to be sure.

Every few years a new debate arises about how best to address the access from downtown to the Arch grounds, and the most recent one is covered in this story that recently ran in the New York Times.  The link is at the very bottom of this post.

St. Louis has plenty of good planners and landscape architects and other designers to figure this out. The riverfront also has other significant historical sites in addition to the Arch, including Eads Bridge, Laclede’s Landing and the Basilica St. Louis (also known locally as the “old Cathedral”), which was built in the early 1830s. All of these would benefit from a plan for improved pedestrian access.

Don’t forget that the Mississippi is a working river, as well. It’s just lovely to stand and watch the water flow by and the river boats and barges passing through. Some days it’s smooth as glass. Other days the wind whips up white caps. There is an annual ritual for many of driving up the river road to see the fall colors as the leaves change. At times in winter, icebergs form in the water and drift by. Eagles make their winter home here and dive from the tall granite river bluffs into the cold water between the ice floes to snatch a fish. The river’s shoreline is designated a National Scenic Byway.

Oh, yeah: I’m in love.

c Edmund J Kowalski

c Edmund J Kowalski

In the Shadow of the Arch, a Fight Rages on Land Use


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