Let's Be Friends

Hideous suburban development coming to the City of St. Louis

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
THIS IS NOT A JOKE (we wish it were).


(1) These uninspired suburban tract houses, available also in St. Charles County's fastest growing municipalities, are coming to the historic Mississippi Bluffs in South St. Louis. 

Here is a link to the brochure for the 24-home development to be located next to the existing condo building: http://www.mcbridehomes.com/new-homes/missouri/st-louis/st-louis-city/305/mississippi-bluffs.html

(2) The Preservation Board just approved this underwhelming development with full and enthusiastic support from 11th Ward Alderman Tom Villa and Thomas Purcell of the Carondelet Housing Corp. Some residents even appeared with support saying, of course, "something is better than nothing" and "they're taking a risk!" Villa is just happy to have a "reputable developer"...

(3) This is the image we're projecting about our city on one of the only pieces of riverfront residential real estate in the entire region. This will sit next to beautiful historic mansions that river barons built.  What an insensitive affront to our city's proud architectural legacy.  We could honestly cry. 

(4) We see this as symbolic of a much larger issue in our city: failed leadership that presses for a city that is but a sad imitation of its own suburbs. We have suffered too much and too long.

(5) Adding insult to injury, we present this sexy, visionary development that was built in Rocky River, Ohio-- a SUBURB of Cleveland:



A Cleveland SUBURB gets this awesome, urban development adjacent to a tiny, unknown river, and the CITY of St. Louis gets cheap looking, cookie-cutter suburban boxes overlooking the famous Mississippi?  

As long as the city tries to mimic the suburbs, the city will lose.  We are at our best when we think, act and look like a city, because that's what we are.  Let's get it together, people.  This is inexcusable.  

What can we do?

Email 11th Ward alderman Tom Villa and tell him that we should strive for URBAN development in our urban core.  Or what the hell, just give him a call: (314) 622-3287

Let's demand better for the city we love.

Comments (76)

Kristina Cheeseman on 25-Feb-2014 10:56 AM

One of the many things that keeps saint Louis unique is all of the brick architecture. This new development will be the wrong step for saint Louis to take. Let's keep saint Louis beautiful by not adding these ugly, cheap plywood homes to the city.

Steve Patterson on 25-Feb-2014 12:19 PM

The previous Ald Villa (Matt) supported the now-failed condo project that razed the old mansion that used to occupy the north end of the site.

Jason Stokes on 25-Feb-2014 01:32 PM

Those are a train wreck. I'm so embarrassed for everyone involved in this project. As someone said on Facebook, they're throwback suburban. My circa 2004 neighborhood in Ohio is more attractive than these.

Incidentally, I live near the Rocky River condos - we even looked at them to buy. Pretty pricey (600k+) but they're truly luxury. There's no reason people wouldn't want the same overlooking the river in St. Louis.

Glenda on 25-Feb-2014 01:33 PM

I can't believe this! Cruddy duplex, cheaply built, box homes on one of the most unique pieces of property in St. Louis. Any homes built there should fit the standards of new homes such as in Soulard or something fitting the existing architecture. This is pathetic!

Kelly on 25-Feb-2014 02:03 PM

I spent 22 years of my life living in the suburbs of St. Louis. In November I finally moved into the city. And now this crap is apparently following me. I hope to God this doesn't happen or I will be so crushed and disappointed. Who thought this was a good idea? And when did St. Louis make such a strong commitment to mediocrity?

Betty Nohl on 25-Feb-2014 02:19 PM

why do we persist about destroying oír floodplains and riverways by building on or around them?
Why can't we just let it be?

Laura on 25-Feb-2014 02:22 PM

Kelly--I spent 20-something years in the suburbs myself (grew up in Oakville and Chesterfield), and I think it's St. Louis City's commitment to mediocrity (as well as its inferiority complex) that keeps it from gaining population (among many other reasons). It sucks, because I feel there are so many ways it can improve (and even is improving now), but the city government is so backwards in its thinking, that when it does something right, I'm actually surprised.

Kelli on 25-Feb-2014 02:49 PM

The entire reason I live in the city is because I wanted to avoid this kind of cookie cutter, cheap, pattern, repetitive and downright ugly shit that so many people are buying in the suburbs simply for the fact that its cheap and easily affordable. These crapboxes are nothing but garage from all I can see. At least have some dignity and build something cool, not just some recycled version of shit houses that you are building in St. Charles. If I wanted to live in St. Charles near all of this stuff, I would have bought a house there instead of Lafayette Sq. And that's bad enough with all of the cheap, mid 80's, imitation, gray, Victorian, knockoff row houses. Go back to the drawing board, McBride Homes, and at least give us something with some urban flare designed for the amazing city we chose to live in. These homes are going to be visible from the river - is this really what you want people to see or would you like for them to think you actually have someone other than an 8th grader designing your architecture and building plans? FAIL!!! EPIC FAIL!!!

Jeff on 25-Feb-2014 04:13 PM

I'm sure I'll stir up a hornets nest with this being the lone voice of dissent, but I wonder if any of you understand the costs involved in actually building full brick homes in a similar architectural style to the house shown above as opposed to standard framing construction? If these "second-rate suburban shitboxes" START in the mid 200k range with NO options, what makes you think full brick and stone developments with construction materials and methods similar to the surrounding properties wouldn't be close to 2.5 - 4 times as much when all is said and done? No one that has the desire to live in that area of the city can afford a $600,000+ home in the current economic environment. There's no major draw in that area of town unless you really enjoy watching barge traffic on the river.

You seem to complain about the stylistic differences between the McBride development and the 5024 S. Broadway house, but then offer up a picture of a development that is 180 degrees in the opposite direction. A contemporary structure that seems better suited for Seattle or Miami than St. Louis. You demand affordable housing in the city but when it's brought to you, you complain by comparing it architecturally to a mansion that was listed for sale $800,000 dollars as recently as five years ago. You want density but when 24 homes are brought to site that used to house less than a half a dozen; you again compare it to a home that sits on 1.4 acres.

And not just complain, but completely disparage anything that is even remotely suburban. As someone who lives unabashedly lives in the county and simultaneously wholeheartedly loves the city (not mutually exclusive believe it or not) and our potential for growth going forward, the constant belittling of anything suburban-esque by urban progressives is not helping your cause. I lived in the city during my 20's and loved it, and but for a few changes in lifestyle, I'd probably still be there.

I too would like to see the urban core start moving forward into the 21st century with zeal, but we're going to need a large portion of the population and tax base from the county and region in general to get behind some of these grander ideas in order to see them implemented. Constantly denigrating people who've made marginally different lifestyle choices than you'd prefer them to have is not the way to get there. As is being so nitpicky about new development projects that nothing gets accomplished. Compromise is an amazing thing.

I happen to live in fairly new McBride Development and I can assure you that, despite your thorough architectural analysis, they're not "second-rate shitboxes" regardless of what your completely subjective personal aesthetic tastes may be. I can also assure you that the smug, self righteous stance often taken by this movement of a handful of topics is driving away people who might agree with you on 90% of your other issues.

Matt on 25-Feb-2014 04:35 PM

Jeff--

Your rational approach is appreciated, and despite the colorful language included on this post in reference to suburbs, I'm sure the Vines brothers realize urban living isn't for everyone.

That said, suburban-style housing does not belong on the historic Mississippi River Bluffs. This is one of a handful of parcels available for residential use along the Mississippi Riverfront in a spot that won't flood -- perhaps the best one of all in the region. To see it given over to a lowest common denominator design is unfortunate, to put it lightly.

As for the arguments for affordable housing, the condominiums constructed on this site already cost in the $400s (here is a listing: http://www.estately.com/listings/info/68-13059371 priced at $439,900). So, with that price range, anything seems possible. But sure, if the goal is affordable housing, then a cheaper form of construction may in fact be needed. But, in a city with a median housing value well below $200,000 starting ask price, I don't believe this development would be classified as affordable in any sense either.

Given the rare riverfront real estate (and apparent lack of design review), upscale contemporary housing could do very, very well here.

As for comments related to aesthetics and tone -- I don't believe the Vines or STL-Style have ever pulled a punch when it comes to defending the city and its character. Suburbs are known for many things -- safety, good and free schools, greenery, car-friendliness, lots of shopping -- but architectural pedigree is not one of them. While it's never polite to call someone's house a "shitbox"...please respect that those of us who care about seeing St. Louis to prosperity, and not relegated to the status of a sad mime of its own suburbs...we tend to get emotional and use colorful language.

With respect,

Matt

Tiffany on 25-Feb-2014 04:50 PM

The Carondalete Patch area needs new representation. Villa is bad for our area and we need to vote him out. While we have to deal with drugs, prostitution, and dilapidated houses he is cutting deals with Mcbride homes. We live in an area where we need more community resources our food pantry's need more food. We need a better police presence and a safer place for our children to play. I no longer take my son to the smaller playgrounds around the neighborhood because they are littered with trash and hypodermic needles. These houses are not in my price range, I cannot afford them on a not for profit wage and if I could I still wouldn't, they would fall apart with in 40 years because they are not built to last. I am discusted that such a historic area will be littered with these hideous developments that no one is going to buy.

STL-Style on 25-Feb-2014 05:07 PM

Jeff--
In no way are we advocating for brick and stone similar to the surrounding buildings. On the contrary, this city ready for more contemporary, sleek developments that DON'T look like they're pretending to be 100 years old.

We appreciate your comments and we agree that we should tone down the rhetoric, and we apologize for the perceived suburb-bashing. The bottom line is, the proposed McBride development would be just fine in the far-flung suburbs, but building them on the Mississippi bluffs is an insult to grand old city. I mean, look at the rendering. The garages are literally the centerpiece of this development. No effort was made to consider its context. Cookie-cutter by definition. What if McBride proposed the same development in a comparable location in Boston, or San Francisco, or New York. They would be laughed out of the room. Because great cities have standards, and it's time St. Louis respect itself to assert some basic design standards that respect and uphold the architectural legacy of our city.

Jeff on 25-Feb-2014 05:24 PM

Matt,

Thanks for the well reasoned response.

I don't think the condos already on the site listing in the $400's are part of the McBride development since they've been around since 2010 and the McBride site says staring in the mid $200,000. But the point is well taken. The single most expensive upgrade my wife and I made when building our home was a fully bricked front. Just a veneer mind you, and it was an $18,000 upgrade. That speaks volumes to the costs of building materials. The comment about affordability was simply in reference to the alternative of fully brick built homes.

While I don’t disagree that stylistically the choice of elevation options available in the McBride development could better represent St. Louis’s historic architectural character, I do believe that would come at a cost. And isn’t having something on that site, generating new tax revenue and helping to stabilize the area a bit better than the alternative? If design pedigree is of more importance than cost, what’s the draw for residents willing to live in homes in the $500k plus range? Just the view of the river on a tract of land situated between two retirement homes and flanked a few blocks away on either side by heavy industrial zones?

Jeff on 25-Feb-2014 05:40 PM

STL Style-

I agree wholeheartedly that STL is a first class city and deserves better than the cookie cutter designs that McBride has proposed. The design should include elements regarding where we've come from and where we're going as a city. That being said, surely that comes at a cost. My concern being, is there a draw for high density contemporary design in the $500k+ price range on THAT tract of land. Though the river view is nice I'm sure, it's not exactly a prime location in many other regards.

Wasn't Mike Curran's ill fated Mississippi Bluffs fated project slated to be much closer to the ideal you're describing? That clearly fell through, partially due to bad timing with the housing bubble, but surely other factors were at play as well.

Thanks for recognizing the rhetoric was a bit much as well. I think moving the city (and region) forward can come without the disparaging of so many aspects of the county. We'll always be stronger working together and having these types of discussions than we would be bickering at each other.

Elise on 25-Feb-2014 06:08 PM

In response to Jeff: We have so much stunningly beautiful housing stock in the city of St. Louis that is *already built*! Instead of putting up tacky new construction, I'm sure people could fix those up instead.

Marielle on 25-Feb-2014 06:34 PM

It's sad to see the garage forward design, a.k.a. snout house, in a city. Making the garage the central focus of the building prioritizes car storage over community, aesthetics, and a welcoming front door.

STL-Style on 25-Feb-2014 06:43 PM

Agreed, Jeff! Clearly are emotions got the better of us. We are after all, Creve Coeur natives, so we can appreciate what the burbs have to offer as well. It's just frustrating to see St. Louis falling short of its true potential, so lucky for us, we can use our blog as a platform to share our thoughts and opinions with a wider audience and not get fired for it.

stupidhead on 25-Feb-2014 07:39 PM

when oh when, will the city realize that folks who want suburbia will NEVER live in the city. build on your strengths STL! don't play to your weaknesses.

SD on 25-Feb-2014 07:50 PM

I find "Jeff's" arguments to be someone who has taken their investment in suburban living a bit too seriously. That is his opinion, but we need not apologize for airing ours. While I will refrain from colorful language in describing suburbs and their dwellings, I think the term "McMansion" is highly appropriate for such dwellings.

Jeff talks about "costs" of these McMansions vs. building a city dwelling. I would like to point out that the breakdown of those costs probably have a much higher profit margin for the builders than homes constructed for true urban living. Suburban housing since the 1940s has evolved to offering less and less in construction and materials and quality to maximize profits, period. Homes built before the 1940's were meant to be maintained and would last many many generations. Most "homes" built since the 1980's have a 25 year life-cycle.

Furthermore, I will bet these McMansions will be "priced" the same as a McMansion in Chesterfield or O'Fallon. I ask why? The reason one can price a McMansion in those communities so high is that they give the illusion they are "safe", while everyone knows how awful living in "The City" is because it has been beaten into our brains ever since they allowed black and white children to share the same classroom.

If we are going to invest tax money then why not into urban redevelopment, rehab and giving alternatives to the current school system, so that people can "chose" to live in the city. Right now there is very little real choice, making the city into a new McMansion development will not help one bit.

Michelle on 25-Feb-2014 08:25 PM

Your article is horribly written. I understand that you want to preserve the historic feeling of the riverfront, and that you apparently love your city, but the way you are going about it is all wrong. It is completely insulting and downgrading and I highly doubt you are going to gain much support with the kind of article you just wrote. The language and terms you use to describe those houses are disgusting and sad. Do you know how many families in America would kill to live in one of those houses that you call "horrific." I highly doubt I will ever make enough money to own a "horrific" home that is THAT nice. I work my ass off and I still probably will never make it to that level. So, for you to act like it is so disgusting and pitiful is a disgrace. I understand city living and your passion for wanting to preserve a city and not make it suburban. I live in downtown Chicago. I really have no desire to ever live in a suburb, as I love city living as well....but you dear sir have completely turned me off. I and many other people could have supported you had you gone about this a different way instead of being an uppity too good elitist. Saddened....

Reed on 25-Feb-2014 09:14 PM

Whooo Weee let's make some money!

STL-Style on 25-Feb-2014 09:16 PM

Michelle, sorry to offend you with our rather harsh adjectives. Your post inspired us to tone it down a little because we recognize that we may have come across as overly aggressive. However, our argument remains unchanged and we make no apologies for wanting more than just the easiest, least imaginative use of prime real estate. Call us "elitists" or whatever, we believe our city is deserving of a quality urban development, which the current proposal is not. It would not take much to make this a really worthwhile addition to the city's housing inventory. In its current form it is just insulting. We are sorry that our initial post turned you off; we are not sorry for thinking this development has an opportunity to be so much more.

Matt on 25-Feb-2014 09:28 PM

Michelle--

Rust Belt urbanites are asked all the time to apologize for their lifestyle choice -- namely, choosing to live in places that most people, over the past 50 years, have fled. More often than not, that means we're choosing to live in places with struggling school systems, crime problems, and a bad reputation to boot.

The idea that Jeff and Randy need to white-wash their terminology for very, very poor design -- a home design that would be viewed with ridicule in any other country nearing our own's GDP -- is laughable. Sure the term "shit box" and others thrown around on this thread are not polite, but to me calling the design "horrific" is fair game. Think in terms of context -- the idea of one of these made-for-the-exurbs designs appearing next to historic mansions of actual merit on prime riverfront real estate is indeed horrific.

On the daily, millions of suburbanites commute to and from their secure homes and vow to never set foot inside the "dirty" / "scary" / "dilapidated" central city that is the whole reason for their suburb's existence. It may not be "productive" to redirect the snobbery ("an eye for an eye")...but I'll be damned if it doesn't feel good sometimes to let a McMansion have it and bond over the depressing predictability of it all. Like it or not, when architecture became a commodified product by the 1980s, with almost no personal touches in the arena of design, this country lost a piece of its soul. The whole neighborhoods and subdivisions unlucky enough to be marred with unending rows of houses similar to the design shown above are truly sad places that won't generate even a fraction of the same passion inspired by places built to last.

If you followed the Facebook account of STL-Style, you would know this is definitely not the first time the Vines brothers have decried suburban-style development proposals in the city. I know both brothers personally and they are some of the most passionate people in the effort to improve St. Louis. The way to improve St. Louis is not to ape our own suburbs. Improving St. Louis entails building upon our innate character instead of diluting it. The Vines brothers realize this. If it is elitist to point out that draining our city of its character and beauty and turning into Anywhere, USA is a bad idea, then, despite my crushing student loan debt and hapless dedication to city living, count me in the ranks of the 1%.

Bill on 25-Feb-2014 09:49 PM

I went to a party at a south Broadway bluff house, and I left feeling like the homeowners had the best property in the whole region. Yes, in fact, those few precious places on the river bluff really are that special. Do something unique with this unique property.

David on 25-Feb-2014 10:05 PM

Don't be too hasty in your apologies to some of these commenters...those houses are truly of poor design, and you are right in calling for better, more urban design in the city. And contrary to what many of these commenters seem to be implying, good design does not have to be more expensive, it just has to be better designed! As an example, many of the latest Habitat for Humanity houses in North City are of superior design to these, and they are, of course, built much more cheaply than what is proposed here. When you can't even tell where the front door of a home is because it is completely obscured by a garage, that is bad design - it is a dehumanized architecture, completely uninspired and uninspiring. We deserve better...the city, the suburbs, and the people buying these houses ALL deserve better.

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