St. Louis Blogger Tells Kunstler He Got It Wrong

Steve Patterson, the writer of Streetsblog Network member blog UrbanReviewSTL, has long been a fan of anti-sprawl guru James Howard Kunstler. But Patterson takes issue with Kunstler in a post today about the new St. Louis Amtrak station, a multimodal facility that also serves as a bus depot and light rail link. Kunstler just named it as his "eyesore of the month."

Patterson concedes that the station has its issues, and no one would argue that it can hold an aesthetic candle to the city’s magnificent Union Station, which is now a shopping mall with a hotel and restaurants. But he says Kunstler rushed to judgment without all the facts:

kunstlereotm.jpgSo because Union Station is no longer used for rail transit our new
station is a "piece-of-shit." The problem I have is not the criticism
of the new station — a few [points] are correct. The problem is relying on an
account/pictures from a visitor from Chicago. I’m often critical of
projects and places but I always visit in person to see for myself
rather than be potentially misled by a reader.

Had Kunstler done his homework he would have known it has been more
than 30 years since the last train backed out of Union Station. From 1978–2008, St. Louis’ Amtrak station was in two different portable
buildings (#1 1978–2004, #2 2004–2008). It is not like we stopped
using Union Station one day and [opened] the new station the next.

Our Gateway Station combines Amtrak and Greyhound with our
MetroLink light rail and MetroBus. I’d say that is a good
combination. Utilizing the space under the highway makes sense and
bringing these services together in one spot can help visitors.

One of the best things about the Streetsblog Network is that it brings together on-the-ground observers in more than 40 states and several nations. If you want to know what’s going on in St. Louis, you can find someone in St. Louis. Or Reno. Or Savannah. Or Indianapolis. Or any of dozens of communities.

Just click on the map you’ll find here and start exploring for yourself.

  • And despite that, this new station is still an ignoble piece of shit, which is Kunstler’s general point about everything.

    From Geography of Nowhere: “Thus, a Jacksonian student of landscape can observe a Red Barn hamburger joint, he can remark on its architectural resemblance to certain farm structures of the past, measure its dimensions, figure out the materials that went into building it, record the square footage of its parking lot, count the number of cars that come and go, the length of time that each customer lingers inside, the average sum spent on a meal, the temperature of the iceberg lettuce in its bin in the salad bar – all down to the last infinitesimal detail – and never arrive at the conclusion that the Red Barn is an ignoble piece of shit that degrades the community.”

  • Bill

    I’m unsure why UrbanReviewSTL didn’t defend the new station by showing a picture of the 1978-2004 station, which still sits 100 or so yards from the new station. At least it did as recently as November, when I was last in St. Louis. Now THAT one was a true embarrassment for a major city: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimfrazier/516726629/

  • An improvement on the past 20 years? Yes. Something to be proud of in the face of how we used to honorably accommodate and celebrate our public transportation infrastructure? No.

    The wider JHK commentary, I believe is not about this specific station in St. Louis, but the general approach we have taken to locating and designing public buildings in general. Indeed, efficiency be damned, placing anything underneath a freeway is about as disrespectful as it gets.

  • sparky

    As the upstream commenters have implied, this was not a well-thought-out post. Kunstler isn’t discussing the number of entrances/exits or amount of money spent to build this station, but rather, pointing out that it is a badly designed, badly sited piece of public architecture. And as far as being an improvement goes, these flaws will hinder the general public’s use of the station, thus frustrating the advance of public transit yet again. Myopia in the service of the good is still myopia.

  • bab

    I have to respectfully disagree with the fine folks commenting on this.

    The placement of this particular function is not ‘disrespectful’. I am assuming you mean disrespectful to people? If so, I don’t see it. The location (a nexus of freeway, 2 railways, a light rail transit station, and city streets) is functionally just about ideal. All of these conduits exist, and are used exclusively for, the transit of people. People transit on these conduits every day, are the conduits disrespectful to the people traveling on them? Sure, they could be prettier to travel on, but that is not the fault of this ‘piece of shit’.

    Perhaps you mean that it is disrespectful to the city-as-entity. Well, spaces under raised highways tend to be unsightly and inhuman. However, without USING these spaces we virtually assure that they remain as such.

    The facility in question handles it’s awkward inherited site containing multiple restrictions fairly deftly. I have my quibbles with several decisions, but the building does a good job of livening up a previously dead space while connecting people to various modes of transit. In fact, the worst way to arrive at this station is via personal automobile.

    The architecture may be subjective, but the modernism here is tasteful and a little playful. Living cities are full of such compromises, some of which reach the realm of sublime. I wouldn’t say this one does, but neither is it a ‘piece of shit’. There are countless examples far worse.

  • GRR

    someone wake me up when Kuntsler moves on from the same point he’s been making for 15 years.

  • C-T

    I saw and read Kunstler for a while now and I like the incisiveness of some of his points. What I don’t like is his personality and the pervasive negativity that seems to ooze out! I actually live in a very walkable urban environment and don’t own a car. I probably live Kunstler’s dream in terms of urbanism and getting around, yet still I wouldn’t want to hang out with him. 🙂 Even though someone espouses some principles you believe in doesn’t mean you have to like them or their style. Whenever I hear him speak I just want to curl up afterwards because I feel so drained. Ha, ha! Weird, huh?

  • john

    What is claimed to be the “envy of many cities because of the combination of bus, rail and local transit” may be true if you’re from OK or HoosierLand but not true if you lived in a culture that respects non-auto alternatives. Like most news it is the info that is purposely not included which is the real story. Just one example of many on how poor planning and the misuse of public funds created a miserable and unworkable climate for pedestrians and cyclists. Imagine being required to walk over one-half mile to reach a MetroLink station that is less than 100 feet away (these examples are not the envy of people who know better and many more examples exist):

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=38.636408,-90.341563&daddr=Richmond+Heights+(St.+Louis+MetroLink)&geocode=%3BFWWGTQIdFHud-iGBu3BXzab42A&hl=en&mra=dme&mrcr=0&mrsp=0&sz=17&dirflg=d&sll=38.636567,-90.34269&sspn=0.005246,0.008444&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=17

  • Mr Bad Example

    I’m a fan of Kunstler and the Eyesore of the Month column. I’ve never been to St Louis, so I’m going by the pictures on his page. That said, I can’t imagine anyone thinking that this is an attractive building. Kunstler did a similar EOTM take on Albany’s Amtrak station. Simply put, there are large pieces of ugliness all over the complex, and some areas where people aren’t going to feel safe walking about at late hours. And that is a big part of the point of the EOTM designation–the designers didn’t think out the ramifications of pedestrian discomfort.

    Also (a side issue); what’s being done with Union Station? Is it going to be turned into one of those awkward downtown destination malls? Is it going to be torn down? It’s a gorgeous building and it’s hard to think of a reason not to repurpose it back to its original use as a transit hub.

  • Bill

    It’s partly a hotel, partly “one of those awkward downtown destination malls”: http://www.stlouisunionstation.com.

    As awkward downtown destination malls go, though, it isn’t bad. I was there on a weekday afternoon in October and it wasn’t crowded, but not deserted either. There were A LOT of historical markers and signs with plenty of photos showing the station and surrounding neighborhood when the station was at its height. Educational, but also a letdown when comparing the hustle-and-bustle of then to the “meh…” of now.

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