Sunday, December 27, 2009


I've started using Twitter! I'll post updates and quick thoughts to it as I get around to it.

Check it out-

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Truman Boulevard- Jefferson County's first Great Streets project?

For many years Truman Boulevard (61/67) served as the main North-South connector to and from St. Louis for the eastern side of Jefferson County. Before I-55 this road, running through Crystal City, Festus, Herculaneum and Pevely, was THE freight and passenger route for residents to get to work up north. As you might expect from a road of that importance in the 1960's-70's, it was built to almost exclusively accommodate motorized traffic. Additionally, the development that sprang up along Truman was not part of any unified plan, leading to too many entrances and exits (causing safety issues), very few greenspaces in developed areas (causing stormwater runoff issues), and many of the buildings were of poor quality that only today are beginning to be razed and redeveloped. Essentially today's Truman Boulevard does meets few, if any, of the standards that would be required in a modern roadway.

However, the quad-city area is not alone in dealing with an out-of-date commercial corridor of this nature. Many commercial corridor roads in St. Louis County and streets in St. Louis City suffer from the same design flaws as Truman Boulevard. To help begin to correct these flaws, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, which controls all federal funding (ie our tax dollars) for highway and roads projects in the St. Louis area (including Jefferson County) set up a program called "The Great Streets Initiative" and began funding planning and construction efforts for a few model projects. Additionally, they have set up a general resource site for other communities to take advantage of, although without the assistance of any funding.

The purpose of the Great Streets Initiative is to redesign major commercial thoroughfares, particularly ones that connect multiple communities or serve as major neighborhood hubs, that have begun unraveling or falling into disuse commercially, by providing the communities involved with the funding and technical resources required to completely re-imagine these areas for future use. This process relies heavily on community visioning, involvement, and feedback, creating an area for all users that will serve as an attractive area for residents. E-W Gateway selected four projects/areas for funding and by all accounts the results have been tremendously successful.

Since these projects are taxpayer funded and the initial round of projects went to area in St. Louis City and County, its time for Jefferson County to step up to the plate and ask for a project of our own- a complete redesign and construction of Truman Boulevard (61/67) from the southern point in Crystal City/Festus up through Pevely. The redesign should be focused on creating safer traffic intersections, a more logical system of accessing businesses lining the highway, pedestrian crosswalks at intersections, and especially a focus on providing access for all users, transforming the highway from a 4 lane river of pavement for automobiles to a boulevard with trees and greenspace, sidewalks, bike accommodations, and a better coordination of commercial buildings to provide an inviting, safe, and pleasant shopping, driving, and walking experience along the way.

A major project like this will take years to do, but the benefits to the fabric of our community, interconnectedness of the quad-city area, and everyday experience along this route will be immeasurable. Its time to transform Truman Boulevard from a basic 4 lane road for cars into a true boulevard supporting multiple uses for all people!



Sorry for the lack of new posts lately! I wanted to give a quick update on two big projects that we've been talking about since Day 1 of this blog- Complete Streets and Tree City USA status.

First, I'm pleased to report that the Tree Care/Board ordinance required for Tree City USA status has been introduced to the City Council and will be refined at the worksession on January 18th. The plan is to have this wrapped up fairly quickly so Crystal City will be able to adopt an Arbor Day proclamation and provide for a community forest program in the next budget. That will complete the Tree City USA requirements and allow for Crystal City to apply for Tree City status after the start of the next budget year in April.

Second, a few months ago after a presentation from our friends at Trailnet, the City Council decided that a Complete Streets policy is worth pursuing and accepted our offer of assistance toward that goal. Having assembled a great working group and collaborating with them, we have nearly completed the final draft of a Complete Streets policy to be presented to the council. We hope to be able to present the Complete Streets policy at the same worksession as the Tree Care/Board ordinance. Again we hope for an aggressive, but workable timetable and hope to have work on this project completed by March/April along with the Tree City program.

Positive things are on the horizon for Crystal City!


Monday, November 16, 2009

Coming This Week

This week will feature posts about improving Truman Boulevard and more ideas for Crystal City's parks.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Crystal City Parks: A Place Is Needed

One of the features of almost every truly great park is the presences of "places" to be- somewhere more than just a pavilion or a random bench along a path.  Places are human scale and somewhat intimate- a place to linger and enjoy just being there.  Maybe its a grotto, maybe a boathouse, maybe a quiet place off of a path where one can sit and enjoy the scenery without people running by through the view.  Places can be many things to many different people.  We've talked before about the need for a long term Park Master Plan for Crystal City's parks- the development of "places" would and should be a part of that process.  Specifically, we believe that Crystal City's Municipal Park has an ideal location for the development of a "place" within the next few years!

Our proposal:  We believe that the Crystal City Parks Department should renovate, restore, and upgrade the waterfall pond in the North section of the Municipal Park and establish it as a "place" for the enjoyment of all of Crystal City.

(For an excellent example of creating a "place" check out this post from the St. Louis Urban Workshop about ongoing projects in Forest Park.)

The waterfall has, sadly,  not operated since Bill Bradley announced his run for President in 1999.  We believe that the City has, either on staff or volunteering, the ability to determine what work needs to be done to fix the pond and to restore its function.  If needed the pumping mechanism should be removed from the pond and placed into a pumphouse.  The pond should also be completely cleared out of all debris and restored to excellent condition.  Restoration of the waterfall is key to establishing an attractive place for people to come enjoy.


Next, the area around the pond should be landscaped to provide seating and small gathering places for picnics, small meetings, and more.  Not pavilions or tables per se, but something smaller and more intimate.  This could be accomplished with stone, wood, earth, or any combination of the three so long as the improvements are permanent, safe, and aesthetically pleasing.



Finally, with the waterfall restored and the area around it modified for regular use, a way should be prepared for people to access the new place.  Ideally this would be in the form of new sidewalks along Parkview Drive with a paved or stone trail leading from them to the waterfall.  The existing blacktop "path" is completely substandard and perhaps even dangerous to use as it currently exists:


This area of the Municipal Park is a small yet nice piece of nature in an otherwise suburban environment.  With some planning and dedication, a truly beautiful "place" can be made that everyone can enjoy.  We hope that Park officials consider something like this in their long-range plans.


Crystal City Dog Park

This weekend we visited the City of Arnold's "Paw Park".  Surprisingly, we had almost as much fun as our dogs!  It didn't take long at all to conclude that Crystal City should seriously consider a dog park of its own.

Our proposal:  The City of Crystal City and its Parks Department should consider the creation of a dog park at the Crystal City Municipal Park.

Why should Crystal City consider a dog park?  As our friends at put it:

A dog park is a place where people and their dogs can play together. These facilities offer dogs off-leash play areas while their people enjoy the park-like setting. Amenities, such as fencing, water, parking, and even grass, vary greatly among these places, but ‘off-leash’ and ‘park’ are the key elements that dog owners (who are also taxpayers and voters) desire.
For some dog owners, a dog park may provide the main opportunity for dog guardians to socialize with other people and their dogs, and is a primary source of recreation. We believe that they deserve to have their taxpayer dollars used towards a safe, accessible place where they can meet other people and exercise themselves and their dogs.
In short- its a great place for people to take their dogs, let them run around with no leashes, and generally have fun!

Here are some pictures from the Arnold Paw Park this weekend:





The Arnold Paw Park is separated into two areas- one for dogs under 25 lbs and one for dogs over 25 lbs.  While it seems the small dogs may cross into the bigger pen, the larger dogs are kept out of the smaller dog area.

One aspect quickly noticed was the number of "regular" attendees and the fun, welcoming community they formed.  Everyone welcomed us and our dogs in a very genuine way.

Having seen pictures from Arnold, where could Crystal City put a dog park of its own?  We spent part of our late morning exploring the Crystal City Municipal Park and concluded that an excellent spot would be the large field next to the old handball courts in the North section of the park:



The field is large, flat, and very visible to passing motorists and pedestrians.  Adequate parking is available along the roadside near the ball-fields and plumbing exists in the area for a water station.  On its face, it appears ideal, especially given that the field has no current purpose.  If needed, the old handball courts, generally little used, could be razed for a larger area.

With some planning, a little extra money, and the willpower, Crystal City could have an excellent dog park enjoyed by human and canine alike.  The materials required for a park are fairly simple- some powder-coated fencing, a couple of benches, a water station, and rules clearly posted at the gate.

Lets hope that in 2010 Crystal City's pooches will have a place to run free at last!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Train Trestle Over Truman: Time for an Upgrade

As every resident of Crystal City has seen countless times, the raised railroad crossing over Truman Blvd is a true eyesore.  From the dirty concrete pillars supporting it to the rusted steel encasing it, this trestle is a true problem for Crystal City's image.

Here is the trestle today:

I think we can all agree- an upgrade is desperately needed.

A perfect example of what could be done comes from our neighbors to the North, Maplewood!  This image is of the Metro line as it crosses Manchester Ave:

The bridge retains its function while being visually pleasing and letting motorists know that they are in Maplewood.  The "Maplewood" sign itself is crafted with a fun design and is backward on the other side so as to be read in your rear-view mirror.

Even if money for a more decorative sign like Maplewood's couldn't be found, surely Crystal City could partner with the railroad to clean up the overpass, put on new coat of paint (not necessarily silver) and also paint "Crystal City" on each side?  Even a basic cleanup would be an excellent beginning to a larger effort to bring Truman Blvd up to modern standards!  Maybe next we could see some sidewalks and trees?


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tree City USA: Why?

Why should Crystal City become a Tree City USA?

Because almost all of our streets could look like this:


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tree City USA: An Ordinance

As we have discussed before, two of the four pillars of being a Tree City USA is having a Tree Care ordinance and a Tree Board.

In order to help Crystal City get started on becoming a Tree City, we have crafted an ordinance designed to meet both requirements! The ordinance is based on Herculaneum's, St. Peters, and the model Tree Care ordinance from the Missouri Forestry Service.

Our sample ordinance can be downloaded HERE.

Our ordinance establishes a Tree Board (4 members appointed by the Mayor, one by the Park Board, and the City Administrator as an ex-officio member), asserts responsibility for the care of trees along our streets and in our parks, and bans the extremely harmful practice of "tree topping". We hope that anyone interested will read it over and recommend it to their councilperson.

We hope that this ordinance will help expedite achieving Tree City status in Crystal City!


Monday, October 12, 2009

Mississippi Avenue Sidewalk Expansion

As we've talked about before, sidewalk seating is an important amenity in a modern community's restaurant district. As it stands now, Crystal City does not allow sidewalk seating and the sidewalks on the commercial block of Mississippi Avenue are too narrow to properly accommodate any tables or seats that might ever be set out.

Our proposal: In addition to permitting sidewalk seating, Crystal City should lend a hand to its downtown commercial block by slightly expanding the sidewalks to allow sidewalk seating and additional streetscaping.

Not many people notice, but the sidewalks that were poured when the Mississippi Avenue bridge was rebuilt are actually wider than the original sidewalks that remain along the rest of the block:

Looking South along the East side of the street, its clear that the sidewalks are wider-- and therefore able to accommodate seating and potential streetscaping (trees and flowers)

Looking north we see the narrowing point:

The west side, again looking south, reveals the same occurance:

Looking north we see the narrowing:

If the parking was reconfigured on the east side for parallel as opposed to diagonal spaces, the sidewalk could be expanded to match the southern section. In the process of expanding the sidewalk, street trees should be added to bring a sense of life and aesthetic beauty to the area, in addition to providing shade for potential outdoor diners to enjoy. This would be a restoration of the original look of the block, dating back to the founding of the town. The lost parking spaces could be reclaimed in the lots behind the buildings. The lots badly need resurfacing, striping, and the completion of the long planned expansion project near the Public Works building.

The west side of the street requires no parking reconfiguration-- only a widening of the sidewalk and the addition of trees.

We don't pretend to be experts in concrete work, but expanding the sidewalks and adding trees seems like a no-brainer. Sidewalk expansion would help attract restaurants, coffee houses, and other businesses that attract local residents. The addition of designer bike parking would also help attract people through other means than their car-- alleviating potential parking issues. With a little work and a little luck, Mississippi Avenue can become a place that has businesses enjoyed by all ages, varied interests, and attracts locals from surrounding residential areas during the day and on weekends.

In short, Mississippi Avenue can transform from this (empty on a Sunday):

into this:

A fully walkable, bikeable, seatable, enjoyable Mississippi Ave!

Let's make it happen!


First Impressions: A Call to Action

First impressions are incredibly important to a community- they set the tone for a visit or a relocation, determine whether a business is interested in moving to the area, and send a message of cleanliness and order or chaos and decay. Good impressions are hard to get and bad impressions are notorious for being final impressions. A good first impression or a bad impression leads to an image in visitors and newcomers minds that never entirely goes away. Unfortunately, Crystal City has a serious image/impression problem, especially on our northern border.

Our Proposal: Its time to take out the trash and get serious about improving Crystal City's image by improving the first view of town.

Ask most residents to describe what comes to mind when they think of Crystal City and they'll tell you tree-lined streets, nice houses, and a good, clean town.

Ask a visitor what they think of just after they've arrived and you'll probably hear something about this:

Notice the dumpsters open and unconcealed?


This trailer is almost completely rotted and rusted out.

Maybe these come to mind:

They haven't moved in many, many years and likely are inoperable without work.

Best of all?  The former antiques store now seemingly turned junkyard right inside city limits:




The sign welcoming you to town?

Rusted and faded with age with a junkyard antiques store as its backdrop.

The solutions are simple:

1. Require the removal of the rotted trailer. It is unsafe and an eyesore. The property it is parked on is not zoned to permit junkyards/scrapyards nor is there a functioning automotive repair shop servicing said trailer. The City should also request the movement and closure of the offending dumpsters as well.

2. Request that the owner of the machinery remove it from the front area of the property. If this is a true hardship or mechanical impossibility at the moment, at the very least he or she should be asked to plant 3-4 more trees or large shrubs around the machinery to better conceal them from the road.

3. Require the cleanup of the Antique Store/Junkyard. This was once a legitimate antiques/furniture business. In the past few years it has exploded into what appears to be a full on junkyard. Warehousing is NOT unconditionally permitted in this zoning district (C-2 or RS-1 depending on the location of the materials). It is not allowed in the RS-1 district and required a conditional use permit in C-2 with the additional stipulation that the warehouse be entirely contained within a single building or facility and not outdoors. At a glance there appears to be trailers, machinery, and many, many other things within the fenced area or surrounding it. If this situation is allowed to continue then there will be no stopping any other individual seeking to flaunt the zoning rules and regulations.

4. Remove the old "Welcome to Crystal City" sign and replace it as soon as possible. The old sign should probably come down immediately even in the temporary absence of a replacement. Whether the new sign is a large, tall marker like the old sign or lower and wider, similar to Herculaneum's just up the road, a new sign will instantly improve the first impression of a visitor or new resident. It will also send a signal to others that the time to clean up eyesore properties has arrived.

Here's an example of what we could have:

Crystal City can, through some basic code enforcement actions and negotiations, immediately improve the most traveled gateway to our community, and hopefully improve our image to both residents and visitor alike. This step is crucial in moving forward as a 21st century community and away from our image and reputation as just another dirty, unplanned and unregulated small rural town.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Bikeable-Walkable Community Plan

In July of 2007, Crystal City and Festus received the final draft of a Bikeable-Walkable Community Plan. That plan was commissioned as a joint project between the Twin Cities in cooperation with Trailnet, a non-profit dedicated to Active Living- a way of life that encourages people to integrate physical activity into their daily routines. Trail networks are seen as a tremendous asset by potential residents, especially younger families, and are looked upon very favorably by many retailers nationwide.  Trails can provide safe routes to school for children wanting to walk or ride their bikes.  They can be used by the elderly to safely enjoy traveling around town on foot or bike.  Trails serve all of our citizens as a universal amenity!  We believe that the time is right to begin implementing that plan.  As we have discussed here before in our post on Complete Streets, multi-modal transportation is the future of road design and is critical to implement in a 21st century community.  The Bikeable-Walkable Community Plan is a crucial piece of what we hope will be Crystal City's Complete Streets policy written in the near future!

The Bikeable-Walkable Community Plan is no longer available for download due to the realization that the data in the file was incomplete. Our apologies.

Our proposal: In order to promote an active lifestyle and to begin providing walkers and cyclists with a designated trail in town, Crystal City should create a basic on-street trail loop from the Crystal City Municipal Park to Hickey White Park. An additional spur should also be created along Eighth Street to the border of Festus to provide an initial link for the joint trail network.

Why a loop? Simply put, it is a fast and relatively inexpensive way to get started on a wider network of both on-street and off-street (or "greenway") trails. According to the Bikeable-Walkable Community Plan (Plan), the signs required for our on-street trails are basic "bike route" signs, with directional arrows designating turns.

Pretty simple!  These signs, placed every quarter-mile and at turns in the route, when combined with a street stencil that could be borrowed from a neighboring community, could be quickly created or purchased and placed.  An excellent opportunity to place trail signs will occur next year when Jefferson and Virginia Avenues are upgraded.  Bikes Share the Road signs have been placed into the budget for the project- hopefully this money could be used to purchase the correct signage (per the Plan and various guideline manuals) for those streets!

The basic loop would require signage along portions of the following streets:

N. Taylor Ave

11th Street

Mississippi Ave
Crystal Ave
Virginia Ave

Jefferson Ave
8th Street

This loop is easily accessible by a sizable portion of town, runs through all four wards, connects the three of our parks, goes by City Hall, the Elementary School, and the High School, and connects with Festus.  A basic start with far-reaching results!  Future projects would continue to fill in the network through on-street signage and hopefully, someday, one or more greenways- such as one to connect Williamsburg with the Municipal Park.  Greenways like the ones outlined in the Plan are frequently the most used and enjoyed aspects of a city's trail system.  We hope that Crystal City gets in the trail game soon!

Map coming soon!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Sidewalk Seating

As we mentioned in the Microbreweries post, sidewalk seating can be an important tool in improving Crystal City dining. The interest in the Twin City Days Bridge Party pretty clearly demonstrates a desire for outdoor dining experiences in our area-- currently we only know of St. Louis Bread Company offering outdoor seating.

Our Proposal: We feel that the city should amend the appropriate ordinances to allow permits to be issued for sidewalk and patio dining.

Moreover, the sidewalks along the 100 block of Mississippi Ave should be expanded to allow the bars and restaurants to set up seating and hopefully attract one or two more venues-- including a coffee house. The sidewalk areas near the bridge are the perfect width for seating. If the rest of the sidewalks along the street were expanded that extra foot, pedestrians could still pass through while people enjoyed their food and drinks outside under the sky. Some obvious restrictions to impose would be regulations mandating a certain unobstructed path along the sidewalks and limitations on outdoor seating hours, such as not before 7am and not after 10pm.

We hope Crystal City will take a look at neighboring communities to the North (Soulard, The Loop, Central West End, etc) and see the draw of people and activity that their outdoor seating provides. Outdoor seating is a true amenity enjoyed by many people in many cities, from Portland to University City to Washington D.C.-- why not Crystal City as well?

Here are a few pictures to capture your imagination- with a little work, Crystal City's sidewalks could someday look like these!





Thursday, October 1, 2009



It's a warm Friday evening around 7 pm. You've just gotten off work and head over to Mississippi Ave to one of Crystal City's finest establishments for a happy hour drink. Sitting at a sidewalk table with some friends, you tell the waitress that you'll have the newest microbrew- the CC IPA!

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Our Proposal: Leaving aside the idea of sidewalk seating for the moment (to be covered later, we promise!), its high time Crystal City began allowing Microbreweries in town.

Microbreweries represent several beloved American ideals- small business ownership, good adult beverages, and something locally made. George Washington brewed his own beer-- as did many of our Founding Fathers. By changing its zoning and permitting rules to allow microbreweries to be established in town, Crystal City would be embracing these ideals traced back to the beginning of our country. The changes required are quite simple and have already been implemented by DeSoto, our neighbor to the south, who have already shared the information with us at 2010. We'd post the ordinance, but formatting issues prevent us from doing so easily.

Many of us enjoy drinks provided by other nearby microbreweries-- O'Fallon's Pumpkin Ale certainly comes to mind. We hope that someday soon Crystal City residents can enjoy a locally brewed drink of their own!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ideas for the Jefferson & Virginia Ave. Streets and Sidewalks Project

As many of our readers know, in 2010 Crystal City will be launching the first of a series of major and much needed roadway improvement projects. The first project will be a Surface Transportation Project (STP) for Jefferson Ave from 10th to 4th street and Virginia from 4th to Bailey Road. This project will include road milling and new overlay, new curbs and sidewalks, new decorative street lighting, and the addition of tree lawns in areas with sufficient right-of-way. The grant is an 80/20 split, making this project a phenomenal deal for Crystal City residents. On August 17th the City Council and project engineers held a public comment hearing for input on the upcoming project. The hearing was well attended and all of the comments were very constructive with many good ideas put forward.

We've talked before about the need for adopting a Complete Streets Policy in Crystal City to serve as a design standards document for projects like these. In the meantime, we took a look at other similar road projects in our region and have put together a list of ideas and principles we feel can make the Jefferson/Virginia project (and the next project, 11th & Mississippi) a rousing success!

1. Ensure ADA Compliance

ADA compliance is, of course, being engineered into this project. Its an important component in 21st century design and certainly a moral obligation to be included. We hope that the engineers ensure that all of the curb access ramps are sufficiently graded to allow motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs to go up and down freely. We also want to ensure that all sidewalk ramps are fitted with a dimpled plate to assist our visually impaired residents in knowing where the sidewalk meets the street, and also to help provide traction in wet weather to guard against slipping. These ideas seem simple enough, but the number of projects that include improperly graded ramps or are not fully ADA compliant are many in number and not all of them get fixed.

2. Ensure Compliance with the Bike/Pedestrian Trail Master Plan

We noted that the engineers have included "Bikes Share The Road" signage in the plan, but we'd like to see them go a step further. Crystal City has a Bike/Pedestrian Trail Master Plan in place from a grant project a few years ago. The City should ensure that instead of merely placing "Bikes Share the Road" signage that appropriate "Bike Trail" or "Bike Route" signage is placed. The project should also include a bike trail logo stenciled onto the road where appropriate. Both Jefferson and Virginia Avenues have recommended trail treatments in the plan and we feel that the City and its engineers should follow those recommendations where appropriate. Signage and stencils are cheap and easy upgrades. City officials would do well to promote non-motorized transportation and recreational travel in Crystal City.

3. Watch the Light Pollution!

We really like the planned upgrade in street lights-- they'll match the new lights on the Mississippi Ave bridge. We have a minor concern, however, about possible light pollution from so many of these new fixtures. Rather than project light down toward the ground, the new fixtures are essentially omni-directional. The lights are bright enough, when bunched together, to be extremely bright, (as one can notice crossing the tracks on Virginia and looking east toward the bridge late at night) which has the unfortunate effect of bleeding light into the night sky thus making the stars more difficult to see. The recently passed conditional use permit for the Wings Iron Reduction Facility has restrictions on its types of lighting specifically to combat this issue. Not being lighting experts, we are unaware of whether a lower wattage bulb could be used to dim this effect in the new lights being placed along Jefferson and Virginia Avenues or whether a modification to the light, such as a kind of cap, could be placed to limit or redirect the light. Street and sidewalk lighting is very important for the safety of our residents. A happy balance can definitely be achieved that keeps our streets safe and our skies dark!

More information on this subject can be found at the International Dark Sky Association FAQ

4. Have a Plan for the Street Trees

We were very happy with the announcement of new tree lawns and street trees being planted in Crystal City-- we feel that our community forest is an important and valuable resource to our community. In fact, we openly advocate Crystal City taking the steps neccissary to become a Tree City USA! In the meantime, to maximize the effect of these improvements and new trees we recommend that Crystal City team with the local Resource Forester to come up with a solid plan for our new plantings. Its important to be diverse in tree selection to avoid mass killings from one disease or insect, but its also important not to simply allow people to pick any tree they wish. The result of completely free choice would be a hodgepodge look, trees of varying sizes which would not provide a full street canopy, and trees that would have a root system that spreads too far outward, possibly tearing up our new sidewalks within a few years. A good plan will ensure we get maximum value, aesthetic improvement, enjoyment, and longevity from our new street tress.

More information on Community Forests and Street Tree Planting can be found at the Missouri Department of Conservation site.

In the past these ideas would have been considered extravagant or over the top. Today, they are essential and demanded parts to any public infrastructure improvements. We are excited about these street improvements as they represent a major step forward in Crystal City's evolution into a 21st century, modern community!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Planning for Crystal City's Parks System

As we've covered in other posts, for Crystal City to become a 21st century community new approaches and new ways of thinking need to be introduced into our policy-making process. From our streets to our trees its time to update the way we do things. We at 2010 adamantly believe that the best way to achieve these goals is through an open, community driven planning process, conducted by a professional planning firm if appropriate or needed.

One of the most utilized city services is our parks. Crystal City has 4 (5 if you separate the north end and lake areas from the main park) parks in its system- Crystal City Municipal Park and Pool, Hickey White, Charlie Brown, and the little known Bird Sanctuary. When the park system was started, there was only 1 park (Municipal Park) to maintain. Today there are 4-- yet the funding for our parks remains at the same level as when it started almost 40 years ago. Our Park Board members have done a fantastic job maximizing every dollar in their very tight budget to keep our pool open and our parks clean and safe.

A 21st century community values and improves its parks rather than watching them barely get by year to year! Our Park Board has worked hard for years to make improvements to our parks despite a flat budget. Now its time for Crystal City to step up and give its parks a hand.

Our proposal: The City Council should offer funding to the Park Board for retaining a professional planning firm to aid in the drafting of a Park Master Plan.

1. Why a Park Master Plan?

Park planning is a process that helps establish long-term goals, priorities, and capital improvements for a parks system. Best of all, the ideas and direction comes from the citizens who pay for and use their parks every day! Think of it like this- you want to build a house. Would you just hire a construction crew to come in and start building it? Or would you go to an architect to design and plan first? Of course you'd want plans. So why would we expect anything less from our parks? In our analogy, the Plan is the blueprint, the Park Board is the construction firm, and the Parks Director is the actual builder. Once the plan is set the Park Board will work toward its goals and objectives with the Park Director carrying out daily tasks.

2. What would a Park Master Plan look like?

The final plan would be a document voted on by the Park Board that would contain maps, geographical information, and planned improvements laid out along with a general plan and schedule for implementation. Think of it like a blueprint-- it would show the park in the future after the plan has been implemented with images depicting planned improvements or changes. An excellent example of a Park Plan is the Fox Park Master Plan.

3. We're just a small town with a small park system. Its not like we're Forest Park or a big city. Why do we need a plan like this? Why should we spend the money on this when we could buy new swings or a new diving board?

These are questions we hear a lot- and they are fair questions to ask. No, Crystal City isn't a big city- but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have high standards for our city services. Crystal City's parks are dwarfed by Forest Park- but that doesn't mean we wouldn't benefit greatly from an open, community driven planning process designed to generate public input into the future of our parks system. Planning is a process that doesn't depend on city size. Crystal City is about to begin the process of updating its ancient Comprehensive/Master Plan. Just because we aren't a big city doesn't mean we shouldn't plan for our city's future-- parks included. Just because we could buy new swings doesn't mean we know the best place to locate them, the best type to buy, or how many to get. A Park Master Plan, written by a professional planning firm with input from the citizens that use our parks, will provide a blueprint for the future, agreed upon by consensus, that the Park Board members can then implement with confidence.

4. OK you've sold me. We need a plan! But where will we find the money to implement it? Or to pay the planning firm? You said it yourself-- the parks budget is too small!

The park budget IS far too small for its needs. We believe that the City Council should authorize money to be spent from the Parks, Stormwater, and Levee Maintenance fund that was approved by the voters approximately 10 years ago. Stormwater projects and levee maintenance projects have both received funds from this dedicated tax, but the park system never has. By funding a Parks Master Plan the City Council and Park Board will be making a sound investment in our park system's future. With a plan in hand, the Park Board can then come back to the City Council and other funding entities and request money or grants for specific projects that work toward plan implementation. These projects will not only have been created through citizen input, but they will also have been ranked by necessity. Both the City Council and Park Board will know that the money requested will be money well spent, helping to fulfill a community's goals and ideas about its park system.

The Crystal City parks system faces many challenges in its near future, from both a budgetary and a services/amenities provided perspective. In these times of change, now is the opportunity to budget some money, work with the public on a new Parks Master Plan, and make sure we're meeting the open-space needs of our community now and for the next generation.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Suggestions for Improving City/Citizen Relations

We here at Crystal City 2010 have a few suggestions to help improve City/Citizen communications:

1. Update the City Website - The City website is OK, but navigation can be difficult. Minutes and Agendas aren't readily apparent and only cover City Council business- no P&Z, BOZA, Park Board etc. Proposed ordinances, zoning change requests, lot subdivisions, policies and resolutions aren't posted either.

Our Proposal: The website should be updated with a fresh, clean look, a search feature, and a clear navigation system that emphasizes high-demand items like agendas, minutes, ordinances, etc. Information should be updated in a timely fashion-- ie minutes, agendas, etc, ideally within one week of approval or submission.

2. Create a Citizen Information Listserv (email list) - One common complaint is that people often don't know what's going on with the City Council, Planning and Zoning, the Park Board, etc. Some have complained about newspaper advertisement sizes being too small or information posted at city hall being too vague.

Our Proposal: To keep citizens better informed, city government should collect email addresses from interested citizens and begin emailing them with updates at regular intervals. Information on upcoming ordinances or zoning requests, links to online agendas and minutes, and general meeting schedules could all be included in these City Info Emails. A city listserv would function as a mechanism to instantly distribute information, for FREE, to citizens in-between newsletter issues.

3. Adopt Stricter Zoning Change or Lot Subdivision Notification Requirements - In the past some citizens have complained that they were not aware of pending or completed zoning changes made to properties adjacent to them, despite the city having met its notification obligation through newspaper ads and postings at city hall.

Our Proposal: In order to improve citizen notification the city should require the owners of all properties seeking a zoning change or lot subdivision, at THEIR cost, to post a 4x8 sign on the property being considered for action. This sign should be white with black type, face the street, and contain the following information in block print:

Parcel or Lot Number
Current Zoning
Proposed Zoning or Action (subdivision, etc)
Date of Hearing
Building Department phone number

There should also be a dedicated area at the Public Works building where P&Z and BOZA agendas, minutes, and action items can be posted and viewed. Ideally this would be an exterior cork-board with a glass or plastic covering, allowing any citizen to look at the posted information at any time.

4. Professionalize Applications - Many of the submitted applications for rezoning, lot subdivision, and other actions are often illegible or difficult to read and understand.

Our Proposal: Require all applications to be typed when submitted or re-typed by office staff for easy public consumption. At the very least all applications should be filled out in legible block print. No cursive or handwriting styles. If it can't be read by the commissioners, councilmen or members of the public then what good is having an application at all? Typed applications would also be far easier to scan and upload to a redesigned website.

If the city works to improve communications with its citizens, the bonds of our community can only grow stronger.


Crystal City Farmers Market: Coming Spring 2010!

We're pleased to announce that planning has begun for a Farmers Market in Crystal City. Our neighbors in Desoto have enjoyed success with their market and many of our neighbors up north in St. Louis have thriving markets as well. The time has come for Crystal City residents to be able to purchase fresh, locally grown or made produce, flowers, baked goods, and meat from a Farmers Market that they don't have to drive 30 minutes to find. With some hard work and a little luck, the Crystal City Farmers Market will open next spring on Saturdays in the Grace Presbyterian Church Park! Check back often for more information as it becomes available.

In the meantime, check out these Farmers Markets sponsored by some of our neighbors-

In Jefferson County:
Desoto Farmers Market/

In the STL Area:
Tower Grove Farmers Market
Clayton Farmers Market
Ferguson Farmers Market


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Commercial District Design Standards : A Policy Proposal

As the completion of Crystal City's new Economic Development Plan grow near, we at Crystal City 2010 want to look at an important aspect of commercial development that the new EDP will not address- aesthetic appeal and design standards. While some might eschew design and aesthetic standards as over-regulation or overly subjective, we believe that such standards are necessary for positive, controlled growth and to enhance the quality of life and property values of Crystal City's residents. It would be a shame if our new EDP brought in several new retail establishments but they were all allowed to construct buildings like the red metal shed on Bailey Ave, or were painted in a color that clashed with the surrounding developments and were visually unappealing.

Our Proposal: In order to protect and enhance property values and aesthetic appeal, Crystal City should contact the Heartland Brick Council to request the free planning services that they provide to adopt building material and design standards that will require new commercial buildings, at a minimum, to construct their building fronts out of glass and brick or stone and restrict their color selections to prohibit the use of garish or visually unpleasant colors.

From the Heartland Brick Council FAQ:

What is the Heartland Brick Council?

Heartland Brick Council is a not-for-profit association of Midwest clay brick manufacturers. Like most industry associations we market and support our products in various ways and serve as a gateway to the industry as a whole. Heartland Brick Council has a particular interest in communities, which is the foundation for our program of free community planning assistance.

How can you offer your services for free? What's the catch?

Heartland Brick Council believes that strong development standards generally result in thoughtfully designed, high-quality development for a community. This kind of development in turn attracts more of the same. The end result is that both the community and the clay brick industry (which makes a high quality building product) benefit. By working to build healthy, beautiful communities, the brick industry wins too! There is no catch. You will never receive an invoice for Heartland Brick Council’s community planning services.

If my community asks for your assistance, are you going to help us or just try to sell us brick?

While we believe that design guidelines and standards are generally ineffective unless they address building materials, we tailor our advice to fit the unique issues and economic and political realities of your community. However, once citizens begin to analyze what they really want from development in their community, brick usually becomes part of the conversation. We believe in our product and will definitely promote the community-wide benefits of local policies that call for its use.

Who provides your services?

Heartland Brick Council employs a small staff of experienced community planners who are members of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Collectively, the staff has nearly 30 years of local government planning experience. While many community planners are generalists working in a variety of disciplines, our planners focus entirely on one aspect of community planning – policy solutions that generate better design and construction. Click here for bios of our planners.

The planners at HBC use a variety of tools to help communities achieve their goals:

Incentive-supported standards or guidelines: Policies don’t have to be mandatory to have a positive impact on a community. Heartland Brick Council has helped communities reward well-designed development with tax abatements, grant funds, density bonuses and other incentives.

Alternative compliance: A type of incentive, this tool offers builders and developers the opportunity to substitute community-preferred design for other zoning requirements, or even to expedite the development approval process.

Overlay zone: This is a common means of applying written design standards or guidelines to the geography of a community. The new standards of the overlay zone are layered on top of the preexisting base zoning requirements, adding to them rather than altering or substituting for them. Overlay zones are particularly useful when the new design policy needs to be applied uniformly to an area that may consist of several different base zones.

Planned unit developments: PUD’s are neighborhoods that are mostly designed long before the ground is broken. Because a master plan that contemplates the look and use of virtually every building in the development must be approved by the local government before construction starts, PUD’s naturally lend themselves to the implementation of design guidelines or standards.

Design review: Some communities opt to support their design guidelines with a review of the design of each proposed development project. This term typically implies that the review is done by a specialized board made up of volunteers who are qualified to make judgments about architecture, urban design, and historic preservation.

The HBC has video interviews with officials in communities that they have worked with in the past-- and that have seen great success with their implementations

HBC Success Stories

Crystal City needs a solution designed by Crystal Citians to solve the problems of aesthetic development standards- and with the help of the Heartland Brick Council planners we can find it! We do not need to become a clone of Ladue, Town and Country, Clayton, etc. We should not turn away new businesses- far from it! A happy medium between excessive standards and no standards does exist!

Retail establishments-- with the money, jobs, and shopping opportunities that they bring to a community are very important to Crystal City's future. Crystal City is under-served by its current retail base in many ways and improving that base is critical to improving Crystal City over the next 10 years. To be effective, that improvement must be made hand-in-hand with improved expectations and clear design standards that developers and property owners will have to follow. It is not acceptable in the 21st century for a community to allow a massive red sheet metal barn to go up in the middle of brick residences and brick commercial buildings. It is time to raise our expectations and by doing so raise the level of beauty of our community.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tree City USA: A Policy Proposal

As Mayor Schilly announced at the Jefferson & Virginia STP Road Project public hearing on August 17th, the Crystal City City Council will need to repeal an ordinance banning tree lawns between sidewalks and streets. The STP project calls for the addition of several blocks of tree lawns to enhance the aesthetic quality of our community and its roadways.

Our Proposal: The city should not just repeal the tree lawn ban ordinance, but instead join our neighbor Herculaneum as active caretakers of our community forest by becoming a Tree City USA.

What is the Tree City USA program?
(courtesy of the Arbor Day Foundation's "What is Tree City USA?")
The Tree City USA program, sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, provides direction, technical assistance, public attention, and national recognition for urban and community forestry programs in thousands of towns and cities that more than 120 million Americans call home.

* There are 3,310 communities that are currently a Tree City USA.
* There are 534 communities that received a Growth Award.
* Over 120 million people live in a Tree City USA.
In Jefferson County, the only city with Tree City status is Herculaneum, with 2 years of membership.

Why should Crystal City become a Tree City USA?
(courtesy of The Arbor Day Foundation's 15 Reasons to be a Tree City)

Being a Tree City...

1. Encourages better care of community forests.

2. Touches the lives of people within the community who benefit daily from cleaner air, shadier streets, and aesthetic beauty that healthy, well-managed urban forests provide.

3. Recognizes and rewards communities for annual advancements in urban forestry practices.

4. Increases public awareness of the many social, economical and environmental benefits urban forestry practices.

5. Provides education to improve current urban forestry practices.

6. Builds cooperation between public and private sectors to effectively manage urban forests.

7. Encourages, supports, and strengthens effective urban forestry programs in diverse communities nationwide.

8. Can make a strong contribution to a community’s pride.

9. Serves as a blueprint for planting and maintaining a community’s trees.

10. Puts people in touch with other communities and resources that can help them improve their program.

11. Brings solid benefits to a community such as helping to gain financial support for tree projects and
contributing to safer and healthier urban forests.

12. Helps present the kind of image that most citizens want to have for the place they live or conduct business.

13. Tells visitors, through signage, that here is a community that cares about its environment.

14. Sometimes gives preference over other communities when allocations of grant money are made for trees or forestry programs.

15. Provides a way to reach large numbers of people with information about tree care.

How does Crystal City become a Tree City?
(courtesy of the Arbor Day Foundation's Tree City USA Standards)
To qualify for Tree City USA, a town or city must meet four standards established by The Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters.

These standards were established to ensure that every qualifying community would have a viable tree management plan and program.

It is important to note that they were also designed so that no community would be excluded because of size.

1. A Tree Board or Department

2. A Tree Care Ordinance

3. A Community Forestry Program With an Annual Budget of at Least $2 Per Capita

4. An Arbor Day Observance and Proclamation

In addition to the benefits listed above, by adopting a tree care ordinance Crystal City can ensure that specific trees are planted in tree lawns-- trees that will not buckle sidewalks as many of our current trees do.  A well written tree care ordinance will also ban dangerous and destructive trimming practices such as "topping" trees and other improper cutting methods.  It is also possible to establish rules for tree removal and most importantly require the replacement of trees that are removed due to construction, roadwork, or general property improvement.  Stewardship of our community forest requires a combination of regulation, replacement, and regular cutting and maintenance, all of which would be established under a dedicated line item in the city budget at a rate of $2/per capita (or approx 9k) each year. 

Our community forest is a precious resource, one which greatly enhances our property values, our quality of life, and our attractiveness to visitors and residents alike.  Many people come to Crystal City from the surrounding area to make use of our streets and sidewalks because they are well kept and beautifully lined with many trees.  Younger and more affluent people look for a city's commitment to its community forest as a factor in determining where they live and shop.  Retail establishments also look at programs like Tree City USA as a trigger for a community's readiness for their goods and services.  Best of all, a city committed to its community forest looks beautiful and promotes a healthier, more environmentally conscious way of life. 

Together, a Complete Streets policy and a Tree City USA program can begin to transform Crystal City into a modern community that will fight to keep its young professionals, attract new investments and new ideas, and embrace a spirit of positive change to improve our quality of life. 

Lets work together in an open, community based planning process to make Crystal City a Tree City USA!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Complete Streets: A Policy Proposal

In the past few years Crystal City has been aggressive in pursuing infrastructure upgrades, such as new water taps, fire hydrants, curbing, and street overlays.  The city has had particular success securing STP grants through East-West Gateway, with three major projects planned over the next three years.  These projects all include major road resurfacing, placement of new sidewalks or replacement of deteriorated sidewalks, the creation of tree lawns where right-of-way is sufficient, and better stormwater management capabilities.  It should also be noted that the city had the foresight to team-up with Festus to create a joint Bike/Pedestrian Trail Master Plan to begin a process of upgrading the overall experience of our pedestrians and cyclists and to provide potential new avenues of non-motorized transportation for citizens to go to work.  These projects are critical to improving the quality of life for Crystal City residents and ultimately attracting a younger, adaptable and more affluent population.  Other communities in Jefferson County, such as DeSoto, have already adopted a Complete Streets policy and are enjoying positive press and a strong sense of community goodwill as a result of their hard work.

Our Proposal:  Crystal City should adopt a Complete Streets policy that will benefit all of our citizens-- young and old, today and tomorrow-- and work on this policy should begin now to prepare for the next wave of major road projects.  Additionally, Crystal City should explore a partnership with Herculaneum and Festus to broaden input, resources and implementation of a policy to better benefit our entire Tri-City region.

Information about the Complete Streets Program:
What are Complete Streets?
(courtesy of the National Complete Streets Coalition FAQ)

Complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street.  Creating complete streets means transportation agencies must change their orientation toward building primarily for cars. Instituting a complete streets policy ensures that transportation agencies routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users. Places with complete streets policies are making sure that their streets and roads work for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists, as well as for older people, children, and people with disabilities.

What Do Complete Streets Look Like?

Since each complete street is unique, it is impossible to give a single description. But ingredients that may be found on a complete street include sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible transit stops, frequent crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, and more. A complete street in a rural area will look quite different from a complete street in a highly urban area. But both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.  Look at our ‘Many Types of Complete Streets’ slideshow to see examples from across the country.

Why Do We Need Complete Streets?

Complete Streets foster strong communities. Complete streets play an important role in livable communities, where all people regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation feel safe and welcome on the roadways. A safe walking and bicycling environment is an essential part of improving public transportation and creating friendly, walkable communities.

Complete streets improve safety. A Federal Highways Administration safety review found that streets designed with sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, traffic-calming measures, and treatments for disabled travelers improve pedestrian safety.  Some features, such as medians, improve safety for all users: they enable pedestrians to cross busy roads in two stages, reduce left-turning motorist crashes to zero, and improve bicycle safety. Complete streets encourage walking and bicycling for health. The National Institutes of Medicine recommends fighting childhood obesity by establishing ordinances to encourage construction of sidewalks, bikeways, and other places for physical activity. One study found that 43% of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels; among individuals without safe place to walk, just 27% were active enough.

Complete streets address climate change and oil dependence. The potential to reduce carbon emissions by shifting trips to lower-carbon modes is undeniable. The 2001 National Household Transportation Survey found 50% of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28% of all metropolitan trips are one mile or less distances easy to walk, bike, or hop a bus or train. Yet 65% of the shortest trips are now made by automobile, in part because of incomplete streets that make it dangerous or unpleasant for other modes of travel. Complete streets would help convert many of these short automobile trips to multi-modal travel. Simply increasing bicycling from 1% to 1.5% of all trips in the U.S. would save 462 million gallons of gasoline each year.  Using transit has already helped the United States save 1.4 billion gallons of fuel each year, which is a savings of 3.9 million gallons of gasoline every day.

What Are Some Benefits of Complete Streets?

Complete streets can offer many benefits in all communities, regardless of size or location.

Complete streets make economic sense. A balanced transportation system that includes complete streets can bolster economic growth and stability by providing accessible and efficient connections between residences, schools, parks, public transportation, offices, and retail destinations.

Complete streets improve safety by reducing crashes through safety improvements. One study found that designing for pedestrian travel by installing raised medians and redesigning intersections and sidewalks reduced pedestrian risk by 28%.

Complete streets encourage more walking and bicycling. Public health experts are encouraging walking and bicycling as a response to the obesity epidemic, and complete streets can help. One study found that 43 percent of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels, while just 27% of those without safe places to walk were active enough.

Complete streets can help ease transportation woes. Streets that provide travel choices can give people the option to avoid traffic jams, and increase the overall capacity of the transportation network. Several smaller cities have adopted complete streets policies as one strategy to increase the overall capacity of their transportation network and reduce congestion.

Complete streets help children. Streets that provide room for bicycling and walking help children get physical activity and gain independence. More children walk to school where there are sidewalks, and children who have and use safe walking and bicycling routes have a more positive view of their neighborhood. Safe Routes to School programs, gaining in popularity across the country, will benefit from complete streets policies that help turn all routes into safe routes.

Complete streets are good for air quality. Poor air quality in our urban areas is linked to increases in asthma and other illnesses. Yet if each resident of an American community of 100,000 replaced one car trip with one bike trip just once a month, it would cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 3,764 tons of per year in the community. Complete streets allow this to happen more easily.

Complete streets make fiscal sense. Integrating sidewalks, bike lanes, transit amenities, and safe crossings into the initial design of a project spares the expense of retrofits later. Jeff Morales, former Director of Caltrans, said, by fully considering the needs of all non-motorized travelers (pedestrians, bicyclists, and persons with disabilities) early in the life of a project, the costs associated with including facilities for these travelers are minimized.
Crystal City has already taken the first steps through the adoption of the Pedestrian/Bike Trail Master Plan and by passing a resolution expressing interest in Complete Streets through a potential grant with Get Fit Festus.  Now let's finish the job!  By engaging in an open community-driven planning process, Crystal City can adopt a plan establishing firm guidelines for street and sidewalk projects going forward.  This plan would be formulated through citizen input, professional planning assistance, and overall best practices in modern road and sidewalk construction.  Perhaps Crystal City could team with Festus and Herculaneum to sponsor a workshop from the National Complete Streets Coalition.  A combined effort and planning process could greatly benefit our entire area through the adoption of similar or the same standards and requirements for providing access and service to bike and pedestrian traffic.  A unified network of biking and walking trails would be an amenity that younger people and younger families look for when moving to an area.  Additionally, and quite importantly, certain retailers that currently do not consider our community a fit for their establishments look for the presence of biking and walking trails and policies like a Complete Streets policy as indicators of a community's readiness for their goods and services.

If we come together as a community- Crystal City or the Tri-City region- we can create a lasting Complete Streets program that will better our transportation network and the overall quality of life in our communities in every respect.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Welcome to Crystal City 2010

Welcome to a new forum for ideas and thoughts on where Crystal City can be by the end of 2010.  It is our intent to lay out a bold agenda that will revolutionize Crystal City in a profoundly positive and inclusive way.  The days of basic-- streets and sidewalks, playgrounds and pools, trees and shrubs-- have begun to fade away.  We must meet tomorrow head-on through innovative approaches to community services-  adopt a Complete Streets program,  adopt rules and plans for our Community Forest and become a Tree City USA, go beyond swingsets and pools for our parks and engage our neighboring cities in a planning process for a true Quad City Community Center and waterpark. Most importantly we need to engage our friends and families in open, community driven planning for these changes.   City officials can only drive so much of this process- the real change must come from citizens who want the best for those who will come after us.  Citizens with the courage to take a stand and call for improvements to our town at its basic levels- improvements to our property values, improvements for our community's future, improvements to the everyday aspects of Crystal City.  It is not a rejection of the old ways that we seek but an embrace of our past greatness through modern ideas and standards.  The work will not be easy and change will not come quickly.  Together, we must all shoulder our share of the load.

The ideas we've touched on here are the beginnings of a vision for a 21st century Crystal City- a community that celebrates its grand past and rushes to meet its great future.  Check back often for detailed policy proposals and ideas to update our town! and PLEASE offer feedback and ideas of your own in the comments section!