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!