Saturday, November 10, 2007

CASE IN POINT by Joe Koester

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context — a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”

Eliel Saarinen

One exciting plan that the City had been planning is a city-wide trail system. While on council, I had an opportunity to see the preliminary plans and give some input on the project. It was my hope that the greatest majority of the trails would be off-street whenever possible. This can be a challenge in an older town that has established neighborhoods and little open space; however, there are several key projects that should be considered immediately so that at least these projects can be tied into the trails plan effortlessly. One location includes the golf course development off of Friedens (Had the St. Andrews location been annexed into the St. Charles City, then I would include this location – perhaps the County could still consider hooking that location into the City plan). While many in St. Charles may not think of our town as a walking city, we have the best chance in the county to become just that. It is this kind of advantage that can help make St. Charles a viable option for young families who now overlook us mainly due to cheaper and newer housing stock farther west. If a house in St. Charles were to come with greater amenities such as intricate trails that allow for biking around town, this could help draw residents here who see St. Charles as a true community rather than a boring bedroom community filled with cul-de-sacs and strip malls.

One of the factors placing Columbia, Missouri regularly among the most desirable communities in the nation is its “walkability.”

St. Charles has many other factors already that help to make it a desirable town and a few that detract from this. Readers know most of what both of these lists include – some pros: varied housing stock; hospital; proximity to highways, airport, and services; parks and recreation; identifiable downtown area; arts; festivals; entertainment. Some cons: shuttered businesses; lack of services such as retail; grade schools and middle schools that are far from many residents resulting in longer bussing times; many areas of town with old infrastructure; *good-old-boy politics. *This last one is particularly entertaining to hear people talk about because this claim goes back as long as I can remember. Many moving here in the 1970s and 1980s made the same claims and you see that addition of St. Louisians has not changed this gripe and in many regards many people believe it is worse than ever.

I remember as a young adult being amazed at what little our City asked of developers – I’m talking about when St. Charles really was the place to move to! Many developments weren’t required to put in sidewalks or any amenities for that matter. Some developments allowed shoddy construction resulting in buildings inferior buildings that look pretty bad for their age. Of course, this is a direct result of the “best democracy money can buy” and should be expected when politicians have to finance expensive elections and depend upon businesses – including developers – for contributions to run those campaigns.

Regardless, an opportunity was passed up and now St. Charles needs to take steps to make our town more and more desirable. One way this can be done is to embrace a “greening” of our community, including a trail system that could be used by bikers to get from here to there.

Other things that could be included into a green plan would be continued encouragement of the recycling program; a rebate program for installing compact florescent lighting and a recycle program for those same bulbs; a tree planting initiative for both businesses and residential properties; study of where wind/solar power could be implemented in town to cut utility costs for our schools and public spaces.

One place that comes to mind where the City could permit tree plantings would be the farthest portion of Target’s parking lot. No one has ever parked in this lot (at least not someone who then went to Target to shop). The City mandates parking space requirements and could reduce the number required here and ask Target to plant a mixed stand of trees that would reduce water runoff, trap tons of carbon, and provide wildlife habitat. As for residential tree plantings – the City could contract to put in a set number of trees in front yards throughout town each year free of charge to residents to help green up the streetscape. Take a drive through parts of Bob Kneemiller’s neighborhood and you’ll be amazed after fifteen or more years the number of homes that still have no trees in their yards!

Our town does need the vision to make certain that we do not become the “stagnant, old part of the county.” One very good way to stave off this perception is to become the most progressive town in the county.