Urban Planners Give Award for Something They Had Nothing to Do With
Yesterday, Delmar Boulevard in University City was named by the American Planning Association as one of 10 Great Streets in America. The Post-Dispatch has the write-up here. This award is richly deserved and also totally ironic, since urban planners had very little, if anything, to do with the success of the Delmar Loop. The Loop has been so successful because of the risks taken by entrepreneurs like Joe Edwards, and many others who don’t get the credit they deserve.
The vibrant area the Loop as it exists now developed thanks to the lack of an overriding government plan, not because of one. Urban planners didn’t sit down with investors 30 years ago and say, "Hey, here’s $30 million in tax credits, now go build a hotel here and a restaurant here, and make everything look like such and such, and so on and so forth."
University City, where I very proudly live, has played a role in the success of the Loop, often by just staying out of the way. The city deserves praise for that. Joe Edwards credits the city’s ordinance mandating first floor retail for all buildings in the Loop, so I guess that does constitute planning, in a minor way. Tight control of the liquor license laws by the city has also been good for the Loop, making sure it did not go the way of Gaslight Square.
No doubt that U. City also does a good job in responding to the needs of the Loop businesses when necessary. The U. City police do a particularly good job of patrolling the area, in my opinion. I think that the magnificent City Hall and the library play an important role in bookending the Loop, but that is not because of modern urban planning. (Old planning by E.G. Lewis, maybe.)
The partnership U. City government has with the Loop is not about planning the area out, in the manner of Boulevard-St. Louis or New Town in St. Charles. I think U. City’s own planning director recognizes this, as he takes no credit for the award in his newspaper quote:
Lehman Walker, University City’s director of planning, said the award recognized the Delmar Loop as "one of the outstanding pedestrian streets in the country."
I love the Delmar Loop. I met my wife there. I will be there tonight playing darts at Blueberry Hill, just as I have almost every Wednesday for the past 12 years. I make no claims of knowing anything about urban planning. If you want someone who does, go to Steve Patterson’s website. If you want someone who knows a lot about planning and doesn’t like it, go here. I just know what I like, and in the case of the Loop, what a lot of people like. Urban planning didn’t make the Loop; capitalism and entrepreneurship did. And beer. Lots and lots of beer.