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Hill and Ville

NOTE: The following post was created in Fall 2011 during Community Building. Some of the text refers to specific things that occurred in class at that time, however the overall point remains apropos.


Reflecting on the music and discussion we had in yesterday’s class. The drawings the students’ worked on were representations of The Ville and The Hill. It almost seems too cute in the way they rhyme but there’s certainly a logic involved in making the comparison.

One of the things about the two tours that strikes me is that I felt our visit to The Hill tended to preference the built fabric and the vernacular sense of continuity that makes for a very compelling and cohesive neighborhood. The insistent repetition of the overall house forms had an almost numbing effect in some areas despite the individuality of each home not just architecturally, but also in the way each family ornamented and presented their homes to the public.

My suspicion is that it would have been possible to visit The Ville and take a tour with a similar sense of architectural continuity. Our tour tended to favor the larger institutional buildings and organizations over the urban fabric of the residential community. When we did look at homes, they tended to be unique for historical reasons and due to the residents who grew up there rather than for their architectural or urban content.

There’s nothing wrong with this difference between the tours, but it does lead to a varied perception. Clearly much of the difference that was noted related to the general comfort and ease with which we generally felt in visiting The Hill. Part of that has to do with the “branding” of the neighborhood as a source for Italian culture and food that is widely known and appreciated in Saint Louis. Also, the neighborhood itself has made a particular point of reminding visitors (and residents) that they are in the “Italian” section of the city.

Bob’s explanations have made it clear that while Italians were among the original residents of the area, it wasn’t a monolithic culture that dominated the area in the way that I think is suggested by the constant reminders (flags, banners, fire hydrants, etc.). In fact, the branding has so successful as a strategy for attracting restaurants and bakeries, that there seems to be a much higher concentration of such businesses in the area than could be supported by the local economy. The great number and variety (and expense) of many of the restaurants clearly seem to be in business because they attract customers from a relatively wide area.

It seems that this dominance of branding neighborhoods has been so successful in certain respects that it tends to suppress many other features of the community that are beneficial, but not publicly understood to be connected with The Hill. It would be interesting to take photographs of less typical sections of The Hill that might be suggestive of other cultures, practices and locations and to present them to a group and ask them to identify the neighborhood in which they were taken.

I suspect that it would be possible to find buildings and sites and locations just within The Hill that could be suggestive of the industrial riverfront areas, Soulard, Wellston, The Ville, Clayton and West County. In a similar way, I suspect one could take photographs of various locations around the city to could be considered to fit into the image that is commonly accepted for The Hill and have people identify them as having been taken there, when in fact they represent restaurants, homes, churches, parks and businesses in other parts of the city.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that the representations of The Hill that we have ingrained in our minds is false? I don’t think that’s the case, however it does suggest that we’re somewhat brainwashed in the way we understand segments of the city. I wonder to what extent our preconceptions determine our reactions?

Another thought experiment might be to take students on a drive blindfolded and then arrive somewhere without knowing where they are going in advance. Then they would be forced to really “read” the city they find themselves in for clues and information about its condition, history, demographics, prosperity, density, etc.

Our conversation about the drawings was instructive, but also revealed some things about our own ideas and how we project them onto situations. Someone commented that, “Well of course we feel more comfortable going to The Hill, since we all have a European background.” I felt this statement was, at a minimum, insensitive.

My sense is that part of the intentions behind the class has to do with overcoming stereotypes and preconceptions that we have about people and places that cause us to distort reality and block us from really seeing things as they are.


After writing this post, I decided to go ahead with my thought experiment and take still frames from the video I shot during our visits to the Hill and the Ville. Can you identify which are which?

#1

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#16

Please test yourself and put down whether you think each photograph was taken in The Hill or The Ville.

Bartholomew’s City Plan (1947)

City Planner Harland Bartholomew developed a detailed, comprehensive plan for St. Louis which documents the existing conditions at the time and projected future development based upon increasing population density and totals. In actuality, the city’s population peaked shortly thereafter and then following a steady decline as St. Louis County became increasingly suburbanized.

This chart presents four primary demographics. The top line represents the population of the United States (dashed lines at right indicate projected figures). The second pair of lines represent the populations of the states of Illinois and Missouri. The third line represents the City of St. Louis. The shorter line at the bottom represents St. Louis County.

Population growth (historical and projected)

This analysis of the population of the region formed the basis for the comprehensive plan. The caption for this illustration (Plate Number Two) reads, “St. Louis cannot expect sizeable population increases in the future.”

This pair of maps compares the population density within the boundaries of the City of St. Louis as of 1940 (top) and the projected/desired density as of 1970 (bottom):

Population density (historical and projected)

As illustrated, Bartholomew suggests that the density of the city’s core would increase and that the westward expansion would not only stop, but actually be reversed. The same desire for increasing the density in the center of the city has been suggested as desirable and ideal by many urban planners since, but the reality has been exactly the opposite.

The multicolored plan below represents Bartholomew’s ideal Land Use Plan. The reality is much more complex and heterogeneous. Achieving such clarity in function and use was a dream for planners of the modern American city was an ideal never to be attained in practice.

Desirable Ultimate Land Use Plan

The mismatch between the actual and zoned uses are indicated in this diagram of the Lafayette Neighborhood District. These drawings compare the existing land uses with the existing zoning. Clearly the actual facts on the ground were much more heterogeneous, mixed and complex than the simplistic organization suggested by the area’s zoning.

Lafayette Neighborhood District (present land use and present zoning)

The serious nature of reconfiguring the city to correspond to the desired land uses is suggested by the sample rezoning of a neighborhood in this series of plans for the Macklind Neighborhood District. From left to right the drawings depict: Present Land Use, Present Zoning and Proposed Zoning. Clearly to achieve the purity of the desired zoning would require major alterations to the city fabric.

Macklind Neighborhood District (present and proposed uses)

Achieving the clarity of vision suggested by the “Desirable Ultimate Land Use Plan” (above) would require massive rebuilding of the city as suggested by the following plan which highlights in red areas of Substandard Housing (“a measure of obsolescence and blight”).

Substandard Housing

The plan indicates two areas of city which would require massive reconstruction. The red hatched areas indicate “blighted areas” and the black hatched areas indicate “obsolete districts”.
Obsolete and Blighted Districts

A key method for determining whether districts were obsolete and/or blighted involved determining how many residences in the area relied on outside toilets. This map documents the absolute numbers (red figures) and the density of such conditions in the city. In general, the closer to the riverfront and the older the age of the structure, the more likely that they did not include indoor plumbing.

Percentage of Dwelling Units with Outside Toilets

The necessity for rebuilding the city along different lines altogether is made bluntly clear by this suburbanized images of a redesigned Soulard. To Bartholomew’s way of thinking, this district was entirely obsolete and needed wholesale replacement.

Soulard Neighborhood District

The following map delineates neighborhoods (outlined in red) and industrial districts (highlighted in yellow). In general, the greatest density of industrial districts were located along the Mississippi River or along the Mill Creek Valley area. Both of these areas were served by extensive rail networks. These areas remain largely industrial in nature with greatly reduced railroad activity, however many of these tracks remain in place.

Neighborhood and Industrial Districts

The plan features two maps indicating the massive investments in upgrading infrastructure the city was undertaking. The first indicates the many improvements that were a part of the 1923 Bond Issue. The largest projects included major upgrades to the system supplying potable drinking water for the city ($11,000,000) and construction of the River Des Peres drainage system beginning in Forest Park, extending through the south city before draining into the Mississippi River.

Other significant improvements included the following new structures in the downtown area: Civil Courts Building, Municipal Opera House, Municipal Power Plant and the Soldiers Memorial. Other amenities included a series of public hospitals, fire houses, parks, playgrounds, sewer upgrades and a major street lighting program. Public spaces to be improved included Union Station Plaza and Memorial Plaza. The total cost of the 1923 Bond Issue exceeded $67,000,000).

1923 Bond Issue

Further investments in the city were made as part of the “Post War Bond Issue” of 1944 which totaled more than $63,000,000 and included improvements to streets, water systems, sewer systems, parks, fire stations, telephone networks, hospitals, airport, art museum and zoo.

Post War Bond Issue of 1944

Of course, the actual development of the City of St. Louis in the second half of the 20th century followed an altogether different design which was occurred through the combined action of major highway construction, massive new suburb development in the surrounding communities and the demographic shifts associated with “white flight”.

If Bartholomew had considered the evidence of population shift away from the city center toward the perifery, he might have been able to more accurately visualize and create a realistic city plan that could possibly have been implemented in a more coordinated way. Clearly, such a plan would have to deal with (at a minimum, St. Louis City and St. Louis County). My suspicion is that he was only authorized to prepare a plan for the city itself.

Population Change (1930–1940)

Views of St. Louis (1840–1960)

Plan and perspective view of St. Louis (c. 1840)

View looking north over Chouteau’s Lake (c. 1840)

Aerial perspective (c. 1876)

Perspective view (c. 1893)

Aerial perspective emphasizing industry

Aerial perspective emphasizing landscape

View of the city and surrounding countryside

1894

1895

1896

1904 looking south from Lucas

Early 20th century view

“The City of a Thousand Sights” (c. 1920)

Downtown aerial view (c. 1960)

Maps of St. Louis (1764–1960)

This drawing presents the raw landscape surrounding the Village of St. Lewis:

Map shows landscape with locales indicates for early communities.

 

This drawing depicts the boundaries of the City of St. Louis from it’s origins beside the Mississippi River in 1764 through it’s current boundary which was established in 1876 at the time of the City County Divorce:

1764-1876

 

This drawing depicts the French fort built around the perimeter of “St. Louis des Illinois” in 1780:

1780

 

This 1804 survey locates the houses on the blocks of the French city at the time:

Survey of French city of 1804

 

At this point, the expansion of the city has not yet reach Chouteau’s Pond:

Survey of city blocks (c. 1822)

 

This drawing depicts expanded boundary of the city as of 1822:

1822 (population 5,000)

 

This drawing depicts expanded boundary of the city as of 1841 (including Chouteau’s Pond):

1841

 

This drawing illustrates the city as it existed in 1844:

1844

 

This diagram outlines the city’s boundaries in 1855 and it’s final limits established in 1876:

1855 and 1876 city boundaries
City districts and boundaries (c. 1855)

 

This drawing outlines St. Louis City and County with the bounding rivers and general topopgraphic features:

St. Louis City and County (c. 1885)

 

This drawing depicts the rapidly growing city as of 1885 (note: Eads Bridge has been constructed, Chouteau’s Pond is no longer present and Mill Creek Valley is now centered on new rail lines):

1885

 

This drawing depicts the expanding city as of 1812 (note second bridge over the Mississippi built on the north side and the development of East St. Louis):

1912

 

This topographic map includes St. Louis City and County as they existed in 1920 (Mississippi River is at the bottom and the Missouri River appears at right):

1920

 

Aerial photograph of downtown (c. 1960)
Central City aerials depicts regions lost to demolition

Did U.S. Military Secretly Aerial Spray St. Louis with Radioactive Chemicals?

African Americans living in St. Louis housing projects may have been subjected to radiation-laced spraying by the U.S. military during the Cold War.

In an effort to study how biological and chemical agents might spread, the U.S. Army conducted “Operation Large Area Coverage.” The project consisted of spraying zinc cadmium sulfide, which was not considered harmful, across various parts of the country.

But in the housing projects of St. Louis, which the Army considered a “slum district,” the spraying included radioactive particles, according to sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor. The spraying took place from February 1953 to January 1954 and 1963-1965.

Martino-Taylor uncovered the information while working on her doctor of philosophy dissertation for the University of Missouri-Columbia, which studied how “ethical lapses” can allow members of a large organization to ignore the harm they are doing to innocent and unwitting people. In the course of her research, she obtained Army documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

The government admitted in 1994 that it used St. Louis as a testing ground because its architecture and climate were similar to cities in the Soviet Union. But it never revealed anything publicly about irradiated materials. Instead the Army claimed that the tests had been experiments to see if smoke clouds could be created to hide American cities from Soviet attacks. In reality, the military was testing offensive measures, not defensive. The tests, among other goals, were meant to discover “the penetration of the aerosol cloud into residences at various distances from the aerosol disperser, and to determine whether there is any residual background or lingering effect of the cloud within buildings.”

The experiments were meant to begin in Minneapolis, but met with resistance from residents. When the program moved on to St. Louis, they chose a low-income area because, according to historian Leonard Cole, “poor people were less likely to object to strange happenings in their neighborhood, and if they did, the police would be there to control them.”

In 2009, researchers in St. Louis discovered cardboard boxes filled with 85,000 individually labeled baby teeth that had been collected in the late 1950s and early 1960s to study the effects of radioactive fallout. Children born in St. Louis in 1964 had about 50 times the amount of strontium-90 in their baby teeth as those who were born in 1950.

Missouri’s U.S. senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, have asked the Army to produce more information on the testing in St. Louis.

-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff

(click here for link to original article on allgov.com)

 

To Learn More:

Sick: Government Sprayed Radioactive Chemicals on Poor People in Science Experiment, Study Claims (by Laura Gottesdiener, AlterNet)

Revealed: Army Scientists Secretly Sprayed St Louis with ‘radioactive’ Particles for YEARS to Test Chemical Warfare Technology (Earth First Newswire)

Missouri Senators Demand Details on Military Testing in 50s and 60s (by Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

The Manhattan-Rochester Coalition, Research on the Health Effects of Radioactive Materials, and Tests on Vulnerable Populations without Consent in St. Louis, 1945-1970. (by Lisa Martino Taylor, University of Missouri-Columbia) (pdf)