When driving through parts of St. Louis City, one cannot help but notice the plight of urban decay. Like many other major cities across the country, St. Louis has suffered from a declining population, fleeing middle-class and other signs of urban abandonment. Additionally, in the midst of the urban decay lies the disappearing architectural history of many deteriorating buildings in the city.
Paul Hohmann, architect and creator of Vanishing STL, joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to discuss the issues of redevelopment in the city. Hohmann created Vanishing STL to “illustrate the continuing loss of irreplaceable architecture from landmark buildings to ordinary homes due to demolition, abandonment and neglect.”
Some of the properties Hohmann has documented include the proposed site for the new football stadium, the city’s West End neighborhood, The Cupples Station, Paul McKee’s properties, and downtown’s Washington Avenue district.
Hohmann explained that while he is not against redevelopment, he has been critical of St. Louis’ approach to urbanization. He praises the city’s preservation review board that works to preserve buildings worth saving. However, much of his concern lies with the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), which is responsible for selling vacant properties to redevelopers.
“I’d love to see LRA get more into proactive reuse (of properties),” Hohmann expressed. “They basically do nothing right now to market their buildings. In St. Louis, you can buy a building from LRA, but there isn’t a great way for people to just get online, look at various neighborhoods and do that.”
Hohmann also mentioned that according to his findings, there are no concrete stipulations redevelopers have to follow in order to revitalize their properties in a timely manner.
Preserving what already exists can be difficult when it comes to urban renewal, something that Hohmann acknowledges.
“I don’t think all demolition is bad,” Hohmann said. “I’m not just a preservationist, I’m also an urbanist and I understand that to build new buildings and new structures, sometimes you have to remove what was there. What’s unfortunate is that in St. Louis, it seems that a lot of times what will happen is a great building comes down and gets replaced with either a parking lot, a vacant lot or [commercial property].”
St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.