January 13, 2012, St. Louis: Arriving in new cities, especially in the dark, can be confusing and sometimes full of error. The life of a city is often not where you’d think it is. If your instinct has ever been to head towards tall buildings downtown in search of city comfort, urban bustle and a safe anonymity, chances are you’ve made a wrong turn. After five o’clock on a Friday night, San Francisco’s financial district empties out as colleagues head home to their neighborhood restaurants and bars, to their parks and their families. I recall arriving many years ago in the City By The Bay and gravitating towards the height of the skyline near Market and Montgomery only to wonder where the people were.
Why is it that our city centers often revolve around the work day and not the rest of our lives? How can cities make their downtowns more livable? Why do some downtown neighborhoods struggle to take off? DC’s Chinatown has made a run for it with new condo buildings springing up around the Verizon Center, but young and old alike feel a pull beyond the highrises, into neighborhoods like Friendship Heights and Cleveland Park. It takes time to see that the lights of San Francisco shine from neighborhoods like Hayes Valley or the Richmond or Laurel Heights once offices go dark by the Bay Bridge.
I haven’t yet seen downtown St. Louis or caught a glimpse of the Gateway Arch stretching along the Mississippi. I deliberately arrive in town tonight into a neighborhood of shorter buildings and a main street that’s been touted by the American Planning Association as one of the nation’s best. First impressions of the scene on Delmar Blvd., surrounded by a vinyl record shop, a bowling alley, an old-time movie theater, and music clubs crowded with university students who stay up late, suggest this point of entry was a good choice.
Tomorrow we will get a better feel for the geography of this city I once called home but never really knew. Tonight it seems we’re off to a good start here in The Loop directly east of downtown St. Louis on the northwest side of Forest Park.