1,000th Post: Sprawl and the Continuing Threat to Our Natural Environment

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For my 1000th post at Saint Louis Patina, I considered having a “greatest hits” or featuring my favorite St. Louis buildings and neighborhoods. Then I realized I had already done that back on my third anniversary, which was only a couple of months ago in May. I realized I needed to focus on something else, and my idea was hatched last Sunday when my parents and I went out to see the destruction firsthand in the new right-of-way for the expanded 141. Several of my mother’s teacher co-workers had commented on their dismay at the loss of so many trees at the intersection of 141 and Ladue Road so we decided to see for ourselves. As we came over the hill on eastbound Ladue towards the intersection, a collective gasp escaped all of our mouths.

Due to stimulus money becoming available, the State of Missouri is proceeding with the final leg of the expansion of 141, or Woods Mill Road as it’s called up this way. It’s a process that has taken at least the last twenty years, when the first section, through Valley Park was completed. 141 has been choked with traffic for at least the last thirty years, if not longer, so one could argue that expanding the highway is merely accepting the reality of the situation–there are far too many cars on far too narrow of a road.

Certainly no one would disagree that the intersection of 141 and Ladue didn’t need some sort of improvement; the flooding that occurred because of the nearby creek has claimed far too many lives over the years. I fully support a new bridge and intersection that doesn’t flood when it rains.

But I can’t help but express sadness at the destruction of so many trees, in what was once a rural, agricultural area of the county.

Perhaps the State’s rebuilding of 141 to Olive was inevitable; the traffic volumes at present seem to have demanded a solution. But I must admit that the whole 141 expansion has left me wanting. What was intended to be an alternative to 270 is a series of short sections of freeway punctured with stop lights, and arbitrarily low speed limits set not for safety but for revenue in the suburbs the road passes through (Yeah, I’m talking about you, Manchester). If so much had to be destroyed to build the road, at least the road should have been as well-built as possible.

What I cannot fathom is the decision by St. Louis County to continue 141 north of Olive to connect with the Maryland Heights Expressway. There has never been a road there, and there doesn’t need to be. The real reason is Maryland Heights’ desire to develop the Howard Bend area, one of the last agricultural flood plains in the county. As Westport Plaza empties out, the suburb has decided to build its replacement in the floodplain, instead of taking the time to renovate and refurbish the aging Westport, which is still an architecturally interesting example of a mixed-use early 1980’s development. What it comes down to is sprawl, and the Balkanization of St. Louis County that forces the tiny principalities–er, municipalities–of the region to fight over a finite number of tax dollars.

We cannot continue to spread out our population at a greater rate than the population growth of our region. The metropolitan region is at least 17 times large geographically today than it was in 1950, but it is only 2.5 times larger in actual population.

We cannot continue to waste our resources on expanding a region that cannot support the infrastructure required to get people from sixty miles outside of St. Louis to their jobs in downtown. We just can’t support that. Everyone complains about road conditions, and chalk it up to “government waste” as the reason, but the reality is that there is no money to fix roads with such a small, dispersed tax base. We must begin to design our region to be more manageable fiscally. The continued march of the suburbs into our nation’s food producing agricultural heartland is foolhardy, and will ultimately result in the decline of our country as America becomes reliant on foreign imports of food–something America has never had to do until now.

Yes, yes, I know, you don’t want to live around those people, but your wasteful way of life is killing America. Houses are not McDonald’s wrappers; we have to start taking better care of what we already have, and we cannot simply abandon neighborhoods when the houses get “too old.” We must return to the City, and reuse the land that is currently sitting dormant. Thousands of acres in the heart of the City sit ready for new houses and businesses, but yet we continue to destroy our natural environment on our edges instead. How much more wasteful will America get?

See the official websites for the two halves of the project here: for the 141 extension from Ladue to Olive, click here; for the “Page Olive Connector” project, click here.

 

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