Steve Patterson zipped into sight on his scooter. We met at Gelataria, a cafe in St. Louis' lofts district -- a part of the downtown undergoing a surge of residential housing as numerous old buildings are being rehabbed. It was one of the few parts of downtown where I saw people sitting, talking, and enjoying themselves outdoors.
Steve is a dedicated blogger. What he blogs about is the city -- its planning (or lack of it), development, and politics, all of which Steve considers interrelated.
Steve started his blog on October 31, 2004 (yes, he remembers the exact day). Writing helped give him something to focus on while his father was hospitalized. Before long, his blog became an addiction of sorts. He told me he now spends at least 20 hours a week putting up new posts -- one or more a day. This is in addition to his work as a real estate agent and design consulant on housing and accessibility issues.
Steve's blog has taken off & become a part of the St. Louis scene. He sometimes gets 10, 20, or more responses to a post. Even the Mayor's staff keeps up with Steve's writings -- despite his frequent critiques of city policies. As his blog has grown, Steve finds that he now has readier access to sources of information. He's also become a member of the Society of Professional Journalists -- a sign of respect some bloggers are receiving.
I asked Steve why he thought his blog has become so widely read. He attributed it to the fact that in St. Louis important issues are often not discussed or debated in public forums. The blog gives people an outlet where they can freely express their thoughts. Steve pointed out that there are other good, independent blogs in St. Louis covering a variety of issues. (As for Steve's blog, I'd add that it's also well-written and informative, and includes loads of good photos -- and Steve was regularly snapping away with his camera as we walked).
From spending a few hours with Steve, you quickly sense both his love and frustration with his adopted hometown (he moved to St. Louis at age 23 in 1990). He pointed out issue after issue where the city could do better.
One thing that drives him crazy is the relatively small amount of on-street parking. To Steve, this is a major detriment to having an active sidewalk culture as few people enjoy sitting next to traffic & buses whizzing right by. The parked cars provide a useful buffer.
A related issue to Steve is the lack of consideration given to pedestrians. As we were walking, he pointed to an instance of this: a city designated taxi stand located right in the middle of the pedestrian way in front of the convention center.
And then there's parking. Just about everywhere you look downtown there's either a parking garage or a surface parking lot. In fact, a significant historic structure -- the Century Building -- was recently torn down to provide yet another parking garage (Roberta Brandes Gratz reported on the controversy about this, at the time, planned demolition in an article we published in the Planning Commissioners Journal a couple of years back).
[photo on left is of the parking garage under construction on the site of the former Century building; on right is one of the many surface parking lots that fill downtown St. Louis]
But I don't want to make Steve sound too down on St. Louis, After all, after touring downtown he took me to Crown Candy! More on this wonderful spot in the next post.