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Missouri—St. Louis—Community Planning

City planning as a solution was based on the idea that changing people's environment would improve their behavior. Citizens would take better care of their cities and be less inclined to the baser activities if only they improved the urban environment. The national movement thus became known as the "City Beautiful" movement. Locally, the Civic Improvement League, created in 1902, expanded the idea seven years later to include capital improvements in the city. George Kessler and his ilk saw urban planning broadly as a way to ameliorate urban problems. He sought to impose order on the city through a comprehensive plan joining the city with a system of streets and boulevards, and make it healthier with better water and sanitation. During Mayor Rolla Wells' administration (1901-9), a new era was in the making.

The approaching Louisiana Purchase Exposition gave city fathers added incentive to improve the environment. Progressive local journalist William Marion Reedy first linked urban reform and the Fair in his 1899 article in Reedy's Mirror, "What's the Matter with St. Louis." Fair chairman David Francis knew that the upcoming extravaganza needed good planning to put the city's best foot forward. He hired landscape architect George Kessler in 1902 to design the fair grounds at Forest Park. Kessler, one of the nation's leading landscape architects and planners, had already created the boulevard system in Kansas City. Soon after arriving in St. Louis, he began work on city planning as well.

After the Fair, Kessler refurbished Forest Park. He oversaw planting thousands of trees and adding a drainage system. He added vistas and open spaces, because open green areas were central to ameliorating the effects of overcrowded cities. He recommended a new park governance, too, with a nonpolitical board including experts in planning and parks.

Meantime, Kessler was also busy developing parts of the city's first comprehensive plan, starting with the Kingshighway Commission. His plan transformed Kingshighway into a green ring around the city. The piecemeal boulevard design (along Forest Park, for example) and width of Kingshighway are legacies of this initial planning effort.

After the Fair and Kingshighway plan, the Civic League commissioned the city's first comprehensive city plan. It named committees in 1905 that read like the Who's Who of St. Louis. When proposed two years later, the plan considered a range of improvements. The parkway between City Hall, the Civil Courts building, and the Public Library is a surviving core of the cluster of public buildings. Further infrastructure improvements-street paving, removing poles and overhead wires, improving the riverfront, planting trees, installing drinking fountains, and building monuments-would benefit all citizens.

An expanded system of parks gave more localized green space. The Commission found that there was one acre of park for every 96 people living west of Grand, but an acre for every 1,871 between Grand and the river. Besides existing Forest Park and its Victorian counterparts Tower Grove and Lafayette Parks, the city would add and develop parks as places for both vigorous activity and gentler communing with nature.

All this led to a new permanent City Plan Commission in 1911. When Kessler left St. Louis four years later, the Commission had proposed parks, parkways, transportation routes, a Central Traffic Parkway down the center of the city, riverfront improvements, and expanded city services. To progressive reformers, the Commission would develop the answers to St. Louis's urban woes.

But it didn't. The city implemented the plan here and there, with much political haggling. Novelist Winston Churchill lamented that "if the city had spent all that money that it spent on the fair on city planning commission recommendations . . . the results would have shown substantial benefits more enduring." There had been lasting benefits, to be sure, but nothing near the grandiose dreams of the early century.

When Kessler left, disenchanted by the political process of implementing city planning, the City Plan Commission hired Harland Bartholomew, a young up-and-coming city engineer from Newark, New Jersey.

Community Planning