Anthropologists and planners are continuously studying why certain places hold special meaning to people. Conclusions suggest it comes down to the locations having a strong identity, a “sense of place” and character that is felt by residents and visitors. In the St. Louis area locations like The Hill, The Loop and Forest Park hold this type of identity. However, when it comes to this special “sense of place,” the area’s MetroLink stations don’t come to mind. For commuters in our region, transit stations are merely brief stops on the way to another destination. Yet, the possibility exists for these stations to become vibrant, community centers. Development around transit has become a reality in many other cities across America, and it’s time for St. Louis to realize the opportunity that exists in our own backyard.
The time is now for our city to look for ways to transform transit stations into active, engaging corridors that connect individuals and neighborhoods by offering access to products, services and green spaces. This type of “placemaking” needs to be a priority along the current alignment, and must serve as a key part of the conversation as we examine expansion plans. Our MetroLink stations have the potential to become true ‘destinations’ where individuals can meet friends for coffee, grab groceries or take time out to relax and unwind – rather than simply being spots to get on and off of the train.
To help put the placemaking process in motion, Citizens for Modern Transit and AARP in St. Louis are teaming up to host a series of walk audits at key MetroLink Stations. Led by the locally based architecture and design firm, Arcturis, the walk audits will work to identify ways each station can capitalize on its assets to promote health, opportunity and well-being for transit users, as well as everyone else who lives, works and plays near that station. Earlier this week, the first audit took place at the North Hanley MetroLink Station. The Forest Park and Delmar MetroLink Stations will be examined in the coming months. As we engage in this process, the public is encouraged to get involved and make their voices heard.
Now is the time to start thinking about what’s happening outside the MetroLink windows, and start looking beyond the trip from point A to Point B. We need to refocus our vision for these areas and begin establishing a “sense of place” that can help transform neighborhoods and connect our communities.
Kimberly Cella is the Executive Director of Citizens for Modern Transit and the Missouri Public Transit Association. Sheila Holm is the Community Outreach Director for AARP in St. Louis. AARP