Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Protect Historic Kirkwood! Or Not

For the past couple of months, I've been seeing red and white signs around Kirkwood:
Protect Historic Kirkwood
Preserve Our National Historic District
Don't Buy 407 E Argonne (now removed due to threatened legal action)
Taller Than Allowed Downtown?!?
Please Build It Lower!
and so forth
I find myself oddly on the other side of this issue.

Normally I'm the one railing against big box stores breaking up neighborhoods, the unfriendliness of suburban design toward walkers, and the ugliness of contemporary subdivisions.

But I am in favor of infill building.

I do not love urban sprawl, and I think it's sad the way that older, urban neighborhoods often empty out as people move to increasingly distant suburban areas. (Of course, the business and tax revenues tend to follow the people, over time.) Also, many older homes lack modern conveniences. Like adequate closet space and being free of lead paint. When managed well, new construction in established communities keeps the residential areas alive and desirable.

To that end, I support rigorous zoning laws, requiring a certain amount of green space on each lot, with the homes set back a certain distance from the street (and neighbors). I also believe in maintaining the look of the community, with homes of various ages and styles nestled comfortably next to one another.

When we were community shopping, one of the things that Paul and I loved about Kirkwood was the fact that there were often very large and very small homes on the same blocks. Neighborhood diversity was a big selling feature for us. And we definitely loved how the houses had a lot of variety: very unlike cookie-cutter subdivision homes.

Many of the infill homes I've seen in Kirkwood are beautiful. I'd love to live in a big Victorian home one day; I grew up in one and that feels like home to me. But I also want a big kitchen; convenient, off-street, covered parking; large closets; modern baths; updated wiring; and no history of lead paint (I'm really serious about the paint). If I had $750,000, I could live in my dream house today, in a huge Victorian with historic charm and modern luxuries, within walking distance of downtown Kirkwood.

Also, Kirkwood lost St. Joseph's Hospital. Bummer. But I think that the proposed "Active Living and Wellness Community" will be a wonderful use of the hospital's former site, even with the two four-story buildings (gasp).

I suppose I should be glad that people in the community care so much. It's likely that's part of what makes it such a lovely place to live . . . most of the time.


Sarahlynn said...

A related issue is the gentrification, and that is a real concern for me. Builders are buying affordable homes in the traditionally African American area of Kirkwood and replacing them with much nicer homes.

It's probably pure economics: the property there is cheaper than elsewhere in town, and once the community is all gentrified, it can be sold for much much more.

And then the composition of Kirkwood will have been drastically changed.

And that *is* a real concern for me. A big fancy house on the corner of Woodbine and Geyer? Lovely! Dismantling Meacham Park? More sinister.

Seasonal said...

Your post inspired me to think. So far we haven't had any tear downs on our street, and I'm hoping we don't. I love the look of our street. The houses are all different, but they have some unifying themes as well. I just feel bad for the houses next door to the McMansions, the average little houses which are now dwarfed by these monoliths, with no back yard because the HOUSE has to fill the entire LOT! I moved to Kirkwood because it had that charm to it, the established neighborhoods with the "not cookie cutter" homes. It's causing me distress to see so much darn building. I'm not saying that houses should never be torn down, but I do hate to see one nice house torn down and TWO put up on the same lot to replace it.

Sarahlynn said...

When I think of McMansions, I have a particular style of house in mind. It's a mixture of brick and vinyl siding, with concrete steps/porch and usually pretentious pillars holding up the overhang above the front door. The back of the house is a collection of large windows, so that driversby can easily watch the flat panel televisions inside. There are so many of these homes in subdivisions everywhere; they're definitely cookie-cutter houses to me.

Many of the new homes in Kirkwood have more style and character than that, and I haven't noticed the problem you're describing, so it's obvious that I'm missing some areas of concern.

That said, I really do agree with you about houses being too big for their lots. In my subdivision, we have restriction indentures requiring that each lot be at least 1/3 acre, so that people can't subdivide and sell their lots in tiny pieces. All the houses have to be set the same distance back from the street, which give the neighborhood a unified look. And there are precise instructions about how close you can build to the property lines on all sides. I think those sorts of regulations should be very carefully monitored throughout Kirkwood.

Seasonal said...

Yes, I always see pretentious pillars in my mind when I think of McMansions! I agree, many of the newer homes have more style, but at the same time, it seems as though they put a random house on a street, without any thought of blending. Now again, I'm not looking for cookie cutter, but when the new house stands out like a sore thumb, it's an eyesore, even if it's beautiful. Our street has set backs as well, thank goodness, and we do have some rather large additions in our neighborhood, but at least the houses are not growing down to the street or right on to the property line. I agree, careful regulation of property usage/building would be a huge blessing.

What I also laugh about is colleagues of D's have a lovely home on an older street with a lot of LARGE houses on it. Many of those are being torn down/renovated, and her colleague has split their property into two lots and built a brand new home next to their existing home (which is lovely, BUT...) and has the "protect historic Kirkwood" signs up. Hello? :)

Sarahlynn said...

Sigh. You're right, I know that you're right.

Omar Cruz said...
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