St. Louis needs more trees, bikes, parks, coffee, says livable cities expert
September 25, 2012 by David Hunn for STLToday.com
Forget about per-capita income. Start judging a city by its “livability,” said Guillermo Penalosa, in town this week to speak at a Trailnet talk here. Penalosa is the former parks commissioner in Bogota, Colombia, and current executive director of the Canadian nonprofit 8-80 Cities. He visited the local wine bar Sasha’s on Shaw on Monday night, to push his livable-city vision: more walking, more cycling, and more useful parks, among others things.
Penalosa caught up quickly with the Post-Dispatch before his talk. He said the region must begin counting its coffee shops, parks and trees, measuring its miles of bike lanes and Metro tracks – and worrying less about such standards as how much money the average resident makes.
“The goal is to have a competitive St. Louis, with healthy communities and happy residents,” Penalosa said. "Per capita income has nothing to do with quality of life."
He spoke Monday about Melbourne, Australia, a city with some problems in common with St. Louis, he said. Twenty-five years ago, Melbourne wasn’t even in the top 400 most-livable cities worldwide. Then its leaders began planting trees, encouraging downtown growth, and building public spaces.
Coffee shops, he said, are a good marker of a city’s livability. They provide a public space to gather and talk. Twenty-five years ago, Melbourne had three, Penalosa said. Now it has 617, and is one of the most livable cities in the world.
Penalosa suggested two immediate changes for St. Louis: All neighborhood street speed limits should be reduced to 20 miles per hour. It would greatly reduce injuries and fatalities, he said, and would make walking and biking much more enjoyable.
Second, for streets with speed limits above 20 mph, he suggested building bike lanes with physical separations. Painted lines aren’t enough to provide safety and encouraging cycling, he said. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel did his city’s first protected bike lane within his first 30 days in office, Penalosa said, and aims to get 30 miles done in his first two years.
“We live in an ever more globalized world,” Penalosa said. “Quality of life is the most important tool of economic development.”
If St. Louis wants to retain its best-and-brightest, he said, it has to focus on quality of life.