Saturday, May 23, 2009

NorthSide as Sustainable, "Green" Development

Besides promising $5 billion in planned investments, bringing 43,000 construction jobs, 20,000 permanent jobs and 10,000 new homes, NorthSide is promising to be "sustainable" and "green", both best practices by current development standards.

Green features proposed include a local energy grid, geothermal heating and cooling, public transit improvements, and much more. Plans for sustainability start with a jobs/housing balance within the project boundary.

Taking a severely depressed area of North City and renewing it as a model sustainable, green community has obvious appeal. However to get there, much will need to change. All new sewers will be built, and there will be limited use of eminent domain to assemble sites for job creation. A local taxing district would likely be established to fund community services within the redevelopment area.

For NorthSide to be a leader in green and sustainable community revitalization, what kinds of things would you like to see as part of the plan?


  1. why would new sewers need to be built?

  2. Great question. There are two main reasons. Age and design.

    The sewer system in the city of St. Louis is over 150 years old and the Northside redevelopment area has some of the city's oldest sewer lines. They lines are either wearing out or flat worn out. It is time for them to be replaced. Which gets to the design issue.

    The design of the system is what is known as a "combined sewer system". It is out of compliance with the EPA and Clean Water Act. The problem is, both storm water and sanitary sewer lines are carried through the same "combined" system.

    The purpose of a combined sewer system is the way it cleans itself out. Rain water flushes the system. That seemed reasonable when first designed. However, increased environmental awareness taught us the problems on dumping raw sewage into streams.

    Another serious problem with the system is flooding. During heavy rain events, the system becomes overcharged, and there is nowhere for the sewers to drain, so they back up into people's basements. Having a sanitary sewer line back up into your basement is obviously a mess and unhealthy.

    So, the long term goal is for St. Louis to replace the combined system with separated sanitary and storm drains. That will take a long time. Engineering estimates peg the cost for total replacement into the billions of dollars.

    However, in the case of a major redevelopment plan like NorthSide, it is doable to replace all of the antiquated sewers in one project, having a real positive impact on our city's sewer system.

    Updating the sewer service for the area to be more environmentally friendly is one of the important green aspects of the plan.

  3. To me a more important question is, given McKee's poor track record as as a trustworthy participant in this process, how can we guarantee that the green proposals will actually be a part of the final product? If McKee gets a large buy-in from the city and state, then it will be rather easy to imagine incremental changes that move further and further from the idealized vision. For example, if the city commits too much up front without retaining some control, it will be very easy for McKee to continuously issue statements like, "We just did a study and it turns out that it's not economically feasible to include the trolley system or the sewers (or whatever)." How do you structure the deal in a way that McKee's company is forced (or at least has a very strong incentive) to stick to the original ideas that make the project sound good?