St. Louis' Citygarden sculpture park revitalizes downtown, sense of civic duty

This summer, St. Louis opened Citygarden, a 2.9-acre sculpture park located downtown that's spurring residents to embrace the city and reinvigorate its abandoned acres and industries.

By any stretch, St. Louis can be a tough city. Like many American cities, St. Louis has been afflicted by regional sprawl and resultant urban decay that's made America's "Gateway City" the kind of path you'd rather avoid.

But this summer, the city opened Citygarden, a 2.9-acre sculpture park located downtown that's spurring residents to embrace the city and reinvigorate its abandoned acres and industries.

Metropolis magazine explains the problem in detail:

To understand why the stones, sculptures, and watercourses of Citygarden constitute so potent a tonic for regional dyspepsia, readers should know that plenty has happened here in the last half century to persuade anyone that suggestions of inferiority are both sound and logical. The metro area has not grown much in population, but we’ve sprawled all over the landscape, leaving large portions of a once vibrant city to decay. We’ve knocked down some irreplaceable pieces of our built past. White flight has been supersonic; a racial chasm persists. Our primacy in booze and shoes went down the drain and walked out of town. The plant sciences and biotechnology should replace these industries, but we’re suspicious of science as ungodly, in spite of its being the region’s best hope for economic redemption.

Designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects of Charlottesville, Virginia, the park is packed with work from many modern and contemporary sculptors: Férnand Leger, Martin Puryear, Keith Haring, Tom Claassen, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jime Dine and many more are featured.

The two-block park is built on a 1.1-mile strip of open space called the Gateway Mall, and was first suggested as an appropriate spot in the late 1990s by a local citizens' group. By 2006, the Gateway Foundation conceived and funded a detailed master plan for the mall at the city's request; with a budget of $25–$30 million (excluding the sculptures), the park materialized with big shade trees, lawns, water areas and vestiges of the century-old layout of the original city.

In July 2009, the park opened to acclaim. Or as Metropolis puts it, the park "has not only transformed the area but lifted the public's sense of itself and its city."

Sounds like a smart idea to me.

Photo: Hedrich Blessing

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com