Monday, January 12, 2009

Steve Patterson, Man of Urban Influence - Part 1

Steven Patterson is a realtor in central St. Louis. He is also an influential blogger, writing at Urban Review STL. He agreed to meet with us at a Panera in Downtown St. Louis. We were a bit late, but Steve was understanding. My associate and I both ordered bacon sandwiches, which were tasty.

Obamathon Man: Thanks for agreeing to meet. First, tell us about real estate in St. Louis. Do you have clients in both Missouri and Illinois, or do you need a separate license for that?

Steve Patterson: I only handle clients in Missouri. There are a few agents who handle both states, but in my case getting the extra license wouldn’t have been worth it. St. Louis is divided into St. Louis City and St. Louis County, which is actually a separate county. Most of my work is within the city of St. Louis, but I do leave the city sometimes.

OM: Do you handle mostly condos, or other properties as well?

SP: Yeah, mostly condos. The city of St. Louis used to have a lot more people than it does now; in 1950, the population was around 800,000. It shrunk to 300,000 by 2000, but there are indications now that it’s leveled off.

OM: But did the St. Louis metro area gain population during that time?

SP: Yeah, many of the people in St. Louis just moved out of the city and into the county.

OM: Are people moving back in now?

SP: Well, more than they have in the past. I’ve been seeing better sales in recent years.

OM: Have you seen less business because of the bad economy?

SP: I actually couldn’t do much work this fall, on account of my stroke. From what I heard, sales did go down. But sales are generally less during the holidays anyway, since no one wants to have to deal with moving in the middle of Christmas. But, actually, sales do seem to be rebounding.

OM: Oh really? That’s good news.

SP: Yeah, I hope the trend continues.

OM: So tell us about politics in St. Louis.

SP: Well, of course it’s very different than the rest of the state. If you go down to places like Springfield, it’s very Republican. But in the last election, we were almost able to push this state into the Obama column. And we actually did elect a Democratic governor, which I was very happy about. Of course that was partly because the incumbent Republican was involved in an email scandal. But it was pretty satisfying, since in previous elections the former governor was dismissive of people from St. Louis.

OM: Did you go to Obama’s big speech under the arch?

SP: I couldn’t make it, but may of my friends did. Obama didn’t really have to give that speech, since it only really reached the people of St. Louis who were going to vote for him anyway. But the symbolic value of him standing under the arch was priceless. I think Obama will be good for the country, because for the first time in many years we’ll have an urban president who understands issues that affect cities.

OM: Is there anything you’re hoping Obama will do for St. Louis?

SP: Well, there’s something I’m really hoping will happen in downtown St. Louis, and perhaps Obama’s proposed stimulus might help get it done. The roadway between the arch and the rest of St. Louis carries both a surface level access road and a below ground freeway, and it’s a drain on life in downtown. Some people have proposed covering the open areas with parks, but that would require all kinds of ventilation retrofitting without yielding much park space. What I’m really hoping will happen is for the interstate to be rerouted over the Mississippi, and the road to be narrowed and converted to a street similar to Market St. in San Francisco, with trolleys and buses.

OM: Would that be part of the current train system in St. Louis?

SP: The MetroLink actually provides good service to the outlying areas, but in the city it’s problematic because the train runs entirely underground. No one sees trains underground, and many people won’t ever consider taking the train if they don’t see them at street level and know that they exist.

OM: Are there currently any plans to expand the MetroLink?

SP: Unfortunately, no. There was a ballot measure in November which would have extended the MetroLink, but it didn’t pass since it needed votes from St. Louis County, and people out there didn’t feel they would get their money’s worth from the measure. Since it failed, now train service will have to be cut off at 8 PM. Some people are hoping to create a special transit district, so that people farther out in the county don’t have to pay taxes on something that isn’t useful to them.

OM: Do you ride the train often?

SP: I was actually car free, until I had a stroke and not having a car became a bit too difficult.

OM: Yeah, I actually have a book about being car free, written by someone from St. Louis.

SP: You’re talking about Living Well without a Car? I know the author. He actually moved out to LA recently for some kind of film deal.

OM: Tell us a bit about your blog.

SP: I started blogging in October 2004, and I mostly cover urban planning issues. Of course, I couldn’t write immediately after my stroke. But the blog’s been pretty successful. Recently, St. Louis Magazine named me the 50th most powerful person in the city.

OM: Impressive. What did you do to earn such a rating?

SP: Well, for instance, I reported on a curbside ramp that had been poorly designed. It was intended to help people in wheelchairs or in carts. But the area in front of the ramp had been marked to allow parking directly in front of the ramp. I did a write up on it, and the city actually fixed it in a matter of days.

OM: Do they always respond that fast?

SP: No, but it’s nice when they do.

OM: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Continued, click here.

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