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Steak ‘n Shake: nostalgia comes around full circle.

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The average Midwesterner will probably recognize the icon visible through this smudgy windshield. But he or she might not be so familiar with the aesthetic.As the white-and-black sign indicates, it’s a Steak ‘n Shake—a leading candidate for the most Midwestern restaurant out there…right up there along with Bob Evans. The chain, which survived numerous ups …Read more…

Dirt becomes a cover.  

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I never intended this to become a photography blog, and, from the looks of things, I’ve stayed true to my word. Most of my photos are just as lousy as they were in 2009, when this thing began. The images are still there as an accompaniment–the bed of rice on which the meat and potatoes …Read more…

Missouri capital redux.

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Over the weekend, a blog article of mine prompted an interview from the city’s local newspaper.  The original article, published here about a month ago, focused on the obvious revitalization efforts that have taken place in downtown Jefferson City, capital of Missouri.  Although I had never visited there prior to the trip that prompted the …Read more…

Main Street geniuses and the chain of fools.

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By now I’ve explored the visible evidence of main street reinvestment numerous times, through streetscape enhancements, creative infill development, improved access for wheelchairs, vintage iconography, or the preservation of the historic building façade at the expense of everything behind it (pejoratively called façadectomy).  Across the country, in towns both small and microscopic, palpable evidence reveals …Read more…

Salvaging St. Louis, Part III: Biodiversity in repopulation.

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In the previous section of this three-part article, I began exploring some of the affordable housing initiatives of St. Louis that have helped it, to some extent, stem its precipitous decline, particularly in comparison to Detroit, its peer city in terms of population loss.  If this survey (you could almost call it “home tour”) seemed …Read more…

Salvaging St. Louis, Part II: Planting the seeds for repopulation.

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In the previous part to this study, I explored the similar population trends of two major Midwestern cities, St. Louis and Detroit.  Both cities have endured significant losses since their peak in the 1950 census.  Interestingly, Detroit seems to absorb the lion’s share of critical attention for its persistent economic malaise, yet St. Louis has …Read more…

MONTAGE: The inside-out of the inner city.

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Over the past century, the word “blight” has undergone a curious expansion in its denotations. It was originally a botanical term referring to a disease characterized by discoloration, wilting, and eventual death of plant tissues. In contemporary parlance, however, I suspect a far greater number of people use the term in combination with “urban”—a metaphoric …Read more…

Because the rich can afford cosmetic surgery.

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While most evidence suggests that the future of the American metropolitan area will hinge upon further decentralization—after all, it has continued unabated for the last seventy years—most large metros have a few suburbs that buck the trend.  A few years ago I featured Bexley, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, which largely matured in the middle …Read more…

Installing one life form; inhibiting another.

I can’t resist the occasional opportunity to showcase egregious impediments on sidewalks, particularly in locations where it seems like the arguments for pedestrianism are strongest, like in the downtown of this country’s 29th largest metropolitan area, Kansas City, Missouri.  The east side of Grand Boulevard just north of East 10thStreet offers a continuous, urban street …Read more…