St. Louis, WPS All-Star City
St. Louis, MO (Aug. 28, 2009) - Now I know why St. Louis was chosen to host the inaugural WPS All-Star Weekend.
Of course I knew St. Louis is a strong soccer town, but what I discovered as I followed the All-Star contestants out of the Hilton Ballpark, downtown, and walked three blocks to the Gateway Arch and the park surrounding it, winding along the Mississippi in both directions from there, is that St. Louis is a well-kept secret.
Not only are the world's best female soccer players all in one place this weekend, but so is some of the world's greatest public art, architecture, and urban landscapes. Who would have guessed?
Gateway to... a lot of things!
Of course, everyone knows about the Gateway Arch, St. Louis's most famous and dramatic landmark. If you're like me you've driven past it a hundred times over the years passing through the midwest from somewhere east to somewhere west, but haven't stood right beside it, under it, walked around it, stared mesmerized from various angles, in vertical and horizontal directions.
It is world class. I've been to Europe. I've seen world class landmarks, dramatic public architecture. The Arch ranks up there with any of them. But the Arch is not the only destination. From the Arch, the view of downtown St. Louis-- a veritable urban garden, a view of the River, and a tree-lined, greenbelt with paved walkways.
Turning west from the river, under the arch, is a stunning view of the Old City Courthouse (domed) flanked by other downtown landmarks against the green "grassy knoll" sloping downward from the street to the Arch.
This is a closer view of the previous subject.
Everything in downtown St. Louis is clean, refurbished, and beautifully juxtapositioned with surrounding buildings and landmarks, from multiple perspectives, making the downtown cityscape appear to have been all built according to a single master plan.
A City of Fountains and Fans
This is the city-side view of the Old Courthouse with the Arch as a backdrop. In the foreground is one of many downtown fountains.
For you baseball fans, all of this is within a few steps of the new Busch Stadium. Seats are visible from the street. On this particular day, fans were already lining up at the stadium gate, and were seen all over downtown and the parkway around the Arch, in Cardinals gear. Later tonight, the Nationals are in town.
An Athletic Exuberance
This is a closeup view of the fountain shown in the previous slide in front of the Old Courthouse. It is a muscular boy running as if he is about to jump and splash into the pool from which the fountain flows. His towel is falling off as he runs.
Icons of athleticism dominate the city center. Within view is the Edward Jones Dome, Scott Trade Center, and the aforementioned Busch Stadium. In addition, even the sculpture is athletic, as referenced above.
But somehow the designers of this living urban sculpture (meaning the entire downtown neighborhood) have drawn into the lines, the shapes, the way light is refracted, the posture of each fixture whether building, infrastructure, ornamentation, or landscape, an emphatic exuberance. It radiates. It sings.
Architectural Treasure Trove
St. Louis has its share of classic architectural beauties. This is one example. But it isn't just downtown. Drive through residential neighborhoods and see classic street scapes and houses representing various historical periods, nicely preserved.
Classical and Contemporary
Coming from Chicago, I hate to admit it, but I would say St. Louis can compete with Chicago on its claims to architectural leadership. Like Chicago, St. Louis has done an exceptional job juxtaposing the classic, modern, post-modern and contemporary looks in the city center.
As said in a previous slide, If one didn't know better, one would think that everything that was built in St. Louis was part of an original master plan of someone who could see into the future. The visual texture that is created by the artful distribution of the new amidst the old is as good as in any American city-- including Chicago, and though on a smaller scale, the urban parkland is also exquisite and a real human magnet to the area.
Chicago has its Millennium Park, but again on a smaller yet more human scale, St. Louis has its Sculpture Park.
This figure of a horse with what appears to be a gift bow hovering over it is part of the subtle, subliminal athletic influence (the horse) in downtown design previously referenced, but also suggests the magical, the whimsical (the bow). Could this be a new expression of the famous "Spirit of St. Louis?"
Hello world, here I am, and it's great to be alive! (No lie.)
As I approached the Sculpture Park from a distance and saw this figure, I thought it was a generic exuberant child. In fact the exuberant, world-embracing, life-embracing broad gesture of the statue is what brought the word "exuberant" to my mind when thinking about my impression of this city. I got closer and realized it was Pinocchio. And his nose has been growing. So I'm not sure what he's lying about but he's obviously genuinely happy to be alive in St. Louis.
Soccer City, Built to Scale
A few miles from Pinocchio, The Arch, and the downtown urban garden is another sort of garden.
Yes, a soccer garden. The entrance to Anheiser Bush Soccer Park looks like the entrance to an upscale park, a horticultural sanctuary, not a sportsplex, and once inside the ambience is maintained.
The statue of a soccer player pictured here is in the center of the concourse at the top of the premier seating area. It carries the same combination of the artistic and the athletic from downtown, to suburban Fenton, MO where the soccerplex is located.
As I watched the All-Stars and their Swedish competition practicing, I was struck by something profound. The importance of scale.
The success of MLS has been the development of soccer only stadiums that are scaled to approximately one quarter of the seating capacity of American football stadiums.
As these fan friendly, soccer purposed venues have proliferated, the MLS's success has solidified. Having a majority of the seats filled, having intimate dimensions that put the fans closer to the action, and closer to each other, brings a huge infusion of energy to a soccer match.
One of the problems we have in some of the WPS venues is that even these soccer only venues can be too large for WPS in its infancy.
As I was interviewing the All-Stars, one of the questions I asked was, other than your own fans, which team do you think has the best fans.
The answers I got were the Bay Area (Gold Pride), New Jersey (Sky Blue) and St. Louis. I don't believe it is a coincidence that those are the three smallest venues in the league.
And the new Anheiser Bush Soccer Park here in St. Louis seems to be the quintessential venue for Women's Professional Soccer.
The clubhouse area has an upscale ambience, almost a country club feel about it, with beautifully landscaped terraced ingress and egress via broad stairways. The seating is all close in, with good sight lines, and a wonderfully intimate feel, yet the first class quality of the design and materials and the use of the green natural setting all around the facility makes a major league statement. You know you aren't in a high school or college bleacher, even though the scale and capacity of the seating area is comparable to a college facility.
It is unfortunate in a way that clubs such as Chicago and Los Angeles have the burden of playing in the relatively cavernous Toyota Park or Home Depot Center when a smaller venue of the scale and style of St. Louis's home park is ideal for this league.
All things considered, St. Louis is the perfect choice for the league's first All-Star Game, not only because of the soccer tradition here, and not only because of the appropriateness of the venue, but because the entire city of St. Louis is symbolic of what WPS is trying to be. Not the biggest, but as good or better than the giants, and exuberant, hopeful, confident, optimistic, and proud.