Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The River des Peres at Dusk

THE RIVER des Peres — la Rivière des Pères, meaning River (or Creek) of the Fathers, is not known for being beautiful, but the recent Greenway project is an attempt to beautify the lower stretch of this stream which here flows through south Saint Louis.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - the River des Peres

All of these photos were taken just after sunset.

The lower part of the stream is basically a drainage canal, with concrete bottom and riprap sides, and a sanitary sewer runs in tunnels underneath.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - Morganford Bridge detail

As this is only a utilitarian drainage channel, there was seen to be little need to make this prominent landmark beautiful. It is “only” a sewer, some say, but that is not true.

We often use the word “only” when we what to dismiss something as being beneath a certain dignity, this is most clear when we apply that word to persons, and it is often a sign of injustice: “she is only a stay-at-home mom”, “he is only a [insert racial slur here]”.

That a drainage canal ought to be good at draining water is more important than it being beautiful does not mean that it ought not be beautiful. Psychologically, we are attracted to beautiful things more than good things, and to insist that we must accept utilitarianism is contrary to the needs of the human person.

The modern (but not the original) notion of form follows function essentially states that goodness or fittingness will automatically produce beauty; while this may be true for a supremely good designer, most of us aren't quite so good, and so we ought to explicitly design-in beauty when we make things.

The two automotive parkways that parallel the stream — Germania Street and Des Peres Parkway — were specifically designed to be beautiful parks, as was the custom when these were constructed in the 1930s. The recent beautification here is intended for pedestrians and bicyclists who travel on paths closer to the stream.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - monumental fence

Recent rusticated fence, made of native limestone.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - large pedestrian bridge

Pedestrian bridge crosses the river just upstream from the Morganford Road bridge.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - small pedestrian bridge

An expensive, but decorative, foot bridge crosses a small tributary of the River des Peres. An older mind-set encourages us to build things that will last centuries, but this is only effective in the long run if we can encourage and depend on stability in society. Short-term thinking makes permanent construction unthinkable, but this leads to instability in society.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - large tree

This is a very large, and perhaps ancient tree. Many more trees have been planted here lately, as can be seen in the photo.

Nature is inherently beautiful, and the works of man are often ugly.  But man's works are beautiful when they are made in harmony with nature. We do have a moral obligation to build in harmony with nature: but mainstream and elite opinions on nature are problematic. Neither should we see nature as a totally exploitable resource, nor as a wilderness where man must be excluded.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - trees over compost pile

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - trail

A winding, well-lit, path.  Even though you can't tell from these photos, there were very many pedestrians and bicyclists at that time — I had to wait until they were out of the camera's sight to avoid blurring.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - neighborhood

Many people live within sight distance of the stream, which ought to make its beautification a priority. Too often, beautification is seen as somebody else's job, or the job of the government. Certainly planting flowers or trees is something that could be done by an individual or small local group, done in cooperation with the property owner.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - large pedestrian bridge 2

Another view of the large pedestrian bridge.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - river with graffiti

Dusk descends on the river. The sky actually was that shade of blue, although on my computer monitor it seems to be a bit brighter than reality.

River des Peres Greenway, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - Morganford Bridge

For an historical overview of the arguments for transforming the River des Peres from a natural stream to a drainage channel, click here to see a report from the year 1916.

Click for a map of this area.

3 comments:

  1. The River de PEW! The more I have read recently about the demise of St Louis the more I have come to believe that it is a lost cause.
    A poorly educated, undermotivated, handout dependent citizenry, will never again compete on the world economic stage. Put a fence around it and rename it Times Beach II.

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  2. These photos are outstanding! In particular the photos with lights of the evening reflecting off the somewhat high levels of the RdP. I love it.

    Perhaps you'd like to submit them to Great Rivers Greenway District's photo gallery?...

    http://www.greatrivers.info/TrailUsers/Images.aspx?m=project&jid=31

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  3. I cycle this greenway routinely and appreciate it very much! Thanks for the photos.

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