‘Citygarden offers pleasing attraction amidst urban setting

The sign in the center of the two blocks of green space reads, “Citygarden is open and free to all.”

This statement couldn’t be truer, as the new sculpture garden is accessible to any pedestrian. No fences or gates are to be seen, other than the barriers preventing cars from driving in the street between the two blocks.

A young boy skips through a fountain play area at the ne City Garden. (Seth Lewis)
A young boy skips through a fountain play area at the ne City Garden. (Seth Lewis)

First open to the public at the beginning of July, Citygarden is located along the stretch of land, known as the Gateway Mall, which is in front of the St. Louis Arch.. Citygarden is a project by the City of St. Louis in collaboration with the Gateway Foundation, a St. Louis-based, non-profit organization. It contains 24 pieces of modern sculpture, water installments, a café called Terrace View, and various plants and trees native to the region. Surrounded by corporate office buildings, this small green strip has often been called an oasis.

The garden was designed to attract all types of people, says Barbara Geisman, Deputy Mayor for Development in the City of St. Louis. With sculpture by widely recognized artists such as Keith Haring, Fernand Leger, and Mark di Suvero, and a fountain plaza in which the young at heart can play, Citygarden is rich in both its art and its atmosphere.

“Its purpose is to provide a quality open space downtown that everyone can enjoy on a number of different levels,” Geisman said. “There’s people down there who like the sculpture and the various art that is down there. There’s kids down there who could care less about the sculpture and the art – they love the fountains. There’s people there eating their lunch that work in downtown offices who just want to get outside.”

For an urban garden, Citygarden is quite unique.

“It’s the only free and completely accessible sculpture garden in the heart of an American city’s downtown,” said Paul Wagman, Senior Vice President and Partner at Fleishman-Hillard International Communications and spokesman for the Gateway Foundation. “Dallas and Seattle have downtown sculpture gardens, but the Dallas garden is fenced and charges admission. The Seattle garden is free, but on the edge of downtown.”

The landscaping of the garden is also distinctive. Designed with the area’s history, wildlife, and great rivers in mind, Citygarden is uniquely St. Louis.

“It’s cleverly landscaped to feel much bigger, and landscaped with the state of Missouri as the theme,” art teacher Cate Dolan said.

It seems as if this “oasis” is bringing some much needed freshness to the downtown area.

“The Gateway Mall has been in kind of decrepit disarray for a long time,” Geisman said. “Before the Citygarden was done, the Gateway Mall – I don’t think anybody would call it an attractive place.”

In 2006, Mayor Francis Slay and the Gateway Foundation agreed to begin developing a sculpture garden in the two blocks between Eighth and Tenth Streets and Market and Chestnut Streets. The Gateway Foundation offered to provide the funding for the project, while the city owns the land.

Three years later, the garden is in full swing, and Geisman now has high hopes for the rest of the Gateway Mall.

“The idea is now that we’ve got this sort of signature project that sets a great standard for quality and function, that we want to be able to move further west and get the whole Mall to be, not the same as the Citygarden, but equally vibrant, equally attractive, equally activated,” Geisman said.

Part of the reason why Geisman and the rest of the city can look so eagerly to the future is the success Citygarden has had so far.

“One of the neatest things about it is that it’s attracting far more people – and far more kinds of people – than anyone ever dreamed possible,” Geisman said.

Wagman seems equally pleased by the reactions Citygarden has brought about. He says that he visited the garden one Saturday afternoon when the Cardinals were not playing. In the past, the downtown area has been significantly less crowded on days without a ballgame, so he was surprised by the size, as well as the ethnic diversity of the crowd.

“All seemed to be having a wonderful time – strolling, posing for pictures, frolicking in the water, picnicking, having lunch at the Terrace View café,” he said. “The garden is clearly appealing to a very broad cross-section of the public, which is exactly what its designers had hoped.”

Citygarden has received a great deal of local praise, as well as national publicity.

“It got a great review from the New York Times, and it has received great reviews from a lot of the downtown businesses and it has kind of energized them,” Geisman said. “And people from as far away as Chicago have said that it is as good as Millenium Park.”

Dolan says Citygarden is a playful, yet sophisticated place, and she recommends CHS students visit.

“It’s a great place for kids to go to with friends or even on a date,” Dolan said.

Geisman also encourages students to go to the garden, as well to the downtown area, in general.

“Downtown is the center of the region, it’s the region’s image,” Geisman said. “When people think of St. Louis, they think of the Gateway Arch. And we’d like everyone to experience not just the wonderful, new Citygarden, but all the other aspects of downtown that make it a vibrant and exciting place.”