Blogger of the Week - Alex Ihnen of the St. Louis Urban Workshop
Such are the words of Alex Ihnen, the regional director of development at Washington University, who is the Sustainable Cities Collective's second blogger of the week. (The first was Kaid Benfield, which you can read here if you missed it.)
Born and raised in North Manchester, Indiana (with a population of 6,500), Alex was the first in four generations of his family to leave northern Indiana. He attended Indiana University and earned both a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's in public affairs. After studies at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, he moved to Perugia, Italy and continued his studies at the Universita per Stranieri. Continuing a pasttime begun in Indiana, Alex joined Grifo Bike, an amateur cycling team, and raced with them. Not long after, Alex met his wife, Katie and they moved to St. Louis in 2004 where they now are parents of 11-month-old Lucy. The family lives near St. Louis' Forest Park neighborhood.
Alex emails me that he was fascinated by St. Louis' history and built environment since the first day he moved there.
The amazing thing about becoming involved and promoting smarter urban development is the realization that seemingly small decisions are made every day that shape our urban environment, and often these decisions are made without any public input or consideration of alternatives. An emergency demolition is approved, a street is excluded from an historic district, a variance is granted, streetlights are chosen--and this slow, methodical process over time creates the place in which we each live.
More important to me than any stance on a particular issue is my wish that people would be attentive to the choices before us and how we can effect a more livable future for our neighborhoods and cities. Too few people are engaged in their communities, and this neglect has led to much of what we now dislike about our towns and cities. Because of this, those who choose to become engaged can and will have substantial influence.
From supporting transformative development in North St. Louis and urban planning to the removal of a sculpture installation that brought interactive life to an urban park, Alex wrote several blog posts in recent weeks that were picked up by SCC, approved for placement, and received much fanfare.
Last week, Alex departed from his traditional urban environmentalism blog posts and focused a rant against Ted Diadiun, Ombudsman for the Cleveland Plain Dealer--who called bloggers "a bunch of pipsqueaks." Alex wrote:
Diadiun is entitled to his opinion, but that dissenting view is why Alex does what he does.
He writes, "Engaging a system that some see as 'broken' is the best way to effect change. It’s easy to protest the demolition of a building. It’s more difficult to engage the neighborhood process of producing a development code and plan that will mold our built environment."
If his blogging frequency and unique perspective is any indication, there are good things to come in St. Louis and Alex will be on the forefront of change.
Ari Herzog discovered the digital life in 1982 when dialing into electronic bulletin boards to share information. Trained in sociology and public administration, he has 15 years of experience working and consulting in technology, media, and government. He writes a blog exploring the digital life. You may tweet him at @AriHerzog.