Downtown St. Louis is in the midst of a building boom. From a new apartment tower to several loft conversions, there is no doubt that the once dying core is being revitalized into something special. What separates downtown St. Louis from other urban big cities, however, is the excessive amount of surface lots and green space. These empty lots tear up the urban feel of the city and make it feel drab. Though the market is improving, many developers are too afraid to grab the bull by its horns and construct new buildings. Worries about price, popularity, and other complications make developers look the other way. However, advances in building technology have created a material that is cheap, environmentally friendly, safe, and easy to work with. That material is wood.
When one thinks of a highrise, the last thing that comes to mind is one made out of wood; however, recent innovations have made this fiction a reality. Although wood's use in highrises is a relatively new technology, many buildings using this method are in the works all across the world. The supports of said towers use a technique called cross-laminated timber or CLT for short. CLT does not ignite easily, and, when the outer layer is charred, it creates insulation to the wood inside. CLT is not catch fire easily like normal timber which would rule out risk for fires. Wood is an excellent material because it is so much more eco-friendly than any other method of construction. While other materials release carbon, wood absorbs it. Substituting wood for other materials in buildings and bridges could prevent anywhere from 14 to 31 percent of global carbon emissions. On top of all of this, construction times are much faster, the materials can be produced locally, it creates a lot of local jobs, and wood costs much less than a material like concrete. The reason that this material has not taken the market by storm is that it is still a relatively new technology. Developers are still testing new and better ways of construction.
Wood's potential in St. Louis is serious. For one, we are seen as a hip, progressive city and using locally sourced, eco-friendly resources in new developments would improve that status. Secondly, what is not to like about unique infill projects in our urban core. Moreover, it has the promise to bring density back to downtown along with being a big money maker for corporations. We need to stop looking at the past and what we could have been. Instead, we must look to the future to see what we could be.