Michelle, I didn't forget your suggestion! Michelle T. suggested a blog about Toynbee tiles YEARS ago, and I was fascinated by the idea but never managed to find one. The thing about Toynbee tiles is, they are a big mystery,they are usually located in the middle of busy intersections, and many have been lost to erosion and repaving over the years. I knew from my research the St Louis had at least three at one time, but despite spending a lot of time on foot in the downtown area, I'd never managed to spot one. UNTIL LAST NIGHT. We were walking back to our car after Monster Jam at the Edward Jones Dome and walked right over this Toynbee tile at Olive and 6th. I said, "Oh my god, it's a Toynbee tile!" and everyone did a 180 while scrambling for their camera phones. My people know a blogging opportunity when they hear it.
The origins of the Toynebee tiles are mysterious. According to Wikipedia, they first started appearing in the late 1980s. No one knows for sure who created them, and many copycats have popped up over the years. In fact, the bit at the bottom of this tile that's hard to make out says, "You must make + glue tiles!" Few new tiles have been spotted outside of the Philadelphia area since 2002. St Louis is one of the original locations for Toynbee tiles, and this is one of the classic examples of both design and message. The most well-documented St Louis tile was at Market and 7th, but I have not been able to find any online documentation of that one since 2007, and even at that time it was very worn. The other is/was at Market and 8th.
Toynbee tiles, as well as anyone has been able to figure, are made from linoleum face taped to tar paper. Asphalt glue is used to adhere them, and then some combination of sun and automobile traffic adheres them to the road. Most of the original tiles are some variation of the one above. Toynbee may refer to the historian Arthur Toynbee, or to the Ray Bradbury short story "A Toynbee Idea". Kubrick's 2001, obviously, refers to the movie 2001: A Space Odessey.
Beyond that, the motivation and message are a matter of intense debate and speculation. If you are interested in more information about the Toynbee tiles, I suggest reading the Wikipedia entry linked above, as well as this fantastic article from Wired magazine. If you know of any other surviving Toynbee tiles in the St Louis area or elsewhere, I'd love to hear about them!