Friday, July 20, 2012

Some facts before I move on...

I wanted to get some facts on the table before I move on to some topics like regionalism and cross-county cooperation. 

Whenever I say 'St. Louis', I mean it literally.  I don't mean the combined statistical region, I don't mean our TV market, I don't mean Cardinal Nation, I don't mean unincorporated St. Louis County, I mean St. Louis...the city, you know?  The place with the Arch and the Big Muddy to the east, Forest Park and Skinker Boulevard to the west, The bluffs along the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers & the old Chain of Rocks Bridge to the north and the St. Louis Skatium to the south (alright can you think of a better landmark between St. Louis and Bella Villa or Lemay, Missouri?)  Klebs Clothing or the River Des Peres would be righteous choices as well...

Anyhow, I don't point out these facts to further divide us or to be contentious in any way.  If I come across like that it's because I'm fed up with the fact that the majority of people I talk to DO NOT GET THIS.  I simply want the truth to be realized.  I am not drawing a line in the sand and saying St. Louis (my favorite city in the region) should separate itself from it's less exciting, but much more well-monied/well-educated influential neighbors.  It's actually quite the opposite.  I simply want to speak honestly and accurately about our region and my city.  In order to do that you have to face some facts:
  • St. Louis City is its own County as well. St. Louis is not part of St. Louis County. It is in St. Louis City County (I kid you not, I learned this the first time I used Turbo Tax to file...it's true).
  • There are 90 cities in St. Louis County (St. George just dis-incorporated) and huge swaths of unincorporated land, none of which can accurately be called St. Louis.
  • Each city in St.Louis County has its own political, tax and other city entities. They have nothing to do with St. Louis.
  • If you live in St. Louis County and work there, you don't pay any St. Louis income or property taxes.
  • If you live in St. Louis County or elsewhere in the region and work in St. Louis, you pay 1% earning tax to St. Louis.
  • If you work in St. Louis County or elsewhere but live in St. Louis, you pay an additional 1% income tax earnings tax to St. Louis.
  • If you live in St. Louis County you cannot vote on St. Louis issues (mayor, taxes, reducing the # of aldermen, etc); and vice versa.
  • As of July, 2011 official Census data, St. Louis had a population of 318,069.
  • St. Louis is the 58th largest city in the United States, wedged right between Santa Ana and Riverside, California. (source)
  • The Greater St. Louis combined statistical area's (CSA) population of 2,878,255 and is the 16th-largest CSA in the country, the fourth-largest in the Midwest. The Greater St. Louis area is the largest metropolitan area in Missouri. 
  • St. Louis has the 62nd greatest population density/square mile of land area, wedged right between Erie, Pennsylvania and Detroit, Michigan.
  • In the late 1960's the city and county voted for a special Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District to raise money based on property taxes in the county AND city to go toward funding essential cultural institutions in St. Louis.  The Art Museum, Zoo and Science Center were included; Botanical Gardens were added in 1983 and the History Museum was added in 1988 (source).   
  • On March 23, 2007, the Missouri State Board of Education ended its accreditation of the St. Louis Public Schools and simultaneously created a new management structure for the district. A three-person Special Administrative Board was created, with members selected by the Missouri governor, the mayor of St. Louis, and the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. The current board has authority to operate the district through 2013. The local school board remains in place but has no administrative authority over the district.  Cities in St. Louis County have their own school districts, distinctly separate from St. Louis'.
  • St. Louis does not have local control of its police force.  St. Louis County and many municipalities have their own police and fire depts.
A brief break from the facts into opinion:  what are the 2 biggest issues facing St. Louis?  Many will tell you the schools and crime.  Hmmm, we don't have local control of either...

Similarly clustered up, St. Louis runs the suffering Lambert International Airport located in unincorporated St. Louis County between the cities of Bridgeton and Berkeley, Missouri.   The state voted down our ability to lure in international cargo business with the 2nd largest economy in the world:  China (source).  We are being held back as a region by competing interests and entities that should be feverishly working together to stem the bleeding and disinvestment.  We have external interests more powerful than our own controlling many of our key local interests.  I feel the county and state work against St. Louis more often than not.  That needs to change.

But when we do work together, the results can be astounding.  For example, the Zoo, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens are world-class institutions.  Every property owner in St. Louis and St. Louis County should be proud of there contribution to these amazing places.  This is the premier example of x-county monetary cooperation that I can think of.  Another prime example of x-county fruit is the Great Rivers Greenway District, funded by a 1/10th of 1 cent sales tax raised in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County, which generates $10 million annually. We can all be proud of that one too, and the bike trails seen throughout the city and county unite us as opposed to dividing us.
Maybe I'm in the minority in thinking that this region is drastically over engineered from a political standpoint...but the simple fact is, both St. Louis and St. Louis County are losing population.  People are voting with their feet and vacating this region at alarming rates.

Here are some other Midwestern cities and how we compare:

  • Indianapolis, IN #12 in population @ 827,609
  • Columbus, OH #15 in population @ 797,434
  • Nashville, TN #26 in population @ 609,644
  • Oklahoma City, OK #30 in population @ 591,967
  • Kansas City, MO #37 in population @ 463,202
  • St. Louis, MO #58 in population @ 318,069
We are a tiny city bleeding residents.  We are a large metropolitan region that is fractionalized more than maybe any region in our country.  The political systems are bloated and the people are stubborn.  We are an inbred (read: promotes from within entreched ranks) region that doesn't like change and is wary of new comers and progressive thought patterns.  We're now seeing where that is getting us.  2010 Census data indicate that the mighty County of St. Louis has posted its first population loss in its short history.  The city is bleeding, the formerly shiny all white suburbs are aging and showing signs of slipping infrastructure, unsafe streets, mounting debt, etc.  The County population is wicking out to St. Charles and other green fields to find cheaper new construction and less pesky poor people, with their social ills and minorities.  We have to fix this.  We need to be honest about where we live and how services get paid for and who foots the bill.  We need to embrace our problems and assets as a unified region, not a bunch of petty little suburban fiefdoms and one formerly grand city.  We need to become the biggest city in Missouri.

Understanding these facts are an important place to start.

I am not from St. Louis, so I had to learn these things myself.  And don't believe the Interstate signs sprinkled throughout St. Louis County, they too are misguided in false local lore, as the "Welcome to St. Louis" signs exist miles from St. Louis' actual borders:

I hope these facts are clear and provide readers with the proper context when thinking about and debating regional issues in an honest manor.

8 comments:

Dan Davinroy said...

One more fact: the city drew it's boundaries in the 19th century. Most likely a huge mistake. You stated in your Donnybrook post that the city has declined in the last 50 years. I disagree. The city of St. Louis went into decline when Chicago effectively took the cattle slaughtering industry away from St. Louis. St. Louis is better now than it was in the 70's. Take a look at the skyline and it will tell this. Although suburbia had a big hand in draining the city of residents you might even go back farther and blame the automobile. Lastly, you will never get people to say "I'm from Blackjack, or Mehlville, or Crestwood. They will always say St. Louis because whether they live in the county or the city they are inextricably tied to the city of St. Louis because it is the anchor. To your point then that is why we All have a stake in what happens in St. Louis city. Pointing out these details is interesting but people from other regions don't care. When someone from Tennessee drives past the sign that says St. Louis they don't care that there is dividing line between the city and county. I mean what should we call UMSL? University of Missouri Bellerive. I think not it will have to be St. Louis.

Dan Davinroy said...

Good news for joint cooperation.

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/st-louis-city-county-police-chiefs-agree-on-more-joint/article_cb6f0cc4-029c-5531-8947-a8b0937b41e6.html

Johnny B said...

Dan, right on on some of those points. Important to point out that St. Louis lost that industry because of the Riverboat industry's refusal to allow railroad interests to develop in St. Louis.

Anonymous said...

Every property owner in St. Louis and St. Louis County should be proud of their contribution to these amazing places.

Not trying to be the grammar police; just helping out. Good article.

Anonymous said...

Also, the only two cities in the US that exist as stand alone counties are St. Louis, MO and Baltimore, MD. And both have very similar issues with City-County relations.

Courtney said...

The city and the county really need to merge as one county. I feel like it would be better and more efficient for the economic growth of the city. I'm from a part of North County which, in my opinion, is more like the city than the rest of the county. But people in West or South county are hesitant to have anything to do with the city. Remember when Charlie Dooley tried to expand metrolink into south county?

But as I said, some parts of St. Louis county are more like the city than the county. I would personally rather be recognized as being from greater St. Louis than being from St. Louis county because St. Louis county is frequently associated with wealthy white suburbs that are stubborn to any connections with the city and that does not represent me or my neighborhood at all.

We also have to recognize that there is a great divide within the city itself. I can definitely feel a tension between north and south city separate from each neighborhood like the hill and soulard which I wouldn't really consider part of either.

I do think it is important that you point out the unique aspects of the city and its differences from the county. I really think the stubbornness of certain residents of the county and city are what's holding us back as a city. It's a great city and metropolitan area that I love deeply - but we could be so much better.

And @ Anon 7/30 - if you're going to use their you have to pluralize contribution. Sorry, not trying to be nit picky!

Mark Groth said...

^Dan, surely you've heard of Webster University? They did the right thing and honored their campus with the proper name of the city they reside in. Until UMSL moves to St. Louis, they are being dishonest with the name. That is a suburban commuter campus that shouldn't take our good name. With that being said, the KWMU move to Covenant Blu/Grand Center is most noble...and I'd welcome any other move that UMSL wants to make to be part of my fair city.

Dragonhide said...

Great blog.. I'm also new to St Louis.. I grew up on the East coast, and then lived in the rural areas south of STL.. Now I'm moving into SL City limits.. I discovered your blog while educating myself about all the neighborhoods in St Louis.. Your site is awesome.