We need more people in St. Louis. We've lost ~500,000 in ~50 years. I would not be surprised if we lose more in the 2020 census count. A simple stop to the mass exodus would surely be touted by the city leaders as a success, even without a numeric gain in people. This will be hard to listen to and hard to stomach. It's like them saying: "whew, we finally hit rock bottom, we can only go up from here". And of course rock bottom will have been hit during their tenure. So how are we going to get more people to choose St. Louis? Where will they come from?
The obvious solution would be to merge the 90 cities and huge swaths of unincorporated regions of St. Louis County with St. Louis. But I don't see this happening anytime soon.
In light of the lack of regional cooperation, we could try to go toe to toe with the suburbs and wage a campaign based on luring the generations of people who exited the city in droves for the suburbs. But to me that's a tough sell. I am of the opinion that people who left the city and still live in the metropolitan region did so for race and class issues and moving back would be considered a failure to many...a step in the wrong direction for the sons/daughters of those who exited for greener pastures in the staid burbs.
So what are you going to do, where do you best focus your efforts?
For my money, you focus on folks outside the metropolitan region. We need more people that can see St. Louis is a new light. People who don't quit before trying, like so many naysayers in this region. We need more immigrants, we need more diversity (other than just the white and black people who make up over 90% of the St. Louis population) we need outsiders with a fresh take. Wouldn't it be great to have a Chinatown area of STL? Build upon the small but amazingly awesome Hispanic/Latino community around St. Cecilia's and Cherokee Street? Build upon the small but no less awesome Southeast Asian population we have...we need that to be a vibrant city.
And maybe above all, we simply need more employable/skilled/educated people living in the city. Let's be frank for a moment and admit that we have a huge problem of high school drop outs living in this town with a very thin family structure to support them. Sadly, their futures are not very bright and at the end of the day, they are not engaged in a positive future for St. Louis. They are the face of crime and failures in our schools.
Some will say vocational training, education and family planning is what we need to elevate the current class that are willfully ignorant of a dignified lifestyle and wanting to put their kids in the best possible position for future success. I agree, but it is going to take decades to reverse the trend of high school drop outs, poor parent/family structure and ghetto/thug mentality prevalent in St. Louis. This is a societal problem and we need a quicker fix than that. We need immediate action. Immigrants can help dilute out the real or perceived problems we currently face with our reputation and our curb appeal.
So how do we lure in productive members of society to be part of St. Louis' future?
In my mind there are two basic things:
1. Focus on luring in young employable/educated/talented/skilled people in their 20s.
2. Make St. Louis a national destination for immigrants from anywhere around the globe.
St. Louis is very affordable and cool and has huge underdog post-rust belt big city attributes. The future is bright in St. Louis City and we need more hard working, intelligent, skilled minds and bodies here that can contribute and devote time to the things that will continue to right the ship.
Let's face it, being educated and/or hard working is your ticket to success in this country. Success means financial stability. Financial stability means more personal time. More personal time means more community and volunteer time. We need an informed electorate that can make educated decisions for our leadership and civic structure and will look past the color of a candidates skin to cast their vote at the ballot box. That simply doesn't work and it's antiquated and boring and divides us.
We need leaders that can focus their efforts on bringing in tax paying, productive members of society to St. Louis. This does not mean turning your back on the droves of people who live here who are poor, uneducated and woefully unemployable. It will bring in a generation that can help fix things and elevate our neighborhoods north to south and bring in a tax base. I feel we are in this fight alone and will get little help and only increasing competition from the small cities and suburbs around us for the tax dollars and residents.
Why not have an urban outreach arm of concerned citizens to recruit at local and regional universities. Advertising and communication efforts to recruit educated people to the city. For example, there are some AMAZING agricultural universities in this country. Maybe urbanists could team up with the Monsantos and the Wash Us and the Solaes and the Sigmas and the Cortexs to advertise the amazing local technology providers and researchers and team it up to sell the local amenities and urban renaissance that is St. Louis. It's a cheap place to live and play...we should be at Cornell, Iowa State, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas A&M, etc touting our fine scientific employers and city living (which is what younger workers want). This group could lobby the realty organizations to share the positives of St. Louis City living. I cannot tell you how many professionals I've encountered from outside the region who were teamed up with a realtor that dissuaded the new arrivals (in some cases passionately) to not even SHOP the city. That's damaging and misguided. We need to be able to counter that.
People in their 20s are going to find it harder and harder to buy a home in the big U.S. cities if current lending terms continue to favor those with $ for substantial down payments and rents continue to raise as a result. St. Louis is still cheap enough to make owning a home a definite possibility.
Secondly, we need to promote immigration from outside the U.S. The last noticeable wave of immigrants came from Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, Romania, etc. during the political unrest and wars of the 1990s. This immigration was a boon to St. Louis. As a result we have new faces, language, dialects, food styles, traditions, minarets, etc. These people have added to our culture. Drive down Gravois south of Chippewa and count how many storefronts are occupied by former Eastern European business owners and patrons. These people are hard working and industrious. They want places to continue their heritage, lifestyle and culture. The doors are of course open to anyone else who wants to go. We are missing the boat by not acknowledging this group of people with 'Little Sarejevo' status or whatever.
We need another noticeable wave of immigration. We need more dialects, we need more industrious people who don't say "I/we can't" before they even try. I would like to hear current Mayor Slay or opponent Lewis Reed role out their vision for increasing our population and density in St. Louis. Their policies since taking office are clearly not working. Some new ideas need to be vetted and executed.
We need outsiders. We need new blood. We need more immigrants.