So with our property taxes skyrocketing and sales tax increases being proposed left and right, maybe it's time to start asking the employees and politicians in the city where all the new money is going.
And, what are the priorities?
Complaining about taxes is something America was founded on, it's how we're wired. It's why we split from England. But, I'm not totally complaining about taxes, I know what the money goes to and it's stuff I take advantage of, including the public schools that my three kids attend. This stuff is not free and we can use more money (or better yet, spend it more wisely).
You can't pay for everything with Box Tops and Trivia Nights.
~61% of our property taxes go to our schools (distributed to public, magnet, charter).
More relevant to this post, 19% goes to city services (12% to municipal purposes).
But that's a pretty vague bucket. Lots of places need the money. What should the priorities be?
I think we should focus on the curb appeal of St. Louis' residential areas. How we come off to not just visitors, but people who live or are considering living here and rooting down in our neighborhoods.
Let's consider infrastructure at the ground level. Sidewalks and street trees are just two of the things that tell visitors and residents that we value healthy living, neighborhood investment and just safely getting around on foot. Not to mention, providing shade and a safe and healthy walking environment sidewalks and street trees are important.
A barren block with no street trees vs. a lush block tell you one place is important and cared for and the latter is not.
But so many other city services are important as well. New trash trucks for instance. But people who are considering moving somewhere don't hang around on trash day and check out the trash trucks. They expect the city to pick up the trash and run a program right, just don't mess it up. We pay a lot of money for these services, and should expect good budgeting and planning to maintain these basic city services.
People considering a move to St. Louis do, however, walk and drive the neighborhoods to see if they want to buy a home or rent an apartment here. They cruise the alleys. Further, visitors going to restaurants, etc park on the street and walk the sidewalks to their destinations.
Drivers notice the nice neighborhoods with street trees and the less cared for neighborhoods, noticeably barren and neglected of shade. Crumbling sidewalks are not as prevalent in neighborhoods with lots of middle class homeowners who are willing to do the 50-50 sidewalk replacements. Yet other neighborhoods with higher rental mixes and fixed or low income homeowners have lots and lots of crumbling sidewalks.
I was thrilled to see the final products of street trees, box cuts and new sidewalks on Newstead Avenue in the Ville.
In my neck of the woods the sidewalks and street tree canopy are in pretty bad shape. When I was on our neighborhood association several years back, we completed a project to plant trees on Russell and Ohio Avenues. It makes a difference, trust me. You can read my case for why street trees matter and learn more about that Fox Park endeavor from 2015.
At one point our neighborhood association was considering taking on a sidewalk project to match funds for repair in our baddest of the bad examples. It's expensive and the project never gained traction.
Shouldn't the city make walking and curb appeal a priority? Are sidewalks a key element of our curb appeal? Or, is trash and poor exterior home maintenance more a contributor to negative impressions?
When I hear people say North City is devoid of responsible oversight and investment, I get kind of ticked off? Nah, it's the entire city.
I walked my neighborhood and took photos of the worst offenders of sidewalks. I won't bore you with the 60 or so I documented, but I will show several to demonstrate the varying degrees of problems we have in walking, not so mention pushing a stroller or navigating a wheelchair.
It's a mess. But should this be a place the city invests when the property owner should have a stake in this as well? Should the city crack down on property owners who let the sidewalks get this dangerous?
Should there be more incentives or advertisement of the 50-50 sidewalk program? Should there be Federal grants to assist high density areas? Should there be pressure on the landlords of properties to cite them on their horribly maintained properties?
By my simple way of thinking, sidewalks are important to a healthy/whole/cared-for city.