Exodus Continues: St. Louis Loses 29K Residents

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A bomb has hit St. Louis. Nearly a half century after the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood was flattened in the name of “urban renewal” and nicknamed “Hiroshima Flats” for its decades long barren landscape, the City of St. Louis continues to experience an exodus of grand proportions. The city population peaked with the 1950 Census at 856,796 residents. The 2000 Census recorded 348,189 residents. The 2010 Census officially counted 319,294 residents.

The quick conclusion must be that the City of St. Louis is failing in dramatic fashion. Neither the proposed $578M Arch grounds renovation or signing Albert Pujols is going to change that. The very structure of our city must change. There are success stories to be sure. Many neighborhoods are “coming back”. There is reinvestment and new construction, but we cannot allow that to mask our larger issues.

It had become conventional wisdom that the City had hit bottom, that the population was now increasing for the first time since 1950. The 2009 American Community Survey, a yearly estimate produced by the U.S. Census Bureau had estimated the population had grown 356,587 residents.

There will be plenty of time to pour over the details, better understand the results and add context to the numbers. However, this should be a defining moment in history of St. Louis. Losing 8% of our already decimated population is a result few, if any, saw coming. It’s past time to ask ourselves the difficult questions about what constitutes a healthy and vibrant community. Perhaps this can serve to focus our attention.

Who is the city losing and why? Where can new ideas come from? When will the “old guard” who have overseen this exodus stop cutting ribons and turning dirt with a smile and silver shovel and simply get out of the way? The City of St. Louis is subject to national and international trends that challenge every historic American city, but what we have done has failed.

City of St. Louis Census 2010 Neighborhood Comparison by nextSTL.com

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  • RVSTL

    Where did you get this information? I can’t find it anywhere.

  • RVSTL

    In all fairness, I don’t think population figures alone give an accurate picture as to the city’s overall health. Pittsburgh continues to lose both city and metro (they fell below 300,000 this year), and it was ranked one of the most livable cities in the nation earlier this week. Chicago lost 200,000 in the past 10 years and no one is panicking there. This just sucks for STL because a lot of us felt like the exodus had finally reversed. How deflating.

  • Legal Eagle

    Where did you find this? Also, your numbers don’t add up. If the AP is reporting that the population is now 319,000 then that’s a loss of 37,587 from the 2000 census, not 29K.

  • Frank DeGraaf

    Correction: 2000 Census official number was: 348,189

    • Alex Ihnen

      Thanks Frank.

  • Jason Stokes
  • http://urbanmilwaukee.com Dave Reid

    Also something that has been happening in all cities is household sizes have been declining so you may actually add or hold steady on housing but see declines in population.

  • Aaron M. Renn

    Alex, two things:

    1. I have been critical of challenging Census estimates, this is a perfect example of why.

    2. But don’t feel too bad. Both Chicago and central Indy came in badly below their 2009 estimates, and even the city of Houston was 100,000 light. This negative surprise is going to be a national trend I suspect.

  • Scott Ogilvie

    I have a whole heap of thoughts – in no particular order:
    1.) Why are the ACS 2009 estimates so far off the 2010 count?
    2.) How much population was lost from the “Northside” project area – with 7+ years of displacement?
    3.) Can we finally talk about reducing the number of aldermen and establishing a serious planning / design department that takes control over some of their current functions?
    4.) We are definitely being under-counted, but by how much?
    5.) Young people (20 – 35) move around more than older people (35+) We have to attract more here and get them to stay.
    6.) Jobs are less connected to companies / industry than in the past – so attracting more folks with education means (almost by definition, but not quite) more jobs / job creation.
    7.) The Board of Aldermen should look at the City first and their Wards second. They should commit to one goal above others: and that is a growing population for the whole City.
    8.) We pay for a bigger city than we have. We have infrastructure for 500,000 easy. If we keep shrinking, fights over pensions / layoffs / etc. are going to get worse. We need to grow.
    9.) We have assets. We have a beautiful city that does provide opportunity – we have affordable housing, lets get out there and sell it to people on the move.

  • grumpasaurus

    When I first came to the Stl area in 2004, it still seemed like there was still quite a bit of population shift going on from the City to St. Louis County to St. Charles County. St. Charles went up quite a bit over the past 10 years. I would be interested to see if there’s any population data that shows St. Louis City just past a local minimum (maybe 2006-2007?) on the curve.

  • DaveofRichmond

    The Census Bureau now has it out on their site and the official number for St Louis City is 319,294. St. Louis County also declined slightly, to 998,954. All other counties around St Louis were up, some by more than 25%.

  • Kasey Klimes

    On a positive note, perhaps this will put an end to the nostalgic revivalist tone I’ve heard from many in St. Louis (the past is gone, folks) so we can accept that we are a relatively small city – and from there work to make St. Louis a healthy, sustainable, livable city, regardless of size.

  • Ibleedlou

    We left because of the job opportunities in MSP. I’d move back tomorrow if I could as I love STL, but the jobs aren’t there and that means crime is. Missing our place on S. Grand, I am.

    • alki

      Jobs! Bingo. Its why the comments up above about the “Old Guard” are so apropo. The people who are ‘in charge’ either don’t get it, don’t want to get it or don’t care. Either way, they need to step away, and if they don’t, then the rest of us need to circumvent them. Social media/internet blogs were effective in bringing down some dictators in the ME. I think they can be effective in bringing about change in our cities.

  • Xing

    Many Chicagoans believe their numbers came low, because while so many small families moved in, a smaller number of bigger families moved out. This explains why many in Chicago felt the city as if it was growing, but were so surprised the negative growth. The situation , essentially suggests, that single people moved in (singles, unmarried couples, husbands and wives without children etc.), but have not yet created the families they may grow in the future. The big families moved out in big numbers that the smaller amount of immigration and singles couldn’t fill in. As long as people stick with the movement, and stay confident, time can change all of this.

    It will all take time, but I believe the overall mindset is that cites like Chicago, and St Louis, are planting the seeds of the future for a new start. The buildings are being fixed up, yet smaller families are moving in, and those small families and singles will eventually grow, as they also assist in revitalizing the city for the future.

    • Justin

      That’s exactly what struck me when looking at “affluent,” “gentrifying” and “poor” neighborhoods all losing double digit populations; haven’t we seen a lot of 4 to 2 apartment building conversions, 2 to 1, etc, as well as singles moving into homes that were previously occupied by more people? Not to gloss over the loss of 29k but this seems like it would explain a good chunk of that.

  • Xing

    BTW, that map is very similar to other cities that lost population. The city core grew dramatically (often including downtowns), while the rest of the city dropped hugely. Basically things are kind of being cleansed, hopefully not in a bad way. It seems obvious that the core has to stay strong, and continue what it’s doing, as it spreads to the rest of the city. Fixing up downtown, and the city’s center was a huge step. Let’s hope that all these cities are coming along the same way- fixing up their city’s core, as that spreads outward, little-by-little.

  • Angie Schmitt

    You know what I think. These feel good neighborhood revitalization projects, urban gardening, the arts community, it is all worthless unless regions like St. Louis stop giving developers and residents every incentive to move to the most distant suburb. St. Louis, like Cleveland, needs regional land use planning and it needs to draw a line on sprawl. Otherwise, the city and the suburbs are going down together.

  • Justin Root

    Side note: this motivates me to return to StL after grad school.

  • http://twitter.com/stev0205 Stephen Orr

    Is it not a possibility that for 5 years (2000-2005) the population of the city dropped dramatically and for the past 5 years (2006-2010) the population has been slowly increasing..? I mean these studies are 10 years apart and I think many people can agree that things SEEM on the upswing for the city?

  • Mlewyn

    Despite all the nattering about suburban sprawl, the fact of the matter is that the most urban parts of the city (Downtown, CWE) are booming.. Its the in between areas (bad neighborhoods, old working class ethnic neighborhoods) that are losing.

  • http://hergreenlife.wordpress.com Melissa @ HerGreenLife

    Want to attract and keep 20- and 30-somethings? Look to the cities like Portland that do just that, despite a high cost of living and lack of jobs. Portland has a Smart Growth strategy in place to limit sprawl, and has invested heavily in alternate, active transportation, including bicycle infrastructure.

    Also, I hesitate to open this can of worms, but as a city resident about to start a family, the school situation in the city will continue to make it hard to attract and retain young families.

    Bottom line: I love my adopted city. St. Louis has a lot going for it but will require a lot of energy, persistence, and creativity to overcome the challenges.

  • Dima

    Population estimate for cities often come in low early on, then they are challenged by the cities, and then they are increased. Expect the City of St. Louis’ population to be re-estimated much nearer to 350,000, perhaps even 355,000.

  • Stlplanr

    The most important measure to watch is the in- or out-migration among households earning more than an area’s median income. I am betting that measure was positive for 2000-2010. I also imagine that measure was negative in 1950, despite officially gaining in total population. Obviously, there is a “quality over quantity” nuance that simple population numbers mask.