Understanding St. Louis: Population, Density & Neighborhoods

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STL population density visualized by neighborhood

*for this graphic, habitable area of the City of St. Louis was calculated to be 48.176 square miles. The city is officially 66.2 square miles, with land area measured at 61.9 square miles. Subtracted from this were city parks, Bellefontaine and Cavalry Cemeteries and the largely industrial neighborhoods of North Riverfront, Near North Riverfront, Riverview, and Kosciusko

This graphic is meant to serve as the starting point for a better understanding of the city. Understanding St. Louis is the first step to considering what we want and what action to then take. Here, we can consider: Is population important to the city? If so, what's the goal? Why? What would it look like? Where is our city relatively dense, and where is it not? Some popular neighborhoods are less dense than the city average (and in a city that's 1/3 as dense as 1950). Do Lafayette Square or Soulard serve as a model for city development? If so, should we expect further depopulation? What does that tell us about the city we want, the city we're building, and what to expect in the future?
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For comparison, here are the population densities of some St. Louis County municipalities and other major U.S. cities (using total land area and not subtracting industrialized areas, parks or cemeteries):

University City 5,995/sq mi = an STL City of 371K
Maplewood 5,364/sq mi = an STL City of 332K
Webster Groves 3,897/sq mi = an STL City of 241K
Kirkwood = 2,993/sq mi = an STL City of 185K
Maryland Heights 1,284/sq mi = an STL City of 79K
Ladue 991/sq mi = an STL City of 61K.

San Francisco 17K/sq mi = an STL City of 1.06M
Chicago 12K/sq mi = an STL City of 734K
Washington D.C. 10K/sq mi = an STL City of 607K
Seattle 7.2K/sq mi = an STL City of 449K
Pittsburgh 5.5K/sq mi = an STL City of 341K.

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  • Mathew Chandler

    Id assume neighborhoods such as Gravois Park and BPW will loose some density once/if it gentrifies. Converted multifamily to single family, much like Benton Park has.

  • Joseph Frank

    Some of these neighborhoods contain large areas of industrial/commercial property, which may or may not be occupied but tends to diminish their density based on the official boundaries. For example, Soulard would look better if you removed the Brewery and its northern surface parking lots; and Tiffany would look a lot better if you removed the SLU complex from the land area. And for that matter Kings Oak — if you look at the few houses remaining on Lawn, Berthold and Wise, the density is probably comparable to Forest Park Southeast.

  • rgbose

    If the households today had as many people per as they did in 1950 how many people would St Louis city have? How many people would St Louis County have if each household had as many people per as St Louis city had in 1950?

    • Alex Ihnen

      In 1950, average household size in the St. Louis region was 3.25. In 2000 it was 2.37 and has likely fallen since then. There are quite a number of ways to look at the issue, but the most stark may be that in 1950 9% of households consisted of 1 person, in 2000 the percentage had increased to 27%. I imagine that the change has been more dramatic in the City of St. Louis, but who knows, the 1950s/60s may have seen more one-person apartment dwellers working in the city?

  • Guest

    If St. Louis County was included, the density #s would plummet.

  • JNOnSTL

    It’s hard to imagine today having almost 900k people crammed into the City limits as they did in the 1950s. In some regards, it seems almost inevitable that people would have spread out once the interstate system allowed them to. It would have been beneficial for our grandparents to have had some foresight into the social & civic problems the ‘flight’ created, but hindsight is always 20/20 (though many still believe moving further west & south has no effect on our region as a whole). A question would be, if the City’s boundaries weren’t fixed, but allowed to expand, how much of an effect would that have had? Would the landscape look much different if the limits went to 270? Or even 170?

    • JNOnSTL

      My presupposition would also include the the City being a part of the County, and (sorry Clayton) the seat. And I realize that the density would have fallen. Not looking into specific population/density numbers, but if the City could have retained some of the ‘flight’, how would that have affected the economic & civic landscape?

      • Alex Ihnen

        Interesting question. Presumably, the purposely low density development (requiring 1/2 acre per single-family home, limits on multi-family developments, etc.) wouldn’t have happened. It’s all guesswork, but one can imagine a more focused regional vision and perhaps more funding for civic projects if civic services were more efficiently delivered. Perhaps the certainty is that St. Louis would not have developed a reputation as a high-crime city. Who knows what effect that would have had.

    • JPCosgrove

      I’m all for density, but I think 900k people in the city limits would be a bit too much. 500k-600k with a density of 8-10k would be a more reasonable number.

      • Alex Ihnen

        Yes – that’s part of what these numbers reveal (IMO). St. Louis at 900K+ people was so vastly different than even our densest neighborhoods today that I don’t think many people, even self-described urbanists, are aiming for a return. If 500K or so can be seen as the max, then how do we get there? What should we be doing (and not doing)?

        • JPCosgrove

          I think the City needs to fix its school system and lower the crime rate (yes, I know it’s skewed, but it still has a lot to do with perception), first before people will start moving back en masse. Of course these two problems are enormously difficult to fix and I wouldn’t even know where to start on them.Expanding public transportation options wouldn’t hurt either. We should NOT be favoring suburban-style housing tracts and cheap parking lot retail over mixed-use urban infill, for starters.

          • onecity

            The crime rate probably isn’t as bad as it looks – using homicide as an example, murder is extremely high north of Page and in the vicinity of Gravois Park (very poor areas), and there are relatively isolated incidents elsewhere. Citywide murder rate is 45ish per 100k, but S of page it’s only 12ish per 100k – a lot of which comes from Gravois Park (so that area needs some hard core gentrification) – and a number which is not too far off of Boston and only 3/100k worse than uber safe MPLS. But that message gets no publicity.

            The school problems are more complex. You need neighborhood schools all the way through 12th grade serving only the most middle class neighborhoods to really start to make a dent – i.e. not citywide enrollment. Otherwise the middle and upper class indifference and disinvestment in public schools will continue, since no one with means wants to dump their kids in the cruddy poverty monoculture that currently is a lot of SLPS. That said, SLPS has several of the best schools in the state, but they can be difficult to get into and as such hard for parents to plan their lives to.

            And on transit, yes. Among other routes, there should be a N-S along Grand all the way to I-70 to spur reinvestment and make one of the city’s major streets (and entry points from the west) live up to its name.

      • Nick

        Higher population in some parts of the city seems undesirable, disconcerting even, but what about Downtown and Downtown West? It seems like they have the potential for a huge increase in density because of the taller buildings (or potential for taller buildings). Downtown’s streets and sidewalks are made for a much higher population, but I don’t know what the number would be. Anyone have an estimate of Downtown’s potential?

      • kevin Murphy

        A density of 10k is the ideal in my opinion

  • Dave

    I found this VERY interesting. It would be excellent to also include St. Louis county cities (or at least a handful) and get some comparisons there. Anyone know where we land currently in population density for other major U.S. Cities? If we were to obtain the population density of say Fox Park, where would this put us density-wise in relation to cities we often strive to be more like?