The View from Kirkwood

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I love this town but damn it frustrates me.  Saint Louis has the potential to be a great region again.  We have a blossoming and nationally recognized innovation and start up scene.  We are a hotbed for the life sciences, a hub for the financial service industry and presently have the world’s largest concentration of plant scientists, and these are just a few of our present opportunities to grow and build upon.  We have impressive cultural attractions for a region of our size and a historic urban fabric that has enormous potential if we actually played our cards right.  Although none of these opportunities will be able to overcome our region’s overwhelming handicap.  The insanely fragmented and destructive way we govern as a region.  The data has been in for a long time now.  Our region is redundant, broken and we are all losing because of it.  It is time to fix it.

In 1876, our regional ancestors narrowly voted for the “great divorce,” an unusual move that separated the City of Saint Louis from Saint Louis County.  The City of Saint Louis remains an independent charter city today that requires it to operate its own county and municipal government services.  In 1876 Saint Louis County was mostly farmland and grew piecemeal and today includes 90 municipal governments, 81 municipal courts, 43 different fire districts and departments and 59 police departments in addition to the St. Louis County services.  Not surprisingly, today the Saint Louis region has the 3rd most governments per capita of the top 35 major metro areas.

The events in the Saint Louis suburb of Ferguson put our region and all its dysfunction on the front page worldwide.  Investigative stories from the Washington Post, Huffington Post and the New York Times exposed us to the world.  How St. Louis County’s jigsaw puzzle of tiny municipal governments, police departments and courts poach off its citizens with speed traps and fines in order to fund the existence of their unnecessary layer of government.  The level of corruption and ineptitude along with the wasted tax dollars that is allowed to flourish in our present system is jaw dropping.

Long before Ferguson, one would think that if Saint Louis were a model for smart governance that other regions would have emulated it over the years.  That of course has never happen and many of the most successful and prosperous regions have made bold moves to build a region that looks the exact opposite of Saint Louis.  Smart, efficient and effective.

Saint Louis compared to our peers

Nashville and Indianapolis are two nearby regions that made impactful decisions decades ago to consolidate their regional governments and have been kicking our tails ever since.  Between 2000 and 2010 the population of the Nashville Metro area grew over 5 times the rate of the St. Louis Metro. The Indianapolis Metro was 3.5 times the rate of Saint Louis Metro.

Five decades ago these two regions couldn’t hold a candle to St. Louis in economic might and now they are on their way to passing us. Not only did Nashville and Indianapolis not originally separate their central city from its county like St. Louis, rather they went in the opposite direction and consolidated their city governments with their respective county governments, dissolved many of the municipality governments and streamlined the delivery of services.

Nashville merged with Davidson County in 1963 and Indianapolis combined with Marion County in 1970. Since that time, they’ve been economically dominating to St. Louis.  Leaders in both these regions attribute much of their success to their unified government and it is often a central theme to any sales pitch in attracting new business and investment.

The graphs demonstrate the difference in the growth of two regions that have taken impressive steps to work and compete regionally compared to the parochial structure and attitude of St. Louis.

normalized metropolitan statistical areas for St. Louis, Indianapolis and Nashville
{normalized metropolitan statistical areas for St. Louis, Indianapolis and Nashville}

normalized populations since 1970 of Davidson County that includes Nashville, Marion County that includes Indianapolis and the combined population of St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis
{normalized populations since 1970 of Davidson County that includes Nashville, Marion County that includes Indianapolis and the combined population of St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis}

Our Statistics and Image Would Improve

In recent times, St. Louis has been labeled with the country’s highest STD rates, the nation’s worst teeth and the most dangerous place in the country.  These lists are often times nonsense, but the damage they do to the image and the economy of our region is real. A poor regional image will affect people’s decision to relocate for a job or where a group chooses to host their conventions.  Regional perceptions influence decisions on where to open a new business, vacation or go to college.

To the rest of the country and the world our negative perception is the reality.  It has even become a reality to many that live within the region.  It is difficult to imagine that with all of the wonder attributes that we have in Saint Louis that we could have such a poor self image.

So how would reentry improve our statistics? 

St. Louis is at the top of many of these negative lists, in particular the crime and health categories (STD rates, obesity, teen pregnancy, bad teeth), because of our fragmented government.  The city and county separation in particular.

Health statistics

Statistics used for many of these publications are pulled from county health records.  As a charter city, the City of St. Louis is its own county and has its own county health department. On top of this unnecessary duplication, this oddity in government structure puts us at a statistical disadvantage because almost every other city in the nation is a municipality within a much larger county.

The statistics of the 62 square miles of urban St. Louis is being compared to regions that include significantly larger portions of their population, including their suburbs.

Reentering the city as a municipality of Saint Louis County, like most cities in America are today, would not only be a positive step toward smarter regional government but would also level the playing field in these rankings. When compared apples to apples our region is a nice and healthy place to live and we should be represented as such.


Like many metropolitan areas, we have too much crime.  Although it is ridiculous for our region with a relatively modest 2013 metro ranking of 256 out of the 350 metros in crime to be branded as one of the most dangerous in press outlets across the world.  That stigma is debilitating.  Both Nashville (269) and Indianapolis (310) metro areas have a higher metro rate of crime than Saint Louis, but crime and dysfunction are not the immediate thoughts from outsiders when these regions are discussed. That damaging distinction gets placed on us.

Although unlike health rankings, re-entering the city as a municipality of St. Louis County alone will not immediately change the city’s crime rate.

The City of St. Louis is legally unable to expand its borders like many other American cities and has the same 62 square mile land area and city limits as it did back in 1876 when the city and county originally divorced. So as many cities have grown through annexation and mergers, St. Louis could not.

So today when we are comparing the statistics of the 62 square miles in the City of St. Louis to cities like Jacksonville (747 square miles), Houston (599), Nashville (475), Phoenix (516), San Antonio (460), Dallas (340), Kansas City (315), Oklahoma City (606) and many others it is a very unfair comparison.  Here is a list of United States cities by area size

The city of Jacksonville is roughly the size of the sum of all of St. Louis County plus three cities of St. Louis.  If we had the city limits of Jacksonville, St. Louis would be considered one of the safest cities in America.

Through best practices, improved standards and more cooperation we can achieve better public safety and at a lower cost.  Plus nothing helps reduce crime like a growing and inclusive economy.

If we were to follow the paths of regions like Nashville and Indianapolis and merged the city and county governments while eliminating many of the municipality governments in Saint Louis County, we would become a Top 10 American city again (we are presently #58).  This would transform our global image from one that is broken and dangerous to one that is taking the bold and necessary steps to become competitive in the 21st century economy.

list of Top 10 American cities if Saint Louis City and County merged similar to the consolidations that occurred in Nashville and Indianapolis
{list of Top 10 American cities if Saint Louis City and County merged similar to the consolidations that occurred in Nashville and Indianapolis}

For me a smarter, modern and more efficient Saint Louis is the desired end result.  Although a significantly improved Saint Louis regional brand and image would be very welcomed additional benefits.

The Cost of Fragmentation

In 2010 the Saint Louis Post Dispatch had a fantastic series called “Can St. Louis compete?”  Reading these articles is a must, but I will give you a quick take so you can understand some of the destructive effects of our fragmentation.  A main theme of the series is how our redundant governments and services cost the taxpayers money, but these inefficiencies are just a fraction of the problem, as reported by Tim Logan in “The Cost of Fragmentation”

…”such dysfunctional duplication, and the lack of focus it underscores, speaks to a serious challenge St. Louis faces as it tries to find its place in the global economy: The region’s ongoing struggle to act as one.” 

“Right now, we’ve all got on the same uniform, but we’re not on the same team,” said Mike Jones, senior policy adviser to St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley and a veteran of economic development in the city and the county. “People still look at it like, ‘I’m from Shrewsbury.” I’m from Brentwood.’ In the world of the 21st century, those places don’t exist. St. Louis exists, but those places don’t exist.”

Intra-regional Competition

The fragmentation problem of St. Louis is compounded as our local governments compete with one another over the same jobs and sales tax revenue and use our tax dollars as incentives. This means that corporations, for example, threaten to move from downtown to Clayton or vice versa every time their lease expires in order to coerce huge taxpayer handouts.  Or when a municipality lures a Wal-Mart or other big box store from a neighboring municipality by giving away millions of our tax dollars and then considers this economic growth.

Rather than wasting millions of our tax dollars shuffling existing jobs around, we need to use our resources in ways that grow and attract new jobs into the region.

The rampant abuse with Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) and other taxpayer funded development tools in the intra-regional competition for sales tax revenue is another destructive symptom of our parochial mentality.

In the Post Dispatch article “St. Louis area stunts growth by feeding on itself”,

In a slow-growth region like St. Louis, these government giveaways amount to a zero-sum game. Dozens of municipalities pilfer business from one another – mostly retail outlets, with their low-wage jobs – while the metropolitan area at large gains little in the way of employment or wealth. Rather than luring new investment, the economic ecosystem essentially feeds on itself.

Since 2000, according to state records, local governments in our region have authorized $1.7 billion in tax increment financing. Of that, $1.3 billion has been in Missouri, and nearly half of that has paid for suburban shopping centers.

Through transportation development districts, local governments also have approved $340 million in new sales taxes to pay for roads and parking, mostly at retail centers. 

It’s also a prime example, critics say, of how development incentives have run amok in St. Louis, gobbling up money we could have used to help the region compete in an increasingly complex and knowledge-based global economy.

Academic research, Thomas said, has found that 90 percent to 95 percent of jobs in TIF-financed retail centers are not new to the metro area, but moved from somewhere nearby.

All this money to finance retail saps other efforts to grow our economy, said St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann. He’s been a vocal critic of this system for years, and says we need to focus more on regional efforts to create real jobs.

“You can’t just call anything economic development and justify it, “he said. “This is just one city at the expense of another, or St. Charles County at the expense of St. Louis County.”

But that’s the way our system works, TIFs defenders say.

Railing against TIF misses the point, said Greg Smith, a lawyer with Husch Blackwell in Clayton who has represented cities and developers in incentive deals. It’s not designed to create jobs but rather to help St. Louis-area cities patch holes in their budget.

“The real issue is why don’t we plan or deliver services regionally,” Smith said. “That’s the crux of it, not which tools we use.”

Still, the high costs of TIF are clear, and all the sales tax money it attracts is just shifting around.

Consider Gravois Bluffs in Fenton, which got incentives totaling $80 million. Its success helped empty out Crestwood Plaza, just six miles away. St. Louis Mills, built in Hazelwood with a $18.5 million TIF and a $34 million transportation development district, helped finish off St. Ann’s Northwest Plaza.

Americans want urban options

An impressive collection of evidence documents that today’s young adults have a pronounced taste for urban living. One poll, conducted by the marketing firm Lesser & Co., reported that 77 percent of Americans born after 1981 want to live in an “urban core.” More than 70 percent said they would remain urbanites even after they had children.

All this is in addition to the baby boomers now approaching retirement. Another survey by Lesser found that 71 percent of the boomers placed “walking distance to transit” at the top of their list of housing demands.

This is an opportunity for St. Louis.  The world has fallen back in love with cities and we have an urban core with a rich history that is in a class with only a handful of elite American cities.

If we worked smarter and thought of ourselves regionally like they do in Nashville and Indianapolis, our historic urban core could be one of our greatest assets.

Regional trends have changed

St. Louis County is now in a similar situation to where the City was 60 years ago, landlocked and with very little of the remaining cheap and undeveloped land that has driven its growth for the last century. That advantage has shifted to St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin Counties.

The 2010 Census showed that St. Louis County population is stagnant.  Between 2000 and 2010 while the region was overall down only 32,000, Saint Louis County had 88,000 jobs disappear.  Some of those jobs have returned as the economy has rebounded but the writing is on the wall is that the status quo is failing Saint Louis County.

Meanwhile in the city after a half-century of nothing but negative trends things have began to turn around. Since 2000, billions of dollars have been invested throughout the city and many city neighborhoods have been revitalized. Presently there is a construction boom going on in the central corridor that hasn’t been seen in more than 60 years. The 2010 census showed that the city lost overall population but it also showed that the demographics of those choosing to live in the city is changing dramatically.

In 2000, only 19.1% of the city population had a bachelor’s degree or higher which was 1.5 points below the state average of 21.6%. By 2013 according to census numbers that percentage has exploded to 29.6% and 3.4 points above the 2013 state average 26.2%.

Regardless of trends, we must focus on the big picture that we are significantly stronger working together than as independent and competing tiny pieces and that the present system has been damaging the region our entire lifetime.

What about school districts?

Our region and state need to find solutions for kids in failing districts but it should not be attached to streamlining regional governments and services.  These need to be addressed as totally separate issues.  School districts already cross municipal lines and have independent taxing authority and would remain that way after any type of consolidation of governments or services.  I believe attaching these two conversations would confuse and potentially doom both efforts.

What is the government structure in Nashville and Indy?

The Indianapolis consolidated city-county system, called UniGov, has an elected mayor that heads the executive branch and the legislative branch is made up of the 29 member City-County Council.

Nashville consolidated city-county government, called Metro, includes six smaller municipalities in a two-tier system. Thirty-five of 40 members are elected from single-member districts; five are elected at-large.

We don’t have to re-discover the wheel here.  Study what has worked well in other regions, what would make sense here and do that.

What exactly are you proposing?

My goal is to highlight the ridiculous fragmentation we have in Saint Louis City and County, the damage it has and continues to cause to our region and beat the drums for change.

If Nashville and Indianapolis could consolidate and work smarter as a region without nearly as much to gain as Saint Louis from a similar effort, at some point I believe we can do it too. Politically in St. Louis, a full city-county merger is unlikely right now. What is possible is enacting smaller but impactful reforms using the information gathered through groups like Better Together.

Better Together is a grassroots project sponsored by the Missouri Council for a Better Economy (MCBE) that is studying our region and comparing it to the best practices across the country. The goal is to find possible solutions to improve in areas of public finance, public safety, economic development, public health, parks and recreation and general administration.  The studies published so far have been eye opening and they have made suggestions that could dramatically improve our region. The hope is that other organizations and our regional leaders will act on many of these recommendations. This assessment and conversation is direly needed so please add your voices to the conversation. Change will only occur with pressure from the citizens of Saint Louis demanding it.

A Kirkwood business owner

I’m a dentist with a practice in Kirkwood.  Of our 17 employees at this location, only one actually lives in Kirkwood.  Some live in the city, most live throughout Saint Louis County in different municipalities and unincorporated parts of Saint Louis County.  The vast majority of our patients are also not from Kirkwood but from all over the region.  Regardless of which individual puzzle piece we live in, at our practice we understand that we all live in Saint Louis and the practice and everyone’s livelihoods are directly linked to the health of our regional economy.  This is a concept Saint Louis must understand.  I want Saint Louis to boom.  I want my kids to want to live here when they become adults.  But serious changes must occur.

The world is watching Saint Louis.  Will we cement our legacy as the broken region showcased after Ferguson?  Or will we show the world that we are capable of great things and finally live up to our potential?  I know what I choose.

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  • fulltimemonti

    There are several different factors here, starting with St. Louis City re-entry into the county. I cannot see how that doesn’t make sense. What would we get? Unified county parks, health departments, courts, & transportation. The next step would be to eliminate any municipality under 10000 people from having the ability to have a police department, public works, permitting rights, property or sales tax collection, or any statutory rights past what an HOA would direct. This would end up with some discretionary merges and or splits/disincorporation (ie split Richmond Heights up between Brentwood and Maplewood, merge Frontenac & Ladue, or merge Fenton & Sunset Hills). Someone correct me on this, but such a type of decision would probably have to be a state mandate. Then, as far as I can imagine, some more oversight could be given to the county with the remnant municipalities keeping some autonomy, such as transportation planning, park development and recreational events, public safety, higher and specialized education, etc. Finally, this probably has never been done, but I think the reformed county and the state of Missouri should agree to allow the county to levy a limited income tax (replacing the St. Louis City tax), refundable on one’s state income tax. The state could then pass of a sundry of services. Right now, Missouri has too much control over roads, education, and law enforcement. If we can improve our county’s management, we should earn some autonomy as well. This could have a trickle downI like in Maplewood and happen to like the fact that I know my city manager by name and vice versa, my police only cover a mile and a half square mile area, my taxes cover trash pick up, and we have control over our parks and recreation. Being a tiny city though, we have also teamed up with other communities (bntwd & rh on parks, Ucity, Olivette, and others on police police functions, & the county for some building inspections). Communities could agree to receive services from the county that it can more economically serve (such as police is done in some towns now). So, I can see both sides of the coin (unification and diversification of municipalities) because I like the closeness of my municipality, but St. Louis must do something about our fragmented community leadership in order to prosper.

    PS: One side event that I think needs to happen for St. Louis, city and county, to prosper is to shatter the St. Louis public school system. Each high school should become its own district with elementary and intermediate schools being divvied out between them, and allow students to enroll in neighboring districts when capacity is available. I believe having increased competition between more public school districts, chartered districts, and private schools, and decreasing the gigantic administrative monster that is STLPSD, will only help the city. Some will fail, and there needs to be a response plan, however definitely not reincorporation. if Maplewood and Brentwood can still successfully run tiny school districts in this way, so could most localized STL city districts. Make it happen Missouri.

  • Larry Bennett

    It doesn’t take a political science degree to see the obvious. Unfortunately everyone wants there share. When a municipality can only remain afloat by writing traffic tickets.
    , it doesn’t take Einstein to figure it out.

  • I’ll say it — this “new regionalism” effort irks me to no end.

    I would support the City re-entering the County, but definitely not merging the whole damn thing, geographically, governmentally or other. And even with re-entry, there are several issue-items that must be addressed first:

    1) I feel the onus for change here is really on the County. It needs to (but won’t) significantly reduce its many governmental subdivisions and service overlaps. A simple solution is to just use the already-existing township system as your primary consolidation point, moving oversight and services up a level from town-by-town. Once you get to that point, then you can determine which services/processes should be shifted up to County-only governance and go from there.

    2) On the City side, it needs to be a little more selfish — take care of itself before any expectation of re-entry should be discussed. Too long, the current mayor has pushed regionalism to the detriment of the City he governs. Yes, there will be conflict once the City stops cheering that a corporation is “keeping x amount of jobs in the region”, and starts really fighting against the County for those businesses. But the City needs to do this, it needs to be a strong business (and residential) center for re-entry to be more palatable.

    3) Likewise, the City needs to stop funding pretty much everything contingent upon a County share. All that does is make the City look like a charity case to Countians, and who wants to attach themselves to a beggar? It’s the position of strength argument — the City doesn’t have it as long as everything it does must be run through (and diluted by) the County share first.

    • John R

      As Tim acknowledges, any merger would be long term and in the meantime taking a look at Better Together’s eventual more modest recommendations will be what we’ll be considering; and I suspect most of that will be impacting the county.

      As for your point 2, I do think an assessment of this economic development partnership should occur soon…. is it working for the City? We are in a bit of a national era of back-to-downtown for company offices but our performance on that front has been pathetically low. Getting more companies back to where they belong will help the entire region and if our partnered Economic Development efforts are not working towards that then we need to re-consider.

    • Larry Bennett

      Doesn’t need to be complicated

  • Mathew Chandler

    I am always against the idea of the city and county becoming one, which i believe the third graph is in favor for. Combining the city and county is a temporary solution to achieve what most want, population growth. Saint Louis is a beautiful city with great historic buildings and architecture, Keep sprawling Ladue Out of the City Limits. When i visit cities i enjoy the dense parts, not the suburban developments, i believe most feel the same way, i don’t want that to be the cities image. Lets focus on other ways to achieve population growth. Saint Louis still has an abundance of cheap land and buildings waiting to be rehabbed, this post states opposite though. Let developers bring density with infil and replace surface parking lots, Saint louis city has room for growth.
    How about the impact of people leaving the county if the consolidated/became one?

    • Adam

      It’s not just about combining statistics, though; it’s more about economic and political efficiency. I really don’t think a unified city/county (including most of the 90+ county munis) would negatively effect anyone’s perception of the city.

      • Mathew Chandler

        That could be true, however even this article mentions it. follow the link ” urban core could be one of our greatest assets,” from the article. There is a quote. European business owners who travel to Chesterfield and have never been to the city, then they take a walk around CWE and state “i didn’t know saint louis looked like this.” Me being an urbanist, i was horrified by what cities like Memphis have within their city limits, suburban sprawl, that is how i now see Memphis. a city with a way larger population, also with a dense downtown and entertainment districts but outside of that, sprawl, parking lots, crowded chain restaurants.

        • Adam

          sure, but i think if a visitor’s only experience in a region is in the suburbs then that visitor will walk away with a negative perception regardless of official boundaries. likewise, if a visitor’s only experience is in the CWE, that visitor will likely walk away with a positive perception of the region overall. i guess my view is that for someone who has experienced both, the logistics of boundaries doesn’t really shape their impression (except maybe for those of us who like to think and argue about these things).

  • Bryan Kirchoff

    If St. Louis has the 3rd most governments per capita out of 35 metro regions, which metros are #1 and #2?

    • John R

      Pittsburgh is #1 per capita and Denver is #2. We’re #3; any guess on who is #4? Chicagoland has the most # of govt. units, btw.

      • Bryan Kirchoff

        Thank you very much for the insight. The answer leads me to offer another question for discussion: Is the fragmentation of the St. Louis region the top, or among the top three, problems the region faces? If governments per capita is the measure of disunity, then the areas that are “worse” are Pittsburgh (which is often cited as an example of a turnaround city) and Denver (which I have never heard called uncompetitive). I am not arguing in favor of keeping so many jurisdictions – in fact, with caps on fine revenues, I would not be surprised to see several police departments and a couple of municipalities disappear in the County – I am not sure it is a silver bullet to restore momentum.
        As an aside, as a City resident, I cannot blame County residents for being cool to re-entry of the City. The City has to make itself a much more attractive asset – e.g. lower crime, higher employment – before that idea will gain traction.

        • rgbose

          Another though expirement, if St Louis City split into many municipalities, would we be better off? We’d be off the most dangerous list since no muni would meet the minimum pop.

          Another: if any of the city/county consolidation plans proposed in the past had passed, would we be worse off today?

          • Mathew Chandler

            Oakland, Chicago, New York, Philly, Los Angeles. Many cities are seen as dangerous but continue to grow, i do not believe that the crime alone is what is keeping people/investment away.

        • John R

          Bryan, I believe fragmentation is one of our main problems the the region faces, but I’m skeptical the number of govt. units per capita is the best measure of disunity or necessarily should be the focus of efforts. (KC is $4 in units per capita, btw, and has many of our same challenges but is doing better as a region. Baltimore has the fewest # of govt. units per capita, but as we’ve seen has serious issues with addressing economic disparities.)

          You may find this 2010 article, which I believe Tim referenced, informative….

      • stldoc

        Solely looking at the amount of governments probably isn’t the best gauge because it is vague and some types of fragmentation are much more destructive than others. Denver metro has a lot of smaller governments on the outskirts but the core of Denver, by far the most important part, is a consolidated city and county government type.

        Pittsburg is working on many of the same things talked here as they have very similar fragmentation problems as a region as Saint Louis. Pittsburg (and Cleveland) are the only 2 metros out of the top 50 that are actually losing population. The city of Pittsburg is a part of the larger Allegheny County, so not as dysfunctional in that way as us. As a central city Pittsburg has been doing some things right in recent years but fragmentation remains a problem in the region.

        • John R

          Right; as I mentioned elsewhere Baltimore has the fewest govt. units per capita but surely doesn’t have the greatest regional cooperation. It is like us, and unlike Pittsburgh (btw, did the burg drop the h?), in that it is independent of a larger County. Being independent but in a high unit region is particularly challenging, and unfortunately is where we stand for now.

  • matimal

    None of this presumes that St. Louis can’t reorganize itself internally.

  • Richard O

    Thanks Tim for your enlightenment on this issue as I remember conversations with you and Richard Bose from the St. Louis is a World Class City meetings. While I concur with everything you are saying one point that is overlooked are the racial issues that persist in this area. How often do you hear comments from County residents screaming they don’t want anything to do with the City and its problems of schools, bad government, crime, etc. The underlying statement being made is they don’t want to reinvest in the City because it is too black. I hate saying that because I like to pretend the good people of St. Louis are more enlightened but quite honestly until we as a community deal with the segregated neighborhoods we will continue to have problems.

  • rgbose

    Note the vote in 1876 failed on the first count. A judge declared vote fraud and threw out votes and deemed it passed. Adam Arenson, who wrote The Great Heart of the Republic, says it was an outright fraud.

  • It would also help to be the capital city in the center of the state, as Indy, OKC, and Nashville, are. Why do we even need to send legislators to remote Jeff City in this century where they can be easily wined and dined by lobbyists and are away from their families for months at a time, leading to promiscuity. I’d prefer they meet alternatively in St. Louis 40% of the time, KC 20%, and outstate the other 40%. Or have Webex style virtual sessions from their homes, making it very expensive for lobbyists to find the one by one for expensive dinners. And then after they vote to allow Chinese owned farms here, after accepting big corporate campaign donations, they’ll have to walk out their front doors and explain their vote to neighbors who elected them, rather than get ataboys from their lobby friends waiting on the steps in Jeff City.

    • Brian

      You make an important point, that Indianapolis and Nashville benefit from being both their state’s primary economic driver and their state’s seat of government. This surely has some sort of impact on their ability to set the agenda in a way that benefits those regions’ growth. St. Louis does not enjoy that benefit; furthermore, it has a cross-state sister which also competes for resources and influence. St. Louis & Kansas City’s inability to make common cause has allowed rural interests to control more of the political agenda than one would expect. The most recent example of this is with MODOT’s failed transportation financing plan. Rather than focus on raising user fee’s (gas tax, vehicle registration, tolls, miles traveled fees, etc,), the MODOT plan would have been financed by a general sales tax. Because the KC and StL regions generate the lion’s share of state sales tax revenue, the financial burden would have fallen heavily on these regions. One might expect that this would result in the prioritization of projects that would be of interest to these regions (like support for public transportation), but one would be wrong. Now, MODOT’s 325 crisis plan tells us that a major road like Lindbergh, which is a vital mid-county artery generating tens of millions of dollars of economic actvity each year, will receive the same priority for state funds as Route 169 in Worth County in northwest Missouri, which connects the county seat of Grant City (pop 826) with the bustling metropolis of Irena (pop 17).

      • Alex Ihnen

        “St. Louis & Kansas City’s inability to make common cause has allowed rural interests to control more of the political agenda than one would expect.” So damaging in many ways, from education to transit, and so on.

        • Stl-wakeuptothe21st

          Part of the problem is that St. Louis still thinks it’s in the early 20th century and in another class of cities compared to KC. Kansas City is in a middle of an urban boom and can nearly compete with Stl.

          Without the old inherited wealth of St. Louis from its Beer dynasty, (and it being a much older city overall), KC as a metro would be hands down winning.

          While Stl has more money and better educational resources, these inequalities are due to the circumstances of history (much like the extreme inequality seen in the city of Stl).

          On top of all that, much of the suburbanites in the STL area are downright hostile to the city. The Missouri-side suburbanites in the KC metro are much more positive about the urban core (for better or worse, Kansas soaks up the anti-city folk and their wealth).

          • John R

            I’m not sure you can say that outside downtown KC’s urban boom is any more than what’s going on in our Central Corridor (esp. if you add in Clayton, etc.). Downtown is another story, though, and I think part of the reason is higher comfort with directly subsidizing projects with cold cash. There are pros and cons to that, but it definitely is having an impact on building a more vibrant area. Hopefully KC’s gains with the Streetcar will also open up more receptivity to public transit in the legislature.

          • moorlander

            Momentum in DT St. Louis has definately quieted but we have what, a 3 quarters of a $billion in construction going on downtown right now? Arch grounds, Arcade/Wright, Marriott Grand, Courtyard by Marriott, the residential conversion at Crown Plaza. Am I missing anythign?

          • John R

            Hotel definitely has been an area with a lot of activity but I think the fundamental area that we are lagging in compared to other downtowns (besides office) is that it isn’t a choice destination for market rate residential…. we seem to have a high percentage of subsidized units with the new projects (200 of the 280 apartments at the Arcade I believe are for the subsidized artists segment, e.g.) and failed to quickly fill up the high-end OPOP/Roberts Tower…. in KC, Cleveland, etc. something like that would have been gone quickly and boosted prospects for follow-on projects. I think with the slow-down downtown, the choice area has shifted to other areas of the Central Corridor.

  • John R

    I have mixed feelings on this subject. First. Saint Louis City isn’t unique in either size or jurisdiction…. Minneapolis, Boston, San Francisco & Pittsburgh I believe are all smaller in geographic size and Philadelphia, Baltimore, Denver & San Fran are all independent city/counties. So these challenges shouldn’t be used as excuses for not doing better. Second, I’m concerned about the statistical re-writing of our enormous disparities in the region… if we say we’re a low-crime city b/c we include Saint Louis County stats, e.g., does that make it even more difficult to tackle the unquestionable despair in north city because of a lack of urgency? Out of sight out of mind.

    But we do need to look at ways that we can cooperate more as a region and re-invest in our troubled core.

    • Alex Ihnen

      This is a very nuanced issue. There are cities that are similarly sized, but their demographics (race, income, unemployment, etc.) are different – EVEN THOUGH their metro area numbers are not. This, to me, means that crime, poverty, etc. simply sit outside their city political boundaries, but inside those of St. Louis City. If nothing else, we must be aware of how others use statistical reporting against St. Louis. It causes real damage. We can argue to fine points, and we absolutely must dedicate ourselves to doing better on many fronts, but we’re fools to ignore the impact of how report on all these measures. And if absolutely nothing else, let us consider how the political status quo has benefitted (or not) the area. It’s time to tackle as many of these issues as possible, as quickly as possible.

      • John R

        It is a nuanced issue and I understand the flaws in comparing city statistics and the damage that can do, but the fundamental urgency has to be on investing in our core and reducing the extraordinary level of violent crime. It is a crippling emergency. Our demographics are not dissimilar to those of places like Cincy, Cleveland and Pittsburgh (and while Boston has more wealth it also has more people living in poverty); yet all of these cities have a much lower number of homicides than STLCity, despite some peers also seeing a rise…. we had more homicides than all of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland + another 850,000) last year. And when it comes down to it, it is quite unlikely we’ll be able to make much progress on mending the “Great Divorce” until we abate the level of violent crime; unfortunately we are on the wrong track.

        • Alex Ihnen

          The counterpoint is that the St. Louis Metro is already quite safe compared to other metro areas. So those metros counted as more dangerous than STL must have areas of high crime that either occur outside the named city boundary, or are diluted by less dangerous areas within a geographically larger city. Statistically, the St. Louis Metro has no more of a crime problem to solve than 100 other metro areas. Is it then reasonable to “solve” the crime problem in the city any more than it is to solve the problem in other metros? There is too much crime. Period. But St. Louis City carries a special, damaging burden due to our political boundary. That issue is worth addressing in addition to crime-prevention measures.

          • John R

            The political boundaries are helpful but we can’t use them as an excuse. We have to recognize we have a massive problem in the core surpassing almost every peer region -mid-sized cities with similar rates of poverty, etc.. Again, look at Cincy and Pittsburgh… we not only had more homicides than each last year, we had more than both combined. We had many more homicides than Milwaukee, Kansas City, Atlanta although those have more population. Even when we add suburbs into the count for peer cities we still have more homicides… more than Hamilton, Allegheny and Cuyahoga counties, etc. as well as KC/Jackson and Indy/Marion (which does have a homicide issue although it is falling back down this year) even though they have many more people. I guess we could discuss the level of homicides in say Saint Charles County versus say Platte County in the KC region or Hamilton County in Indy but I don’t see much to that point, The number of murders – and presumably non-deadly shootings — that occur in in our core simply has been at a crisis level that few others in the nation have faced.

            The violence hits some neighborhoods harder than others, but the damage impacts all of us and until we get it under control and start investing in our abandoned areas we’re going to face severe constraints on how much progress the region can make.

          • rgbose

            Fragmentation enables ignoring the problem, IMO. Here’s an example in transportation:

            Steve Stenger @StengerSTLCo

            The first step in my strategy is to get input from people & professionals about which route to study: Daniel Boone, MetroNorth or MetroSouth

          • John R

            I absolutely agree that we need to work on mending the fragmentation but we won’t be able to make much progress on that until we get a handle on the increasing violent crime in our core; in this interim period we need to confront the problem head on and accept the fact that we are the nation’s 60th largest city but had the 8th most homicides and are heading in the wrong direction.

          • zlurpmobile

            And how do you propose the city reduce homicides? Why is the murder rate in the city (largely a symptom of structural racism and economics in the first place — good luck solving that here) more of a priority than the billions of tax dollars that could be saved by consolidating and rationalizing public services, including police, right now?

          • John R

            First, there won’t be any meaningful consolidation b/w city and county or even re-entry until STLCity significantly reduces its violent crime rate. (I do hope that the local govts. w/in the county advance internal consolidation and the City becomes more efficient. However, where are you coming up with billions of tax $$ being saved? Do we have an estimate of how much likely would be saved assuming we retain the same level of service but with fewer govt. units?)

            Second, and perhaps more importantly, the City still is very vulnerable to population loss and if the increase in violent crime continues in north and south city we could very well wake up and see we’re firmly rooted in the 200,000’s and even more abandoned and irrelevant outside the central corridor. I believe even downtown investment is lagging to a degree b/c of crime issues and certainly being able to attract private investment in our truly depressed areas is going to be increasingly difficult.

            I truly think the issue of violent crime currently is our #1 challenge… I didn’t think that two years ago but things have gone downhill since then. Getting back on track will be hard and obviously I don’t have all the answers but fundamentally it is going to require more investment and access/opportunity for jobs.

          • Alex Ihnen

            I think crime is an excuse. When homicides in the city took a dive to 74 a few years back, it wasn’t as if those opposed to city-county reunification were suddenly open to the idea.

            If I had to bet today, I’d guess that the County will lose more people than the City in the coming 2020 Census, and that the City may actually gain population. As seen with the cost of MSD repairs, etc., it’s increasingly the County that is facing insolvency, rising crime and poverty…what many perceive of as “urban” problems.

          • John R

            I absolutely believe if we achieved a sustained homicide count like that 74 a few years back we’d absolutely see tangible benefits both in the investment level and quality of life in the City as well as a greater willingness of the County to cooperate with the City. Call me crazy!

            As for predictions for 2020, I think there are challenges and opportunities for both the City and County, but for the City I think it is safe to say we’ll have a continued considerable loss in North City, solid gains in the Central Corridor, and a bit of a wild card in South City.

          • rgbose

            If things start getting better in the city crime-wise and jobs and other factors the excuse will be “Everything is going well, why change anything?”

            I think fragmentation makes it harder to confront the crime problem. Criminals don’t care about the political boundaries, yet we hamstring law enforcement with them.

          • John R

            We’re going in circles a bit about the fragmentation and crime…. I agree that it hurts ability to address it but we won’t be able to heal the fragmentation much until the crime problem is perceived as being successfully addressed.

            As for whether consolidation efforts are harmed by “everything going well,” I think it would be a nice problem to have and would have to look again at something like Louisville where merger happened in an environment where the central city wasn’t perceived to be as much of a liability as STLCity currently is.

          • rgbose

            As is the region, which stymies progress on all of this!

          • rgbose

            BT showed on a per capita basis Indy and Louisville spend much less. In total we’re overspending by $100Ms per year on local government. So there’s a lot of potential savings out there.


          • John R

            Potentially. Being a more recent merger, do we know how much taxes have gone down for Louisville and Jefferson County residents since 2003? And how that compares to the munis that were not part of the merger? That could be a good indicator of whether actual significant tax savings would occur here. (Of course, it is possible services may have significantly increased even if the taxing amount was relatively the same.)

          • rgbose

            Intimal conditions matter of course, both those regions were less fragmented than our before their consolidations.

            Something to compare would be how taxation levels have changed say Indy v STL 1972 to today or Nashville v STL 1852 to today.

            Also savings in one area might not lead to a tax cut, but rather an enhancement in another or rendering unnecessary the next tax increase like the sale tax sought for unincorporated STL County for police.

            All difficult to get at as there are many factors contributing beyond fragmentation or lack thereof.

            One thing is clear whatever service level at whatever cost they’re receiving in Indy, Nashville, and Louisville isn’t pushing people away while StL City has lost 100ks and Stl County hasn’t budged in 40 years (which leads to the poor land use topic and the immense burden we’ve placed upon ourselves by spreading out driving up taxes and future liabilities).

          • John R

            I don’t disagree. but I think we’ll eventually need to see more specific figures of what cost savings would be expected under the different scenarios for there to be more buy-in on the financial savings end of things. Do we know how much Jennings saved by contracting with County police? Former St. George residents by disincorporating? With respect to City-County, politically re-entry rather than merger seems to be the most likely scenario — the big question there would be how much could County residents save if a City re-entry to the County were to occur? How much could County residents save if there were an internal consolidation? I assume BT will put those out as it hones in on recommendations.

          • rgbose

            Most definitely. Anyone seeking to push a specific plan will have to put some numbers to it. How many will dismiss them no matter what they say?

            If it’s reentry, how much will St. Louis County have to spend to provide its county services to city residents vs how much more city residents will pay in county property taxes? Would StL City reduce its property tax levy in kind or put it to other tasks?

            Better Together has been doing a good job showing how much waste and dysfunction is out there, hopefully it’ll lead to a strong proposal backed up by and equally strong campaign.

          • stldoc

            Important side note: Steve Stenger, our new County Executive, recently rejected his seat on the Better Together board. Not a positive sign for him being a leader in fixing our fragmentation problems.

          • Alex Ihnen

            There’s nothing to disagree with here. We absolutely need to do just as you suggest. I suggest that we also stop allowing others to portray “St. Louis” as a more dangerous place to live than Indianapolis. It’s not.

    • rgbose

      “does that make it even more difficult to tackle the unquestionable despair in north city because of a lack of urgency?”

      I think fragmentation makes it easier to not take ownership of the problem. One can say, “Oh that’s some other place, it’s OK near me” “It’s a screw up by people I didn’t elect.”

      With fragmentation we can leverage out neighbor’s assets while ignoring our neighbor’s problems.

      • John R

        If we actually break down the fragmentation then that is a good thing… my main concern is “hiding” the severe problem by mixing numbers but not having brought any more resources/attention to address the problem.

    • jhoff1257

      Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver are all combined city-counties. Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Boston are all part of their larger counties. Allegheny, Hennepin, and Suffolk respectively.

      So in this regard, none of these cities are like us. Baltimore on the other hand is nearly a clone.

      • John R

        I’m confused on how Philly, SanFran and Denver are not like Baltimore and STL; can you explain? The others are smaller in geography. Yes we have a lot of challenges but I agree with matimal that we can — and likely will have to — accomplish a lot on our own (while seeking whatever cooperation is available).

        • jhoff1257

          Denver and Philadelphia were both independent cities with adjoining counties until those counties were merged into the city to create the larger cities that exist today. St. Louis would be more comparable to Philly and Denver if St. Louis City and County combined into one entity. San Francisco on the other hand does actually appear to be more similar to St. Louis government wise. San Mateo County separated itself from San Francisco many years ago. Regardless I don’t think San Francisco is a fair comparison to St. Louis. Two wholly different cities even if their city-county separation is similar.

          • John R

            Interesting. But aside from how they came to be, in terms of governmental authority, etc. they are all pretty much the same, no?