STL at 400K: How and Why to Add Residents to St. Louis City

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How is St. Louis going to grow again? If it is to grow, where could this happen? There’s a significant amount of construction happening in the city, perhaps more large multi-family projects and single-family rehabs than we’ve seen in half a century. Still, resistance to growth can be found just about everywhere.

In a city that has lost more than 60% of its peak population (SIXTY PERCENT!), one might assume that there would be a widespread thirst for development. But a funny thing has happened, residents have become used to decline, comfortable with it, even in favor of it, whether they admit it or not. County municipalities are in a state of denial regarding population loss. “It’s just a blip! We added a Menards,” they say, no matter what the Census shows.

Opposition to development can be found from Frontenac to the edges of Forest Park, from Shaw to The Hill, in places that are more or less holding their own, and those that continue to see significant population loss. We can’t hope to address changes in population everywhere across the metro area, but the city and many suburbs share certain traits.

St. Louis at 400,000. This was the population of the City of St. Louis in 1990. We’re suggesting this be the goal for city growth, the number, however arbitrary, that should guide development planning and proposals to revitalize the city. So what would it mean for St. Louis City to gain about 85,000 residents? What would that look like?

City of St. Louis Population Change by Neighborhood 2000-2010

One convenient example is the proposed development for The Hill neighborhood. The project by the Sansone Group would add as many as 450 living units at the southeast corner of this south city enclave, replacing a long vacant 10-acre industrial complex.

This project has been met with immediate opposition for being too big, for being out of character for the neighborhood. The plan presented includes single-family homes along Hereford Street, and the restoration of some portion of the warehouses facing Daggett Avenue. A six-story apartment building would be tucked behind, against railroad tracks and warehouses.

The project, if built as proposed, might return The Hill to near its 1990 residential population. There are currently at least 528 fewer residents in The Hill than 26 years ago, an 18% decline. Eleven percent of housing units were counted as vacant in the 2010 Census.

The Hill aerial{the Flynn property on The Hill – proposed for 450 living units}

The Hill is a wonderful neighborhood. It’s also not exempt from the challenges facing other neighborhoods, the city and region. The Hill cannot support its businesses as it continues to lose residents. Losing residents increases traffic as businesses must court and rely on patrons driving to the neighborhood.

We all want amenities near our homes that attract as few others as possible to stay viable. Increasingly, people want to drive to walkable commercial districts. These issues are at the core of the growth dilemma. Control of development exists at such a micro-level that these opposing desires have long dictated planning.

More than a couple examples:

Some residents of up-scale Frontenac successfully opposed the development of a retirement community on the site of a vacant school. That project was likely to bring no more traffic to Clayton Road as the school produced for years. The project is very near the upscale Plaza Frontenac mall, though no one seems concerned with the traffic such a shopping destination produces. Brio opens a new restaurant? No problem. Starbucks, yeah, we’ll take that.

The city of Kirkwood bought serviceable commercial buildings for $1.43M in its downtown in 2011 to demolish for 46 parking spaces. They’re convinced that the future is providing parking for those who want to drive to a walkable downtown.

In the city’s Central West End, residents concerned with parking forced the developer of the mixed-use tower at Euclid and Lindell to spend perhaps as much as $2.5M more on an additional level of subterranean parking than had been required. They’re convinced that adding more parking will reduce traffic.

In the city’s Dogtown neighborhood just south of Forest Park, neighbors objected to a proposed 63-unit apartment building on the site of a vacant lumber yard. Proposed in 2012, the site remains vacant. A lawsuit was filed to block the development. Their demands? An all-brick building and more parking.

In The Loop, although tax revenue is at an all-time high, and vacancy at near zero, University City and Loop businesses believe a lack of parking is harming the district. The solution? Millions in public money to build more parking. A large mixed-use development on a vacant lot near the MetroLink station east of Skinker was fast tracked, but also caught opposition from neighbors.

Richmond Heights recently saw a challenge to a now-approved apartment project that will replace a vacant school and church adjacent to an Interstate. The complaints? Too much traffic and the project being out of character with adjacent single-family homes. The outcry was notably different than when dozens of single-family homes were demolished for a Menards (which sits near both a Home Depot and Lowes, each in a separate municipality).

In Clayton, the city was pressured by residents in single-family homes to not approve a 45-unit townhome development at a vacant school building two blocks from MetroLink and a block from what will be a massive mixed-use Centene development. There is opposition to building four townhomes on a lot 1/2 block from the central business district, a ridiculous lawsuit nearly brought the apartment tower at 212 S. Meramec to a halt, and to preserve its views, Graybar opposed a hotel development, then bought the land and sold to a developer to build a six-story mixed-use project – equivalent in height to its pedestal parking garage.

It can seem that everywhere one turns development that would add density, that would support local businesses, and even decrease traffic, is being opposed.

There are several mathematical ways the city and other areas can grow. Family sizes can increase, living unit sizes can decrease, vacant parcels can become occupied, and existing development can be replaced by higher-density residential.

In reality, the city and other urbanized areas will grow by building upon their success. If the city had an official objective to add residents, to support small-scale local commercial districts, to increase retail density, perhaps development in the city would find some direction.

What if the Sansone Group, Alderman Vollmer, and residents of The Hill had some framework from which to base a preference for development at the vacant Flynn property? What if the city’s plan counted for something at the beginning of the process? What if unwritten rules were guided by written goals?

It comes back to the fact that we all want amenities near our homes that attract as few others as possible. While perhaps a natural impulse, it’s an impossible way to build a healthy city, healthy neighborhoods, and healthy businesses.

Without residential density, the requirement for parking to accommodate patrons arriving by car creates an environment detrimental to commercial activity. We create a place that is perhaps easy to get to but which isn’t worth arriving at.

Census dots{one dot for each and every St. Louisan}

So how does the City of St. Louis add 85,000 residents?

The city invites added density at virtually every opportunity. When a proposal seeks to replace a vacant office building with 200 apartments, you approve it, perhaps even with subsidies, to aid your goal. When a 63-unit apartment building offers 63 dedicated parking spaces, you approve it. When 10-acres of abandoned warehouses attracts a proposal to add 500 residents, you approve it.

Such a stated development goal could also help frame what development isn’t wanted. Should a gas station replace three existing buildings? Should homes be demolished for parking for an expanded grocery store? Do these actions add to the residential base? Do they increase density?

Development isn’t that simple, but the premise and process with which it is evaluated can and should be. Instead of a developer guessing at what an individual alderperson, or other hidden power, may say, they should be guided by a city plan and written priorities.

This is highlighted well in the recently revealed St. Louis City Economic Incentives report. A main conclusion was that economic incentives should be targeted at a development goal, that St. Louis lacked clearly stated goals, and so it’s not possible to evaluate if the hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives were effective or necessary. We don’t know if they achieved any particular goal, because there are no particular stated goals.

It should be understood that residential density isn’t the end goal, but a city simply cannot support small scale, high-yield, sustainable commercial or office development without it. It must come first, it must be prioritized. Adding residents is the best way to support a vibrant place without increasing traffic.

Why doesn’t St. Louis City have any real retail density? It lacks residential density. Families aren’t getting bigger. Four-family buildings converted to two-family aren’t going back to four-family. We do have an opportunity, if guided by smart development principles, to add residential density, and therefore retail and jobs to the city. The question is whether we will do it and who will lead the way.

Along with UIC, we explored the issue of population decline as part of a PXSTL project: Understanding Population Change and Density in St. Louis (UIC & nextSTL @ PXSTL). Those boards are shown below:

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  • TJ Pan

    Friends back home, suppose there is a magic formula that existed — the exact sequence of decisions and events to occur — to ensure a growth number to 400k, what would that be? (without the BS of PCness) Given the state of everything, I think new leadership would be a vital variable in that equation. I believe that St. Louis’ downside is more psychological than anything. The herd of St. Louisans don’t understand the elements that lead to game changing, mind shifting results, and are clouded in decades of mismanagement, failing to see clear obvious faults seen by outsiders. They need a leader that can manipulate this way of thinking. Someone young and full of angry piss. For one, stop making your self esteem based on the petty cardinals so much! It’s embarrassing. Slays ‘rebuttal’ of “St. Louis to America: Don’t be Jealous” was probably one of the most embarrassing, cringe-worthy things a native St. Louisan could read. Talk about petty and out of touch.

    I don’t believe Slay and other leaders have this type of vision, nor the balls to go down bold steps necessary to tackle the very problems that plague the city. I believe it will take younger generations of leaders to do this. Race is a huge problem that will stifle the region until met with ferocity, beyond the cries of PCness and naysayers, from both sides. No matter what development or innovation you throw in, if certain cancers are not met, the city will be doomed.

    Another elephant in the room is the climate and geographic location. No matter what, these factors will limit the attractiveness of the region. Are we embracing these the best way? I don’t think so. Most St. Louisans for example don’t even know what the Ozarks are, besides a giant hoosier lake. What made Austin so attractive? It’s not near a large body of water. St. Louis MUST re-calculate its relationship to the Mississippi and confluence. The city-river development is a good start , but it’s only on the Missouri side. St. Louis must reach out and create a bi-state urbanized livable area. What makes St. Louis actually attractive…besides …”hey, it’s not so bad here!”

  • Mark Fogal

    I conducted some focus groups a long time ago (15 years?) about sprawl. One common comment: people who lived “farther out than me” were causing sprawl. People in Ladue blamed Frontenac, who blamed Manchester, who blamed Ellisville ….
    More recently, talking with economic development officials in O’Fallon (St. Charles County), I heard them lamenting the growth of Foristell.
    So long as we have a laissez faire policy toward new developments, and gas is cheaper than milk, we’ll continue to grow out instead of up.

  • John R

    2010 Population By Corridor…
    Central Corridor: 61,450
    North Corridor: 100,985
    South Corridor: 156,859

    Just trying to visualize where in the city the growth to get us to 400,000 likely would occur… reaching that population level seems so long down the road, and surely every corridor would have to grow, but with North City continuing to decline rapidly I just don’t see growth there for some time, As an interim, I could see something like this for a city of 350,000 — about 10% bigger than our current population. Maybe in 2030 if things really broke our way…

    Central Corridor: 85.000
    North Corridor: 85,000
    South Corridor: 180,000

    If that were to happen, I could then see development pressures moving more into North City.

  • brickhugger

    Crime is a response, not a cause. Discriminatory housing, drug enforcement, hiring, policing, and education policies are what drive crime to be as much as it is. A little history; St. Louis started losing population in the 1930’s, at which time the schools were among the best in the nation. the war and postwar housing boom reversed that trend, but by the 1950’s the exodus picked up. It was inevitable that people would leave the city, but it was exacerbated by redlining, blockbusting, panic peddling in response to integration, public housing and highway construction, and then the war on drugs. Blaming family breakdown for poor school performance is a little bit of blaming the victim; were it not for policies that promoted single parent families, and then targeted African American men just for being young black men, the issues in the inner city would be a great deal less severe.

    And as for educational spending, Clayton spends far more per pupil than St Louis City, and the state routinely takes money out of the education budget in proportionate amounts to what the lottery puts in, so no; funding for education is not nearly enough. I can concede that single party dominance is not a good thing, but by itself it is not the entire problem, as the City is subject to state (and federal) rules, and they most certainly have NOT been exclusively democratic (or republican) for that time.

    • Bryan Kirchoff

      It is probably no surprise that I respectfully disagree:

      1) Crime is not a response, it is a choice to do something illegal, typically knowingly (as evidenced by perpetrators’ efforts to conceal said choice). There is no credible chain of logic between “my family cannot pay the rent this month” and “let’s go beat someone to death with hammers”. There is no credible chain of logic between “the state cut our family’s assistance programs” and “let’s go knock out a random stranger as a game”. Had Darren Wilson awakened one morning and, filled with racial animus, stated on Facebook he was going to shoot someone who looks different from him for sheer spite, there is still no credible chain of logic between “Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown” and “let’s burn down the Dellwood-Ferguson business district”. (Something which hurt St. Louis’ attractiveness far more than apartment availability.) I struggle to recall any stories of grocery stores being robbed for food rather than cash, or a wallet thief being quoted as confessing “I needed the credit cards to pay my electric”. Just because crime is affiliated with poverty
      does not mean crime is caused by poverty. I am suggesting crime becomes prevalent when 70% of households do not feature an ever-present, deeper-voiced, physically larger, scary individual called “Dad” who can instill a sense early on that you cannot do whatever you want. I have seen many a single mother in the anti-poverty work I do undertake heroic efforts, and some amazing successes from those efforts, but the statistical hill to be climbed is so
      steep as to be a cliff face.

      2) I maintain residents’ civic culture is the main determinant of a city’s fate, with governance being a substantial part of the remainder. I would further maintain that municipal government accounts for the biggest impact within that governance “slice”. Austin, Nashville, and Atlanta boom in states
      redder than Missouri. San Francisco and Boston boom in states much bluer.
      Baltimore burns and Chicago deflates in states much bluer, and New
      Orleans struggles in a state much redder. Kansas City grows in the same state. That wide variety of performances in a variety of contexts does not
      prove local governance is the most important, but it hints that direction.

      But I think the question I raise stands either way. If city government has less impact than state and federal on the city’s fate, then why not change it, since gambling on something new should have muted consequences? On the other hand, if city government is the dominant effect among jurisdictions on city outcomes, the question becomes “Why not take a chance on changing, since city government is the biggest governmental lever we have to pull in trying to improve our lot?”

      3) Poor school performance as “blaming the victim”? Not at all. (Indeed, your
      critique of “policies that promoted single-parent families” seems to be
      agreement with my argument, if I am understanding it correctly…) It makes zero economic sense to drop out of even the worst high school in America, because job prospects of a dropout from that school hardly climb above those of a graduate. Yet, urban dropout rates are notoriously high; again, I submit a substantial contributor is lack of a second parent as reinforcement for the years-long battle against teenage apathy. (Maybe I was an unusual teenage boy, but I would submit male adolescents are much more willing to tell mom to take a hike than dad.)

      Regarding the Legislature’s funding hijinks, that is addressing a different question – saying schools are underfunded is not the same thing as saying they are inequitably funded. If School A gets $10,000 per student per year
      and School B gets $20,000, but School B has worse outcomes, you still have a problem if A is bumped to $20,000 and B to $40,000. Regarding spending disparity, Clayton does illustrate overall trends well because it is an outlier – it has the fifth highest spending per average daily attendee of all 575 Missouri school districts.

      To expand on this question, I went into the Missouri Comprehensive Data System for DESE and looked at school funding per average daily attendee from 2007 – 2015 for districts my brain feebly recalls as in St. Louis City, St. Louis, St. Charles, and Jefferson counties. I then considered schools in
      St. Louis County north of I-70, the City of St. Louis, and Wellston (while it
      existed) as “less affluent”, and further broke those into “charters” and “non-charters” (since charter schools’ models and life-spans might introduce some data quirks). The remainder I labeled “more affluent”. The results:

      LESS AFFLUENT (district, years of data available, spending per average daily attendee)

      Ritenour, 9, $9174.93
      Riverview Gardens, 9, $9648.34
      Hazelwood, 9, $10074.55
      Ferguson-Florissant R-II, 9, $10756.25
      Jennings, 9, $10871.69
      Normandy, 9, $12347.71
      Pattonville R-III, 9, $13549.68
      St. Louis City, 9, $14938.98
      Wellston, 4, $15587.14
      AVERAGE: $11883.25

      CHARTER (school, years of data available, spending per average daily attendee)

      Gateway Science Academy/St. Louis, 5, $7,727.68
      Carondelet Leadership Academy, 5, $9,350.51
      St. Louis Charter School, 6, $9,479.09
      Confluence Academies, 8, $9,592.74
      Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Academy, 3, $10,347.43
      St. Louis Language Immersion School, 6, $10,516.85
      City Garden Montessori, 7, $10,637.93
      Imagine Academy of Environmental Science, 3, $10,656.83
      Lafayette Preparatory Academy, 2, $10,725.48
      Preclarus Mastery Academy, 4, $10,820.68
      Paideia Academy, 3, $10,874.38
      Imagine Academy of Environmental Science/Math, 4, $11,008.43
      Imagine Academy of Success, 4, $11,027.27
      Imagine Academy of Careers, 4, $11,294.23
      South City Preparatory Academy, 4, $11,363.19
      The CAN! Academies – St. Louis, 1, $12,124.49
      KIPP: Endeavor Academy, 8, $12,426.25
      Jamaa Learning Center, 4, $13,068.66
      Grand Center Arts Academy, 5, $13,275.79
      KIPP: Endeavor Academy, 2, $14,069.48
      Construction Careers Center, 8, $14,474.14
      KIPP St. Louis, 6, $14,494.84
      De LaSalle Charter School, 5, $26,440.57
      AVERAGE: $11991.17

      MORE AFFLUENT (district, years of data available, spending per average daily attendee)

      Festus R-VI, 9, $6,828.36
      Potosi R-III, 9, $7,459.50
      Bayless, 9, $7,663.37
      Hillsboro R-III, 9, $7,994.78
      Mehlville R-IX, 9, $8,255.29
      Crystal City 47, 9, $8,468.61
      Fox C-6, 9, $8,832.19
      Wentzville R-IV, 9, $8,932.74
      Jefferson County R-VII, 9, $9,019.13
      Rockwood R-VI, 9, $9,322.25
      Fort Zumwalt R-II, 9, $9,443.82
      Lindbergh Schools, 9, $9,472.81
      Francis Howell R-III, 9, $10,002.78
      Affton 101, 9, $10,266.09
      Valley Park, 9, $11,073.28
      Webster Groves, 9, $11,290.53
      Parkway C-2, 9, $11,459.95
      St. Charles R-VI, 9, $11,518.02
      Kirkwood R-VII, 9, $11,844.63
      University City, 9, $12,544.34
      Ladue, 9, $12,802.76
      Mapewood-Richmond Heights, 9, $14,282.26
      Brentwood, 9, $16,049.87
      Clayton, 9, $17,441.46
      AVERAGE: $10511.20

      Yes, there is a spending disparity, to the tune of about $1400 per student… in favor of the less affluent districts. Normandy has near parity, and St. Louis City and Wellston outspent, Ladue (!). One might argue that poorer schools have to
      spend money on a variety of anti-poverty services, but does that suggest the
      meanies of Jefferson City have failed to exaggerate the spending difference enough toward those schools, or does it suggest those kids suffer issues at home for which we are using our schools as an ill-positioned social work agency?

      Bryan Kirchoff
      St. Louis

      • rgbose

        When comparing school district per pupil spending, keep in mind that St. Louis County has the Special School District.

        • Bryan Kirchoff

          I appreciate your attentiveness to detail. Yes, St. Louis County SSD was listed separately (it averaged around $152000, which is understandable due to the extra services offered and some accounting changes). So, that would influence comparison of St. Louis City to various County schools, but should not affect comparison between St. Louis County schools. So, the point still stands, in that Ritenour (the most spendthrift of the “less affluent” districts) spent more per average daily attendee than Bayless, Mehlville, and Fox. Normandy, over the course of nine years, has outspent a full 19 of the 24 schools on my “more affluent” list. Again, I am just trying to caution against the automatic reaction we naturally have that poor performance simply must stem from poor school districts because they are in poor neighborhoods.

      • Adam

        1) Crime is not a response, it is a choice to do something illegal, typically knowingly (as evidenced by perpetrators’ efforts to conceal said choice). There is no credible chain of logic between “my family cannot pay the rent this month” and “let’s go beat someone to death with hammers”. There is no credible chain of logic between “the state cut our family’s assistance programs” and “let’s go knock out a random stranger as a game”.

        Give me a break. This is a laughable oversimplification. Generational poverty, exposure to violence, and parental neglect and/or abuse (which is itself passed from generation to generation) is a hell of a lot more complicated than you care to admit, which is surprising considering that you claim to be involved in “anti-poverty” work. No, not every poor child becomes a criminal, and plenty of well-to-do children do become criminals. But children brought up in neglectful or abusive situation are statistically more likely to become criminals. Until people accept that and stop crying about how criminals should just make better choices, we’re not going to make any progress. There are always going to be criminals. The objective is to minimize the conditions that create them.

        I recommend a listen to this:

  • Bryan Kirchoff

    A few thoughts:

    > I love the idea of a concrete number, especially one that seems ambitious but achievable. I suspect most candidates will be hesitant to take on such a goal, simply because it makes falling short too obvious, so the key would be popularize the number 400,000 so much that it simply cannot be ignored – including repeatedly, publicly asking candidates if they would endorse such a figure. (That said, the more pessimistic part of me suspects after 2020 we will be discussing whether St. Louis should adopt a goal of 300,000 residents…)

    > I think the entire St. Louis revitalization community needs to pose and answer a very fundamental question: What makes a city great? We often talk of density, population, or GDP, but those are simply symptoms of, or means to, something more ethereal. No doubt Caracas is dense, Lagos has huge population, and Dhahran has massive GDP, but I do not know if any of those float to the top of one’s internal “great cities” list. Is it the aggregate happiness of the residents? (Good luck measuring that…) Is it opportunity? Something else? Does it need to fit the definition of “great”
    only for people already living there, or should it fit the definition of “great” for a wider audience to encourage them to take up residency? And so on…

    > While I understand the critique of NIMBY, we have to admit all of us have criteria by which we would turn down increasing density. Many commenters on this blog would pass on a dense development that does not meet aesthetic preferences, dismissing projects for simply having parking on the “wrong” side. It is really a matter of what people value: As Mr. Ihnen pointed out, there are multiple ways to generate density. If
    I say “People should accept some impositions on their lifestyle – lost views, parking competition, unknown effects on property values, late-night noise, crowds at their local eateries, etc. – to allow more multi-unit residences in their neighborhoods”, many here would cheer that argument. However, if I said “People should accept some impositions on their lifestyle – competition for their time, unknown effects on household budget, irregular sleep, fewer chances to go out, etc. – to have one more kid”, I would be chastised for “imposing” my preferences on other people. (Hate to add in a rhetorical firecracker, but one-third to one-half of the 29000 residents lost in 2000 – 2010 can be
    explained by the City’s abortion rate, a far bigger contributor to City depopulation than housing square footage.) You could promise the Taj Mahal of apartment buildings to the Hill, but people might still prefer a strategy of simply luring one replacement family
    for each single-family dwelling vacated, so as to keep their local watering hole uncrowded, their traffic navigable, and their view unimpeded, i.e. the things that might have caused them to move to that neighborhood in the first place.

    > I will float a general principle, but its back-and-forth debate belongs on another blog: For a city that has failed for so long, it is perfectly reasonable, and overdue, to ask if extended one-party rule is partly to blame. St. Louis has had decades of single-party dominance that would make Third World autocrats blush, but the question – not even presupposing the answer, but simply the question – is utterly absent in our media. And that question would still be every bit as proper if the City were in the same shape today after a half-century of GOP control. While I think most of a city’s fate is determined by the civic culture of the residents themselves, I acknowledge that governance still makes a sizable contribution; if a condo board had presided over such uninterrupted
    decline of a condo complex, even for factors beyond its control, the voting property owners would throw it out wholesale.

    > As I alluded, the biggest thing about how a city fares is how residents live their lives and engage society. Why does St. Louis’ urban core have such crime? Why does SLPS experience such dismal outcomes, even though the DESE page on the Missouri Comprehensive Data System shows “poor” school districts spend as much, or more, per average daily attendee than suburban districts? I would propose the prime candidate is family breakdown, especially the absence of fathers in low-income neighborhoods. Boys grow up seeking male role models on the street, girls grow up never knowing a man should love them for who they are, and you get all of the bad
    outcomes those promise. And yet our cities have spent untold billions in pretending the symptoms are the illness. It is not up to municipal governments to fix the family, but it is up to them to not place obstacles to it or ignore its pivotal role. It is up to culture, and the would-be families themselves, to fix the issue – we would be stunned at the turnaround St. Louis would make.

    > We often take a “build-it-and-they-will-come” approach, seeking residences for people not there on the premise that the egg precedes the chicken. That actually works… for a while. I suspect that approach works only for a while because there is a certain percentage of people that values city life and is willing to put up with the downsides of it. However, I do not believe that to be even a particularly large minority of the populace. And even that sliver is not solely deterred by lack of apartment options; numerous people say “I would love to live in the City, but it does not feel safe/I cannot afford private school/the new company where I found my job is in Chesterfield”. In short, the only way St. Louis reaches the ambitious goal of 85000 new residents is not by drawing a diminishing pool of urba-philes, but by becoming a perfectly reasonable choice for people basing their living decisions on more mundane things. The urban environment and amenities should not be the main draw, simply a differentiator for a City that is as practical a choice as any County community.

    > City government needs to concentrate on fostering a quality job growth environment, as plentiful jobs cover a wide array of amenities “sins” and provide the tax revenues to address other ills. Its second priority is security. Nothing else comes close to these two, and I am often galled at the frivolities on which City time and money are spent. Private society can concentrate on beautification, sustainability, and culture. In fact, I would challenge this blog community to take on a concrete goal of its own – select a
    small number of blocks somewhere in St. Louis and coordinate the volunteer and
    fundraising resources necessary to visibly, measurably improve it in terms of
    aesthetics or walkability. Create a miniature of the urban environment you want, so as to showcase its benefits to people.

    I get the feeling we are looking at the best of times and worst of times in the next few years, so daylight’s a-burnin’ for these goals…

    Bryan Kirchoff
    St. Louis

    • gmichaud

      The problem is what you describe, you say (to paraphrase a bit) “it is up to municipal governments not to place obstacles or ignore its pivotal role” That in a nutshell is exactly what is happening (the placing of obstacles and the ignoring part). It is what is wrong. The city, nor region is built for equality and equal use by all of its citizens.
      Transit is an afterthought where only the poor in St Louis are using it. A big reason why is there a complete lack of concern about creating pedestrian friendly environments, instead St. Louis far too often creates miserable pedestrian environments. So naturally only those who really need to use transit do so.
      This on top of that there is the unfriendly economic environment for those just starting out or trying to eke out a living. Helsinki, a metro area about the size population of St. Louis, has squares and markets all over, usually collection points for transit. They serve vendors with stalls. London too is well known for various street markets that are populated by vendors and in addition to many more lesser known street markets tucked away in and around London.
      Both cities are serving a broad cross section of the population with transit, city design and economic policy.
      St. Louis in contrast does not design the city to help foster those types of economic and social opportunities. St. Louis City ignores equality in design and the region is worse yet. Hell most of St. Louis City is off limits to vendors and lucrative sites, like around the stadium, are given to insiders while chasing everyone else away.
      So that in part answers your question about what makes a great city. Ignoring a large portion of the population I would guess is not a characteristic of a great city.
      As far as whether one party rule is a problem I would say yes generally but after listening to Republicans this week I shudder how bad things could really be if they were in charge. They hate everything and want to turn all of America over to their rich friends, no thanks, the democrats are piss poor, but they are better than the alternative.
      You can see from what I wrote above, the democrats are not really advocates of the working man or woman. Most development decisions are made to benefit a select group of insiders and not the city as a whole.
      The city building processes in London and Helsinki are far superior, not without their own faults of course. I was looking at a livability chart from 2015 from the Economist Intelligence unit. Helsinki is at number 10, London at 53 and St. Louis is off the charts below the 140 cities rated. Another livability chart I found by Mercer has St. Louis as one of the 5 worse cities in North America. You generally have to pay to see all of the results at these sites. I guess they sell them to people trying to relocate and so on, they use various different criteria to come up with these rankings. Livability has to be a factor, maybe a major one, certainly in relocating major corporations.

      In general though the livability indexes confirm what I say about the city building processes of Helsinki and London being far superior over St. Louis.
      A few stats
      Helsinki is actively planning for and coping with a population gain of 10,000 a year. Helsinki City Planning has documents in English extending discussions for long term planning (ie new rail lines, determining best areas for these increases and so on) Helsinki City Plan-Vision 2050.
      These numbers are from memory so they may be off a bit.
      Helsinki proper pop 699,000
      Metro area 1.4 million
      Size of Helsinki proper, about 77 sq miles, a little bigger than St. Louis, I think its about 8400 people per square mile in Helsinki
      Metro area is around 1400 square miles, something in the order of 1000 population per sq mile.
      I believe St. Louis is over 8000 sq miles, so big difference there. The similar population makes them interesting to compare since they are so different in the execution of city building.

      • Bryan Kirchoff

        I appreciate your very thorough and thoughtful reply. While I think we do have something to learn from European cities (primarily preservation of history and architecture – cities like St. Louis that lack beaches, mountains, or nice weather have only built environment and
        culture to woo talent), I would propose you may have the cart before the horse. I believe you are arguing that Helsinki and London have distributed development, and thus have stable neighborhoods. But what if it actually is Helsinki and London have stable neighborhoods, thus they have distributed development?

        My point is that if O’Fallon Park was no more dangerous than Tower Grove, there probably would be more vendors there. Right now, small businesses rarely locate in large sections of North City for classical
        business reasons (i.e. profitability and long-term growth potential), but
        rather because the owner has a special devotion to the City. That kind of sentiment may be noble, but there are not enough such businesses to build a viable business base.

        Regarding transit, Metrolink connects neighborhoods around St. Charles Rock Road, Wellston, and Delmar with some of the region’s largest employers, such as Lambert, UMSL, Washington University, Barnes-Jewish, SLU, Busch Stadium, etc. Yet one can hardly call those neighborhoods prosperous (except for the sliver along Delmar that largely caters to a middle-class and wealthy clientele). There is much talk of a more inclusive economy these days, but when dropout rates in urban schools are so high, a huge swath of the urban populace
        has disqualified itself right off the bat from inclusion in that economy (which is why I argue above that students should stay, regardless of how bad their school is, if they do not have the option of going somewhere else).

        • gmichaud

          You miss the point, the urban design process is more rigorous and inclusive of its citizens in London and Helsinki. These cities build the infrastructure to support all of its citizens, not just those with autos and good paying jobs.
          Both cities have a more transparent planning process that is deliberate and takes care to make sure projects support the population.
          You brought up some good points in your original post but now you seem to be rationalizing the status quo. The point I was making is that even those on the lower end of the economic scale are given a place in the city, there is a culture for everyone by making transit attractive and also by encouraging and making places for vendors to operate. You don’t seem to understand that rather than create places for vendors and economic opportunity, in St. Louis vendors are off limits almost everywhere in the city.
          None of this has anything to do with Europe or America, Asia or anywhere, but with the application of urban planning policies and how they are enacted.
          The fact transit goes through neighborhoods that are not prosperous does not mean the transit system works well. As I point out too much of it is a wasteland of autocentric development. For example practically every light rail station is surrounded by parking, huge amounts of parking in some cases. In cities with successful transit such stations would be surrounded by walkable environments. Do you ever take transit?
          Social factors are one consideration, building a city that presents economic opportunity to all is something society can accomplish irregardless of individual situations.
          That is where St. Louis falls short and it holds back growth. I should note this is how St. Louis achieved success in the first place. At one time every lot was an economic engine capable of being changed from a home to a business and back again, storefronts where scattered across the city. A review of any St. Louis master plans from the 50’s shows the conscious efforts to undermine that urban form and change it into the autocentric environment St Louis has today.
          Trying to pin the failure of St Louis on low income minorities is wrong. Again a review of planning processes of cities like London and Helsinki illustrate a path to growth and success. I don’t believe it is possible to argue St. Louis has a viable city planning paradigm If somebody thinks so I would be interested in hearing those arguments. Creating a new model of urban planning and design is a realistic place to start in trying to correct what ails the region.
          Those urban planning changes should occur irregardless of complaints about crime and education. And in fact a healthy environment for all will likely help abate negative social impacts.

          • Alex Ihnen

            BTW – if you’re not already, both of you should head over the Urban STL forum and be part of the conversations there!


          • gmichaud

            Thanks for the link, actually I have run across the forum a number of times in the past but it never pulled me in. It is not as graphically nice as yours, which makes a big difference. I spent a bit of time on it. It is just not as compelling to navigate. Even the linear blogs where you scroll one topic at at time are graphically nicer than the urban review. Plus I get the feeling I am running through a bunch of info before I get where I want to go.
            But it is a good site, I like that some subjects are maintained for years. Of course if you end with 1200 comments, some sort of filter like the new york times does with reader picks, or editors picks would be helpful.
            Kind of crazy it doesn’t have a library, hopefully with docs rather than links which go bad or can be changed.
            That and I was wondering where the topic of actual policy change was discussed. Then I saw that very topic was discussed in the past two Friday discussions. I’ll head over there.

          • gmichaud

            Never mind, comments closed.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Right, the forum serves a different purpose. The comments on blog posts generally pertain to just that news item, while the forum can go on for years on a topic, as you notice. For the Friday Live Chat, comments do close since it’s only meant to be live for an hour or so. There’s a search function in the forum that helps, if you’re so inclined to do some digging.

  • TimJim

    Interesting post, but I must disagree as to the characterization of the lawsuit opposing the Clayton high-rise apartment building. as “ridiculous.” The suit was filed because the city refused to recognize the 800-plus signatures on petitions calling for a vote on the project, the first residential project in Clayton ever to be granted tax abatement. It was settled after the Mo. Supreme Court agreed to consider the appeal. Yes, some opponents lived in a nearby high-rise and didn’t want their views blocked, but the vast majority, like me, opposed the tax abatement, not the building.

  • gmichaud

    Great post, the thing that jumps out at me is that after 6 decades of decline there are no leaders attempting to even discuss alternatives. How bad does it have to get before change is considered possible? The major media in St Louis especially are clueless. St. Louis gets dog stories, plenty of murder and mayhem and specials on the Cardinals and Blues, but nothing that resembles a sustained and incisive commentary on the very city people live in and go about their business everyday.
    There is probably more analysis here, at this site, in a week than you will find in the major media going on months or longer
    While some good ideas have been offered here, I would say that building for the sake of building is not success, that is what has gotten St Louis into the position it is in now. The project on the Hill, as was discussed in a previous post on Nextstl, is little more than a warmed over suburban style development, no matter what the population gain. The proposal by Sansone is totally inappropriate for the Hill and the City.
    The old mantra to accept any piece of garbage because it provides jobs should not be replaced with a mantra to accept garbage because it increases population.
    Until the development process is changed radically to include citizen perspectives, to be more proactive in planning and make efforts to insure there is a pedestrian and transit friendly environment nothing is going to change.
    That is in my mind the discussion needed. What should a new development approval process look like? It is clear that what is happening now isn’t working. Pedestrians and transit have become slaves to the autocentric design that permeates practically every project.. The current approach is hurting job growth, population growth and practically everything else about St Louis.

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  • brickhugger

    400,000 is not enough; if you look at the population density of each neighborhood (and I have), and factor in all the vacant buildings and lots multiplied by the standard household (2.4 I think), plus about 10% for higher density in the central corridor and a few other places, and the net result is about 500-525,000 people.
    How to get there? A combination of projects and policies that encourage development, such as:
    — putting I-70 downtown in a tunnel from Walnut to Cass, with a planted boulevard on top.
    — remove 22nd street ramps and replace with a full 4-way interchange at Jefferson and I-64
    — turn the Lemp Brewery into a university focusing on beverage production, manufacture, and research.
    — convert the rexall drug plant at Kingshighway and Natural Bridge into NorthSide Hospital.
    — at least one new metrolink line, running through north-south city, and then west from Natural Bridge out to Chesterfield.
    — Extend blue and red lines to St. Charles, Mid-America Airport, O-Fallon, and River City Casino.
    — put all of red/blue line in a tunnel from DeBalivere to Clayton.
    — change tax abatement to percentage point system, based on how urban and neighborhood-friendly a project is.
    — expand police/community training and interaction.
    — as much as possible, shift from drug enforcement to education, treatment, and prevention.
    –replace the aldermanic board president with a professional city manager.
    — Get Cementland finished and open!
    — recruit a fortune 500 HQ or two to move downtown. I’m thinking Wells Fargo and Boeing to start. (Boeing could take over AT&T’s now empty 42 story tower downtown.)
    — put a movie theater next to the SSNB building at Grand and Gravois.
    — have culture/politican/sports figures house tours, that are available as podcasts.
    …And so on. no one of these projects will ‘save’ the city by itself, and none are easy or cheap(!), but together, they would bring the City around dramatically, and for the long term.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes, in theory the city could accommodate 500K+, but expecting or hoping for 50+% growth seems unrealistic. As for specific things that need to be done to drive growth, you list plenty of great ideas, but the city can work toward growth just by how it receives and administers existing proposals. This was my point – not that we should hope for growth by presenting big ideas.

      • brickhugger

        Well I agree that promoting density as policy is critical (which is a key component of my tax abatement percentage idea), but I don’t think that’s enough, nor do I think its at all unrealistic to shoot for a 50% growth in population, if you look at a 25 year time-frame. And while a ‘hail mary’ project (or two, or three) won’t bring the City around, a combination of small to medium projects, combined with the policy changes I suggested, will. Cities need vision and inspiration, AND common sense day to day policies that work.
        Telling the story, and creating the story, are as much a part of this as doing the everyday practical things.

    • Brian Wallner

      We need a better airport to recruit fortune 500 companies…I can’t think of any company that would move to a city that would require at least one layover to arrive back to the city…cities such as Minneapolis and Cincinnati will most likely beat us to the punch for any fortune 500 company that may be interested into moving to this part of the country….

  • John R

    Terrific post but a couple points…. while I don’t necessarily agree with the opposition to the projects mentioned, neighborhood density nimbyism isn’t a unique STL problem and occurs in urban areas across the nation, if not the globe. I also don’t think it has hurt our population growth as a whole as we have so much available redevelopment/infill opportunity in the city,,, where opposition stymies development on one project, other projects elsewhere pick up the slack.

    What is hurting our population growth is a lack of job production, not housing production.

  • Dan

    I agree with the two points here: 1) the City and metro area should seek to boost their populations, and 2) municipalities often implement counterproductive residential development policies. However, the assumption that fixing problem #2 will support goal #1 is flawed. Prudent development policy is/should be driven by popularion trends, not the other way around. Driving population growth will take a much deeper and more expansive push to improve social services ( i.e. Education) and economic development policy ( i.e. Job creation). At this point adding new residential development just shifts our stagnant/shrinking regional population from point A to point B within the metro area.

  • Shelby Ketchum

    Is there anyway citizens like use can force this issue on the mayoral campaign? What I mean is try and bring this issue to forefront of the campaign and demand that every candidate has a plan to reach 400k. Of course people will say crime is the number one problem, but a bigger population and more development will help greatly. A wider tax base in the city for more services and hopefully more people who give a damn. I wish our city government had real plans and real groups that tackled issues like this. They don’t so it’s up to use to spread the word that St. Louis is not a dying city. The only way we can change this perception is if we work together spread the word and force change on a city that hates changes.

  • Ben Harvey

    I would like the LRA to work with some kind of refugee program with deep pockets and get a solid population of Syrians going somewhere in North City or the Wellston Loop area. STL could use a “Little Damascus”

    • Superdave_312

      I believe that is already beginning. The first refugees are living in West End.

    • tbatts666

      But where would they park their cars!!?

    • Eric432643

      This isn’t working out so well for Europe recently…

  • JB

    The Hill example is the most glaring one in my opinion. Allowing a burned out industrial building to take up a large chunk of land that could otherwise be used to build a high-end residential development that people would flock to is a sure-fire way to limit growth. But it happens because people hear the word “apartment” and are frightened that Pruitt-Igoe is being build in their backyard.

    Sansone needs to load up a bus full of the vocal opposition and ride over to Cortana to take a quick tour of a comparable property. Seeing the investment the developers made in design/amenities and the resulting tenant mix it attracts might change their tune.The perception still exists with the older generation that high class = houses and low class = apartments/renters and it’s mostly due to blissful ignorance of what a modern-day apartment/condo development is.

    Regarding the population growth, as much as gaining new residents is a big issue for the city, keeping the ones it has is equally important. I would imagine the turnover rate in residents of STL is far greater than comparable cities. I don’t know the method, but there has to be some effort made to reverse the common mindset of “well, I’ve gotten married and had a kid, so I guess my time in the city is up”. Schools are obviously a huge part of it, but I don’t know how many decades it would take to improve the perception of the public school system.

    • tpekren

      Agree, completely don’t get the opposition to development that would deal with the old outdated partially burnt factory complex. I can understand getting some changes in the mix but have to give Sansone some credit for introducing some single residential. Heck, the rest of the Hill is nothing but that..
      Old School leadership is killing a project that could help keep the Hill vital. Instead its embracing its demographic decline with gusto.

      Now I just need a comment to tell me to go take a hike can I’m not part of the hill and will never understand.

  • mc

    We must look to Europe. Build parking underground and use mass transportation. That is all there is to it. Preserve old buildings and re-utilize them. Give incentives for people to trade in their cars and give them free mass transit for the rest of their lives. Too bad the transit system here is not all that great. Let’s work to make it better.

    • Alex Ihnen

      While I don’t this this isn’t true, things can be much more simply in STL. Let’s start be allowing apartments to replace vacant warehouses. If we get to where underground parking makes sense, then great.

    • tpekren

      Agree with Alex, Also Europe to me is completely different . I don’t believe they would have ever allowed 90 muni’s to develop around the city center. The political support will never be were Europe is at with central planning because the American culture or mindset of wide open space has already dictated what and how things have been built for generations….

      The other issue is that underground parking is very very expensive. Some instances it will work but city is not very dense as it is and has a lot of space that some well position structured parking makes much more sense economically. The difference is finding feasible ways to make say a Grand Center proposed parking garage more appealing from a design point. Or even subsidizing some ground floor space that the market might not lease for several years out.

  • This is not a problem St. Louis can solve. It will always be cheaper to develop newly cleared farmland, and the region has an infinite supply of that at its edges. Unless zoning is used to stop construction in places like Wentzville and Edwardsville, the region’s density will continue to fall. And since those places will change their zoning about 15 minutes after hell freezes over…

    • Alex Ihnen

      Perhaps “solve” isn’t the goal, but the city and older suburbs can make development and increasing density easier. They could start by simply stating that increasing residential density is a goal, and that policies will be adopting to help achieve that goal. This doesn’t and shouldn’t mean accepting any stick-built apts that come down the pike, but resistance to development based on fears of density, traffic, etc. can be addressed – and this would lead to more density despite the larger challenges.

  • Guest

    Why is there resistance to growth? Because people who live in single family homes do not want to live near apartment buildings that are adjacent to their property. They don’t want outsiders (renters) moving in to their neighborhood. It’s an exclusionary attitude, which is very familiar in St. Louis. I’ve seen people go out and get a real estate agent as soon as they got a notice that an apartment building will be coming behind their house or in the area. They immediately put their house on the market, hoping to sell before the apartments were ready for new tenants so they did not have to disclose to potential buyers. They may be motivated by their own economic self-interest instead of the community’s best interest.

    What needs to happen is to better inform and educate neighbors within the community as to the problem–population is losing in your area and that development is needed to attract people to live there. You need to show them that population has declined since the 1950s and explain to them that they need to be on the same page of “building up the community” via development and having a welcoming attitude to outsiders trying to move in. Try to help them to see “the good” in development and “the good” in other people.

    Why do rents continually go up if the population has gone done over many decades? I think St. Louis is way overpriced on rent rates when you compare to major cities, say NY or Seattle. Rents are too high and this may deter some people living there when they can go elsewhere that their car can take them. Reduce rents if possible. Make it affordable and attractive. People want to feel that they got a deal deal for their money and have some extra spending cash or emergency savings money to show for it. Also, having more grocery stores would be helpful.

    New housing is sorely needed for the city–new home price range in the starter $100K to $150K range (assume a single mom with a kid that has a salary of say $45K or just single people wanting to own a home). People want lower priced new homes that are affordable. I would build more new, affordable homes wherever possible and as many I could.

    St. Louis city needs to show why it is a better to live in the city than anywhere else. It is in competition with other surrounding areas. Places that become complacent will lose people. The city has been complacent over 50 years and it shows in many ways. To stay relevant, things will have to change.

    • T-Leb

      A new small home wouldn’t be affordable unless you were developing a large chunk of homes, typically in one generally location. That’s how you leverage economies of scale in construction, buy material in bulk, have one site, only move equipment in once. Know anywhere in StL that has land assembled and basically ready for construction? N Side and a few small plots around the city. But it is being met with resistance as well for reasons that don’t all line up on the same side. A lot of developers are scared off by environmental clean up, legacy of the past is still present.

      • Tysalpha

        Instead of tax abatements, then, why not have the city conduct all environmental assessments and necessary cleanup? Essentially delivering developers a greenfield site?

    • citylover

      I agree. There needs to be some wake up call for residents.

      Also, the city was built out in the 1950s correct? So if we want something larger and denser than 850,000 then we need dense structures. Keeping in mind that the avg household size is around 2 people. So even with the built out city of the 50s, our city would be smaller.

      With the Hill neighborhood, I understand residents’ argument that they want to keep the heritage and feel, but new residents will help keep this feel. Larger populations means desirability.

      When I go to the Hill, I feel old. I feel neighbors know neighbors and neighbors know neighbor’s pet names. What happens when those people die? Do their kids choose to live in the Hill too? The neighborhood needs some “coolness.” I’m not saying it has to mirror the CWE, but it needs some art, some new architecture, young people. By attracting these people, our acclaimed Italian neighborhood can keep its old school approach and attain others interested in “new” Italian food and culture. And there will be people who just love the neignborhood. But right now The hill neighborhood is like a dream catcher and an ancient rocking horse. Some people feel connection with it, but it’s “eh” for many others