On April 25, the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) released its “Roadmap to Economic Justice” plan. In the days preceding the publication of the plan, Mayor Jones announced a commitment of $150 million in ARPA funds to North St. Louis while another $96 million has already been planned for the predominantly Black northside. The plan will be implemented using these funds before the end of 2024.
Evaluating the plan, there are five primary goals:
- Strengthen neighborhoods
- Eliminate the wealth gap
- Improve health and educational outcomes
- Expand the tax base
- Grow the city’s population
From there, the three pillars are:
- Economic Empowerment
- Equitable and Inclusive Development
- Neighborhood Transformation
The pillars have some concrete actionable steps to move St. Louis in the right direction. For example, a revolving loan fund aimed at incentivizing and increasing minority-owned start ups could have a dramatic impact on St. Louis’ business culture. It should be noted that St. Louis already has one of the top scenes for female entrepreneurs looking to start a business and 25% of start ups are minority owned. Building on this success is immensely important for St. Louis. Another important aspect of this plan is a real estate arm that will aid neighborhood residents and businesses with tools to rehabilitate the beautiful architecture that has long been systemically neglected by monied interests.
In addition to building a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurs, the plan also aims to create a stronger middle class through job training and the growth of industry. While St. Louis has long had strong higher education institutions, what allowed the city to flourish during the late 19th and early 20th century economically was its wealth of opportunity for the non-undergraduate educated. At the confluence of American industry, St. Louis is flowing with untapped opportunities for its labor force.
Lastly, the Economic Empowerment pillar calls for increased access to opportunities for students in St. Louis City. While youth shouldn’t be thought of solely in terms of their economic potential, St. Louis Public School’s mission to help students live happy and full lives can align with the city’s business interests of having a strong and prosperous economy since the latter aids the former.
Equitable and Inclusive Development
St. Louis is long overdue for incentive reform. The Central Corridor has seen a bulk of the city’s tax incentives for development projects despite questions about their necessity. When Lux Living sold the Tribeca in DeBaliviere Place in 2018 for a large amount, critics complained that they had essentially pocketed the tax incentives as profit in the process. And just this summer, St. Louis saw itself embroiled in a scandal as two aldermen and the president of the Board of Aldermen were indicted on bribery charges related to tax incentives. Creating clear, transparent policies and procedures for tax incentives is a welcome goal.
The plan also calls for proactive development. This includes identifying and acquiring neglected properties and actively marketing city owned properties. While this is a no-brainer, the city has struggled to do this. Despite an ordinance that would allow the city to take back properties from negligent owners, it is seemingly never applied despite the many opportunities to do so. Additionally, the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) department is both the largest vacant landowner and perpetrator of property neglect in the city, mainly due to a dearth of funds. Will the abundance of ARPA funds provide an opportunity to change that? On the bright side, St. Louis City has begun to use Prop NS funds to stabilize some important buildings that it believes can help to turn the tide in disinvested neighborhoods. Its a worthwhile endeavor, but the city will need more funding to see it through successfully.
Commercial corridor revitalization also envisions a better connected city. North-South Metrolink and the Brickline Greenway both promise transportation networks that connect residents across the city and importantly, the Delmar Divide. The prioritization of infrastructure improvements can help to both meet the immediate needs of current residents and spur private investment.
Perhaps one of St. Louis’ most significant assets is its strong neighborhoods. The plan seeks to create positions and programs that aid neighborhoods and their existing organizations to better serve residents. While St. Louis has many productive neighborhood organizations, better aligning city government and neighborhood organization collaboration can lead to better access to resources for residents. Using state sponsored programs like Main Streets (Delmar’s program is underway) can offer an additional layer of support, as well.
Previously, the plan envisioned being proactive with real estate. This section looks at how the city can center land use around a better resident experience. By creating greenways, stabilizing buildings, establishing community gardens, and aligning resources with residents unable to afford to fix code violations, residents can have healthy and more prosperous lives. This section seems to get at the crux of why it is ultimately worth it to stabilize buildings and build greenways. It isn’t for primarily for wealth accumulation, but rather to meet the needs of residents.
Lastly, an economic justice plan necessarily must place a focus on housing accessibility and this plan does just that. Through loan assistance, anti-displacement policies, and a commitment to building more housing, this plan considers a path to ensure that St. Louis remains an affordable city. This is much easier said than done, though, and there is often much political pressure against these types of policies. If this plan can drive policymakers to enact policies that perpetuate housing accessibility, St. Louis will offer all its residents a brighter future.
Moving Toward an Equitable Future
Plans are not new to St. Louis. This city has tripped itself, lost itself, torn itself up, and paralyzed itself: all for plans. But those plans were so often focused around exclusion and silver bullets. Few times has this city created comprehensive plans that center on inclusion and systemic change. This plan puts equity first and proposes a St. Louis City where every resident in every neighborhood has value. A commitment of $250 million is significant, and if the city is serious, it should continue to commit further funds toward these aims.