As we all trudge along, doing whatever it is we do, few people are aware that St. Louis has a 250th birthday celebration coming our way next year.
Whether the official founding date is February 14, 1764 or February 15, most historians are sure about the year.
1764. That’s the date when Pierre Laclede and August Chouteau founded this city, named after King Louis IX of France. Founded on the banks of the Mississippi, St. Louis was a riverboat town which experienced a huge population growth after the Civil War and at one point in the late 19th century, St. Louis was the 4th largest city in the United States.
In March of 1877, St. Louis seceded from St. Louis County, allowing it to become an independent city and limiting its political boundaries. I’m not going to say that’s when all our problems began but that city-county split never quite worked out and I wish I knew more of the reasoning behind it back in the day. Who was it that had that great vision to cause that split and what was their thinking. Was it the first St. Louis NIMBY sighting?
“The county is wild territory and no one will live there. Only vagabonds and scoundrels would live in the county and I certainly don’t want them living in my back yard. Let them fend for themselves.”
Who knows? The St. Louis city population peaked in 1950, reaching a high of 856,796 and it’s been all downhill from there – 2011 population figures list 318,069 St. Louisans – yet that’s not right, because I certainly consider myself a St. Louisan. But I’m one of those in the surrounding county area, which, depending upon which counties you want to count, includes more than 2.9 million (including our 318,000+ city inhabitants).
So here we all are, the 19th largest metropolitan area in the country and as we head into 2014 and we all get ready to put on our party hats and celebrate 250 years, I think we’re kind of at a crossroads as to which way this region goes.
Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a huge proponent of fixing that mistake that was made back in 1877. I think we should merge the city with the county because divided, we will continue to have that NIMBY attitude. Alas, I don’t think that’s going to be done in my lifetime or perhaps in anyone’s lifetime. There are too many fiefdoms in this metropolitan area of ours, too many special interests at work. And so we have good school districts and bad school districts. There are areas of the city and county that are not just struggling, they’re on the verge of economic collapse while other areas flourish.
This city and this metropolitan area is so segmented – and as a rule, most St. Louisans don’t venture into other areas all that often. We are a city divided. We are pockets of communities where many of us are as likely to visit Delaware as we are Dellwood (and I’m not trying to pick on Dellwood, I just liked the alliteration).
Downtown is still not structured to be a place where people live. It’s gotten better but it has a long, long way to go but when there are very few places to shop for groceries and get the normal necessities to carry on everyday life, you’re destined to fail. A city should be a living, breathing organism, alive 24 hours a day. St. Louis is 9-to-5 and alive on sports weekends and turns into somewhat of a ghost town in the evening.
We need more urban pioneers. We need people to stop moving further and further out and start moving closer and closer in. We need visionaries who are ready to re-boot and re-vitalize areas of both the city and the county that were once great places to live but now have people who are afraid to drive in some areas at night.
I am proud to be a lifelong St. Louisan. I love Forest Park, the Cardinals, the West End and so many other places that are too numerous to mention. I hate hearing about gun violence and shootings every single time I turn on the local news. I’m dismayed that school districts are suffering so much that people in those communities are opting to send their kids to other schools across town. That simply doesn’t seem like a logical way to fix a problem to me. Instead, that seems like a downward spiral and downward spirals do not result in happy endings.
Maybe with this 250th birthday celebration coming up, the city and county can rally like never before.
250 years is a major milestone. Let’s make it something way more significant than that.