It is always interesting to talk to someone who has moved to St. Louis from another part of the country. They sheepishly ask if you can explain to them the difference between St. Louis City and St. Louis County. They want to understand how the city can be both a county and a city.
They also want to understand how St. Louis can be one of the top 30 metropolitan areas but the city only has about 300,000 people living in it. And, if it comes to mind, they also might ask why there are so many small municipalities in St. Louis County.
These questions came to mind this week as St. Louis City voters rejected by about 3,000 votes a plan to build a new stadium to attract a professional soccer team to St. Louis. Based on an area population of about 2.5 million, the decision was made by 58,000 city voters or about 2% of the residents of the St. Louis area.
Sadly, it was also made by voters who were told untruths about the proposal by their local leaders – who they blindly follow. The result was the defeat of an economically viable proposal that would have brought a good asset to the region with no negative impact on the city finances.
To clear the air, I am not a soccer fan. Even if Proposition 2 had passed, I would have been unlikely to purchase tickets and attend a professional soccer game.
But I recognize the value of a new stadium and the jobs it would have created. A stadium, not just as a suite for a professional soccer team, but as a terrific outdoor venue for concerts and other entertainment events.
The purpose of this article is not whether or not we as a community support soccer, football, or any other sport. The issue is that a small minority of poorly informed city voters defeated a proposal that would have been positive for our region economically and for our reputation as a relevant metropolitan area.
The real issue is the fragmented structure of the local governments in the St. Louis region. This issue makes it nearly impossible for our area to work together to solve regional problems. As new proposals are developed for economic growth for the area, implementing them becomes practically unachievable due to the fragmentation of the local government.
This also applies to programs for the arts and social programs designed to help the less fortunate. Even more tragically, it means that people who live in the city often must be bussed to the county schools for a chance at a decent education.
It is easy for me to sit in my office in West St. Louis County and believe that the politics of the city don’t affect me. But they do.
First, the lack of support of well thought-out proposals that would improve the entertainment, arts, and sports offerings means that our region is handicapped when trying to compete for new jobs. It means that the area becomes less attractive to young people who often look at our region as an area that has been passed by. As a result, many of our young people consider moving to more progressive areas instead of staying in their home town.
In addition, those of us who live outside the St. Louis city limits are also affected by the fact that the city is annually among the highest in crime statistics for the US. Whether we like it or not, we are affected by the Ferguson issue and the segregation that exists in our region. While we can pretend that it doesn’t really have an impact on us, the fact is that it does. Instead of being proud of our city, how often do we apologize for the problems in the region that seem far away on a daily basis but actually touch our daily lives?
Taking this to another level, St. Louis County voters passed increased funding for the county police last week. After the election, the Chief of Police for St. Louis City expressed concern that the county’s good fortune would make it even more difficult to recruit police in the city.
Does it bother anyone that the part of our region who desperately needs more police can’t pay its current officers enough to retain them? At the same time, many communities in the county have so many police that they over-staff speed traps and donut shops.
As noted in the title, sadly – very sadly – this article is about a problem without a solution.
Going back to my childhood years, there have been half-hearted attempts to bring the county and the city together. Unfortunately, correcting the governmental structure is very unlikely to happen. It would take leaders with a vision of what is good for the regional community overall to lead the effort. They would have to convince the “haves” of our region to share with the “have nots.”
History – as well as current attitudes – show that it is nearly impossible for this to happen. And, tragically, without such leadership, the St. Louis region is likely to continue its march toward mediocrity.