Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why did/would you leave the city?

If you were once a resident of St. Louis, but have since left, I want to hear from you. Why did you leave? What were the variables that played into your decision? Was it a final straw scenario, an "I've had it" moment? Or, was it a series of events that led you to leave? Was it a change of life situation, where you didn't want to leave but your job, family, etc made it impossible to stay?

And then for you city dwellers, what would make you leave?

I will warn you, I'm a homer. I stick up for STL almost to a fault. I have a theory that the main reasons people abandon the city can be whittled down to issues of race and class. I'm not trying to bait people, but rather understand the true core of the reasons for leaving the city.

I am especially interested in the lure of St. Louis County. So if you feel obliged, please tell your story.


  1. Although I love the city and spend a great deal of leisure time there, I intentionally chose to buy a house in one of the inner ring suburbs. There's just one major reason for that -- the city earnings tax.

    The lines between the western edge of the city and the near suburbs like Maplewood or U City are so fluid it's hard to tell the difference. That is, at least, until you figure out that living on one side of the line will cost you a grand or two more each year than the other.

    When this silly tax is repealed, I'll consider living and/or working in the city. But until then, I'll continue to do neither.

  2. The so-called "silly tax" is also found in Columbus and Cincinnati. Our neighbors across the state--Kansas City--are engaging in the silliness as well. Philadelphia has a 5 percent earnings tax--that's downright zany, huh?

    Over the course of a couple years that you stay at your residence, you'd probably spend almost 1 percent of your income on the extra transit to find decent food and nightlife options (heavily clustered in the city).

    Besides, the City Earnings Tax is the only thing keeping those roads drivable and the streetlights on. It provides 33 percent of the city's operating revenue.

    Soon, the County might find itself struggling to raise the funds for its growing stock of aging inner ring suburbs and might impose such a tax too. What would you do then, jump ship to Jefferson County, ever so close to the border?

    I agree that Maplewood and U City are fabulous suburbs and nice places to live, but your excuse for not living/working in the city seems kind of lackluster.


    I moved to New Orleans for graduate school. I resisted my impulses to remain a lifelong St. Louis in order to gain some outside perspective. Despite the love and appreciation for the city of New Orleans that has only grown since I've been here, I fully plan to return to St. Louis--the city. I feel that the best way to make a difference in a place is to be a literal part of it.

    That said, I love our inner ring suburbs and definitely see their appeal. They need to be strong in order for the city to be strong. Luckily, much of U City, Richmond Heights, Maplewood, and Clayton are quite healthy.

  3. The biggest reason to move to the "burbs" is one of safety. The city has become so dangerous and crime is everywhere but, I don't feel threatened walking down my street now. I love the city and alot of it's offerings but I don't feel to safe in the city.

  4. I couldnt agree more with Matt M....the only way to truly make a difference is to truly be a part of it. Right now I'm volunteering working on housing issues in NYC. I will be there for a year but I am definitely observing the differences and similarities between St. Louis and New York. It is great to have an outside perspective and I plan on moving back to St. Louis to go to graduate schoool and live to make it a better place to live, visit, and work.

  5. ^ Great to hear, Anonymous 10:42!

    I am sure we will cross paths then in the future, because that's my goal as well!

  6. ^anonymous 9:13 AM. Nobody likes paying taxes, this much I know for sure. What are your property taxes in your municipality? STL has very cheap real estate taxes. And the rents in the city are amazingly cheap as well. I don't sweat 1% anyhow. I mean that's only $500 on a $50K annual salary.

  7. Matt M 9:35 and anonymous 10:42, an outside perspective will serve you well. You don't know what you've got till it's gone, right?

    Anonymous 10:27 what scares you about the city specifically? I am less scared in diverse, dense environments where people are everywhere (eyes on the street), then in sparsely populated or rural areas. That's just me, though. Break down your fears and honestly try to evaluate them at the core. Once you answer that think of your impact on these criminals that you're scared of. You leaving made them win. You cut and run turning your back on the city, leaving me and the others that care to deal with our fears and crimes against us. The more people calling the cops, complaining, shedding light on and calling out rude/criminal behavior, the harder it is on those criminals to do business. The cut and run to the burbs is one of the most tired excuses of suburbanites. Sorry but true, you are part of the problem and not the solution.

  8. Hmmm...crime in the city...While living in Jefferson County I experienced vandelism, a stolen car and a home break in - all in three short years. Living in the big scary city for 15 years I've yet to be murdered or raped, not once! Seems like there are good and bad neighborhoods to be found everywhere.

  9. The earnings tax is something to not like, however doesn't that earnings tax pay for trash pickup?

    I would say the other reason to live would be the fact that we pat an exorbitant amount more for Auto Insurance than county people do.

  10. It doesn't make any sense for a city which has trouble attracting quality jobs and residents to impose an earnings tax. The fact that a few other cities do the same doesn't impress me. The fact that probably 95% of cities don't have this tax is meaningful and I'd speculate that there is a strong correlation between economic growth and the lack of such a tax.

    How about Seattle, Portland, San Jose and Raleigh-Durham? I'd say they're much better role models than Kansas City, yet I don't think any of them have an earnings tax. And yet their roads are A-OK. How could that be?

    The tax may only amount to $500 on a $50K salary, but if you're a business owner and trying to make payroll for 100 people @ $50K each, you'd have to shell out an extra $50,000 a year to make up the difference to your employees. Or you could just put your business a few miles away where they don't impose this tax, freeing up an extra $50,000 so you could hire another person.

    In this case, the city not only loses out on the $50,000 in earnings tax, they also miss out on the sales tax from people buying lunch/groceries/gas/whatever, they miss out on the property tax for the business and they also miss out on people who might have moved to the city in order to be closer to work. So I guess my point is that the tax is shortsighted since removing it would allow them to collect more revenue in the end. Nobody likes to be nickel and dimed, and people who have the means to go elsewhere likely will.

    Maybe if the city had a little less corporate welfare for stadiums, the Kiel Opera House and similar projects, they'd be able to control their expenses and stay competitive.

  11. And regarding property taxes, the city is generally comparable with the inner suburbs. U City stands out for having exorbitant property taxes.

    Also, I know that Brentwood has free trash pickup for its residents and I'm pretty sure there's no earnings tax there either.

  12. ^Anonymous So the 1% earnings tax is a deal closer for you and probably many others I presume. I guess I and the other 348,000 city residents and countless others who work here pay it to help back the "corporate welfare" of stadiums, parks, Kiel, etc so you and the other 800K or so in the burbs can enjoy them for free. You can not vote on STL issues, you do not pay STL taxes, you don't live here or work here yet you want to go to Cards/Rams/Blues games, Kiel Opera house, Fox theatre, Forest Park, Tower Grove Park, etc. This separation between suburbs and city is a major issue for us as a region, one that hurts STL more than the 91 cities of STL County. How can the masses of STL County be part of helping STL become the city we all want it to be? Or is that the point? Is it easier to arm chair quarterback it from the sidelines? It's probably much easier to move out to the inner ring burbs so you can avoid ponying up 1% more so you can vote, live, work and improve this place. If a repeal of the 1% earnings tax ever comes to ballot (like you and I both hope it will), you won't be voting on it. And that's a shame. Because we need more people like you researching it, speaking out against it and contributing to a plan to fund all the city services without it. Sadly living in Ellisville or Brentwood or Maplewood, you have no say. Regionalism and parochialism suck and continue to hold us back.

  13. I moved from the city to the county in late 2007. We looked at houses both in the city and county for quite a while before purchasing our current home.

    The benefits of my current home:
    - We're in the Webster Groves School District, which is one of the best in the state. (Our daughter is not yet of school age)
    - We're close to my parents and my wife's parents, which comes in handy for baby-sitting purposes.
    - The house itself has the ample closet space, a master suite, and a separate family room, all of which we had a hard time finding in the city. This is a bigger deal for my wife than for me.

    What I don't like about my current home:
    - Longer commute to downtown.
    - Significantly larger yard - I spend way too much time and money keeping it up. It's freaking depressing. The relative simplicity of city living is so underrated.
    - I have to drive everywhere.
    - The area is fairly boring - we spend most of our time in the city when we go out.
    - I miss being a city resident and feeling like part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem.

    As far as safety goes, we previously lived near Hampton and Chippewa, and never felt threatened by crime in any way. That area's just about as safe as the neighborhood in which I currently live. In the city, safety varies by neighborhood, so I don't like it when people make blanket statements about it being unsafe.

    With regards to the earnings tax, I've never really missed it (my wife and I both still pay it since we work in the city). We pay $75/quarter for trash pickup in our current house, something that was free when we lived in the city. The services you get as a city resident are actually pretty good. Sure, I wouldn't mind having an extra 1%, but it's not a huge deal to me.

    If I had to do it all over again, I would have either stayed in my old house or made some compromises in my home search and purchased a different house in the city. I miss it quite a bit. Fortunately, I work downtown, which helps me get my urban fix. If I worked in the burbs, I'd be pretty down.

  14. I loved my city town home what with the lovely trash trucks picking up the rotten fish remains at 4am from pho grand in our adjoined alley way. And the way town hall would rush out and plow my vehicle under the snow, rock, and salt mixture to hamper my commute. Rathscallion jokesters that they are. I especially miss my dear neighbors the Dowrongs, hanging out their windows and settling domestic affairs in the wee hours of the morn. The young Bosnian girls with a flare for fashion only I, and a porn star could appreciate. Drinking wine out of a paper bag and watching the wrecking ball tear down the old FamousBarr on kingshighway. Freddy Friction throwing up in his girlfriends mouth and then making out with her. Helping friends push their innoperable vehicles down to that last bend of kingshighway, then waiting a few moments until someone totalled the them. The way the crazies would have to rush back to the mental hospital by 4:00.
    Good times, good times.

  15. My inability to vote on the repeal of the city earnings tax is a shame. I hope the people who do live there make the right choice.

    Frankly I am a little surprised by the animosity of some of the replies to my comments. Yeah, I live in the county, but as I said before, I spend a great deal of time and money in the city and support its businesses and institutions as much as I can. I just don't really support the city government. With any luck, maybe they'll read these comments and implement some changes.

    Repealing the earnings tax and improving the school system are the two things this "armchair quarterback" sees as providing the most benefit.

    As for safety, I travel freely and don't feel particularly more or less safe in the city or the county. Sure, The Ville or Baden are probably more prone to crime than Ladue or Clayton, but Wellston or Hanley Hills are probably more prone to crime than Lafayette Square or The Hill. But perception is everything, and there certainly are people in the county and St. Charles who avoid any part of the city for fear of being robbed or murder as soon as they hit the city limits. But the irony is, half my friends live in the city, half are in the county or St. Charles and the only one who ever got robbed was in Maryland Heights.

  16. ^Anon 12:17, no animosity intended. sorry if it comes across like that, I'm just having fun debating. Again, no animosity whatsoever.

  17. ^Alloisious, the cajun party in Princeton Heights was one for the ages. I've never eaten spicier food than that night.

  18. ^Brian, with the self appointed powers I've bestowed upon myself, I hereby dub thee an honorary member of the STL tribe.

  19. ^
    Thank you, sir. If this housing market ever recovers (and my house becomes worth what I paid for it), maybe we can make the move back to the city, which will always feel more like home to me.

  20. I was born and raised across the river. I moved to St. Louis city 17 years ago living in Dogtown, Soulard, Bevo, and St. Louis Hills (at least in that zip code). I loved it but that whole time I never thought I was doing anything profound.

    My wife found our first two houses in the city. She had previously lived at Kingshighway and Chippewa where our illustrious blog host Mark's wife soon moved (down the street). Soon after there was a shooting on that block and you know full well Mark that your wife was scared after that living by herself. I can relate to Alloisious' comments when at my wife's apartment I could hear the dope smokers in the flat below hack up luggies every morning. That was a great alarm clock.

    My wife found us a place on Watson Road by Pietros and this was a great house. She wanted to move from this location because of the busy street and our newly arrived baby. She wanted lots of house, cheap taxes, and a hassle free school enrollment. She was robbed 1 month after moving to south county in the Schnucks parking lot on Lindbergh. As far as I'm concerned if the wife is happy I'm happy because it doesn't take much to make me happy. It is not like we live 30 miles from civilization. I mean come on the geographic area of St. Louis County is very small. It takes me less than 20 minutes to get from UMSL (It's in the county maybe they shouldn't call it St. Louis)to my house via HWY 70/55.

    I love St. Louis and have never knocked it for any reason. The services were great and the vibe was cool. Again, however, I never thought I was creating a problem when I left nor adding to a solution when I was there.

    Lastly, we ALL contribute to the sustainability of the city. County residents pay taxes for the Metro (like squeezing a turnip unfortunately)and Forest Park. It's not free to go to any sporting event as my $70 Cardinals Cubs ticket proves. Moreover, people from the whole metro area work in the city and patronize the city. Should the residents of Hermann, MO get bent out of shape that St. Louis visitors don't live in their town? After all, Frank Sinatra was from Hoboken and still loved New York. I still say I live in St. Louis because quite frankly I feel like I'm part of this entire region.

    Double lastly, I again remind everyone that it was the CITY of St. Louis that drew the lines and said that the city ends here in 1876. For the sake of unity I wish they wouldn't have done this because people are still mad about it.

  21. Dan, I insist you come over for a beer and we'll work this thing out. It's too hard to debate with old friends over the internets.

    One question for you though, what city do you live in?

  22. I'm in unincorporated St. Louis County. The closet "town" would be the "village" of Concord. Perhaps St. Louis will annex us. I may have a ball ticket for Monday's game against the Marlins.

  23. I've loved the city ever since I discovered it in high school, and when the time came to become a home owner I insisted pretty vigorously that we should live either in the city or "towards the center," and my wife accommodated me.

    We moved into a "developing neighborhood" at Delmar and Union, where we had a few happy years that were punctuated by bricks through windows and recently released mental patients setting up camp on our porch. Our city booster friends were full of the kind of smug, self-righteous talk I'm seeing here about letting the bad guys win and fighting for the neighborhood, but I didn't sign on to be a homesteader in the goddamn wagon train. I just want to sleep through the night without the burglar alarm going off. I want to be able to leave my house knowing everything's going to be there when I get back.

    We left this summer because our block in northwest St. Louis was a magnet for crime this year. Break-ins happened every week all around us, and one night our house was broken into while we were in it. Typically, a kid would ring your doorbell; if you answered, he'd ask for someone who didn't live there and leave; if you didn't answer, they'd pull around back and clean out your house. They weren't even embarrassed the second or third time you answered the door. They did it for months, and the police never even got close to nabbing them. The cop who showed up the night they got us (who didn't fingerprint anything, write anything down, or stay for more than five minutes) said as he was leaving, "These are nice houses! I'd live here myself if the crime wasn't so bad." Yes. If only one of us were in a position to do something about that.

    Our house is atrociously far from the city, by my wife's request. It is exactly where I did not want to live, but I said "oh, why not?" and these have been the best two months of my adult life. I have a yard with a swing set and an attached garage, and I can leave the house without vividly imagining horrible things happening to my wife and child in my absence. I actually spend more time in the Loop since I left it, because no one has to stand guard at my house anymore.

    I did not leave the city. The city left me. You blowhards with your brave talk and your noble civics-class rhetoric are one of the many things about city living I do not miss.

  24. "You blowhards with your brave talk and your noble civics-class rhetoric are one of the many things about city living I do not miss." Huh...pretty hostile there Jim. Considering the author of this post stated that he realizes he supports the city to a fault.

    "I'm not trying to bait people, but rather understand the true core of the reasons for leaving the city." So much for opening the lines of communication eh?

  25. I would never, ever live in the city for only two main reasons: 1) way too crowded and 2) not nearly enough nature nor recreational activity opportunity. Clearly these are personal preferences. I am fully aware that crime is a block by block basis, unlike the many ignorant people who can't handle city crime stats rolling around in their heads.