Thursday, September 16, 2010

St. Louis: A City of Neighborhoods

You hear it all the time:  "St. Louis is a city of neighborhoods".  It's true.  Many people love their neighborhoods, and associate with it very personally.  There are also many who don't know what neighborhood they live in and don't care.  Do we have too many neighborhoods?

Some neighborhoods tell a story.  Informing someone that you live in the Central West End immediately conjures up an image...whereas if you say you live in Fountain Park (right across the street from CWE) most will not know what the heck you are talking about. 

Some neighborhoods are branded well and recognized throughout the region.  The Hill, would be a perfect example.  Almost everyone in the city and the metropolitan region knows the Hill.  Soulard is another example of a clear regional identity that is well branded and defined.  Maybe we should sell this "city of neighborhoods" thing a little more.  Maybe this should be our city slogan.  Mound City, Gateway to the West....The City of Neighborhoods.  Who knows.

One thing I think would certainly help is to consolidate some of our neighborhoods.

79 neighborhoods is too much for a city of ~350,000 in my opinion.  Readers of this blog may be in the know about the city, but I would bet if you polled a thousand St. Louisians and 10,000 suburban/metro St. Louisians, they would have no idea what neighborhood they are in; or, could not provide you with the boundaries of College Hill or King's Oak.  Many St. Louis county people think they are in St. Louis and couldn't tell you how to get to Marlborough or Bel-Nor.  But the county's 91 cities are not my task to talk about...back to St. Louis.

Let's consolidate for Pete's sake.   Reducing the # of aldermen never seems to resonate with voters, so let's use them more wisely; we need to get lean and mean.  Give them more responsibility, raise the pay from $28,800, make it a full time, serious job.  Here are my suggestions to take St. Louis from 79 neighborhoods down to a more meaningful 29.
    • Consolidate Ellendale, Clayton/Tamm, Franz Park and Hi-Pointe into "Dogtown"
      • I add Ellendale because it has a very similar feel to the other official Dogtown neighborhoods...lots of frame home, very hilly, right on the western border of the city.
    • Cheltenham, Kings Oak and Forest Park Southeast become "the Highlands"
      • I've never identified with these neighborhoods as unique entities.  The Grove branding is one that never resonated with me.  I mean, it doesn't even border Tower Grove Park....what gives?
    • Mark Twain, Mark Twain/I-70 Industrial, Walnut Park East and West become "Walnut Park"
      • This whole area has a similar feel to me.
    • Hamilton Heights, Wells/Goodfellow, Kingsway East and West become "Kingsway"
    • Patch and Carondelet become "Carondelet"
      • This seems a natural fit.  When I was in the Patch, many described the area as Carondelet anyway.
    • Holly Hills and Boulevard Heights become "Holly Hills"
      • Boulevard Heights has never been well branded and the Holly Hills Neighborhood org. crosses into BH anyhow.
    • Tower Grove East, McKinley Heights and Fox Park become "Tower Grove East"
    • Baden and North Pointe become "Baden"
      • Two of the nicest north city neighborhoods...
    • Central West End, Academy, Fountain Park, Lewis Place and Vandeventer become "Central West End"
      • Talk amongst yourselves...
    • Botanical Heights, the Gate District, MidtownCovenant Blu/Grand Center and Tiffany become "Midtown"
      • I love this one
    • Jeff Vanderlou stays as good reason other than its really big (in area)
    • Carr Square, Columbus Square, Hyde Park, St. Louis Place and Old North become "Old North St. Louis"
      • realize these are drastically different neighborhoods, but the momentum and positivity of the ONSL Restoration Group should/could bleed over into the neighboring areas.
    • St. Louis Hills and Lindenwood Park merge as "St. Louis Hills"
      • I think this would cause quite a stir with the STLHillers, you?
    • Princeton Heights, North Hampton and Southampton merge as "Southampton"
      • Seems like a natural fit
    • Mt. Pleasant, Gravois Park, Marine Villa, Dutchtown and Bevo become "Dutchtown"
      • you see Dutchtown signs all over these parts anyhow.
    • Wydown/Skinker, Skinker-DeBaliviere, West End, Visitation Park and Debaliviere Place become "The West End"
      • Spread the wealth, join hands, cross the divide and become one
    • Downtown and Downtown West are now simply "Downtown"
      • That's an easy one
    • The Greater Ville and the Ville merge as "The Ville"
      • Again, a very easy merge
    • Riverview, Near North Riverfront and North Riverfront merge as "Riverview"
      • Sell/brand the beauty that is the  Riverfront Trail and the Confluence and the Mighty Miss!
    • Shaw and Compton Heights become "Shaw"
    • The Hill and Southwest Garden merge as "the Hill"
      • Gulp...I hope I don't get relieved of my duties as a youth bocce ball coach
    • Hamilton Heights and Wells/Goodfellow merge
    • LaSalle merges with Soulard as "Soulard"
    • Tower Grove South stays as is
    • Kosciusko stays as is
    • Clifton Heights stays as is
      • for no other reason than I think this is one of the most unique areas of the city
    • Benton Park and Benton Park West merge to become "Benton Park"
    • Lafayette Square and Peabody/Darst/Webbe become "Lafayette"
      • The Georgian needs to be part of Lafayette, Truman boulevard needs to be crossable...maybe this would help...I don't think LS would go for this one (stoop so low)...but hey, I'm an idealist.
    • College Hill, O'Fallon, Fairgrounds Park and Penrose become "O'Fallon"
Whew...chop chop...I know your dander may be up; but, what's a blog post without a little personal provocation? 

Seriously though, I like this for several reasons.  As I already mentioned, it would build more of an identity within all areas of the city.  It would allow more branding.  It would infuse some diversity of economics, race, thoughts, etc.  Many neighborhoods need help from people who want to help, but have no ownership or collective way to join together.  It would be more manageable.  It would help lessen the whole north/south divide thing that plagues our city.  Damn it, it would just be easier to know where the hell you are.

Now I realize there are some historical and meaningful connotations with many of these neighborhood names and boundaries, but I'd be willing to overlook that.  And more than anything, I'm keenly aware of the fact that St. Louisans are ultra conservative and fear change like the plague.  But things change people.  The city is not the same today as it was when I moved here in 1994.  It's better and it's evolving and it's exciting. 

I really think this would be a meaningful step forward for the city.  Each new neighborhood would be comprised of a single non-political party affiliated alderman (with consecutive term limits), a neighborhood board and several NSO's.  The budgets would be based on density/population...not income levels or influence.  More people...more $$$$$.  It's that simple.  Maybe too simple, I'm just thinking out loud and having fun with the topic.

You know Internet statistics are very interesting.  It's enlightening to track what people are visiting this site for and what they are reading.  These neighborhood profiles are very popular and the most clicks are on the neighborhoods that people know and love, or are recognizable outside the region.  No body is clicking on Penrose or Walnut Park East or Boulevard Heights or Mount Pleasant....if we had ~30 maybe that would change and we could more easily advertise and promote the ENTIRE city.

What do you think?  What would you do?


  1. I have to humbly dissent.

    Part of what makes St. Louis so interesting is that it's so fragmented. If you look back to the 80's and early 90's, everything around Tower Grove Park was considered just that, Tower Grove. Like any area, TG has gentrified in small pockets at different times with a resulting unique several identities. The person who lives in Shaw is different from the person who lives on Morganford and both are different from the person who lives on Wyoming or in Compton Heights. The same is true of someone who lives on Clara versus the Chase. Or LaSalle versus Bohemian Hill. Same area, but different neighborhoods and different personalities.

    I left St. Louis 7 years ago for New York, and I've watched my neighborhood, Chelsea go from one neighborhood to many: North Chelsea, the West Chelsea Gallery District, Meatpacking, FIT, the Club District and Highline. While there are obvious similarities between them, this fragmentation has only made the whole area a richer, more compelling, more identifiable place in which to live.

    In the interest of convenience, I understand why one would want to collapse and consolidate neighborhoods. But if it was convenience you were seeking, you'd probably just live in Clayton. And that's gross.

  2. ^ Andrew Wind, I like your perspective. I see it both ways, but I'm leaning toward consolidation. In a town that is as tragically divided as St. Louis (racial divide, economic disparity, infrastructure, etc) we need more joining of forces. I realize Skinny Town is very different than Tower Grove Heights but it'd be easier to get people from out of town or state to simply say VISIT TOWER GROVE SOUTH and see the commercial/entertainment corridors of So. Grand and Morgan Ford....etc.

    My intent is for forces to join. You are exactly right that a person that lives on Clara or in the Chase are drastically different. We need those skill sets and experiences to come together not identify and act as separate entities.

  3. I can't believe your proposal. I live in Clayton-Tamm and would never consent to sharing my wonderful neighborhood with those wackos over in Franz Park. But actually, it would be nice to have a park.

  4. ^wackos in Franz Park, good one! And don't get me started on those Hi-Pointe nut jobs...maybe you're right, Clayton-Tamm really is a classier set than those other Dogtowners....I rescind my entire argument...

  5. I live in the portion of the Southwest Garden neighborhood that's east of Kingshighway. In my mind, we're more an extension of Shaw than of the portion of Southwest Garden that's west of Kingshighway. I like your proposal, but Southwest Garden seems to me a neighborhood that should be split up—with half going to Shaw and half to the Hill.

  6. Agreed on Southwest Garden.

    I think Dotage posted something very similar to what you've suggested, only he included a map.

    I agree with you on the majority of your consolidations, and think most people kind of use them in practice anyway.

    I have always been surprised by the tendancy for St. Louis County residents to refer to their municipality as a neighborhood rather than the separate city that it is. Last week a woman tried to convince me that the three neighborhoods of the Central West End, Dogtown, and Maplewood were all in a line right next to each other. What's stranger, that she thought of Maplewood as a neighborhood of St. Louis or that she thought Dogtown and the CWE bordered each other?

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  8. To Daron, the fact that St. Louisans don't refer to their municipalities as cities, but rather as neighborhoods itself indicates that we really do have more of a unified mindset that it might seem. People like their neighborhood, but don't feel like they are disconnected from the broader region. I think it's time to brainstorm about how to unify the St. Louis municipalities while still preserving local leadership and priorities. They can't be completely incompatible. Philadelphia is one city, but is also definitely known as a "city of neighborhoods" with each area having its own distinct characteristics.

  9. What's even worse than having 79 "official" neighborhoods is that many of them are are further divided into unofficial sub-neighborhoods. For example, I used to live in Tower Grove South. The eastern portion is called Tower Grove Heights (they have a great house tour); the central part is called Grand-Oak Hill (they have their own neighborhood organization); and the area along Morganford has been called various things such as MoFo and Skinnytown. I think this further subdivision of a neighborhood is evidence that people want more control over their immediate area. The result is that there are literally hundreds of neighborhoods in the city of St Louis, official or not.

  10. Oh please don't get Riverview lumped in Near North. TOTALLY different neighbourhoods. Also, Hyde Park deserves to remain it's own place. It is not St Louis Place or Old North.