Thursday, June 16, 2016

St. Louis Population Loss During Modern Mayoral Terms

With Francis Slay recently announcing he will not run for re-election as Mayor of St. Louis, his four consecutive terms go down as the longest run in our city's history. Back in 2010 I gave the office of Mayor some thought and looking back at that post, for the most part, I still feel the same including the need for a new set of ideas and styles. The Democratic Party Mayors have largely failed if you use residency as the measure of success.

Do people want to live here or not? To me, that is the ultimate measure of a city's success. If it's a hopeful, growing, stable or improving place, people will move there. If hope is lost and the future does not look bright, people will leave. And in St. Louis, people have and continue to leave in droves, mostly for the 90 plus suburbs and small towns in St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County.

St. Louis has been losing population at a staggering rate since we ended our growth period in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Here are the numbers summarized on the St. Louis Wikipedia page that show the mass exodus of people out of St. Louis:

The reasons are complex and varied on how something like this can happen.  We have a city that was built for one million inhabitants, but we're down to 315,685 and dropping fast (source).

Now that Slay is exiting, I'm starting to read some accounts that praise Slay as a Mayor which make me a little skeptical if you use population as your measuring stick.

I'm not here to criticize though; I recognize that public service is a tough job. The professional and personal toll of being a politician must be exhausting. I respect Slay for being in office for so long and running successful campaigns for re-election. That is not easy.  But the fact remains that during the Slay years ~33,489 people up and left St. Louis during his tenure as our top leader; this is a staggering figure that should always be considered when opining on his legacy. It just blows my mind that we are losing this many people year after year. If the 33,489 people who left St. Louis made up its own city, it would be the 19th largest city in the state of Missouri.

Yet, it would be shallow to just point out the numbers of people who vacated during a single Mayor's term(s), without taking a look at the other modern-day Mayor's numbers. This is not intended to be a petty political shot, rather a quest to understand the history and trajectory for St. Louis during my lifetime.

So let's take a look at the data.

An assumption was made from the graph below; my data source was the United States Census Bureau, plotted out annually by Google. Since this graph only went back to 1970, I used the 1960 data and increased the 1960-1969 data in a linear fashion so I could estimate the population when Mayor Alfonso Cervantes took office in 1965. Meaning, those years will not be accurately represented. But you still get the gist of the population losses.
year by year 1970-2013 data plotted by Google

Here's how the numbers shake out for each Mayor from 1965 to 2014, sorted by the largest declines:

Why the massive drop from 2009 to 2010? Either there is an error in the data, or the rules were changed on how Census counts were estimated. But, you get the point...people are not picking up what these guys have been laying down...and this has been going on for over 60 years.

You know despite these negative numbers, I am still bullish on St. Louis. I've lived here for 22 years and, as a whole, quality of life in the city has gotten better. Sure, there are exceptions, but I still firmly believe there is reason for optimism and hope for the future.

But in order to steer the ship away from this exodus it is going to take leaders who can listen, compromise, think large, act independently You know, inspire. People with an outsider perspective would be wonderful.

Let's hope someone runs that is interested in the entire city, someone that lives in a neighborhood that is racially and economically inclusive, someone that has lived the challenges of navigating the schools, someone who takes ownership of the harm that petty and violent crime have on our business community and our citizens. Someone that loves it here and cares as much as the devoted on the future of the city. It is now or never, right?

No more silver bullet stadium proposals! We need to focus on neighborhood growth. Jobs within the city's borders that hire new and existing people in the city. Make sure we subsidize and incentivize small and medium sized businesses at the same rates as the larger ones (my neighborhood restaurant has done more to raise my quality of life than the Rams ever did). We need someone who can see the big picture that recognizes our faults and makes every decision to get us one step closer to that goal. If you can articulate a vision and repeat it incessantly until all 315,685 of us know your goals, then we can appreciate the decisions that are made to march toward those goals...even if sometimes it feels like a compromise. We need to feel some wins. I'd prefer 1000 little wins vs. 10 big ones.

Best of luck to the next set of candidates for Mayor. It will be fun to watch the field of candidates unfold. We need as many people paying attention, reading, listening and making educated, careful and critical choices at the ballot box. And remember, if you don't live in St. Louis you can't vote in St. Louis. You are either part of the problem or the solution when it comes to things that matter like hiring leaders. Shooting your mouth off from the suburbs just doesn't cut it when it comes to real change. 

Here's to growth on the horizon and a brighter future that lets all these young people doing great things in our city not think they have to move to the burbs to live out their adult lives.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

St. Louis City Talk Update

Holy crap, I'm edging toward one million page loads on this blog...never thought that'd happen. Anyhow, I've been pursuing the personal goals of writing for pleasure and promoting St. Louis as a great city to live/explore since 2008. I started making lists of public places and photographing, researching and writing about them one by one.

Neighborhoods, parks, libraries, fire houses, you name it, I like making lists and setting goals and sharing my findings with other like-minded people. The experience has been positive overall and I plan on continuing to write on this blog into the near future. It keeps me learning about my city and I never want to be stagnant when it comes to my opinions on St. Louis stuff.

So with that in mind, it feels like the right time to start updating some of the older blogs starting with the neighborhood posts. For instance, I looked back at my Gate District post from 2010 and think I could've done better. This is a part of the city that confused me when I lived farther away; I've since moved to a neighborhood just south of here about five years ago and have spent a lot more time in these parts. We routinely visit a couple friends who live here, my wife now works here, my kids use the St. Louis University track complex here, I've come to love shopping at Walter Knoll for all my landscaping needs and I didn't know Maya Angelou was born here back then. I guess what I'm trying to say is, my perspective has changed. I know more now and maybe I didn't give the Gate District a fair shake back in 2010. I at least have a more personal perspective.

One of the most fun things about a city is that it is constantly evolving, changing and reinventing itself in many ways. This keeps me curious and excited about a place I feel like I know pretty well, but constantly surprises me.

So while I'll be updating some content, I won't delete photos, because I like capturing the city in a particular time. But, I will update content including revised census data, updated park and library links and content related to new development/major demolitions.

And then I'll work on updating the blog to a proper website. I had scheduled a class at the community college in the suburbs to transfer the Blogger site to a website to give it a more modern feel; but life stuff got in the way and I had to cancel. So at this point, I will be seeking out a website design firm to make this thing look better, and if you have any advice on good web designers (in the city of course) I'd gladly accept them.

Anyhow, as far as updated blogs, I started with the Gate District for reasons previously stated; but, going forward I'll update the neighborhood posts in the order of most read, starting with the top ten:

I'll then follow up with some the neighborhoods that have changed the most (by my estimation) in the past five or ten years.  So thank you all for reading and following along the way. I am so grateful to have a hobby that keeps me intellectually stimulated and has brought new acquaintances and/or friendships into my life.

All the best,