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The numbers don’t lie – this time

November 11, 2004 Press Release No Comments
Yesterday St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced revised Census Bureau numbers for the City of St. Louis. The Post-Dispatch is reporting previous estimates “showed a drop of nearly 16,000 residents from 2000 to last year.”


More from the same article:

The annual estimates, released this year, reported the city had lost population at a faster rate than any other city its size. The figures riled City Hall and, at the time, were declared “bogus and unreliable” by the mayor. 

City officials challenged the numbers, questioning the method used to calculate the 2003 estimate because it failed to include residential building permits that almost all other cities were allowed to use. 

Without being an expert demographer it was clear to me (and most people I know) that in the last few years we’ve seen an increase in young professionals as well as many thirty somethings staying put rather than flee to the ‘burbs once their kid(s) were school age. So what were the numbers? Back to the P-D article:

According to earlier census estimates, the rate of decline in St. Louis topped a list of 245 other cities with 100,000 people or more. Although other cities lost more people, those losses were proportionately smaller than the 4.3 percent estimated decrease in St. Louis. 

As of July 1 last year, the census calculated the city lost 15,966 residents since the national head count in 2000, which found 348,189 people living within city limits. 

But, according to the adjusted census estimate, St. Louis had 348,039, a net loss of 150. 

This is really good news. Perception is very important. Reversing 50 years of belief the future was on the edges of the region in cul-de-sac streets, strip malls, industrial parks is difficult. People, by nature, want to be part of the leading group – on the bandwagon. After WWII the trend was to the ‘burbs and folks fled in drove – partially fueled by racial bigotry. Well folks, the trend is to return to close-knit (and hence walkable) urban environments that have served humans for centuries. This auto dominated suburban experiment is yesterday’s news.

The question now is how can the Slay administration capitalize on this news and keep up the momentum? For starters, put a moratorium on razing historic buildings downtown for fucking parking garages. Are you listening Francis????? You see, the first thing we as St. Louis residents have to do is get City Hall (Mayor, Aldermen, etc….) to change their perceptions of the city and what works. Frankly, I don’t think they get it.

It has been the work of loft developers and small local business owners that have brought about the rejuvenation of downtown we are seeing. Massive public funded projects such as stadium building or corporate handouts to firms such as Bryan Cave are not the solution to get people in the city. Those are designed to get re-elected.

For a lesson in what to do we need to look no further than the 1999 classic movie Dogma:
Cardinal Glick (George Carlin): Fill them pews, people, that’s the key. Grab the little ones as well. Hook ’em while they’re young. 
Rufus (Chris Rock): Kind of like the tobacco industry? 
Cardinal Glick: Christ, if only we had their numbers. 

Everything the City does should be focused on filling the pews – the buildings and vacant lots all over the city. This is business 101. You find out where a gap exists in the market and what your potential customers want and you fill that need. Stadiums or a new Bryan Cave office building are, without a doubt, not the right way to go. So what is the right way?

The trick is understanding your ‘customer’ and what they are seeking. You see, our customer is the recent college grad or young professional. Our competition, despite what some may think, is not Chesterfield or St. Peters (hinterland suburbs for those out of town). No, our competition is Chicago, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, etc… These cities and others are offering the “Creative Class” an exciting life. Gone are the days of people going to employers and working there until retirement. The Creative Class is attracted to diverse urban life and employers are attracted to the labor pool of the Creative Class.

From Richard Florida’s groundbreaking book, “The Rise of the Creative Class: and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life:”
If you are a scientist or engineer, an architect or designer, a writer, artist or musician, or if you use your creativity as a key factor in your work in business, education, health care, law or some other profession, you are a member [of a new social class]. With 38 million members, more than 30 percent of the nation’s workforce, the Creative Class has shaped and will continue to shape deep and profound shifts in the ways we work, in our values and desires, and in the very fabric of our everyday lives.

Much of Florida’s book is on documenting and defining the Creative Class. He goes into great detail about the types of environments the Creative Class seek and conversely what they avoid. The lessons here go way beyond saying “we need more high-tech jobs in our city.” But, in catering to the Creative Class other members of society cannot be ignored. Florida concludes the preface with:
To build true social cohesion, the members of the Creative Class will need to offer those in other classes a tangible vision of ways to improve their own lives, either by becoming part of the Creative Economy or, at the very least, by reaping some of its rewards. If the Creative Class does not commit itself to this effort, the growing social and economic divides in our society will only worsen, and I fear that we will find ourselves living perpetually uneasy lives at the top of an unhappy heap.

Be sure to check out Richard Florida’s Creative Class website.

OK, I’ve gone on ranting long enough for this entry. Let’s summarize shall we?

• St. Louis City population is leveling off or increasing!
• Suburbia is so 20th century.
• Vibrant city life, not gigantic building projects, are the key to attracting the Creative Class.
• Inclusion of all social classes is key to reversing social & economic divides.

Note to developers & everyone at City Hall: Please print out the above bullet points and repeat daily. If you are working on a project that does not jive with the above then you need to stop and figure out why it doesn’t.

Questions? Comments? Disagree? Send me an email – I love feedback.



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