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Is St. Louis The 2nd Most Dangerous City?

November 20, 2007 Crime, Media, Politics/Policy, STL Region 55 Comments

Are we really the nation’s 2nd most dangerous city? In a word, maybe. This year St. Louis dropped from the #1 spot to the #2 slot, behind Detroit, as the most dangerous city in America according to a controversial study. So is it true?

As with any collection of numbers, it really depends upon how you put them together. What do you weigh more heavily? What do you include, what do you exclude? There really is no single right way to analyze the FBI crime data. However, according to the FBI and local officials there are a number of wrong ways to do it.

Do I feel unsafe in the city? No. Are there places where I might feel unsafe at 1am, you bet! But there are likely places I’d feel unsafe in the safest city? Absolutely.

To those of us that actually live and work inside the city we know the truth — the city is really a safe place unless you are dealing drugs or happen to live in an area where drugs & gangs constitute the main form of commerce. So, if you are white the city is pretty safe and if you happen to be poor and black you likely live in a very unsafe area. Our suburbanites are likely thinking in their McMansion’s miles from town, “I knew the city wasn’t safe after all.”

One of the common claims against the methodology of the report is that it looks at cities and not metropolitan areas. Unlike St. Louis, many older cities in the country were able to expand their city limits without changing the state constitution. True enough, but it would likely be true that defining Metropolitan regions might prove a challenge. Should St. Louis’ full 16-county region be examined instead of simply the City of St. Louis? Does every police force keep required FBI records or does that only fall to bigger cities?

Frankly if the citizens of our community don’t like the fact that St. Louis is tiny in geography we need to do something about it. Let’s take a big and necessary step and make the city and county one entity. And I don’t mean have the city join the other ninety some municipalities in the county — I mean make the city and county ONE government entity. Other regions have done just that, gotten over decades of incremental growth and small fifdoms. I can hear the objectors now, “…that is never going to happen in St. Louis.” Fine, stop bitching about the size of the city when cities, not regions, are compared.

Of course when cities are compared and we come out on top or near the top you don’t hear any complaining then. Our best water ranking, for example, is based on cities and not an aggregate of the region’s water. How would our water have compared if it was mixed with water from the balance of the region? And when regions are compared we often take credit in the city, not pointing out that we’d never be at or near the top on our own.

What is really sad is that nobody seems to be upset about being #1 in STDs. Where is the RCGA on this one? Relocate your business to St. Louis — if your employees don’t get shot they might get gonorrhea. OK, back to the crime stats.
From the San Jose Mercury News:

This year, the report looked at 378 cities with at least 75,000 people. Its conclusions were based on per-capita rates for homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft.

OK, so we know what the factors are: per-capita rates for six levels of crime. Again, some people use the false notion that looking at St. Louis as a city (which we are) is unfair because we’ve been unable to grow. So I pulled up some basic data on the top 10 of the list just to see if we can spot a trend.


The numbers are all over the board. Detroit, for example, is twice the geographic area of St. Louis and has a greater population density than us. St. Louis has 13% of our region’s population while the totals range from 1% up to 53%. Oakland California, across the bay from San Francisco, is very close to our same size, has greater density but has a much smaller percentage of the region’s total population. I should note here that Wiki uses total area within a city limits to calculate their density, whereas I listed their land area and excluded the amount of water so if you do the math it doesn’t work out.

So what does all this tell us? First, you can use data to tell any story you want — just a matter of how you arrange the numbers for others. But what I see from the above is that the top 10 list includes a variety of city types — central cities like St. Louis as well as areas like Camden NJ across the river from Philly. All Camden needs to do is lose another 4,319 people and they’ll fall below the 75K minimum threshold for this report.

But what do these cities have in common that I’ve not shown on the chart? Race and poverty. Without checking in each city, I think it is fair to say that whites do not constitute a majority population in any of the ten. This is not to say that if white were a majority the crime rate would be less, as that is certainly not necessarily true. What this does illustrate is a likely “spatial mismatch” between residents and employment — jobs are not in the places where people live.

We already know that affluent whites don’t turn to gangs to survive on the mean cul-de-sac streets of the gated subdivision. For that matter, neither do affluent blacks or anyone else. However, for those on the lower rungs of the region’s economic ladder, sometimes crime may seem the only viable option for a better life.

For me, while this report might have flaws, I think our city fathers should not have spent time trying to get the report shelved rather than published. Instead, we need to take a hard serious look at our city and how wealth and jobs are not shared. The data is based on a per-capita basis so increasing our total population will drop us in the rankings provided our number of crimes remain unchanged. Of course, dropping the total numbers of these crimes must also be a goal.

And while I appreciate the fact that Walgreens and Family Dollar are willing to open suburban-ish stores in some of our poorer neighborhoods to take back the profits to their corporate cities (suburban Chicago and Charlotte NC, respectively), I don’t think turning the city into a generic suburb is the right solution. We are not going to grow the city by making the city look just like everywhere else in our region. We must be urban and act like a city should act. Instead of dinky little houses at the intersection of Natural Bridge and West Florissant we should have 3-5 story structures that scale back into the neighborhoods. Ditto throughout the region.

At a minimum we need to accommodate those of us that chose to get around by means other than the private automobile. This can be a simple as actually planning a sidewalk to connect the public sidewalk to the front door of businesses. I know, simple concept but overlooked in our city and throughout the region. Maybe our market is ready for new commercial mixed-use buildings but we certainly have pedestrians and transit users that need to be accommodated as we expect them to walk to these retailers. Our residents also use bicycles so ensuring they have a place to park and lock their bikes. Over time we can incrementally get more and more urban in our building form, as the market permits. The market, you see, is not a fixed thing. Tastes and shopping patterns shift. Development patterns in the city and region seem etched in stone, never budging.

Something must give or we will continue to have a stagnant population with high per-capita crime rates.


Currently there are "55 comments" on this Article:

  1. crime fighter says:

    It makes more sense to compare crime rates by neighborhood or census tracts. When travelling to New Orleans some years ago, we visited a restaurant in a high crime neighborhood. We knew it had crime because we researched the area first. If someone else was fearful of crime, they probably would never have been able to enjoy that delicious cajun feast we had that night. We went, with our eyes wide open, cab service door to door, and had no problems. The cabbie thought we were crazy, but that’s his business.

  2. puggg says:

    The canard used in both the crime and STD rankings by STL politicians is this “core city vs metro area” bromide you mentioned. The St. Louis MSA has Washington County, MO and Macoupin County, IL. Does this mean that Mayor Slay thinks that the crime (or lack thereof) in (e.g.) Courtois, MO or Virden, IL, or the STD infection rates in those towns, is somehow relevant to what goes on in the city of St. Louis? Or that the fact that those two places are relatively crime- and STD-free should be used to make St. Louis city look better?

    Mayor Slay is Mayor of St. Louis, not the St. Louis Metropolitan area.

    Also, why can’t Detroit’s mayor use that excuse? Why shouldn’t he be allowed to factor in the crime-free areas of suburban Detroit to make Detroit city look better?

  3. BeanCounter says:

    But what do these cities have in common that I’ve not shown on the chart? Race and poverty.

    While every city has race (it just depends what the race is), what does it do to make its citizens not in poverty? What does St. Louis do to attract not in poverty citizens?

    As St. Louis competes with places like Memphis and Maryland Heights for jobs, incentives are given, tax/cash whatever to get the jobs here. People like to live close to their jobs, so maybe that is a good strategy.

    As an example, a law firm (Bryan Cave?) was given incentives to keep the offices downtown. The firm pays a lot in payroll tax and could have taken its high paying jobs to the county a la Husch and Eppenberger. I don’t know that Husch experienced any drop in business due to the move. They may have.

    The Slay administration is derided when it gives away these taxes and uses its power to do things that it hopes will bring about economic development (see Century Building).

    Most, not all, of us want to increase the population/tax base, and there is serious disagreement about how to get there. Your point on more available non-car centered opportunities should be taken to heart, but I feel that is just nipping around the edges.

    Employers need a reason to be in St. Louis, and the city should be charged with giving them one. Tax incentives seem to be the only arrow in the quiver right now.

  4. Thank you for mentioning spatial mismatch and concentrated poverty as people cannot condemn urban areas without understanding that suburban sprawl definitely aided, if not outright caused, their decline. As political scientists Anthony Downs puts it, “Most Americans do not recognize their responsibility in causing the growth related social problems they dislike.” Sprawl thus divestment caused rampant urban poverty thus crime.

  5. Curtis says:

    As a graduate instructor teaching statistics type courses, I strongly agree with you that you can make numbers look whatever way you want. That’s why reports like this don’t mean much in and of themselves. You are right that safety is about how you feel in your own neighborhood. There were places in my home town of 632 poeple that I wouldn’t go to at 1am either. Live smart and you don’t have to worry about these reports.

    By the way, when are you announcing your canidacy for Mayor 2009? Should I reserve the website???

  6. john says:

    The city-county need to merge if leadership doesn’t want the negative publicity. For years the city police department failed to report rapes and thus help distort the true crime picture. For those who have avoided the crime, congratulations. For others, including myself, the experience of crime stays with you forever.
    As you stated, jobs need to be created and that requires smart zoning policies, fair legal procedures, and good schools. Leadership in both the city and county continues to abuse eminent domain powers, competitively hand out TIFs, approves strip mall developments containing large parking lots, and selectively enforces laws and codes. The car culture helps create the spatial mismatch as livable and diverse communities become separated from employment and crime centers.
    But to change this region, tough questions need answering. Does anyone really believe that 93 mayors want to eliminate their positions of power and authority in order to give it to one person? Do 93 Police Chiefs want to eliminate the prestige, income and power for themselves and fellow chiefs in order to lower crime? Do the numerous city managers want their jobs eliminated so the public can have a superior and less expensive representation? Do the hundreds of council members want to admit to the inherent conflicts of interests in micro-managing municipal resources? Do the thousands of unionized police-fire department personnel want many of their jobs eliminated so that the citizens can save million of dollars? Which leader will want to cause such animosity in order to create a public debate? Does not the failure of the Clayton-Richmond Heights proposed merger provide valuable insight?
    No, the StL region is a perfect example of a self-serving political structure. The divisions are favorable to those elected-appointed-hired to manage the numerous entities and to change this will be quit difficult. The electorate is left to hold an empty bag of broken promises while favoritism is too often sold to the highest bidder.

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    I think these negative rankings carry more weight with local residents, especially with local politicians and the local media, than they carry with people in the rest of the country. There are a whole lot more people out there who are well-informed on sports statistics and celebrity gossip than there are that are well informed on crime statistics or government and politics. Add in the fact that every week brings another list of whatever, and they start to lose their impact. We wonks like to look at them, and yes, they do play a small role in attracting economic development and conventions, but so does a whole lot of misinformation and bad assumptions that we have little or no control over. We can do better simply by doing better – focus on the basics – education, taxes and infrastructure are all interrelated and under our control. As for merger, while it makes intellectual sense, it faces multiple political hurdles driven by “what’s in it for me?” Until both a consensus emerges that it’s actually a good idea AND one or more leader emerges to make the issue a priority, it’s going to remain just talk among us city folks. My guess is that until SLPS improves, a lot, there will be absolutely no interest in the county in merger.

  8. Felton says:

    Mr. Zavist, how can you say that “a merger makes intellectual sense” (as opposed to what other type of sense – smell?) as if it’s a point as casually accepted as the the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

    From the point of view of a county resident, one can point to numerous reasons why it is nonsensical to support a city/county merger.

    As you pointed out, schools would be a hugely problematic issue. Does the county resident want to help fund the mess that is the city schools? Does he want the almost illiterate city students transferred en masse to his successful county school district?

    Does the county resident want his tax money used to hire more police officers to try to tame out of control areas in north city around which he does not live?

    Does the county resident want to be associated with the decades of shameful city politics, infested by race, including an alderwoman who saw it fit to urinate in public?

    [SLP — That would be a former alderwoman.  But yes, your points are well taken.  I believe Jim was referring to the fiscal sense — how much does the region spend on government relative to services provided.  It is theoretically possible that your county taxes might go down while providing better services for yourself and those in north city.  Not that it is guaranteed, just a possibility.  But I’m not necessarily advocating such an action, I just don’t want city leaders to bitch about being excluded from a regional overview if they are not working to become part of a geographically larger government.]

  9. gadfly says:

    Getting city leaders to work on “becoming part of a geographically larger government” is akin to the Iraqis Sunnis telling the US what the US should be doing in Iraq. They may have a voice, but they have little power. It will take County leaders to press for consolidation and the chances of that happening are nil. Why? They represent the “Feltons” of our region.

  10. Felton says:

    You’ve got it mostly right, gadfly. Most county residents have it pretty good compared to city residents. And many of the city’s problems are so deeply rooted in its social history that more money or consolidated services aren’t going to help (look at the Fire Department). Why would the county want to risk its success?

  11. gadfly says:

    Felton, I’m not so sure that everything is so wonderful in STL County. Developable areas are running out. Overlapping services in the county are a waste of resources already w/o any participation from the city. NW Plaza is looking for a mammoth TIF to help fund its turnaround (good luck on that one…), and, meanwhile, in another corner of the County, Crestwood Plaza isn’t far behind in its TIF dreams. Munis like Bellefontaine Neighbors, Pine Lawn, Wellston, and unincoporated areas like Affton and Lemay are looking tired. Yes, the county is in a relative catbird seat in terms of its current status, however, it’s the city making headlines for its revitalization, showing lower foreclosure rates in our region, and holding up reasonably well in terms of its overall housing market. What would be truly refreshing would be for STL as a region to step up and start thinking long range about how we can competitively market our many assets to promote our overall vitality and growth. Collectively, we have more momentum right now that we’ve had any time in the last 50 years. Sustaining it and building for the future is what strategic thinkers are doing right now.

  12. Nick Kasoff says:

    Creating good paying jobs is a great slogan, but it of little use as a solution. Those who cause the high crime rates being discussed are, for the most part, uneducated black males who are unlikely to qualify for a position in biotech, and are unlikely to give up drug dealing to work as a janitor or a burger fryer. Many, in addition to a felony record and a lifetime of violence, suffer from addiction. They have no experience in showing up to work on time, obeying a supervisor’s orders, shouldering responsibility and paying attention to detail.

    Merging the city and county is a great idea, if you happen to be a white guy from the city. For the blacks in the city, it will result in a decrease in political power. For many people in the county, many will view this as a money grab by the city that provides no benefit to the county. For county Republicans, this will be viewed as a move that will relegate them to permanent minority status. Good luck getting that one through.

    And as far as the schools go … well, if any of the benefit of this merger is predicated on it being a solution to the school problem, you’d have to have public school choice over the entire county, or merge all the county districts into the SLPS, neither of which has the slightest chance of happening. Without one of those, you’d have the same situation as you do now … some folks live in Riverview Gardens, some folks live in Parkway.

  13. gadfly says:

    The average sales price for a home in Oakland (4th “most dangerous city), CA is $521,250, a 2.71 percent increase over last year (in a region with largely *declining* property values). Hmmm. What does that say about the impact of the Morgan-Quinto report?

  14. Erin says:

    I really wish people would stop talking about whether the lable is justified or not and just say “You know what? Any city ranked that high up has problems. Here’s ours and here’s what we’re doing to correct it.” That would hold a lot more weight, and earn a lot more respect from me, than all this whining about whether or not the lable is true.

    On a selfsih note, I hope they start with car thefts.

  15. stlmark says:

    ^ Erin’s comment truly summarizes my feelings on this matter. Excuses are lame. Acknowledgement by the mayor and police chief and an itemized/formidable plan to get us off the list in the next year would be a good start. Stop your whining and spinning, take the hit with grace and make damn sure we’re not on the list next year.

  16. gadfly says:

    St. Louis will seemingly always be shown in a negative light when it comes to crime stats due to our skewed geography. Maybe in a hundred years, when we have all reached nirvahna, then there will be no more crime. Having been a car theft victim myself, I appreciate Erin’s frustration. However, when it comes to reducing crime, I don’t place much faith in cops or politicians. It’s more what we all collectively do as individuals that makes a difference. Now, we use “The Club” religiously. If everybody did, car thefts would go down.

  17. gadfly says:

    This writer agrees with Stlmark and Erin: Story from Oakland, CA

  18. Jim Zavist says:

    Merger makes sense financially. St. Louis County doesn’t need 40 or 50 separate fire departments and districts (with separate chiefs and fancy equipment) to deliver effective fire protection – a single unified department would do the job better and do it for less money. St. Louis County doesn’t need 80-some jurisdictions trying to steal retail tenants from each other to generate “more” sales tax revenues, and committing financial hari-kari (through TIF’s and other expanding financial givebacks to developers) in doing so. St. Louis County doesn’t need to create a special district every time there’s an infrastructure need, to hide a new tax. The recent actions of some smaller city police departments in the county speak for themselves. But just because it makes sense, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. For a merger to happen, elected politicians in smaller cities would have to give up what little power they may now have, places (or buyouts) would need to be found for all those chiefs, all the various political entities would have figure out to pay off their outstanding debt and receive fair value for their existing assets. And, as I pointed out in my first post, for a full merger, SLPS needs to be severely “fixed”, as would several poorer suburban districts, before any county resident could even consider the concept of their children attending a new, “unified” school ditrict. Politics and schools have killed merger talks in the past, and likely will continue to do so for the forseeable future. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be an intellectual exercise (to be explored), especially in a reasoned discussion of how to best spend our limited, regional tax revenues – it makes a whole lot mores sense than continuing to plot how to stick it to as many “non-residents” (as too many small county cities do) as possible, to fund the premium services “I think I deserve” . . .

  19. Southside Tim says:

    but if we eliminated all the tif districts what would we do with all the resulting unemployed sansone’s.

  20. M says:

    Sorry Felton, I have yet to meet a county resident who I think has it “better” than I do living here in the city.

    As for your reasons not to incoporate city and county into one, you are a prime example of the backward thinking that will prevent that scenario from ever happening (at least until the likes of yourself are long gone).

    Blanket statements such as “the almost illiterate city students” shows how naive you really are.

    I agree with several of the posters above. We have problems, we live here and love it but we do have problems. It is time to be more drastic in our solutions and quit simply trying to disguise the problems. People are still going to want to live here regardless of any problems we have. People can and will overlook those things if they want to live here and if they see progress. That is obvious from the recent and current amount of development and renewed interest in our city from outsiders moving in. The sooner we fix (or at least head down the right path towards fixing) the issues we have, the sooner we will see even greater results and see the resurgence take off even further.

  21. Dave says:

    “Sorry Felton, I have yet to meet a county resident who I think has it ‘better’ than I do living here in the city.”

    M, you obviously don’t know many, if any, county residents.

  22. Paul says:

    Although Steve paints an interesting geographic picture of greater St. Louis’ complexities, there is a HUGE crime problem in the City of St. Louis. Can anybody deny that? I live in the City of St. Louis and just because I don’t happen to live in the census tracts where a lot of murders have occurred doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t acknowledge our gigantic crime problem. It is short-sighted and selfish (and cruel) to claim St. Louis as my home but not admit that there are some terrible things going on in the City right now (i.e. 130 murders so far in 2007)

    What I wouldn’t give for our next mayor to say, “We have a huge crime problem in the City of St. Louis. As your mayor, I promise to get St. Louis out of the top ten list for crime in less than 4 years.”

    St. Louis deserves much better than to always be one of the 3 most crime-ridden cities. We need political leadership who will attempt to change our city/region for the better – not call up crime-ranking companies and whine about how they misrepresent a city’s image.

  23. gadfly says:

    The mayor can’t do much about a gangster or a hoosier beating a guy in a bar upside the head. If you want to avoid crime, stay out of the situations where crime occurs.

  24. Jim Zavist says:

    Crime, especially the kind that scares people, is largely driven by poverty. If you’re making enough money that you can afford to accumulate stuff (a home, vehicles, “toys”, etc.), you have something to lose. You also have the means and the opportunity to move to statistically safer areas. You start to worry about lawyers and the implications of your actions. You (start to) have pride. When you’re poor and you have less to “lose”, the consequences of crime are different. 30 days in jail and/or an inability to make bail is a huge issue in middle class neighborhoods, both inside and outside the city; in poor neighborhoods, it’s percieved to be more just a fact of every day life. Attitudes toward education and the challenges of single-parent households living in poverty are contributing factors, as well, but the biggest predictor of crime will be poverty – why do you think the TV show “Cops” makes so many stops in trailer parks?
    Which all begs the question, how do we “get out of the cellar” when it comes to crime stats? I believe that attracting and providing access to jobs, especially better-paying ones, would go a long way in changing our local dynamic. Back in the day, when St. Louis had a lot more manufacturing going on, we had more ways for people to work their way out of poverty. Today, you can probably count those opportunities on both hands – AB and Chrysler, but no more Ford. Ideally, more jobs would be located inside the city. But even good jobs located outside city, but in our region, would help. The other component is “fixing” the SLPS – we need to graduate a much higher percentage of our students/potential employees for new employers! We need to break the cycle where doing well in school ain’t hip or cool, and we need to break the cycle of unmarried teen pregnancies, especially when the mom is less than 18! Knocked up at 16 and keeping the child does nothing to enhance your future. And even if you’re able to avoid breaking the law to survive, you’re condemning you and your child(ren) to living in areas where crime is prevalent. And while it might cool to be just kick back and hang out with your crew when you’re 16 or 18, it starts to look a lot more stupid when you’re 25, and downright pathetic when you’re in your 30’s and 40’s.

  25. gadfly says:

    ^ thanks Jim. So what would people say is the mayor’s responsibility here? Fixing schools and building up the job market. He’s working on those things, and making progress. With the schools, there’s a lot of institutionalized decay. It’s a long process, and will continue beyond this mayor’s administration. He’s the first mayor since ? to aggressively take on the the problems with our public schools. Jobs are increasing. We should be happy, thankful even?

    [SLP — Some would argue that Slay has made the school situation worse, not better — that some people made some big bucks and we lost our accreditation along the way.  Immigration and a nation-wide back to the city movement has help end our population decreases.  The loft district and Wash Ave was started under Mayor Harmon’s administration although Slay often gets the credit.  Slay is razing historic structures and brining in strip malls to the city.]  

  26. M says:

    Dave, you my friend have no idea what you are talking about. I wrote what I feel and meant every single word of it. You can make assumptions all you want. You couldn’t pay me to live in the county, regardless of our problems. I am not running away like so many of you. I choose to stay and help make this place better, instead of complain and point fingers from the “outside”.

    [SLP — I’m with you that I’d never live in the county but we need to remember the county isn’t all the same.  For example, living a couple of blocks from the loop or say downtown Webster or Ferguson could be interesting.  However, living in Chesterfield or along Manchester Rd out past I-1270 would be a pathetic existence.]

  27. awb says:

    I feel the same as M, when he wrote, “Sorry Felton, I have yet to meet a county resident who I think has it ‘better’ than I do living here in the city.” I was a county resident most of my life. I hear the complaints from friends who still live there–traffic, drive times, gas prices, boredom, don’t know the neighbors–and I have no second thoughts about moving to the city. I feel safe, but I use common sense and don’t put myself in questionable situations.

    The point of the post is to question our status as being worst for crime stats. Are there small cities in St. Louis county with worse crime stats? If we could expand our city boundary like Kansas City did, where would we fall in the rankings? Without the answers to such questions, the ranking we have is nothing more than some marketing company creating PR for itself. We can’t ignore crime and we should try to prevent it. Addressing social problems should be the first useful step.

    In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my urban lifestyle. At least until our city government turns it into a suburban hell, with strip malls and parking everywhere. Then I’ll have to move.

  28. gadfly says:

    There is no way any reasonable person can make the case that the city schools were headed in the right direction prior to Slay’s efforts. He did the right thing by starting at the top with the school board.

    The Loft District vision began long before Harmon. Clarence Harmon was the 48th mayor of the City of St. Louis, his term ran from 1997-2001. ArtLoft, the first large loft development on Washington Avenue to attract major institutional investment was completed in 1996.

    Marit Clark was alderman of the 6th ward when she worked to establish Ordinance Number 62395, a key first step in the revitalization of the Washington Avenue loft district. The year was 1991. Clark likely would have been mayor of St. Louis if not for Harmon’s late entry into the race.

    [SLP — Exactly.  My point was that Slay is getting all the credit.  My reference to Harmon was that the Loft District plan came out during his time — clearly built upon earlier efforts.]

  29. Nick Kasoff says:

    > Sorry Felton, I have yet to meet a county resident who I think has it “better”
    > than I do living here in the city.

    M – You’re nuts. I spent two years in Skinker-DeBalivier, and have a great appreciation for the amenities of the city. I now live in Ferguson, which is urban, walkable, diverse, affordable, and where people aren’t getting killed every couple of days. I had looked at the possibility of buying a home in the city before moving here, and the cost of getting into a decent house in a safe nabe was prohibitive. I’m not one of those guys who views the city as a dung heap crawling with illiterate black drug dealing roaches, but I also don’t stick my head in the sand like those who say “Crime happens everywhere.”

    Yes, there are some people who are running away and pointing their fingers. But more often, people make an evaluation of what is the best place for them to live, based upon their personal needs, resources, and the information available to them. When faced with the choice of a newer home in the suburbs, in a good school district, with no violent crime and much less property crime, versus a home in the city, the majority choose the former. They don’t do this because they hate the city, or even because they can’t appreciate the benefits of urban living. They do it they don’t want to spend $250,000 on a house, a bunch more on private schools, and still have to worry about their car getting stolen. When I lived in S-D, one of my friends had their car stolen from in their garage. Turns out there was a car theft ring operating right in the neighborhood – and this is one of the best nabes in the city.

    Until the city makes dramatic progress against crime, and improves their schools so they are at least on par with districts like Hazelwood and Ferguson-Florissant, it will continue to be a haven for single yuppies, and very high income people who can afford a $500,000 house in one of the high-end nabes and still pick up the tab for private school. “Stay out of north St. Louis” isn’t an answer that will comfort people who are rightly concerned for their personal safety – especially since the “north side” problems are no longer confined to the north side.

  30. Nick Kasoff says:

    PS – The first step toward fixing a problem is accurately defining it. Contrary to what some here seem to believe, most people don’t choose to live in O’Fallon because they are bigots or dupes, or because O’Fallon has better TIFs for ugly strip malls. As long as those who love the city persist in this mistaken notion, they will be handicapped in the battle for the city’s revival.

  31. gadfly says:

    Nick, get out a map. You might live in Ferguson, but you’re closer to the concentration of murders happening in our region than someone living in Dogtown. And Clayton’s even closer. The city/county divide may be a political boundary. But crime has no boundaries. The criminals can get to you whereever you are. Living in Ferguson or Richmond Heights or a city neighborhood is all within the reach of crime. Want to avoid crime? Go live on an desert island.

  32. M says:

    Gadfly, you hit it directly on the head. I have always hated this notion that living “outside” of the city makes you safer or means you have it “better”. People in Clayton and much of mid and north county are a lot closer to much of the crime than I am in south city, yet people deride me for living here. This is a REGIONAL problem, not just a city problem, and those in Ferguson have as much more more of a chance at becoming a victim than I do.

    Just because crime happens “in the city” as the media will always point out, it doesn’t mean it is right next door. More than likely it is much closer to Nick in Ferguson than myself, so watch out Nick, you aren’t as safe as you may feel. I am not “nuts” Nick and don’t appreciate the childish name calling because I like living here.

  33. gadfly says:

    The other point that Nick touts is the way only well-off city families can afford private schools, while County folks have the availability of strong public schools. Guess what? St. Louis is a private/parochial school region, and most students attending the private schools come from outside of the city. So, in reality, we have non-city residents knocking the city for its lousy public schools, while at the same time sending their kids to places like DeSmet, SLUH, Chaminade, Cor Jesu, Ursuline, Nerinx, etc. A South County aquaintance of mine said that only the people that can’t afford private schools send their kids to public schools in the County. Most of the teenage kids in her subdivision attend parochial schools. So, in large part, the cream of the crop kids/most involved parents are sending their kids to private/parochial schools in the County as well as the City. Public education advocates may not like it, but that’s how it is.

  34. Felton says:

    Zavist you are assuming that the money saved by consolidating redundant services in the event of a merger would be given back to the taxpayers in the form of a tax cut. That is the only way a merger would make financial sense. Unfortunately, as you know but do not address, a tax cut upon merger is tremendously unlikely.

  35. Felton says:

    gadfly, you’ve done a good job ignoring my point which is that MOST people in the county have it better than those in the city. Of course there are outliers like Wellston which are total disasters. But the large majority of people in the county live in low-crime areas with good to great school districts. Compare this to the city which has maybe, four desirable neighborhoods in which to live, and even those neighborhoods are plagued with car thefts and break-ins. And the city has extremely few good public schools. As stated, the county can boast scores of them.
    Also, look at the disconcerting, divisive tone of city politics and compare that to the city. Which government do you think is more effective and offers better services. There’s not even a debate. The only thing you seem to be able to cling to is the notion that urban living – whatever that means – is better than suburban living. But, that is purely subjective.

  36. gadfly says:


    For starters, you are demonstrating a very uninformed notion of city neighborhoods if you think there are only “four desirable ones”.

    Second, while there’s no need to discuss the levels of your or my household incomes, suffice it to say that there are plenty of well-off households living in the city proper. Plenty. Likewise, there are many city neighborhoods with houses selling for well above $250,000, far in excess of the region’s median sale price.

    So what point exactly is it that you are trying to make here at Urban Review? Are you trying to convince city residents they should move to the County?

  37. Jim Zavist says:

    Felton – I agree, a tax cut would be highly unlikely if a merger should eventually happen. But by introducing greater efficiency into the delivery of services and eliminating unnecessary overhead, you can put off (for a while) the need to RAISE taxes yet again and/or deliver more and/or better-quality services for the same levels of taxation.
    Taxes need to be viewed in their totality. They’re a necessity for funding government services, yet, much like 3-card monte, many “games” can be “played” with them to hide both their true impact on Joe Taxpayer and how funds are actually allocated to deliver services to the taxpayer, the customer. And, to a certain extent, the tax stream is fungible – once money enters the system, it can and often is redirected, as needed, to fund those services deemed important by our “leaders”.
    Two upcoming proposed tax increases both illustrate this phenomenon. The County is proposing raising their sales tax to fund the expansion of Metrolink and to improve services for disabled riders, while the City is proposing raising their sales tax to increase funding for Police and Fire services. In both cases, the tax increases are being presented as going directly to defined “needs”. The reality is that, yes, if approved, the new funds will go to these “needs”. The other reality is that funding from current sources will be redirected from these needs to other, less-popular “needs” like treating STD’s and funding increases for the pensions of retired city workers.
    The only two ways to eventually reduce taxes (or to limit their increases) are to reduce services or to deliver them more efficiently. Closing schools is a classic case of doing both – it costs more to operate two schools that are only a third full than it is to operate one that’s at two-third’s capacity. One-officer police cars are an attempt to spread a finite force as far as possible. The city police union is pushing for a tax increase to fund an increase in the number of two-officer cars (to increase officer safety). The reality is that more two-officer cars could be put on the streets today, with no tax increase – park a quarter or a third of the fleet and, voila, you can have a lot more two-officer cars – the downside is you’d have a marked decrease in the total number of cars out on the streets!
    When taxes are collected under multiple guises (proprety, sales, income, employment, fees, fines, etc.) by multiple entities (federal, state, city, school district, special district, fire district, etc.), it becomes easy to become either complacent or confused – most of us have no clue what our real tax load is. It takes looking at more than our obvious tax bills and grousing how much we have to pay on an annual basis. It takes looking at every receipt we get from every purchase we make (especially some new ones, like cell phone and cable bills). This is especially true in the county, where multiple entities have overlapping boundaries. It’s easy for the hypothetical city of Surburban Hills to be pious about a low property tax rate if they are aggressive in speed enforcement and happen to have a new shopping center spinning off sales tax collections – the one tax may be low, but it’s more than being made up for by more insidious ones.
    The bottom line reality is that the County “works” – its structure delivers a level of services that works for a majority of its residents. Could it be improved”? Undoubtedly, yes! Is there a groudswell to do so? No! My frustration with the current system doesn’t come from being a former county resident, it comes from being a city resident who works in the county and more than occassionally patronizes businesses in the county. I’m no fan of paying taxes, but I accept it as a reality I can’t avoid. It comes from knowing that things can be done more efficiently, things like synchronizing traffic signals, that are difficult or impossible to do when you have to cross “boundaries”, and, more importantly, that you might have spend “my” taxes in “their” neighborhood or city. Face reality people – unless you’re a hermit, you’re funding multiple jurisdictions, and in return, you’re receiving an extremely mixed bag of “services”. Merger would help round off some of these rough edges and might, just might, bring a bit more sanity and transparency to both the collection of taxes and their ultimate distribution to actually deliver services! Am I holding my breath? No! We in the city can’t even get the city to be more efficient – the last thing i want to do is add a whole other dimension of trying to bring equity to the county . . .

  38. Felton says:

    gadfly, my point is that you seem to indict the “Feltons” whom I suppose you are setting up as straw-men in order to disparage county residents, for not wanting to merge the city and county, yet you don’t acknowledge that county residents have a rational and acceptable basis for opposing such a merger.

    You harp on the houses being sold for more than a quarter million in the city. Most of those houses are in the few acceptable city neighborhoods. Most of those acceptable neighborhoods which you contend are so numrous are a mere set of blocks…like Lafayette Square and the CWE.

    Where all this leads is that the region should advertise the city as simply a place to be entertained – eat great food, drink, watch sports – not to live in. The region should distance itself from the city’s crime statistics, horrible schools, and downright stupid politics, and make sure everyone knows that the city is mostly the domain of a relatively small group of ignorant people and not representative of the St. Louis metro area in general.

  39. gadfly says:

    Felton, I posted early on in this thread that the idea of City/County merger was never going to happen, unless County people wanted it. No delusions on that score here. You really should venture out more though if you think there are only a few nice neighborhoods in the city. You know know what’s really amusing for a city resident? When friends drive in from suburban areas and fall in love with our streetscapes, our sense of community, the parks, etc. They love the sense of place. Yes, there are many places in the County with a lovely sense of place too. Felton, don’t get defensive. Remember, it was you who attacked the city with the statement that there “only four desireable neighborhoods” in the city. That statement is incorrect. Here’s a question for you. People routinely tour my city neighborhood to see the beautiful architecture. Do they tour most suburban subdivisions for the same reason? Personally, when I’m riding around inside a vinyl clad subdivision, I get a feeling of dread. But that’s just me. I’m sure there are many who love the baby trees, the shiny new concrete, the zero-maintenance exteriors, and the catchy subdivison names (—- chase, —- run, —- crossing, etc.)

  40. Felton says:

    I said there are MAYBE four desirable/livable neighborhoods in the city and that even those have a ton of petty-moderate crime. Maybe I undercounted if you also throw in some neighborhoods that have a couple of nice streets like Benton Park.

    1. CWE
    2. St. Louis Hills/Holly Hills
    3. Soulard
    4. Tower Grove

    Now for the hoods that only have a few nice streets:

    5. Benton Park
    6. Lafayette Sq.
    7. Skinker-Debol.
    8. Wash. Ave.
    9. Compton Heights

    If you put those streets together, I would say they’d equal 1.5 neighborhoods.

    So, the city has 5.5 relatively stable neighborhoods with some nice houses and amenities by my count.

  41. gadfly says:

    Felton, for the record, your “count” is a joke. Try again. FYI, St. Louis Hills and Holly Hills are not a 1/2 combined area. Indeed, there are, four, count ’em, four neighborhoods *in between* St. Louis Hills and Holly Hills. They are: Southampton, Princeton Heights, Bevo Mill, and Boulevard Heights. To help with your research, click here for an interactive map of city neighborhoods. You might be amazed.

    And Compton Heights and Lafayette Square only have a “few nice streets”? C’mon. I just wish I could afford either of those two neighborhoods.

  42. Felton says:

    Fine, gadfly. Let’s include those tiny neighborhoods I forgot to mention by their exact name which, again, are mostly a collection of a few streets where your license plate will only get cut off your car once a year rather than quarterly and where you can send your child to a school where 23% of the students read at their grade level rather than 16%.

  43. Dave says:

    M, I just like to antagonize people like you that offer meaningless blanket statements.

    “I have yet to meet a county resident who I think has it ‘better’ than I do living here in the city.”

    But forget what I said, this back and forth between Gadfly and Felton is far more entertaining.

  44. gadfly says:


    One of those “tiny” neighborhoods you mention, Southampton, has around 5,000 homes and 12,000 residents. Get it? Most city neighborhoods are as big as entire *municipalities* in STL County. Oh, never mind. No need to cloud this discussion with any real facts. For those following along, “Felton” is a good example of the sort of regional citizen distorting the truth about our own community.

  45. Nick Kasoff says:

    gadfly – Yes, there are high crime areas near Ferguson. But as you know from living in the city, if a bad neighborhood is a couple of miles away and across several major arterials, it might as well be on the moon. That’s why people pay big bucks to live in the CWE.

    While I don’t share your feeling of dread when I ride round a vinyl clad neighborhood, I will certainly admit to an unpleasant blend of boredom and disgust. I’m no architect, but I can certainly tell the difference between Compton Heights and Maryland Heights. But alas, just west of Compton Heights is the northeastern corner of Shaw, which leaves more than a bit to be desired, as do the edges of some of the other surrounding nabes. Of course, for most of us, this is irrelevant, since we couldn’t afford to live in Compton Heights even if we wanted to: As I write this, the only available home for sale on Longfellow is listed for $929,000, and despite being assessed at barely a tenth that, still commands an annual property tax of nearly half my entire house payment. I could opt for a more modest townhome on Botanical, at only double the price of my home, and sporting a ten year tax abatement, something which I’ve never seen on a residential property here in Ferguson.

    M – Sorry you are offended by the term, so I’ll make it less personal: It’s nuts to say “I have yet to meet a county resident who I think has it “better” than I do living here in the city.” Unless, of course, you mean it in the sense of Pauline Kael, when she said, “Nixon can’t have won; no one I know voted for him.” There are lots of things which are subjective, and I happen to share the preference of most of those who post here for an urban, walkable, diverse, historic community. But I also prefer such a community which does not have a bunch of extra taxes, terrifying crime, and abominable schools. Oh, and it would be nice if the affordable areas of my community weren’t filled with board-ups and vacant lots, to say nothing of the occasional corpse in the dumpster. I’m not saying things in Ferguson are perfect, mind you – we have more than our share of fried chicken joints and “buy here, pay here” car lots, and less than our share of nifty boutiques and exotic ethnic restaurants. But all things considered, I’d say we have it pretty darn good.

  46. constant change says:

    And the whole point is, this arguement is moot if it were all 1 entity. We’d be calling out neighborhoods to concentrate resources in, to enhance the entire region, instead we have this.

  47. constant change says:

    When the national report says ST LOUIS #2 IN CRIME it doesn’t say BUT NOT THE COUNTY… IT”S NOT SO BAD…

  48. Nick Kasoff says:

    > And the whole point is, this arguement is moot if it were all 1 entity.
    > We’d be calling out neighborhoods to concentrate resources in, to
    > enhance the entire region, instead we have this.

    On the contrary – if we were all one entity, people in Ferguson’s worst neighborhood would be miffed that they can’t get serious police attention, because the police are too busy dealing with Walnut Park. And lest you think being one entity is bliss – even though the city, and all its diverse neighborhoods are “one entity” even that isn’t really so. After all, the folks in Portland Place, being less than satisfied with the protection that the SLPD provides for their neighborhood, have taken it upon themselves to provide their own private security. How is that any different?

  49. gadfly says:

    Gotta ask: (first, Happy T-Day, and Steve, if you need vanilla, you know where to call), these talks, are they helping? Felton, are you softening your anti-city position?

  50. GMichaud says:

    This is a region, the health of a region depends on all parts to be whole. Your body will not function properly without a leg. Wealthy neighborhoods fall into decline, poor ones rise up, such is the evolution of the city. No matter where you live everyone has a stake in the success of all the parts.
    New ways to solve problems is the solution. I was in Memphis last week, what struck me was how similar the crime incidents, the atmosphere, the feeling of an underlying chaos was to St.Louis. It is true all over America, many cities (if not most) exhibit similar tendencies.
    This has been talked about elsewhere, but there are overarching national policies that contribute to these problems. Otherwise there would be many distinct paths cities would have taken all over the country.
    National policies need to be looked at carefully.
    Just one example, monetary policy and globalization has moved stepping stone factory jobs outside of the US. These are the jobs that our forefathers used to a large extent for advancement. A policy, as has been created, locks the poor into the lifestyle of poverty. It could even be called a racist policy. When African Americans have finally attained a measure of equality, barriers are thrown up to advancement.
    Before everyone screams protectionist, I will admit globalization is inevitable and even desirable in some ways. At the same time, it is only for the exploitation of labor this has been undertaken. In 50 years or 500 years, when the salaries of everyone around the world are roughly equal, production will move near the source of use. Thus the main cost becomes transportation and it is cheaper to ship 200 miles than 5,000 miles. This is especially true if the the source of the raw materials are similar.
    Globalization, as it is practiced today, is temporary and unsustainable.
    The cost of energy will more than likely modify globalization before equalization of salaries.
    This national policy and many others like it should be examined with a fresh eyes, with fresh thinking. Federal policy forms a barrier to the success of cities like St. Louis. Whether it is allocating an inordinate amount of money for highways, or free trade, there is a cascading affect, negatively impacting residents of cities across the nation. It causes similar problems to arise in cities on the East Coast, in the Midwest and on the West Coast (failing inner city schools, the creation of an economic underclass, shattered neighborhoods, large slums and on and on).

    While local input is important, it is impotent as long as federal policy stands in the way of effective grass roots change.

  51. john says:

    Simple street crimes like robbery, assault, and auto thefts are easily recognized by the public. The other crimes used in these stats compiled and distributed by the FBI are rape, murder, arson, etc. However, many of the more serious and profitable crimes are not included in these numbers.
    Known as white collar crime, most of these incidents are excluded to protect reputations and for security reasons. But is there another group of crimes that go largely unreported and excluded.
    Our air, our waterways, our streets are constantly under attack by public policies that fail to address the seriousiness and costs of such crimes against humanity. Our transportation system is designed to favor cars over people and we pay with more traffic, more pollutants, more noise, more accidents, higher insurance etc. SUVs and commercial vehicles (like the pickup truck that delivers kids to school) are made exempt from CAFE standards. Many countries see these as crimes but we have lower standards and do not.
    These policies have led to sprawl and inner city neighborhoods have lost many of the law abiding citizens to the suburbs. Without density, jobs, and good schools, why not leave? Of course, in this country, we label these factors as measures of “quality of life”, not crimes. Some laws are vague, the criminal is sometimes hard to identify, and where’s the federal police to monitor-enforce these laws? Nowhere, that’s criminal… and personal attacks are childish.

  52. Nick Kasoff says:

    John – If my next door neighbor is running a crack house, I’m concerned. If he is embezzling from his employer and blowing it at the casino, his employer is concerned, but it has no impact on me. That’s why white collar crimes aren’t included.

    I agree with you that our public policy favors cars over people … heck, it favors cars over just about anything. This is bad.

    As far as bad schools being a crime … are you suggesting that the cops should arrest teachers who fail to perform? Now THAT would be an innovative educational policy. Not sure how much it would help, though.

  53. Travis says:

    I happened upon this interesting blog because I’m interested in going to St. Louis for a holiday (am a huge fan of Eero Saarinen and baseball too…), and had been cautioned of your crime rate (albeit by someone who has never visited your town).

    It’s kind of unfair too, since this sort of portrayal makes the whole city sound crime-ridden, and I can only assume it’s only one or two dodgier areas. And, from what criminology I’ve read, crime throughout the western world (incl. the USA) has been trending downwards for the last 20 or 30 years. There’s more media, so there’s more coverage of crimes, but we’re all actually safer and less likely to be harmed than 30 years ago, despite the media’s fear-mongering like this report….

    As for the arguments about city-county amalgamation: I now live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which was amalgamated with its first ring of surrounding suburbs in 1998. I don’t know how much autonomy municipalities have from policies of the State of Missouri, but the amalgamation here was imposed by the Provincial Government of Ontario… (they also did the same to Ottawa and a couple other urban areas throughout the province at the same time). There are the obvious planning/administration arguments for and against this: issues of “choice” for services; redistributive power and its impact on quality of life across a region; issues of amalgamation as an extension of civil rights and a “re-desegregation” post-white flight;

    and let’s not forget place marketing. It’s a lot easier to send one contingency on an international trade/investment mission and get recognition of St. Louis, or wherever, than it is to send multiple municipalities from one region and have them compete against each other. And it’s also more difficult to place-market and “brand” the suburbs, exurbs, and edge cities (which don’t necessarily have nationally or internationally recognized landmarks like Saarinen’s Jefferson Expansion Memorial Arch, for ex.)

    But the Province here did it so they could give the city more responsibilities, and therefore offload services and download those costs to the newly enlarged city…

    Anyway, this is a very interesting debate. And I’m still looking forward to coming to visit Saint Louis soon 🙂

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