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March 17, 2008 Guest, STL Region 21 Comments

Guest editorial from Dan Icolari
We’re not the only people in places like Boston or New York or D.C. or maybe even Chicago who’ve stopped being wage slaves, or would like to, and need a cheaper place to live that’s still a real city, warts ‘n all.

I think St. Louis boosters need to broaden their target audience to include people like us. I don’t mean just well-heeled empty nesters who can afford lofts downtown. I’m talking about middle-class people like the ones my wife and I know–financially secure but not rich, educated, involved in the arts and in civic life and politics. People who want an urban way of life in a dynamic, diverse community. A community that’s affordable now and, in relative terms, is likely to stay that way.

With child-rearing behind them, such people have the disposable income to help preserve cultural institutions, patronize local specialty businesses, and support local artists in a variety of media. They have the time to devote to civic activism that most full-time working people don’t. They’re big on university-level continuing education. They’re exactly the kinds of people, in short, that St. Louis boosters are already pitching, only older.

And nobody except marketers of retirement communities–which are the last places the people I’m talking about would want to go–are reaching out to this particular segment of older adults. They are, after all, sophisticated people with many of the same interests and tastes as the 20- and 30-somethings that every city is working overtime to attract.

I think going after a segment of sophisticated people 50+ could be a very productive strategy for St. Louis. But it won’t be an easy sell. I can hear the naysayers already:

“Oh, great: Blue-Hair Central.”

“St. Louis’s reputation for crime will scare them off.”

“We’ll become The Nursing Home on the Mississippi.”

I’m not proposing that St. Louis boosters target older potential relocaters exclusively. Rather, I’m suggesting this over-50 segment has potential that should be recognized and developed.

The fact is, for people of any age who want an urban way of life they can afford, St. Louis has a pretty compelling story to tell. It’s not a story that will interest all or even most older people considering relocating. But I think it’s a story that will interest enough older people–the kinds of community-oriented urbanites St. Louis needs–to make telling that story to this segment worth a try.

[Dan Icolari is a native of NYC and lives with his lovely wife in a stunning home on Staten Island.   Dan is retired and writes Walking is Transportation.]


Currently there are "21 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that with perception being reality, it’s going to be a tougher sell than in many other smaller, more-rural towns. And I wouldn’t focus only on semi-retired, financially-secure, middle-class yuppies. There are other subsets that could be attracted as well. Two of the first that come to mind are retired union workers and retired military personnel. Both appreciate affordable housing, and the former will appreciate our continuing support for unions, while the latter will find Scott AFB to be a convenient and important amenity. And as with anything in marketing, we need to define what positives make us unique and to make the world aware of them – good-quality affordable housing, established neighborhoods, viable public transit and great health care facilities are all good reasons to consider growing old here . . .

  2. Dennis says:

    Actually, you have to be in that over 70 age bracket before you start finding any blue hair these days. And let’s remember, over 50 is not really that old in todays world.

  3. john w. says:

    …and, since demographic groups tend to seek out gravitational nodes for peers, and since aging-in-place will really come to the fore regarding new development types the argument for compact development will become even stronger.

  4. john w. says:

    Aging-in-place will come to the fore in the tidal wave of Boomers becoming seniors, that is.

  5. Melanie Harvey says:

    Cultural resources should be a HUGE selling point, from the Symphony to the community orchestras, from the Black (and the White) Reps to all the exciting new small theater groups, from Jazz at the Bistro to the clubs, from SLAM to the galleries. And the Libraries!
    And the Universities! – you don’t have to be enrolled to sample the amenities.
    And the Parks!
    And the opportunities for volunteerism, which many retirees want to do.
    And Metro! – to pull these all together.
    I’m over 50, came here as a student and never left; still learning, still exploring, still loving it (well, most of the time); still walking everywhere.
    Being young is vastly over-rated.
    Being urban is a state of mind, not a condition of age or affluence.

  6. middle way says:

    So much for marketing to the overindulged, self-obsessed, creative class! Message to Madison Avenue: “STL: We’re Over the National Obsession on YOUth!” Now that’s creative. Getting outside everyone’s comfort zone!

  7. Jason says:

    so is the natrual progression… Gen-X Gen-Y Gen-grAy?

  8. LisaS says:

    City leaders are already focusing on this demographic, almost to the exclusion of all else. Yes, they give lip service to family issues like schools, rec centers etc.–but really, most of the things they do in this line are beneficial to the grandparent set, too. Right now it seems like a smart thing, but long term, is it really? I seem to remember back in the 1970’s and 1980’s the preponderance of elederly folks living in cities being a huge issue because of the impact of fixed incomes on the ability to raise the tax base in proportion to their growing need for services. For example–all those 50 & 60 somethings buying tax abated property right now …. what will their reaction to paying full rate be 10 years down the road, when incomes are tighter? What about 20 years from now, when they’ll no longer be able to maintain their own property?

  9. john says:

    In many ways I agree with your proposal. However, this idea has been in existence for years, even decades, by default. StL has already developed and created an older demographic and that is exactly one of the core problems. For cities to be successful, prosperous, exciting and vibrant, the younger and more energetic age group, those who will certainly push the envelope and challenge the staus quo, must be attracted.
    – –
    The secret of StL is out, lose employers, lower communal income, desroy the school system, avoid spending money on needed infrastructure improvements, and miracle of miracles, you have lower housing prices! Another bothersome fact remains: Civic activism in the arts requires large personal contributions. Don’t worry, there’re tax deductible.

  10. middle way says:

    Residents of St. Louis County have a thin buffer against the city’s discredited school system. It’s more of a buffer when they refuse admission to city students. Go figure.

  11. Becker says:

    “So much for marketing to the overindulged, self-obsessed, creative class! Message to Madison Avenue: “STL: We’re Over the National Obsession on YOUth!””

    Well STL has failed pretty miserably at serving this group. The RCGA can say what they like, but STL is losing the race to the new knowledge industries. The needed investment in new ventures by the city and state is still badly lacking. So the city leaders may decide to move away from this demographic, but it will just be putting their tails between their legs and retreating in failure as far as I am concerned.

    If targeting an aging baby-boomer demographic is the plan (not a new or unique idea IMHO), there should be a heavy focus on universal access and design in new development. Less steps, less tight spaces. Not a bad idea but not easy to mix with high density.

    Perhaps the city should just focus on middle-class (NO MORE 750K LOFTS!!!) universally appealing, strong, healthy, mid to high density neighborhoods. I would think the rest should take care of itself.

  12. middle way says:

    ^ Heard of CORTEX much? BJC expansion?

  13. Becker says:

    Yes I know all about them. I also know that if you compare them to other metro areas in this country and they are small potatoes.

  14. middle way says:

    CORTEX $200,000,000 expansion goal small potatoes? Whatever. God, people on the blogs love to complain. That’s just human nature, I suppose. Chill and remember that the middle way is much healthier for the soul. Who needs to be No. 1?

  15. Mike says:

    I’m one of those over-50 retired military people Jim mentioned earlier, and he’s right–Scott AFB is a very attractive draw for us. My wife and I moved here 6 1/2 years ago after both of us retired from the Army–she’s from Jefferson County and wanted to be closer to home. We live in Oakland (between Webster and Kirkwood) solely because of the schools. I wanted to live in the city, as did my charming bride, but our daughter required special ed services for high school, and no one from the city system returned any of the numerous phone calls we made. The Kirkwood HS special ed person called us at home in New York–on a Sunday!–to explain what they had to offer. A 20-minute phone call made us live in the Kirkwood school district. It was that simple. Until St Louis City schools figure out that they can be a recruiting tool for city residents, I bet the city will almost always lose to the county–or Illinois (which doesn’t tax military retired pay, BTW).

    The longer we’re here, the more the advantages of this area–easy commute, lots of cultural stuff, lowish housing and very low utility costs (compared to New York City area), GREAT LIBRARIES, etc.–make this a fine place to live.

    Interestingly enough, the St Louis writer Kate Chopin moved back to St Louis from Louisiana in part because of the city school system. What was a 19th-century plus for the city has become a kind of albatross–fix the schools (stable leadership is job 1) and I bet you fix the city.

  16. middle way says:


    From a middle way perspective, we win: You and your family chose St. Louis…County. That’s okay. You didn’t pick the city, and that’s okay too. We’re happy, in our middling sort of way, that you’re here and seem to appreciate the place. You understand the high points and the low points, and now, you’re one of us!
    Fixing the schools? Us middling types know that’s an order so tall, that if we hold our breath for it, we’d die. We’ll pick the middle ground, work around the edges, take the good with the bad, and have an overall good life.

    Like you said, the utilities are way cheaper than in all those fancy, “we’re number one” sorts of places!

  17. thoughts from south grand says:

    reporting from la

    one big chesterfield, where am i again ? everyplace ?, anyplace?, noplace ? wait there is a red robin on the horizon

    i love 314

  18. constant change says:

    They WANTED to live in the city, but chose the county for schools. Granted, this is a special situation, but it problably plays like this often. NOT OKAY. I’m sure every community would feel the same, walking in the same shoes.

    Why in the %>@* is my anti-spam word ‘apathy’? LOL

  19. Nick Kasoff says:

    Mike’s choice to move to the Kirkwood school district makes perfect sense, under the circumstances. But in a larger sense, it isn’t ok, because it demonstrates how much the SLPS is responsible for the problems of the city. Chances are good that even if he had spoken to both SLPS and Kirkwood people, he’d have chosen Kirkwood. But the fact that a prospective city resident couldn’t even get a phone call returned is nothing short of outrageous.

  20. middle way says:

    No, the fact that he couldn’t get a call returned is not “outrageous”, it’s a predictable outcome when you’re dealing with an unaccredited school district. Something “outrageous” would indicate an excited, passionate response. Not here. In a middling way, we move on. See? Nick, you moved to North County (that’s pretty middling). Others, we choose the city if it suits us. Mike, he chose Kirkwood. Let’s call that upper-middling. That’s cool too. He still part of us in the Greater St. Louis area!

  21. Nick Kasoff says:

    Middle way – Personally, I think the very fact that thousands of kids are stuck in an unaccredited school district is “outrageous.” Yes, I moved to north county. I wouldn’t call it “middling” though, I’d call it excellent. I live in Ferguson because it is an urban, walkable, diverse community with affordable housing, outstanding local government, and residents who actually get along. While I have lived in the city before (Skinker-DeBal, twice), and enjoyed my time there, the fact is that a home in a nice city nabe was much more expensive than a comparable home in Ferguson, as well as much closer to high crime areas, and would result in higher costs for taxes, insurance, and other things.


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