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St. Louis Population May Drop Below 300K In 2020 Census

March 18, 2015 Featured, Politics/Policy 26 Comments

We’re at the midpoint between the 2010 & 2020 Census, in six years we’ll have the results of the 2020 Census. St. Louis’ population peaked in the 1950 Census — dropping in the following 6. Here’s a quick look:

The 70s was the decade of the greatest loss in terms of total numbers and percentage.

I think these figures are a reflection of what was happening in the city & region in each decade.  In the 50s you had the start of Urban Renewal Programs clearing out older neighborhoods, end of restrictive covenants/white flight, and initial highway construction in the city, in St. Louis County new subdivisions sprang up to accommodate the middle classes fleeing the city. This continued in the 60s & 70s. In the 80s & 90s it there wasn’t the big Urban Renewal or highways — decay was allowed to take hold in many areas. Now you began to see Black flight as middle class African-Americans left the city, largely for North County.

This continued in the 2000s but downtown and its perimeter areas we saw a boom in loft conversions and the addition of other new housing units in the central city. A result of the 2000s building boom, we saw the 2010 Census loss drop below 10%, as the city finally offered a little of the urban/walkable neighborhoods a segment of the general public desires. To be sure, most of the market likes suburbia.

Source: City of St. Louis
Four of our 28 wards showed an increase, the biggest drops came in North city wards. Source: City of St. Louis

For decades the city tried to remake itself into the suburban ideal — but this failed to appeal to those seeking suburbia as well as those seeking urban/walkable lifestyles.  Some, sadly, think the city should continue down the suburbanization path — even though we have decades of huge losses to show that strategy is a total failure. Just as urbanists aren’t drawn to places like New Town St. Charles, suburbanites aren’t drawn to our city version of suburbia. Both are compromises that attract a small segment.  The only strategy to limit losses in the city is urbanization.

The last 5 years we haven’t been doing much to add units in existing urban/walkable neighborhoods nor have we worked to turn more in the urban/walkable direction. This is why I think we’ll see another loss in 2020. If we lose another 28,895 people that would represent a 9% loss, and put us at 290,399. A loss of 19,294 would put us at 300,000 — this would be a 6% loss. I think our loss will be between 20,000-25,000.

North St. Louis County will see middle class blacks & whites leave in large numbers, but see an influx of lower income blacks from North city for newer housing. Of course this is all speculation at this point, the count will start in 5 years and we’ll know the results in 6.  Ward boundaries will be redrawn based on these numbers — down to 14 from 28 based on a charter change approved a few years ago. We still have five years to take action.

In the Sunday Poll more than half also think we’ll see a loss, while nearly 40% think we’ll see a gain.    Here are the results:

Q: St. Louis’ 2010 population was 8.3% less than 2000 — the smallest decline since the 1950 peak. What change will the 2020 Census reveal?

  1. Less than 5% LOSS 10 27.78%]
  2. Less than 1% GAIN 7 19.44%]
  3. Less than 10% LOSS 4 11.11%]
  4. TIE: 3 [8.33%]
    1. Less than 5% GAIN
    2. Greater than 10% LOSS
  5. TIE: 2 [5.56%]
    1. Less than 1% LOSS
    2. Less than 10% GAIN
    3. Greater than 10% GAIN
    4. Unchanged
  6. Unsure/No Answer 1 [2.78%]

My curiosity is if the Wards/Census tracks that had gains in 2010 can hold onto those in 2020.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "26 comments" on this Article:

  1. guest says:

    One look at Hyde Park and that Third Ward drop is no surprise. It’s an urban wasteland filled with rotting historic buildings.

  2. Sgt Stadanko says:

    I can’t help but think crime had a hand in this. Most I know that have left the city have left because of the high crime rate. Thanks, Sarge

    • guest says:

      Well, good luck to them then when crime follows them to the suburbs. More people leave the city for decent free public schools and a new vinyl sided house on a cul-de-sac. Thankfully, a lot of other people place higher value on things besides commuting, sprawl, and zip code driven segregation.

  3. John R says:

    I don’t know if we’ll see a gain, but I think we’ll see significant improvement compared to last decade. Soaring multi-family housing permits and stable school enrollment are two strong indicators that population trends are improving. 2014 Census estimates should also be released later this month. Anyway, for 2020 I predict in the -2 to +2% range.

  4. JZ71 says:

    It may also be as simple as old versus new. Every old building requires ongoing maintenance, while new construction (or a gut renovation) typically doesn’t require much, at least for the first 20-25 years. Plus, new usually reflects better how most families live their lives, these days. There’s less demand for separate, formal dining rooms, no demand for separate kitchens, and a strong preference for informal “family” rooms over more-formal “living” rooms. Most people like bigger bathrooms, more and bigger closets, actual, convenient, laundry rooms (not a washer and dyer relegated to the basement) and multi-car, attached, garage space. Add in better energy efficiency, better insulation, and up-to-date wiring, and it gets easier to trade vinyl siding for solid masonry construction.

    There’s no real physical reason why all this “new” stuff can’t be incorporated into “urban” residences that would be appropriate for walkable, urban neighborhoods – they’re happening in cities around the country. The reason we’re not seeing much of it, here, especially single family, is that historic tax credits favor renovating old structures over building new ones. If you want to buy new, you either need to look to the burbs or look at new developments in some questionable neighborhoods – questionable both from the urban decay and questionable from a return on investment calculation – is it a prudent decision to buy (or build) a $250,000 new place on the same block where many home values don’t top five figures?

    And yes, crime, schools, racism and self-segregation (along with the 1% earnings tax) all work as disincentives to city living. What the city does offer is an existing, walkable, urban infrastructure and much better public transit than the burbs. The city even offers a of lot freeway options (for those who have to commute to jobs in the burbs). I expect that the population will remain in good shape in the central corridor and in much of south city. I expect continued decline, in both population numbers and in the actual urban fabric, in north city. High crime rates and high poverty rates are major disincetives to investments of any sort. No one wants to to see the downward spiral continue, but absent any reasons for it to change, it’s destined to continue . . .

    • guest says:

      Good analysis ^, JZ. The one exception I would offer is that it actually is possible to build/find new construction in solid city neighborhoods. Soulard, Lafayette Square, Holly Hills/Boulevard Heights, Lindenwood, the Hill, the West End, the CWE, Dogtown, Skinker DeBaliviere all offer nice choices of new construction with the design features you describe.

  5. Fozzie says:

    Walkable neighborhoods, he says.

    It couldn’t be the sub-par public schools, declining employment, and mid-day rolling gun battles.

    • JZ71 says:

      There is, and never, ever will be, just one “answer” or just one “reason”. Life is complex, and individual life choices involve balancing multiple options. And just because any area or neighborhood is “bad”, today, doesn’t mean that it won’t ever “come back” – one has to look no further than Brooklyn in NYC, parts of the south side in Chicago or Five Points in Denver. Sure, parts of St. Louis face multiple challenges, but much like eating an elephant (one bite at a time), change is going to take many small, positive changes, not one all-inclusive “major” change. And, at this point, St. Louis would be better served in focusing more efforts on stable and returning areas than it would be throwing money (away) at failing areas – we have limited resources, we can’t “fix” everything (in the short term), and we need to prioritize our efforts on what is actually working!

    • They’re all related. When the city was still building new housing in the 20s/30s and 40s it offered what new buyers wanted — a little more breathing room. Over the decades since we offered a quasi-suburban life and a few blocks of urban/walkable.

      People left to seek out what they wanted. Employers/jobs left with the middle class. School declined, crime increased.

  6. There is a lot more to population decline in old cities than what one might think…and a lot of it has very little to do with the performance of the city itself. The second half of the 20th century was just a peculiar time for cities in human history.

    We touched on this a bit in a post a couple years ago on UrbanCincy: http://urbn.cc/p2mm.

    • JZ71 says:

      True . . . but the challenge isn’t so much in the net decline, it’s the unevenness in how individual neighborhoods have been impacted (or not so much). It’s one thing when a residential unit goes from 6 or 8 occupants down to 2 or 3; it’s a whole nuther thing when it hits zero and ends up abandoned . . .

  7. Guest says:

    Interesting article. I would love for you to look into the part the Catholic schools play. My age group 28-35ish were all about moving into the city in the last decade. We loved it, felt safe and most friends were anywhere from Wash Ave all the way south. No one worried about schools to send our future kids to, they’d go Catholic and many of us made the mistake of thinking it was no biggie for a middle class family to pay for it since our parents pulled it off, and most of them had more kids than we planned to have. Then reality hit. Grade school tuition was not what our parents paid for high school, and with new IRS laws, tuition was no longer a write off. Catholic High schools are now more expensive than Mizzou, SLUH has a $1500 increase alone this year. My peers and I make enough to not qualify for any help yet not enough to be able to afford living in the city. We are fleeing to the Lindbergh, Rockwood, Kirkwood and Webster Groves districts in big numbers. We would have loved to stay but it wasn’t financially possible.

    • JZ71 says:

      Great analysis – life is full of choices, albeit sometimes hard ones. We loves us our patina’ed architecture, our urban vibe and our walkable, bikeable neighborhoods . . . when we’re younger – then life intrudes and priorities change! With you and your peers, your kids and their education are now the biggest priorities, and, apparently, the city’s charter and magnet schools still don’t offer “enough”, so, with Catholic schools no longer an option, the only remaining option is moving to the ‘burbs?! That should be a wake-up call (along with addressing the increase in gun-related crime), to shift our priorities as a city! Residents care about where they live, 24/7; non-residents only care about their safety while they’re “visiting”. . . .

      • John Regenbogen says:

        There are many more options today with quality public and charter schools in the City than there were just a few years back. The general societal tendency is to just play it safe and move to one of the better suburban districts, and that’s fine, but for those families that really want to remain in the city they should be able find a school that works well for them. More of them are doing so.

        • Guest says:

          How many more? I do agree that their are many more options but for a young family to make a $200,000-$400,00 investment in housing to take the chance of being picked or even having all kids picked on the lottery system is a gamble not many want to take. For those that have nothing to lose, schools like Mallinkrodt and Kennard are a godsend.

          • John R says:

            Besides the gifted schools, which require testing, several other magnet schools are Accredited with Distinction by MO DESE along with a few of the neighborhood schools. In addition, a growing number of charters are also proving themselves. I can get you a few links on schools if you like… just thinking of the Shaw neighborhood, we have a good Baptist school, a strong Catholic school, a strong charter school and a decent magnet school all in the neighborhood and all walkable along with several other solid magnet and charter schools to choose from nearby. (The public neighborhood school is now in Tower Grove South.)

            I understand what your saying, though, and the decision to stay engaged is not for everyone. But it is a very good thing that we’re on the right track and more families are remaining as they find the right school for their children….. and my main reason for posting my response to JZ71 is that there really isn’t much more that the City can do in terms of priorities with respect to schools besides what it already is doing. And he was inferring that we shouldn’t be working on walkable, bikeable neighborhoods and that those sorts of issues somehow are separate from attracting/retaining families…. anyone in Tower Grove Mews at 3:30 in the afternoon on a nice school day can see how it all works together.

          • JZ71 says:

            Nope, I was not “inferring that we shouldn’t be working on walkable, bikeable neighborhoods and that those sorts of issues somehow are separate from attracting/retaining families”, I was stating that our priorities change as we get older. If urban living is a priority, you’ll figure it out IF you can afford to. But if you have a finite budget, choices have to be made – you may need to put off that new car for a year or two. You might only be able to afford 3 bedrooms, and not 4 or 5. You might want to direct more tuition money to college and less to high school. What I was “inferring” was that there are multiple “right” answers, not just one, and it’s up to each one of us to decide what works best for us at this point in time . . .

          • John R says:

            My apologies…. just confused on what meant when you said (presumably the powers-to-be) tthat a wake up call needs to be heard and priorities shifted.

          • JZ71 says:

            No apology needed – as a non-parent, I see two challenges with public education, the assumption (reality?) that “mainline” schools aren’t ever “good enough” (and that specialized curricula is always the better answer), and that a (perceived? real?) lack of access to these specialized, “better” programs is limited and thus driving parents to districts where they “perceive” a better chance of getting the “best” educational opportunities for their precious kids.

            This comes from a guy who spent K-3 in two public schools, 4-10 in a parochial grade school and a parochial high school, and 11-12 in a public high school (none in the St. Louis region). Each school had its strengths and its weaknesses, but all offered multiple levels of eductional opportunities. My perspective is that school boils down to motivating students and inspiring a desire to learn, and that falls on individual teachers, with the specific school or school district being secondary. But if creating more magnet schools and more charter schools will convince more young parents to stay in the city, that may need to be made a bigger priority.

          • JZ71 says:

            I grew up in Louisville, and this article explains how a large, integrated school system should and does work. And, in the article, St. Louis and Detroit can be interchanged pretty easily: http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/03/the-city-that-believed-in-desegregation/388877/?utm_source=SFFB . . Unfortunately, sprawl and white flight is just as real there as it is here – Jefferson County is akin to St. Louis County, with most new development, these days happening further out, in surrounding counties, like St. Charles, Jefferson and Marion counties, here.

    • John R says:

      It is a factor but not too much of one. And while there has been difficult times with Catholic school enrollment across the region, some like St. Margaret’s are adding on in the City. And overall, elementary school enrollment of all types in the City has stabilized and is no longer cratering like it used to just a few years back. So those are good signs and reinforce the common notion that more families are staying at least a bit longer than average than in the past. Also, it is important to realize that cities almost everywhere attact young people but then lose them as they begin to form families…. doesn’t matter much if its San Francisco or Saint Louis. Immigration and good jobs are the main things that drive up population numbers in cities.

      • Guest says:

        I agree with what you have said but I think you missed the point I was trying to make by sharing my perspective. That’s great that SMOS is adding on, that wasn’t my point. My point is that for a solid middle class family, not low income which receives subsidies for tuition or upper class families that tuition is a non issue, it is very hard to choice to allocate money to that lifestyle. Just using 2014-15 tuition costs for 2 kids at St. Raphael @$7500 for both and then say they go to SLUH at just today’s cost at $15400 each for 4 years works out to $190,700. And that’s just today’s cost, not any increases that are sure to happen. The dilemma for my demographic becomes ranking importance of saving for retirement, saving for kids college, paying off any student debt, increasing taxes, increasing health care costs etc. The idea of free public school in a great district is a no brainier! And you’re correct, maybe enrollment isn’t decreasing but it sure isn’t increasing. Young professionals moving into the the city ten fleeing once they have kids is the status quo I agree with you, but I thought the whole reason the blog exists was to figure out how to grow our urban areas and driving out those young professionals once they have kids doesn’t seem like the best way to do that from my perspective. The St. Louis Buisness Journal had an article 2 years ago about rising tuition. SLUH’s increase was 33% in 5 years 2008-3013. I know my salary didn’t have a 33% increase! That kind of situation polarizes demographics and drives out the middle class, which is needed to be a stabilizing force.

  8. John R says:

    From the latest Census estimates released today, it looks like the City and County continue along the same trend lines they’ve had for the past few years…. small drop for the City and stagnation for the County. City will definitely be above 300,000 if these trends continue (and hold up).


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