Home » Education » Recent Articles:

Report: St. Louis Most Dangerous U.S. City

This week, as we were still riding high from the World Series victory, came a report indicating St. Louis is the most dangerous city in the country. Everyone is up in arms saying it is not true and the report is complete BS. Sorry to break it to you St. Louis, but we may very well be the most dangerous city. But what does it mean to the be the most dangerous?

First, someone has to be first on the list. For years we’ve been in the top five bouncing around from spot to spot so landing at #1 should not really come as a shocker. Many white members of the board of aldermen have voted against establishing civilian oversight for the police department. Our police board is controlled by the state, not the citizens of St. Louis. The police don’t want to live in the city. And why don’t they? With a few exceptions, the public schools suck big time. Gee, this isn’t exactly a formula for creating the safest city in the country.

Throughout the 20th Century St. Louis’ leadership made one bad decision after another. In 1916 the citizens of St. Louis passed an ordinance requiring racial segregation of the city! Although struck down by the courts a year later, the racial divide has stuck with us. In the 1940’s federal housing/lending policies pretty much sealed the fate of cities across the country but starving them of much needed lending guarantees. The feds made sure it was easier & cheaper to buy a new house in the emerging suburbs than a renovate old older place in the central core. Huge sections of cities, including St. Louis, were pretty much written off as “obsolete” in part because the areas freely mixed housing, retails and workplaces. Living above a corner store was considered a bad thing, creating risky neighborhoods. Granted, much of this housing stock lacked modern plumbing and electrical service. Conditions in these buildings were indeed poor. But, Soulard stands as a testament as to how these so-called obsolete buildings can be renovated and make useful for new generations.

Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 got people excited about creating grand urban places, part of the City Beautiful Movement (see wiki). By the time we hosted the World’s Fair in 1904 the movement was going strong. This prompted leaders in St. Louis to contemplate clearing the riverfront for such a grand space. The area, the oldest in St. Louis, was now marked territory. Why bother keeping it up? It was 30 years later before the demolition crews got started razing 40 city blocks as part of a WPA project. The original city was being tossed aside. For decades the area remained parking and it was not until the late 60’s the Arch was topped out and the landscaping didn’t happen until the 1970’s. The arch is a stunning monument but if I could turn back time and prevent the demolition of the riverfront I’d do it in a heartbeat.

But the riverfront gave the city leaders their first taste of wholesale demolition, the false notion that problems can simply be wiped away with bulldozers. They were oh so wrong then and yet we continue to see this same logic applied to day in recent projects like clearing McRee Town. In the meantime we saw entire neighborhoods divided for highway construction and others erased from the maps for housing projects that turned out worse than the “slums” they replaced. Pruitt-Igoe, one of the most infamous housing projects in the world, was razed less than 20 years after completion! Note: be sure to attend the lecture thursday afternoon on Modernist public housing — see post. In all of this demolition people were displaced and relocated, some numerous times. Social networks, the foundation of our society, were destroyed along with the physical structures.

The impact of all these decisions and others are not isolated, they are quite cumulative. Our current issues were not created today, they are the legacy of numerous prior decisions. One mistake after another, often in the name of progress of correcting a social ill, added to the problems rather than solving them. Today’s bad decisions — demolition of historic Century building for parking garage, anti-urban Loughborough Commons and suburban Sullivan Place senior housing to name a few — will be issues for St. Louisans to deal with in 30 years or more, long after those responsible are forgotten.

St. Louis lost roughly 60% of its population in a mere five decades. As the population dropped leaders and planners kept coming up with new schemes to turn around the situation, or so they presumed. A 1970’s plan for the city called for the entire destruction of the area we now know as The Gate District bounded by I-44 on the south, Grand on the west, Chouteau on the north and Jefferson on the east. Today St. Louis University is doing their best to destroy the western edge of that area with parking garages, street closures and new construction that doesn’t recognize the street.

Throughout the decades of population loss we increasingly were left with the poorest in society. Cities will always have poor, I don’t see a way around that. But cities must have a middle-class and recent studies are showing the middle class in this country is eroding. We are separating into poor & rich, not a good trend. In cities this, as we are witnessing, can be devastating. Someone who is poor is no more inherently pre-disposed to crime than anyone else. However, poverty and the feeling of desperation that pervades in areas of concentrated poverty can drive good folks to do bad things. Someone who has lost hope in their own future is apt to look for the easy road to our society’s symbols of success, fancy clothes, a sharp ride and some flashy bling. Those who engage in such criminal activity see this as their only choice. This lack of hope and choice among young people is our failure as a society. We have created and allowed this to continue and to grow.

I could go on and on but I won’t belabor the point. The city has screwed up repeatedly and we’ve yet to learn from past mistakes. So when a study says we are the most dangerous in the country I am not at all surprised. Rather than denying reality we must examine the underlying reasons for why we got to our current situation. We cannot continue to sweep those things that we find depressing or embarrassing under the rug. We should feel embarrassed!

Mayor Slay has been in office since 2001 and continues to use Reagan’s trickle down economics in the city. In theory all the attention downtown will eventually make its way to others parts of the city. Sure, in 50-60 years if we are lucky? Washington Avenue, the Old Post Office, Ballpark Village, Convention Hotel, riverfront master plan, Chouteau’s Lake —- all downtown focused. I’m not saying these are not worthwhile efforts but the trickle isn’t happening. A suburban Walgreen’s store in a poor inner-city neighborhood isn’t going to cut it. That cannot be our only plan of action. We need large quantities of middle class people, and not those uptight provincial ones either. We need creative types that appreciate an urban city, not some suburban recreation in an urban area. We need to attract new people and new money from outside our region. New people and new money will help create the hope that doesn’t currently exist in much of our youth out on the streets committing crimes.

How do we get these new middle-class residents? Transit, I believe, is a big part of the answer. Good urban mass transit will attract development and population. But where is Slay or County Executive Dooley on more funding for transit? They are nowhere to be found but Slay is out front seeking for a billion dollar highway bridge to Illinois. East-West Gateway is studying options for transit through north & south St. Louis but these are planned as a future pass through to the county. As it stands, we are likely 15 years away from riding the first train along Natural Bridge or Jefferson. If we locally funded a modern streetcar, or guided tram as Milwaukee is considering, we could probably cut the cost and time in half. Milwaukee ruled out light rail in favor of a guided tram due to cost of construction, $45 million per mile vs “only” $21 million per mile, respectively. See the Milwaukee Connector site for more information.

Next week we vote on a sales tax increase to fund two new recreation centers, one north and one south, along with maintenance for the ones we’ve got. Will this attract new residents? Will it entertain the youth to the point they now have hope in their futures? Doubtful.

St. Louis may well be the most dangerous city in America. I can accept that and work to change the underlying causes. When you vote Tuesday keep that in mind, are you voting for more of the same? When filing opens at the end of this month for half the seats in the Board of Aldermen & two seats on the school board will you sit back and assume that others will solve these issues or will you step forward to chart a new course for the city? Our entrenched leadership has gotten us where we are today — the top of the most dangerous city list. It is now up to us to work to change that reality. If we do not, we cannot bitch about remaining on top in the years to come.


Edwardsville’s Pedestrian Tunnel for High School Students

IMG_4872.jpgWhy did the student not cross the road? Because they were chicken? No, because they have a new $480,000 pedestrian tunnel in place of the former shuttle buses. And it is against school policy for them to walk across the two lane street in front of the high school. Seriously, I’m not making this up!

Last June I did a brief post on the planned tunnel after reading an article in the Belleville News-Democrat. This past Saturday morning I visited the now finished tunnel on a tour of Edwardville, Illinois (map).

So, there it is on the right: the long walk under Center Grove Rd with the massive high school campus in the background. Remember the days when you could walk or bike to school? Those times seem long gone. Now students drive their own cars to school and in Edwardsville some students, roughly 200, have to park across the street and walk under the street to get to the campus.

IMG_4875.jpgDon’t look for any steps or walkway to get you from the south side of Center Grove Rd down to the tunnel, it is assumed that nobody walks in this part of town. Probably true enough, it is nothing but tacky buildings set in individual seas of parking.

I should also point out the tunnel was planned from day one. It wasn’t built until this summer because they just received the funding to construct it. So when planning a new high school campus the concept of say placing it closer to walkable areas seems to have been ruled out. I’m actually told the school district is much larger than the City of Edwardsville and that the schools is pretty centered within the district. The solution then becomes two smaller high schools rather than one large high school. You can point to additional costs to do that but that can be countered with the additional costs of sprawl and, in this case, a pedestrian tunnel.

IMG_4878.jpgThis is Center Grove Rd looking west from the parking lot entrance. That is not a sidewalk you see to the left of the road, it is the shoulder of the roadbed. You can see some of the recently built sprawl in the background. What a horrible environment they are subjecting their impressionable youth.

Sadly, they are in effect teaching kids pedestrians and streets don’t mix.

– Steve


I’m Too Old For a Student Transit Pass

I keep telling myself that being just shy of 40 is not too old to return to college for a Masters. My first class in grad school starts a week from today. But, faced with hostel SLU safety officers that don’t like my scooter locked out of the way on the sidewalk and parking rates ranging from $145 to $1200+ a semester I’m considering bus transit to get me to my two classes this semester.

Sadly, our transit agency thinks I’m too old for a transit pass (source). In fact, I’ve been too old for the last 16 years! Ouch.

Full-time students age 23 and younger with a valid Student ID card who attend a registered school are eligible to purchase a Student Semester Pass for only $125.00 (valid for the fall 2006 semester)! Please check with your school to see if they are currently registered with Metro.

Well, I’m only part-time this Fall anyway. I did manage to save $2 at the Chase the other night by flashing my student ID when purchasing a ticket for The Devil Wears Prada.

On the plus side I will be able to qualify for the senior discount in just over 25 years. Assuming, that is, they don’t raise the senior age by the time I get there.

In truth my 15-week semester with two classes would require only $52.50 in bus fare per the new rates which take effect on August 28th — the day before my first class. I’m looking at biking to the #70 Grand bus and then using it to get to the SLU campus, biking the rest of way to class. Weather and energy permitting I may simply decide to bike home rather than taking the bus. Having my bike would give me the freedom to stop at the store and pick up a few items or head to a coffee house to study. From my door to class I estimate about 45 minutes via this method — about 15+ minutes longer than if I rode my scooter. Driving my car would also save time but there I run the risk of getting parking tickets if parked more than 90 minutes at a meter (the classes are 2.5 hrs long).

Taking the bus certainly looks good, even for us old students.

– Steve


Thoughts and Photos from Schools Press Conference

IMG_3769.jpgToday four of the seven members of the St. Louis School Board welcomed Dr. Diana Bourisaw to the job as interim superintendent. We got the usual students at the start saying how excited they were about the school system and one introduced the “best board president we’ve ever had.” Give a break! I supported these folks yet I still don’t need to hear such orchestrated praise.

I have to say I liked Dr. Bourisaw, she seemed genuine and personable. I could see a glimpse of hard-assed administrator as well. All good qualities. Despite the PR blunder that was last week I do think having a board and superintendent on the same wave length is beneficial regardless of ideology. Without cooperation nothing gets done at all.

Blame for past non-cooperation can be spread to all seven members of the board, former Superintendent Creg Williams and probably a host of other players, including Mayor Slay. Singling out the four: O’Brien, Purdy, Downs and Jones is unfair and unproductive. Can we single them out for a botched firing? Oh yeah!

Nothing much was learned from Bourisaw’s presentation. However, one part jumped out at me. She was talking about being prepared for the beginning of school on August 28th and said what a great staff we have at 801 (headquarters). That to question the ability of the schools to open on the 28th was to question the staff & teachers of the St. Louis Public Schools. That is when my ‘wait a minute’ trigger in my brain went off. Didn’t the board last Friday say they had to get rid of Williams now because the beginning of the school year was going to be a disaster? Well, which is it?

The fairest criticism of Williams’ performance is that in his 15 months on the job, 12 of which with a rubber stamp board, has failed to address the looming $50 million budget shortfall that we’ll face in roughly 18 months.

IMG_3776.jpgFollowing the press conference things got more interesting. Reports rushed past Bourisaw to get to Veronica O’Brien. I couldn’t get close enough to hear the questions or the answers but the look on O’Brien’s face told me she was not to pleased with the line of questions. If she is going to survive in this job she is going to have to learn to do a better job answering the tough questions.

The other thing is all the comments of late about the teachers union taking back control of the school board. Were they ever in control? Are they in control now? And for all the talk of this being a union town I’m certainly hearing a lot of anti-union commentary, reminding me of Oklahoma.

IMG_3787.jpgA very well spoken and very angry parent had a few words for school board member Donna Jones (O’Brien listened in for part of the time). This time Jones didn’t run, she stayed and listed to this concerned (and did I mention very angry) parent. Meanwhile, Peter Downs was no 10 feet away by himself, somehow managing to avoid the angry sentiment.

I don’t like how all this went down last Friday. I don’t like how a lot of things go down in this city. Still, I think we owe Dr. Bourisaw some leeway if only for a few months. I want to see how the school season starts, what will she keep from Dr. Williams’ strategic plan and what will the accreditation scores from this past school year be when released in September.

The school board meets tomorrow night, should be a full house with lots to say. Teachers will be there in full force applauding while I think we’ll see a strong contingent of parents and politicos showing their displeasure. The drama continues.

Look for video on St. Louis Schools Watch soon.

– Steve


Discussion of St. Louis Public Schools on KDHX 88.1FM

July 17, 2006 Education, Media 2 Comments

Dave Drebes of the Arch City Chronicle and yours truly will be on KDHX’s Collateral Damage tonight at 7pm (CST). Most likely we will discuss nothing but the recent school board actions and where we go from here. Hosts DJ Wilson and Fred Hessel will keep the conversation on topic and interesting.

Tune into 88.1FM or stream live via iTunes or other media players (link to online streaming). Can’t listen tonight at 7pm? No big deal, check the website a couple of days later to stream the content or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes. All free for your listening pleasure!

Have questions you’d like discussed tonight? Send your questions to collateraldamage at kdhx dot org.

Via St. Louis Schools Watch, the new interim superintendent is being introduced today at 1pm today.

– Steve