Home » Books »Politics/Policy » Currently Reading:

Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century

August 25, 2006 Books, Politics/Policy 19 Comments

I recently purchased Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century from the Saint Louis University bookstore as it is a required text for one of my Fall courses in Urban Planning. The book is authored by three Professors; Peter Dreier from Occidental College in LA, John Mollenkopf from City University in New York and our own Todd Swanstrom from St. Louis University. Dr. Swanstrom just happens to be teaching my course which starts on Tuesday.

Yesterday I started thumbing through the book, as I do with any new read, but the first paragraph in the preface section really struck me:

This book grew out of our frustration with the stalemated debate about the condition of cities and our conviction that we can move beyond it. In Place Matters, we argue that because the problems presently facing America’s cities are largely political in origin, their solution also lies in politics. We focus on how public policies and the organization of our political institutions have fostered the growth of economic segregation in metropolitan America, which in turn damages both equal opportunity and economic competitiveness. We favor moving toward forming and delivering urban policy at a broader regional context. Such steps, we believe, are a critical ingredient for transforming all politics of urban policy and broadening the coalition in support of progressive urban policies.

One part is worth repeating;

“…problems presently facing America’s cities are largely political in origin, their solution also lies in politics.”

Interesting. I can certainly agree off hand that many problems I see facing St. Louis are “political in origin.” These include outdated zoning, racial and social segregation, and inadequate mass transit. However, the politicians still claim “the market” or “reality” as reasons for not changing their old ways of doing business. I look forward to reading and discussing concepts from this book and the long list of other reading materials in class this Fall. And as you might expect, I’ll frequently post on the various assignments and topics.

– Steve


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    I was looking forward to the completion of the Cross-County Expansion, in hopes of being able to use mass transit to get to work in Olivette from my home a mile from the Shrewsbury station. Bottom line, there’s NO improvement. If I drive, it takes me 20 minutes, door-to-door, in the morning, and 25-30 minutes in the evening, depending on congestion on Highway 40. The BEST I can do using Metrobus and Metrolink will be 65 minutes, the worst will be 80 minutes, assuming no missed connections! I can either take the hourly bus a block from my house to the Shrewsbury or I can drive (and yes, bike or walk, but it would take even longer) there in 5 minutes. I then need to take 2 trains to get to the Delmar Station before I can get on the Olive Street bus. Or, I can take the hourly bus north to the CWE station and only take one train to the Delmar station. Either way, it’s still over an hour. Throw in a missed connection, and it becomes at least a 1½-hour trip – why bother?!

    A combination of politics and geography created a rail line that doesn’t offer direct, north-south service, making the direct bus service actually quicker (when the schedule works). Lack of funding means the Olive Street bus can’t go a mile further (to Skinker-DeBallivere) and eliminate a transfer, and lack of funding and ridership (driven partially by land use regulations) means my local bus route needs to be split into two legs, leaving just hourly service, even at rush hour.

    It took a lot of years for us to get to where we are today – it’s going to take a lot more to get beyond this!

  2. Tom says:

    Jim, I think suburb to suburb commutes are inherintly problematic. The new cross county alignment helps me some as a city resident…I have meetings from time to time in Clayton and it will cut in half the time it takes to go to a meeting and back from downtown. What is gratifying to me is that Washington University, BJC and a number of employers in Clayton have instituted transit subsidy programs in anticipation of Cross County.

  3. You are starting out your graduate education with an EXCELLENT book! The foundation of the book’s thesis is simple (and happens to actually BE the title: place matters. The trajectories of our lives and the opportunities available to us are dictated to an extraordinary degree by where we live. Even within the relatively small confines of the City of St. Louis, one can demonstrate that the population is increasingly separating into economically and racially homogeneous enclaves.

    The authors outline several reasons why rising economic self-segregation should be of concern to everyone, but the most interesting to me as that society as a whole becomes less capable of engaging in vigorous democratic debate when people are not connected to each other. If I live in Chesterfield and come into the City for a couple Cardinals games each year (are they still playing this year?)

    I still regularly refer to this book six years after I was assigned to read it – the pages are getting kind of dog-eared by now.

  4. Howard says:

    There are two problems with local public transit.

    #1) The people who make decisions do not use buses and are oblivious to the difference between one bus and a 20 minute ride and two or three buses or a bus and a train and a 45 minute to hour and fifteen minute ride. It’s all good according to Bi-State. The plan appears to be buses that serve trains and not people.

    #2) The people who make the decisions are not accountable to voters. You have to give them more money, you have to or else, you have to.

    The political solution is to dismantle Bi-State and establish a locally controlled transit system. The way to do this is turn down any ballot issues on their behalf and let it go bankrupt.

    The city has more of a problem with White integration into the northside than Black integration into the southside.

  5. Brian says:

    Realistically, commuters like Jim with access to cars will not use MetroLink if their final destination is not walking distance from MetroLink. However, with the addition of Cross County, MetroLink will have walking proximity to over a quarter-million jobs.

    Based on the 2000 Census, there were 304,825 jobs within a half-mile of the 2006 MetroLink system (existing line plus new Cross County extension). Granted, that’s only a quarter of all jobs in the St. Louis region (24.8% of 1.2 million jobs). However, the average 2000 job density of those areas near the newly expanded MetroLink system was 22,138 jobs per square mile, while other areas in the region had an average job density of only 1,574 jobs per square mile. In other words, MetroLink is running exactly where it should be in our region, connecting those areas with 14 times as dense of jobs than remaining areas not served by MetroLink. And since that includes some Illinois cornfields in St. Clair County, the Missouri areas along MetroLink had 29,118 jobs per square mile, or 18 times the density of non-MetroLink areas in the region.

    In the future, remaining areas of the region will need to increase their density to make further system expansion attractive, though policies should still attract even more jobs to areas where the region has already made the investment. And if you believe in a political economy (only the strictest laissez-faire capitalists wouldn’t), then reinvestment in an existing communities is just one policy solution that would help grow our regional economy.

  6. Claire N-B says:

    Dang, Steve! I surfed on here this morning to give myself a break from reading snippets of SLU course materials! No respite for me…. 🙂

  7. john says:

    A flawed political system inevitably leads to a flawed product (ie. Metrolink). The problems are too many to elongate on here and have already been mentioned above. Poorly placed stations, a track layout with a dog-legged design, security issues not adequately addressed, etc. leads to an a ridiculous levels of costs and an inferior product.

    Being a previous resident of a city where I rode mass transit daily for over 25 years, I know what works and why. The problems were mentioned to local elected leaders and their appointees long before the construction was started, but the system does not work well here.

    My family and I live in a short walking distance of Metrolink but will never use it as currently designed.

    A tragic use of public funds… the autocentric mentality dominates the culture of STL.

  8. Howard says:

    Local elected officials do not have any control over the budget or policies of Bi-State. It’s an interstate compact run by Missouri and Illinois gubanatorial appointees. Ask State Auditor Claire McCaskill how easy it is to do an audit.

    [REPLY Initial planning is conducted by East-West Gateway, the funding source comprised of all regional governments. E-W and Metro are both political animals. Again, the point is political solutions must be found to our problems. – SLP]

  9. Brian says:

    Flawed product? Costly product for sure, but otherwise, not that flawed. The media and others can spin the design as the main cause of the high price tag, but construction mismanagement and delays were the real culprits.

    Fortunately, the St. Louis region will never again see as expensive of a MetroLink extension per mile as Cross County. Even the 1999 cost estimate of $404 million was already 2.5 times more costly per mile than previous MetroLink projects (would end up 4 times). But then again, the region will likely never see another extension add as many riders per mile.

    Just remember when you conduct a cost-benefit analysis, that cost isn’t the only factor. Since the costs have turned out to be more than expected, it would be nice for policy-makers to work even harder at expanding the benefits. As a fixed investment, targeting more development along MetroLink would certainly add more benefits.

    But no, in common St. Louis fashion, even our leaders will often get on the trashing bandwagon. Well, whether the pessimists like it or not, the benefits will have just begun this weekend.

    [REPLYI didn’t really want this thread to be a MetroLink debate. But, the new MetroLink does bring up some issues to politically created problems and the need for political solutions.

    Through no fault of East-West Gateway or Metro, local governments along the new route have made poor political decisions when it came to policy around urban planning. – SLP]

  10. tom says:

    When you evalute MetroLink costs as a whole, they are very much in line or ahead of national averages with Cross County, the region will have built about 45 miles of MetroLink at a cost of about $30 million per mile or $16 million per mile expenditure in local dollars. Ridership on MetroLink is among the highest per mile of light rail systems in the US and is operated at one of the lowest cost per passenger mile in the US. MetroLink is one piece of the puzzle that helps the comeback of the region. The fall and rebirth of downtown follow the same curve as the end of rail transit in the early 1960s and the rebirth of MetroLink in the early 1990s. Without MetroLink St. Louis become more like Detroit.

    [REPLY And Detroit is not the best model to follow…. How much are we like them politically? I’d say we have more in common with them than say, Portland. – SLP]

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    Tom – I’m not sure your numbers add up. Cross-County is adding 8 miles at a cost of $676 million ($84 million per mile, not “$30 million”). The issue of “local” dollars versus “federal” dollars is a red herring – it’s still our tax money.

    A comparison of two current projects. Both open this year, St. Louis opens 8/26/06, Denver opens 11/17/06):

    19 miles of double-track light rail
    new maintenance facility
    40 new vehicles
    33,000 new daily riders (projected)
    13 new stations
    6200 parking spaces
    total cost: $879 million
    on time and on budget

    ST. LOUIS:
    8 miles of double-track light rail
    no new maintenance facility
    22 new vehicles
    18,000 new daily riders (projected)
    9 new stations
    total cost: $676 million
    a year late and millions over budget

    I know we all want to cheer for the local guy, but the reality remains that Cross County is not the bargain you want us all to believe. Your evaluation compares all of Metro’s light rail expenditures to date, not just those of the current efforts. Metrolink’s first segment was done well and in a fiscally-prudent manner. But using its costs from 15 years ago to dilute the true costs of the current project is (attempted) spin at its best.

    Cross County is a classic example of too much money being spent to appease local residents in politically-connected cities. The number and length of tunnels (and the number of fancy stations in tunnels) is pretty amazing, given that none of them is that far under ground. You’re not underground due to geography, you’re underground due to political pressure! Nice? Yes. Expensive? Very! Worth it? Debatable – the money spent here burying rail is money that can’t be spent building a longer line now or another line in the future. If this isn’t politics at its finest, I don’t know what is!

  12. Marti says:

    Great post, Steve.

    I continue to assert we need to look at ourselves for where the answer lies.

    We can run for office. We can change politics (albeit, no piece of cake). We can make grassroot changes in community. We, individually, really CAN make a difference… one issue at a time, one project at a time.

    Just do something small and watch the BIG difference it makes.

    Sitting back and pointing fingers is, for the most part, just a waste of time.

    I look forward to taking this class with you, Steve, and the great conversations and actions which will happen in and out of class.

  13. Howard says:

    Bringing up East-West Gateway goes to the issue of the lack of transparency. Who can we hold accountable for Bi-State’s decisions? No one.

    East-West does not control bus service, day to day operations of Bi-State, or have a vote on Bi-State’s budget. The majority of E-W Gateway’s counties do not have a tax to fund Bi-State services. We do not elect the E-W Board. We elect, depending on where you live, one or two members of the Board. They have votes on that Board by virtue of the fact that they have been elected for other purposes.

    Bi-State Development Corp. is a political animal in the sense that it was created by political bodies- Congress and State Legislatures, the Commission is appointed by governors of two states, and it has to go to the voters for approval of transit-related taxes. Unlike most political animals, however, it is not accountable to anyone. We cannot vote them out of office or petition to recall them. It approves its own budget and has no checks and balances of power. The City cannot withhold its Bi-State tax money. The political solution is let it go bankrupt by turning down future requests to the voters.

    Many of the changes in bus service were either not discussed during the planning process or were discussed but the comments of patrons ignored. This week as news began to circulate to patrons about specific changes, Bi-State’s response to complaints about changes in bus service was to tell them to go to one of the train festivities this weekend and talk to a customer service representative.

    It’s all about the trains. It’s Bi-State’s goal to turn buses into breeder mares for the trains. The inconvenience to current patrons is irrelevant because they are a mostly a captive customer base. It is a terrible thing to want to use public transit because it is better for the environment or need to use public because of economics and have Bi-State drive you to drive because the inconvenience of the service outweighs other considerations.

    If you once took a bus to work, you likely will now have to transfer to another bus or buses or a train. Unless you have a job where you can show up whenever you want, you will need to plan on starting out one bus route earlier. You must plan ahead for your first bus to run late because of an accident, or construction, or an event, it broke down, etc. This is particularly bad for workers with family responsibilities, two jobs, school plus a job.

    It’s all about the trains. Unless you live in Compton-Lafayette Square. You’re getting your own personal bus to Downtown.

  14. TomI says:

    I am not an apologist for the high cost of the cross county extension…I advocated to keep it at grade, but lost that battle…so it is what it is. Hopefully, the region has learned the high cost of building the system below or above grade. My point is what we have spent to date for 45 miles of light rail is not out of line.

    The political situation with Meto will not change. Just look at the attempts at charter reform.

    But I would argue that the current managment of Metro is part of the solution to getting the transit system right in St. Louis. They inherited a lot of problems five years ago and have worked through them fairly well. Ridership is up on bus and rail. Let’s see what Monday brings.

    [REPLY Just think where we’d be on a per mile cost had we placed much of the system at grade… – SLP]

  15. Jim Zavist says:

    I agree – the current management team inherited the current problems and is doing a good job of trying to work things out.

    My biggest fear is one of success – on Monday, if lots of people show up expecting to ride and can’t find a place to park, how will the press spin it? It’s a problem, but it beats the alternative – half-full trains and half-full parking lots . . .

  16. Jim Zavist says:

    And Brian – the example of my commute was just that, an example. I was hoping that bringing a rail node into my neighborhood would result in improved transit options of all kinds, not just rail. Suburb-to-suburb trips are tough on public transit – the density simply ain’t there, at either end. I’m just frustrated that I can’t easily “connect the dots” – I don’t want to have to go through (or east of) Forest Park or Clayton to get to a destination northwest of where I live. The bus service on Olive is perfectly adequate now, and I’d use it if I didn’t have to ride all the way to Delmar to make a southerly connection of any kind!

    Give me a direct bus line, and I’ll be happy. It takes 24 minutes for the new 93 bus route to go between the new Shrewsbury station and the existing CWE station. By train, it takes 23 minutes. Is that worth $800 million + to me? Not really (plus I still have to drive to the Shrewsbury station – I can walk the block to the bus stop). Rail will be more frequent and more predictable, but for $800 million, I was hoping for better. Heck, I’d even settle for a 40-45 minute trip each way. I just can’t justify a 200%+ increase in travel time on a daily basis just to ride public transit.

    Don’t get me wrong, the new light rail line WILL give a lot of workers in Clayton an option they didn’t have before now, and will give a lot of South City & County residents (including me) a better option for getting into downtown St. Louis. But to assume / write off suburb-to-suburb commutes as are too hard to solve is ignring the needs of an increasing number of residents/voters/taxpayers.

    Metro needs to balance serving existing employment centers and corridors with serving newer ones that are continuing to develop. “Virtual” density can be created on the residential end of the trip by creating more safe, secure and attractive park-and-ride lots in the suburbs. The transfer facility at I-64/US-40 & Ballas is a classic case of a missed opportunity. If commuters could park there, ridership on all routes serving the facility would increase. The trick is to give commuters a good reason to get out of their cars. By the time they get to Hanley Road, why bother switching to rail (especially if you can’t see it from the highway)?

    But then, again, it IS all about me . . .

  17. Patrick Wessel says:

    this is off topic, but since this post is related to SLU…if you walk by Fusz sometime soon, take a look underneath the pavillion entrance…today i counted 24 bicycles. 17 of which are locked to pillars, 7 on the rack. this is my third year living in fusz, and i have never ever seen this before. my jaw dropped when i walked around the corner yesterday and saw it. at most last year there were 7.

  18. Brian says:

    And Jim, I’d like to be able to fly non-stop to Hawaii, Europe and to many other places from St. Louis, but guess what, I often have to fly to another city that’s a bigger hub than St. Louis. Reality is that it’s not cost-effective to run direct one-ride service everywhere, whether airlines or transit. Instead, you have a system of hubs or transfer centers. But compared to layovers and arriving early at airports for flights, I think transferring on transit is a lot easier and made nicer these days with many newly added transfer centers, or mini-hubs.

    Starting with today’s new service, I have a choice of boarding one bus near my SW City home and then transferring to the train at CWE to get downtown or taking one bus near home for a single trip all the way, as I previously did. Comparatively, both options take the same cumulative time door-to-door. Travel time being equal, I like my new two-ride option. The two-ride option breaks up the monotony of my previous 35-minute bus ride into now 15 minutes on a bus and 12 minutes on the train, plus I get to wait a maximum, short 5 minutes on a platform (to work) or within a covered transfer center (back home).

    Even though I think Metro has made my transit commute more enjoyable with feeder service to a new transfer center at a MetroLink station (CWE) with superb 5-minute peak headways, I admit that I’m still attracted to transit more for the disincentives of driving (parking and traffic) than the incentives for riding transit (reliable service). And in addition to density, parking policies matter. So long as ample, free parking rules the day, suburb-to-suburb commuters like Jim will have less incentive to take transit to work, and thus, with lower demand, Metro will also lack incentive to serve such commuters with direct service.

  19. ed hardy clothing says:

    We'r ed hardy outlet one of the most profession
    of the coolest and latest ed hardy apparel, such as
    ed hardy tee ,ed hardy bags,
    ed hardy bathing suits, ed hardy shoes,
    ed hardy board shorts , don ed hardyt,ed hardy tank tops, ed hardy for women,
    ed hardy swimwearand more,
    ed hardy clothing. We offers a wide selection of fashion
    cheap ed hardyproducts. Welcome to our shop or just enjoy browsing through our stunning collection available wholesale ed hardy in our shop.

    our goal is to delight you with our distinctive collection of mindful ed hardy products while providing value and excellent service. Our goal is 100% customer satisfaction and we offer only 100% satisfacted service and ed hardy products. Please feel free to contact us at any time; we are committed to your 100% customer satisfaction. If you're looking for the best service and best selection, stay right where you are and continue shopping at here is your best online choice for the reasonable prices. So why not buy your ed hardy now, I am sure they we won’t let you down.


Comment on this Article: