Home » Crime »Popular Culture »Steve Patterson » Currently Reading:

St. Louis Natives vs. Newbies

January 25, 2011 Crime, Popular Culture, Steve Patterson 31 Comments
ABOVE: St. Louis' street grid was a recent topic of conversation. Click to view in Google Maps

Last week I posted the following as my status on Facebook:

“I’ve got a couple of friends who are new to St. Louis. Ray & John arrived about the same time, one from SF, one from NYC. The other night at The Royale John was talking about how great the street grid is here! It is just so nice talking to non-natives because they tend to “get it” more than those born here.”

In a short amount of time a heated discussion broke out among my friends, getting nearly 50 comments very quickly.  My original point that those not from here don’t “get it” like those that move here as adults got lost in a debate about St. Louis vs. Kansas City.

Over the weekend a friend told me of a woman from West County that was certain she’d be shot and killed driving to the federal building downtown. In law enforcement, she had a weapon and was planning to wear Kevlar.  She doesn’t like going east of Lindbergh Blvd. Amazing people think like this!?!

Those new to St. Louis, especially those from more urban areas, seek out the urban areas of St. Louis whereas suburbanites often, but not always, fear urban areas. I’m dumbfounded each time I hear stories of people my age living in the region who are afraid to enter the city limits. So I often seek out those who move here from outside the region because it is all new to them.  I get to share my favorite restaurants & pubs, talking about architecture, the street grid — the raw potential.

My two new friends came here for work.  Had they found work in other cities they wouldn’t be here.  But they are quick learners, getting to know our people and institutions better than many who have lived here for years.

I know many natives, of course, who get it, who seek out urbanity rather than fear it.  I love my conversations with them as well but the thrill of introducing a newbie to gems in St. Louis is such fun.  I want them to tell their friends on the coasts of the potential here, the friendly people, the inexpensive cost of living, etc.  Each one needs to get several friends to visit with one deciding to move here.  Eventually it will snowball.  100,000 new residents from each coast would do the trick.

The ratio of natives to newbies would shift and so would the political winds. Sure, it will take a while, but I’m not going anywhere.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "31 comments" on this Article:

  1. Guest says:

    Let's not use the example of the woman who puts on bullet-proof vest as any kind of normal suburbanite. She's just flat out mentally ill. It sounds like she's suffering from paranoia. She's more likely to die in a car crash than get gunned down on the streets of downtown St. Louis.

    • I hear too often stories of suburbanites who fear the city. Maybe I hear more of these because people know I will get frustrated by them. True, most don't think they will get shot but too many stay away. They'll spend thousands on a vacation to go to a place where they can walk around and look at great architecture and eat great food at sidewalk cafes but many won't drive 20 minutes to do it.

      • City Native says:

        Reminds me of the parents of my sister's classmates at Visitation Academy. Some of them wouldn't allow their daughters to come trick or treating to our block of Delor in St. Louis Hills (arguably the most hoppin' area in South City for Halloween) because it's *just barely* in the city. Guess they prefer driving from one WestCo subdivision to the next, or just sticking to the one. If anything, it's more sensible to stay away due to the sheer driving distance than to the likelihood of being shot in flippin' St. Louis Hills! Also interesting that Viz girls learn about the illustrious history of the Academy without ever setting foot on either the former Cass or Cabanne locations.

  2. JZ71 says:

    I'm not sure we want to Californicate St. Louis (or maybe we do). They're already doing that to Portland, Seattle, Boise, Salt Lake, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix. And I'm not sure we want to bring Jersey shore attitudes and east coast tax rates to the midwest. That said, we do need to change both perceptions and reality, and while we can argue that statistics can be and are being spun to make St. Louis look like “the most dangerous city in the country”, there is some harsh truth in them.

    I moved here from Denver. In 2009, its population was 566,000 and they had 38 murders. St. Louis' population was 357,000 and we had 143 murders. Yes, they were mostly confined to certain low-income neighborhoods, and yes, they happened where most suburbanites probably wouldn't be going anyways, but the numbers do speak the truth. The difference is pretty stark – we have 2/3 the population but more than 100 more murders! I'd be a bit scared, too, if I was in law enforcement in West County . . .

  3. Greg says:

    While I think the “native” attitude Steve posted about existed in great quantities about 15 or 20 years ago, I think it has changed more recently.

    When I graduated college in 1993 and lived in DeBaliviere Place, a number of my co-workers (even those in their 20s and 30s) seemed surprised I'd live in “the city”. Downtown was not active at all and even venturing into stable parts of the city, such as the CWE seemed like an adventure to many county residents.

    Fast forward to 2010 and my partner, a high school teacher in Parkway, talks about all of his kids to come into the city to do all sorts of things on a regular basis. The city is no longer scary to them.

    Provided that trend continues, I think we will see a narrowing of the opinions of natives vs. newbies in coming years.

    • True, younger generations are rejecting suburbia and seeking out real places at an increasing rate.

      • This absolutely sums up why I (a non-native that moved here in May) ended up fleeing from the 'burbs to South City after only a couple months. I don't profess to speak for all younger generations, but as a young professional, I want the ability to walk to great restaraunts, coffee shops and bars; and have a sense of history, culture and vibrant life around me.

  4. Hilary says:

    Remember that the reverse holds as well. I know plenty of people who refuse to go west of 270 (or Lindbergh, or Skinker!). I often count myself in the not-west-of-270 crowd. But I also have friends who have their reasons for living in the burbs, but totally get and totally appreciate what the urban area offers – and visit often.

  5. jason says:

    I, too, am not from here but have now been here for 7 years. Beyond attracting people to the city, St. Louis needs to work harder at giving people reasons to stay. As time goes on, I increasingly question my ongoing decision to stay here. Nothing personal, I just find that I seem to enjoy less and less here each passing year. I also think that the people who were born and raised here tend to be the one's I get along with least, while those from elsewhere are much nicer and open to new people/thoughts/ideas. I'm sure everyone's experience varies.

    • I too questioned my choice numerous times in my 20 years here. But ultimately I decided it is better to stay and help this city realize it's great potential.

  6. data geek says:

    It depends upon what you define as urban or suburban. If urban is just the City of St. Louis, then current Census data suggests that more people who move into the region from another state or abroad move into St. Louis County than the City of St. Louis. Perhaps “newbies” move into the comparably suburban inner ring to be close to the amenities–and street grid–of the urban area.

  7. Tim says:

    The mention of the woman who is afraid to go downtown is amazing to me but I am learning that its common thing with many folks in the region. I recently moved from South City to Kirkwood and naturally I now interact with more people from West County. Its amazing the perception that many folks in West County have of the city. Other than ballgames, many folks never venture into the city. What a shame. They assume that the entire city is nothing but boarded up buildings, drug dealers, and crime. Yes, all of that exists in the city but as long as you use common sense and keep out of a few specific areas, you will be fine. The city has too much to offer for people to not take advantage of it. I'd consider myself to be a “not past 270 person.” If its past 270, it just seems far away and I'm less likely to go there. Even if its 5 miles away from my house, it just seems far. I think that the STL visitor's bureau or some similar group needs to work on encouraging those “not east of 270” types to head east and visit the city. Instead of eating at Applebees for the 900th time, those folks should be encouraged to eat at one of the hundreds of great (and unique) restaurants in the city. Instead of spending Saturday at Bed Bath & Beyond, come down and visit the City Museum. I see getting those folks into the city just as important as trying to attract visitors from other regions. If the “not east of 270 crowd” grows to love the city, they will tell their friends who will tell their friends, etc.

    • stljmartin says:

      I think Tim makes a great point about pervasive attitudes in our own region and the need to sell it locally. Considering the city is supposed to be the center of the region and a strong center is essential for a strong region, changing the attitude locally is needed. Good suggestion, but where to start?

      • JZ71 says:

        reduce the crime rate in the city, improve the economy and put a muzzle on all the bigoted racists, both white and black . . .

        • stljmartin says:

          Speaking of crime rate, does local control of the city police make for a better more responsive police or not? I find the police in the city to be easy to talk to and deal with, but a call to action on things such as car theft and vandalism does not seem to interest them. They are happy to fill out a report, but being proactive is not there strong suit.

          • JZ71 says:

            I see two separate issues. Local control has a lot more to do with political ego than with how the department actually functions – the chief and his command staff runs the daily operations, not the board, the mayor, the manager of safety or the city council, in this city or any other major city.

            The second issue, which crimes are a priority, has a lot more to do with budget and resources. Since we have a lot murders, guess what, we spend a lot of time and effort trying to reduce that number. In a place like Town and Country or Rock Hill, where murder rarely happens, then yes, burglary, vandalism and car theft get a lot more attention.

            Investigating and aggressively prosecuting every vandalism incident could potentially nip a young offendor's life of crime in the bud. But realistically, we're left having to focus on drug trafficking and sales, illegal guns, gangs and assaults, given that we have a finite budget, a finite number of officers and only 24 hours in the day.

            The bigger challenge, apparently, is the reality that we've promised our officers secure pensions but have not adequately funded them. The police union, here and elsewhere, expects the city to both make up this shortfall AND to maintain and increase current wages and benefits. City leaders are faced with finding more money or cutting headcount. And for most employees, inside and outside of government, money talks. If you want to see less proactivity, imagine what pay freezes, pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs will accomplish!

          • stljmartin says:

            Thank you for your thoughts on the matter. You and others are why I have enjoyed Steve's site for years.

  8. Jeffvstl says:

    I think we need to look at the ignorance of many suburbanites as a blessing in disguise. It filters out the posers and ignorant populace who wouldn't contribute anything to the betterment of the city anyway. Those who are here (well, most of them anyway), are here because they WANT to be here. They are creative enough and adventurous enough to appreciate the work-in-progress that is St. Louis today. Those who expect to have their stimulation spoon-fed to them will find Lincoln Park and Portland and Denver and Minneapolis, but they will be missing out on the under-the-radar magic of St. Louis.
    What we have here right now is what so many cities try so hard to create– amazing urban fabric, quality historic neighborhoods that are affordable, and a creative DIY spirit that can only flourish in a gritty hard-luck city that is largely unnoticed and dismissed by mainstream America.
    There are lots of other amazing cities out there, and I love traveling to them. I certainly don't fault others for finding their place elsewhere; certainly St. Louis isn't for everyone. But it's for me. It's my city, and I'll keep it for what it was, can be, what it will be, and what it is.

  9. William says:

    We should all keep in mind that St. Louis City took a larger population hit than Detroit percentage wise, and now I hear people holding St. Louis City to the standards of non rust belt destination cities that are at least at their 1950 population levels. I would repeat that first part again if I was saying this out loud.

  10. tomg says:

    I recently moved to MSP from STL and I too dislike the locals here as they seem very yokal on a very large scale. They do however have a larger influx of outsiders than STL that have helped give the Twin Cities a progressive and cool persona. The suburbanites are just as clueless to the 'cities' here as they are in St. louis if not moreso. The only difference I see is the suburbanites don't bash the urban cities as they do in St. Louis. This is our biggest challenge, perception, and from crime to pride it's what we need to change most.

    • Guest says:

      Every city has local yokals; I agree that city bashing is out of control around here compared to the other two major cities I've lived in.

  11. Stlplanr says:

    IRS data on returns by county proves your point. In-migration to any metro area's central city is largely from counties external to the region. In-migration to exurban counties, like St. Charles County, is largely from adjoining counties, St. Louis County. In other words, sprawl is the by-product of natives abandoning their former communities, and increasingly that's the County, not the City. Meanwhile, the City increasingly appeals to transplants entirely new to the St. Louis region. Not surprisingly then, the region will never grow more than natural increase, unless it substantially attracts more transplants to its urban core.

  12. Erica says:

    I am stoked to report that a LOT of people I know who grew up in various areas of St. Louis county are actually flocking, yes flocking to the city. Every time someone moves here, I check another one off my list. Honestly, the only people who fear the city are older people, and they're dying off. People in the county literally have like 1/20th of the options on a friday night than people in the city and I truly believe that a lot of them are beginning to recognize that.

    Ironically enough, a good friend of mine who carries a gun in his car when he drives in the city got his car stolen from a bar in Ballwin. I had to bite my tongue on that one.

    • samizdat says:

      “…got his car stolen from a bar in Ballwin.” I'm sorry for your friend, but…LOL!

  13. Larrynolte says:

    I moved to the Southside in 1979 when a lot of people were still moving out, fresh out of college and a refugee from the boredom of south county. Even back then there were a lot of people who wouldn't come into my neighborhood. I still live here, north of Meramec and “east of Grand” as they say. Over the past 30 years I've met dozens of people who would not believe that I didn't live in constant fear for my life. But I've enjoyed a pretty nice standard of living, with a wonderful old house and just about everything I need in walking or cycling distance. There has been a lot of sociological ebb and flow through the years but nothing that really frightened us. I raised three kids, believe me if it was dangerous we would have been out of here.

    I agree with a lot of what you have to say about the city, Steve. But importing people from the coast to change the political climate? God help us. It's a great place to live. Let's not tinker with it too much.

  14. Kris says:

    I was away at The University of Kansas for a few years and ran into many students who came from the St. Louis area. None of them were from the city, like I am, and most assumed I lived in some bombed out looking house and had to carry a gun on me if I ever left it. I love being from the city! I'm so glad to be back and rediscovering all these areas that reinvented themselves during the time I've been away. I have such a great appreciation for these gridded streets and all they have to offer.

  15. Tpekren says:

    Talk about some great comments, was a STL newbie (lived in Shrewsbury and still a taxpaying homeowner for the town and county) and then my family had to move about the time things really started to settle. I had to go find a job and was fortunate to find one. However, it wasn't in the region. I'm also came from a small conservative farm town from up north – going to the Twin Cities was a big deal – and speak to some of the fears of people who simply can't handle someone different then them in any such manner.

    To me the biggest impediment for STL growth is attracting employers. As noted, a generation of people left the city for outlying areas. In other words, the valued the percieved notion of more space and security over their lossed time to drive. They are not moving back anytime soon nor will all their kids. Instead, it will take an effort to bring in more people from outside the region to make the gains the region needs to make. Even if the city and counties share in the growth, 50/50, would be a plus. Something that the Political leadership from Gov on done can't seem to articulate.

    The plus side to all this, Development in the city was more sustainable during the downturn then the outlying communities for some good reasons. Development in theis revolved more dense and affordable housing using existing stock while thier was strong investments from various institutions from the Art Museum to Science Center, etc. where as commercial development stalled as the need for box stores finally exhausted itself. The next challange will be to build out new Class A office space downtown in 2011. BPV's proposal might not be such a great design or not such a large tower as desired but is still better then building another greenfield space.

  16. Josi Nielsen says:

    Growing up in West County left me with an extreme distaste for St Louis. A job brought us back, ten years later, and the only option was the city. We're now the happy owner/occupiers of a four-family in Soulard. We're still amazed at the opportunity we've found in the city, our building could sit in Old Town Alexandria and easily cost five times as much. As a native of the county, I'm thoroughly enjoying being a newbie to the city; suffice it to say, we're sold on St Louis!

    • William says:

      Unfortunately, you are not alone. A lot of young people who grow up in the outer suburbs of St. Louis like St. Charles and West Co leave with a quiet distaste for the region even though they love and have ties to their family here. The city is an alien place to them, as it was for me, until the discover the urban core of some distant metropolis. I also returned to live in St. Louis City as the only option.

  17. Guest says:

    Moved here from Columbus, Ohio five years ago when I was 23 to take a job. Found an apartment in Soulard and the rest is history. All of my friends love visiting this city; a few would live here if they didn't have stable employment elsewhere. I, for one, am not leaving any time soon.

  18. elduderino says:

    my mom won't drive past Boyle..it's been an inside joke amongst my friends for years.


Comment on this Article: