Finding St. Louis: a talk and my thoughts

| Staff Columnist
For the first time (or maybe the second or third), I attended one of those extra-departmental lectures you see those little flyers for. I’m not talking those big, Graham Chapel talks either. This was a small talk. There was wine. Several bottles. If you want to get drunk, definitely attend some of these lectures. You might find a nice Chianti.

After choosing a nice bottle of water, I sat down to hear the speaker, Will Winter of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, present on St. Louis and loft developments. To be honest, I found the talk a little boring, but I wasn’t personally invited, nor was it even tertiarily related to anything I am studying.

However, I found one of Winter’s points quite interesting. He described community development in St. Louis as “fragmented, decentralized and privatized.” I had never thought of it before, but St. Louis politics really is a tragedy to behold. As Winter notes, we have a weak mayoral system, and the aldermen have most of the power. The mayor is essentially only a figurehead.

Sitting in LaGuardia Airport, I realize that New York City is an entirely different beast altogether. Michael Bloomberg has centralized almost everything. Schools, taxes and environmental initiatives: The impetus for a large part of each stems from one man (and his advisers). I wonder how many Wash. U. students could name St. Louis’ mayor, what his policies are or what he has accomplished or even tried to accomplish for the city.

I’ve worked for an aldermanic campaign, and I look into the work she’s been doing. Development starts and ends with the alderman or woman. As much as I admire Kacie Starr-Triplett, I wonder how much more would get done in the City of St. Louis if the power was taken out of the hands of local politicians and given to fewer, more powerful individuals.

As much as I love the environment and being liberal, St. Louis really needs to focus on development right now. According to Winter, the number of local businesses has declined by roughly 50 percent since 1950. That number is truly inexcusable. You can chalk that up to a lack of public services or the fact that St. Louis just kind of sucks. I think the real problem, however, is twofold.

First, there is a lack of public transportation.

Besides Los Angeles (and really, who wants to be compared to L.A.?) I’ve heard of few cities that are trying, yet failing so miserably, to establish a working system of taxpayer-based transit. The MetroLink is a joke, and St. Louis County is obviously too stupid to do anything to help it. Giving more power to a mayor and to centralized authorities, like St. Louis Metro, would make St. Louis into a city that can live up to its true potential.

The second major problem preventing real development in St. Louis is a crappy downtown area. As Winter describes it, after World War II, downtown was seen as a corporate center. Now, it is being revitalized as an area with lofts for hipsters and groovy college kids. Anyone worth their salt in knowledge about city living knows that to attract hipsters, you need to have stuff for hipsters to do. That means bars. Lots of them. And art galleries, museums (of the postmodern art variety), restaurants (with weird décor), random eclectic art all over, clubs (featuring art installations) and local stores (featuring local artists’ work!). Seriously, though—to be a city, you need people living near where they work. That way, business develops alongside residences, street life becomes safe and active, and everything becomes more efficient and exciting. And that’s what city living is all about.

A basketball team wouldn’t hurt, either.

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