Putting Pieces of the St. Louis Region Back Together

By on November 30, 2017

From St. Louis Post Dispatch: 
by Joe Blanner,
Co-Founder & President,
Construction Forum STL

Over 140 years ago, the heart of our region was split in two. City of St. Louis leaders — tired of state legislative tinkering and dealing with corruption in St. Louis County — decided that they had had enough. The region’s rural and urban components “divorced,” and the city of St. Louis was no longer a part of St. Louis County.

This separation, known today as “The Great Divorce,” set in motion a process like biblical “begats” or cell mitosis, where a single cell splits again and again. Today, with 91 political entities in a mid-sized metropolitan area, how do we move forward as a region to make us more competitive with other regions? What will allow us to address regionwide concerns?

After the Divorce occurred in 1876, many attempts were made to adjust the relationship between the city and county, but all failed. Today, efforts are again being made to reunite St. Louis city and county — some focused on consolidating municipalities, others on the city re-entering the county as a municipality.

As a student of the history of past consolidation efforts (I’m in the process of publishing a book on the topic), it seems logical to me that we would do well to study what efforts at regional problem-solving have worked well here and in other places, what have failed, and why. One opportunity to drill down into these issues is coming up through the efforts of Construction Forum STL, which has been recognized for excellence in regionalism, inclusion and public policy.

The Great Divorce occurred at a time of great optimism about the future of St. Louis. People speculated that the city would one day be held in the same regard as Jerusalem or Rome. The city was the nation’s fourth-largest in population, and it was a leader in manufacturing, shipping and industry.

The most significant aspect of the Divorce was that it forever fixed the boundaries of St. Louis. St. Louis had expanded several times in the 50 years preceding the divorce. However, once St. Louis was separated from the county, it no longer had a mechanism to expand its boundaries. Instead, communities grew up around it, each with its own vested interests that further complicated regional approaches to problems.

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