Moving the St. Louis Region Forward

By on November 30, 2017

by Joe Blanner
Construction Forum STL

When I was a young person, I made a conscious decision never to leave St. Louis. I went to college, graduate and law school here and was determined to work and raise a family here.  I was not alone in my choice.  Why is it that we are so proud of our community? 

Our City was once the fourth largest City in the nation.  It was a leader in many manufacturing and industrial sectors, stationed at the convergence of the two largest rivers in North America.  There was even talk about it becoming the nation’s capital at one point.  Certainly, then there was reason to feel great optimism about the City’s future.  But, is there still reason to be optimistic?  Was I naïve to believe that St. Louis is where I should stay as a young professional?

For the last several years, I have been studying the history of the separation of the City and County, the Great Divorce of 1876, and all the efforts that have been undertaken to undo it.  It is my intention to release a book on the subject in 2019.  These studies have led me to reach certain conclusions about our past and about our future. 

One of these conclusions is that St. Louis is truly a diamond in the rough.  Have you ever pondered that phrase?  A diamond when found in nature, or in the rough, is not necessarily a thing of great beauty.  It needs to be cut and polished to bring out its true beauty and to realize its full potential.  Another conclusion is that what has gone on before should guide our efforts in moving forward.

As St. Louis grew up from a small trading village to a major metropolis spanning many counties and even two states, many things changed.  As people moved outside of the central city, to escape a deteriorating housing stock or pollution, because of racial or ethnic prejudice, or simply to build a better life for their families, new communities sprang up.  Many of these communities became cities and towns as the residents sought to protect their way of life or their property values.  Suburbanization of the region led to a multiplicity of governments at levels in St. Louis much greater than many other regions. 

While this is the community that we made for ourselves, a community created by the conscious decisions of our forefathers, it does come at a cost.  Many have long believed that the fragmentation experienced in our region has held us back from effectively competing with other areas; that it has prevented this diamond from realizing its true potential.

Is it time for change?  Is it time to change the government structure in our region to allow it to better deal with regional issues?  Many have been saying that the time has arrived. However, this is nothing new.  People have been trying to reduce the level of fragmentation or find better ways to work together for 100 years now.  Many of these efforts have been fruitless.  Is it time to begin again?

And if so, how do we, as a region, focus on changes that will make us better able to compete with other regions?  Construction Forum STL, has decided that one way to begin discussion that could lead to change is to bring in objective experts to give their perspectives on how to move St. Louis forward.  The first of these experts, David Rusk, will speak at a Forum event on December 6th.  The event is free and open to the general public.  To register, click here.

Rusk was the Mayor of Albuquerque, a Woodrow Wilson Institute scholar and author of many books on regionalism.  Rusk will be meeting with leaders from the region in advance of his event. 

This will be the first of a series of speakers discussing this important topic. The Forum’s intention is for these meetings and events to lead to action items focused on addressing some of the issues caused by our fragmented array of governments.  If you care about our region, I would ask that you consider joining us for the event on December 6th.    

About Tom Finan