Walking Together: Finding a United Path Forward for St. Louis

By on December 11, 2017

by Joe Blanner, President, Construction Forum STL

Last week, Construction Forum STL brought regionalism scholar David Rusk to St. Louis.  David, a three-time Woodrow Wilson International Institute scholar and author of numerous books on the subject, would only agree to come to St. Louis to be part of our December 6th program if it was part of something more than a speech. He asked to meet with area leaders to discuss the problems that St. Louis faces as a result of the large amount of governmental fragmentation that spans two states and eight counties.

With less than a month to plan, we were able to secure meetings with representatives of the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis, St. Charles, St. Louis, Madison and St. Clair Counties, in addition to representatives of East-West Gateway, Bi-State Development and the Regional Chamber.  David Rusk would later say these meetings gave him great hope for our region, since so many elected officials and civic leaders in our region seem to care so deeply about its future.

As someone who had the privilege of being part of these meetings, I noted a common theme in the comments we heard.  At each meeting, we heard concerns about the metropolitan area’s historic inability to address truly region-wide problems effectively, or to take advantage of truly region-wide opportunities.  Local issues were being addressed by these representatives of their respective parts of the region, but area-wide issues – issues such as infrastructure and economic development – were not being adequately addressed.  It was safe to say that the whole was not being described as the sum of the parts.  We were not sufficiently unified on issues of common concern.

It reminded me of a verse in the Old Testament book of Amos, which states, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?”  One commenting on this verse would say, “if two persons be at variance, they must first accommodate the matters in difference between them before there can be any interchange.”  What is it that divides our region?  Is it the great river that splits our two states, or is it the one that separates St. Louis from St. Charles County? Is it the boundary created in 1876 when our City separated itself from the County or the many boundaries that separate one community from another?    

During our tour with Rusk, it did not seem that the area elected officials and civic leaders were divided on one issue: that Greater St. Louis needed to find a way to address region-wide issues (be they problems or opportunities).  There seemed to be consensus that some mechanism needed to exist in St. Louis to unite us on those things that impact us all or, in David Rusk’s words, to “Act as One.”  If we, as a metropolitan area, can agree on this, then we can try to move forward (or walk together) in search of a common solution.

Obviously, figuring out a solution, and then agreeing on it and achieving it, is much more difficult than merely identifying a problem.  Great area leaders have been working on the problems created by fragmentation in St. Louis for over a century.  In some ways they have succeeded in creating entities like the Metropolitan Sewer District, the Zoo Museum District, and Great Rivers Greenway.  But, many attempts to move the region forward have failed.

The purpose of Construction Forum STL’s events in this program is not to dictate an answer to the problem, but to merely create increased dialogue on this critical issue.  That dialogue began in earnest last week.  Our hope is that it will continue throughout this series and beyond.

To that end, our next Forum event in the series will be on March 7th and will feature scholar David Miller, author of The Regional Governing of Metropolitan America and Professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.  Please join us then to continue this important discussion as we search for a path forward towards true economic regionalism.           


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