WHITE PAPER: St Louis City and St Louis County – The Fake Region

By on March 1, 2019
Regionalism Drill Down White Paper #1:

by David Rusk
Special to ConstructForSTL.org 

By my count, Better Together uses the terms “region,” “regional,” and “regionalism” 119 times in its 40-page “St. Louis City-County Governance Task Force Report to the Community.”

Aside from one reference to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the federally-designated transportation planning organization for a bi-state, eight-county region, all of Better Together’s references to “region” apply exclusively to the combination of St Louis City and St Louis County.

That’s no one else’s concept of the St. Louis region.

Even in the 1950 Census, when the US. Bureau of the Census first officially defined metropolitan areas, this region was a bi-state, five-county area containing 1,681,281 persons.   St. Louis City (856,796, or 51%) was clearly dominant with St. Louis County (406,349, or 24%) being the second most populous jurisdiction.

Almost seventy years later, St Louis City and County combined (1,314, 406) are less than half (47%) of the bi-state, 15-county metropolitan region’s population (2,804,998 in 2017).

Metropolitan areas defined by commuter patterns can be very far flung.   They can contain lots of rural areas in outlying counties.   An “urbanized area” is perhaps a more accurate description – developed land with commercial and industrial areas and residential subdivisions of at least 1,000 residents per square mile.   Certainly it’s what you see as Greater St. Louis looking down when you fly into St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Yet St. Louis City and City today are only 61% of the St. Louis MO-IL urbanized area.

St. Louis City and County today are barely half (51%) of the East-West Gateway Council of Government’s population.

And barely 42% of the 3.1 million person regional TV market.

Moreover, the crucial regional issue is always what gets built where for whose benefit and at whose cost.   While St. Louis City and County accounted for 55-60% of all regional housing starts in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, they have now fallen to around 20% in the past decade.   Any area resident can tell you that St. Louis City and County are not the places where the bulk of new growth is occurring.   In fact, St. Charles County alone has experienced more new homes being built over the past decade than have St Louis City and County combined.

And so, St. Louis City and St. Louis County don’t define where the bulk of new construction is occurring.   They don’t define the regional labor force.   They don’t define the regional business market.   They don’t define the regional media market … and they certainly don’t limit the geographic scope of where St Louis Cardinals fans live.

Better Together’s plan does not address directly bi-state, multi-county issues – above all, actions to try to accelerate the St. Louis area’s lagging regional economic growth.   That will require strengthening bi-state cooperation and increasing the authority and capabilities of truly regional bodies like the East-West Gateway Council of Governments or the Bi-State Development Agency.     

So if, by no stretch of the imagination, would the merger of St. Louis City and St. Louis County be a solution to any truly regional problems, what is Better Together really trying to accomplish?

In a word, to re-create a past when St. Louis City was he USA’s fourth largest city (1870) or even its eighth largest city (1950).

In fact, Better Together proclaims that “The new government [Metropolitan City of St. Louis] would encompass the current geographic boundaries of the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County with a population of over 1.3 million residents, making it the 9th most populated city in the United States.”

I’ll examine that assertion in the next article in this Regionalism Drill Down White Paper series.

David Rusk is a former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico legislator, and federal official who has consulted on regional issues in over 130 metropolitan areas in the USA as well as in Canada, Germany, England, South Africa and The Netherlands.    He is author of Cities without Suburbs (4th edition 2012), called “the bible of the regionalism movement,” and three other books.

Mr. Rusk began analyzing the Better Together report for ConstructForSTL as soon as it was issued. In this series of white papers he will be drilling down into items ranging from savings from consolidation, to size and ranking of the “statistical city”, economic development, planning and zoning, bond ratings, taxation, political representation, and Metropolitan Council composition.

About Tom Finan


  1. Tom Krippene

    03/01/2019 at 10:30 AM

    Wow. Very insightful. Better Together really doesn’t accomplish what they are intending to accomplish by missing out on the majority of the metropolitan area. Seems like a lot of effort and anguish is going into this. Must be a better way.

  2. Robert S Mendelsohn

    03/02/2019 at 10:29 AM

    What does Chancellor Wrighton think of these remarks by Rusk??