St. Louis For Sale

area map highlighted.jpg

My name is John Simmons.  I grew up in a small town in the suburbsoutside St. Louis called St. John, MO.  I lived my entire 90s in the city of St. John, and during that time the population was around 7500 people.  In 2001, I moved out of the house I grew up in, and bounced around cities in the St. Louis area for about a decade.  I lived, and worked, in St. Louis City, Hazelwood, St. Charles, Lemay, and Maryland Heights.  I have spent quality time in the north, south, east, and west counties of this great city. 

In the past year I moved back to the city I grew up in because I believe there is about to be a remarkable resurgence of this area.  I’m back in St. John, and while it is familiar, it is not the same.  The population dropped to about 6500 people, and a lot of the places, and things, I remember about this city are gone or replaced.  After spending a few months back in my home town I have learned this.

St. Louis is for sale!!!

This city is for sale because people are moving out of here.  Since 1950 this city has lost more than 60% of its population.  That percentage leads the U.S. in loss across all major cities in that time frame.   Detroit came in 2nd place.  St. Louis leads the country in cities people want to leave!  

leasesigns.jpg

Why is this happening?  Why is our city for sale?

Is the decline of our population to blame for our struggle?  I mean, when we lose population it does impact other areas including business, government, and wealth.  St. Louis County statistics say 1/3 of the people living in the most populous county of St. Louis are living in an unincorporated section of the county.  Which means, the area they live in has no official government set up, no police or fire departments, and uses the infrastructure and resources of neighboring cities.  Unincorporated areas are often direct results of population loss.

Is population loss the reason for our city sale, or is there another reason?  Could there be a different explanation for why we are rapidly declining, places are going out of business, and no one wants to live here? 

This is a map of the area I grew up, and currently live in.  It is about a 15 minute drive into downtown St. Louis.  Circled in black is St. Charles Rock Road, and it is one of the two major arteries (the other being Page Avenue) that supply the life blood of businesses, organizations, and government to the cities located in and around the green marker.  Inside the green section is a part of St. Louis County, and the population of this area is just under 110,000.  That accounts for more than 10% of the most populous county in the state.  

The decline of the city I love becomes glaringly obvious to me when I drive down the St. Charles Rock Road, better known as just the Rock Road.  The Rock Road is littered with empty buildings, vacant lots, and for sale/lease signs on every block.

Since I have been in many other areas of the city I know that this is common in many areas throughout the city.  This area is my home now I want to highlight it to make some points because I believe it reflects the same problems facing the entire city of St. Louis.  St. Charles Rock Rd. is for sale just like the city of St. Louis is.

Why is our city for sale?

When I lived here in the 90s the population of this area, which includes Maryland Heights, Bridgeton, St. Ann and Overland, was about 15% higher.  Definitely a decrease, but not enough to impact the change I see on the Rock Road that has taken place since I lived here in the 90s.

We started to lose people in St. Louis between the 1960s and 1970s when we built highways to travel over the river, and began expanding into the area west of St. Louis, over the Missouri River into St. Charles, St. Peters, and later O Fallon and beyond, but the decline in my neighborhood, and others nearby didn’t start until decades later.

St. Peters was a farming community in 1970 that boasted a population of 486 people, it now has around 54,000.  O Fallon, MO has gained over 80,000 people in that same time frame.  Since 1970, St. Louis City, and my hometown area, has lost thousands of people.  However, there are still 320,000 people living in St. Louis and more than 100,000 in my area.  That is still a lot of people.  

Business Insider recently published a list of the 20 best cities to live in America, with Madison, WI topping the list.  Every city on that list has a population less than the city of St. Louis.  Those cities avg. around 150,000 people and some have less than 100,000 which is the amount of people that live in the green section of my map.  

If these are great cities and areas to live in, that have populations that are a lot less or similar to what we have, it cannot be population loss that is causing our decline.  Our decline must be coming from some other area.  If it’s not population, than why is our city declining, while cities with similar populations across the country are flourishing?  

vacants.jpg

Why is St. Louis for Sale, instead of Madison, WI?  

The reasons that put Madison, WI at the top of the list include; having an attractive college to attend, great hospitals and healthcare available, and because a big, new construction, home can be bought on a median income.  None of those reasons seem to make it a better place to live than St. Louis.  St. Louis has good colleges, hospitals, and big houses at reasonable prices.  What separates their city from ours?

Madison, WI is separated from St. Louis, MO because it has a vision.  This is their vision statement taken from cityofmadison.com.

Vision Statement

The vision for the City of Madison is to be a safe and healthy place to live, work, learn and play. Madison will be a place where:

  • Diversity is valued;

  •  Freedom of expression is encouraged and protected; 

  • Everyone has the opportunity to realize his/her full potential; 

  • The beauty of the urban environment and natural environment is preserved. 

St. Louis has no vision statement.   The quality that separates good places to live from St. Louis is their ability to make plans and see them through.  In order to be a city that is a great place to live it needs to havea vision for where it is going, and needs to be filled with people that believe in that vision.  St. Louis, and the surrounding areas, seems to be lacking a vision.

The Bible tells us that without a vision people perish (Pro. 29:18).  That verse is being fulfilled in our city.  One translation of that verse says “Without vision people cast off restraint”.   This summer, as the eyes of the world were on Ferguson, MO, this verse came to life.  In a city that was hurting, surrounded by communities that were divided in how they saw the situations unfolding, you saw the people cast off restraint.  

We watched the continued coverage of buildings being burned down, looted, and abandoned by their owners.  We saw people suffering from grief, frustration, and a lack of vision from either side to reach a point of forgiveness.  Jesus asked us to forgive our neighbors, but our city was unable to do that. 

Bad things happen every day, but it is how we respond to those moments that truly separate us.  Our city is lacking a vision to be forgiving.  Our city lacks the belief that it needs to help others.  Our city lacks enough courage to stand up for someone besides themselves.  Our city lacks the love of Jesus being poured out in the streets.  St. Louis has no vision!

As I drive down the Rock Road, I see buildings that once held stores that were a blessing to the community.  I used to see people proud to be from our area, and proud to open up places that would serve the community.  Now, all I see is empty churches, run-down buildings, and the remains of a city that has perished from a lack of vision.  I want our city to be revived; I want to see the area I moved back to be greater than the area it was at its prime.  I don’t want our city to perish.  I want to see it flourish!

How do we find a vision for our city?

If we want St. Louis to be a place where people move to, instead of move from, we need to get on the same page.  We need leaders that are willing to step up, try, and reconcile relationships with the people of hurting communities.  We need leaders of the churches to stop believing St. Louis churches are dying, and start using their faith to ask God to move mountains by pouring out His love onto this city! 

We need all our leaders to start believing for a better future for the city.  More importantly, however, we need the people in the city to start believing in a better future for ourselves.  We cannot invest in a dying city without having people willing to invest in their own lives first.  We perish without vision, so we, as individuals, need to find a vision, write it down, and believe it will happen.  We need to go out and create opportunities to be a blessing to the community, and in turn, we will bless ourselves.

If you want to be successful you need to find a vision, and when you carry through with that vision you will find success, regardless of how you measure it.  However, the focus of our vision needs to focus on serving others, and not just ourselves.  We know the Rock Road is full of empty buildings ready for our vision to take hold, but that spaces that are in use today are mainly self-serving.

The businesses along the Rock Road that are open give us a glimpse of how we currently see ourselves, and our desires, in this area.   There are roughly 400 buildings along the Rock Road including churches, businesses, government, and empty buildings.  Around 60, or 15%, of those places are restaurants, both sit down and fast food.  There are around 100 vacant lots, empty offices, and abandoned business that take up 25% of the space on the Rock Road.  

What takes up most of the space besides that may surprise you, but it shows where we perceive value to be.  The majority of the space on the Rock Road is taken up by Automotive (10%), Hair/Nails (9%), phone/electronics (7%), and places that primarily serve Alcohol (6%).  Also, there are more Pay Day Loans buildings (12) than grocery or food related stores (11), gov’t/city buildings (8), clothing stores/non-big box (5), and churches (8).

We spend most of our money in this area on, food (need), our cars, our beauty, our phones, and our alcohol.  After we get done spending our money at those places, we then go to the payday loan stores and get some more.  The vision our city currently has is to look good, drive a good car, look nice, talk on the newest phone, and get drunk.  That is not the vision we need to take hold of.  

If we want to see our city turn around we need to turn around ourselves first.  We need to believe we don’t need to spend our money on those types of things to feel important.  We need to understand that when we change our desire to serving others, then we will then have the opportunities to be blessed with the things we are trying to get now.

Madison, WI believes the people that live there should have the opportunity to realize their full potential.  To see change, the people of St. Louis will also need to realize our potential.   We need to see ourselves buying up those empty stores, and filling them with the ideas we’ve had since we were kids. We need to stop being the people that look for jobs, and start being the people who create the jobs.   

We also need to see the dreams we had as kids become fulfilled.  We need to go after those careers we wished to have growing up, and stop acting like they are out of reach. When we believe our lives can be turned around, nothing is out of reach.     

When we find a vision for ourselves, and also grab onto the vision our leaders have to improve, St. Louis will begin to turn around.  This city is a great place to live, we just need to freshen it up a little with new ideas, opportunities, and love.  We need to begin to love each other, regardless of differences of opinions, and work together toward creating a better life for ourselves, our children, and our city.

I can’t wait to see this city come alive again.  My vision is to see our city at the top of the list of greatest places to live.  I came back here because I believe it will be.  I bought St. Louis.

New John SimmonsComment