Yesterday the new Citygarden was featured in the New York Times. Awesome, right? Great exposure for our beloved mid-sized, mid-western metropolis (forgive the alliteration). But emails were aflurry as some were disappointed that STL came off like a “cowtown” in the introduction.
ONE telling measure of this city’s past glories and present challenges is this: The United States Census of 1950 reported roughly 850,000 people living in St. Louis; today the number is around 350,000. Or there’s this: In 1988, when Jonathan Franzen published “The Twenty-Seventh City,” a novel about real and fictional tribulations afflicting St. Louis, his title referred to the city’s plunge in rank to 27th largest in America from 4th in less than a century. If he wrote the book now, just two decades later, he would have to call it “The Fifty-Second City.”
Signs of the depleted population are everywhere, from the boarded-up houses that dot the city’s north side to the stubbornly vacant office buildings downtown.
So, here’s my two cents not just a city Realtor but as a city resident: Saint Louis is an amazing place to live. I haven’t always lived here. I have lived in small towns, college towns, cities ranked among the top 10 most well designed , cities of 11 million and I am sincere when I say there is no better place to LIVE than Saint Louis City (I will admit there are much cooler places to vacation). Quality of life here is phenomenal: houses are affordable, cost of living is moderate, museums are FREE and our green space is unheard of. (In fact I think our parks are often overlooked because of their ubiquity and expansiveness). We have miles and miles of bike paths and minimal traffic. We have urban farms and local markets, Fortune 500 companies and thriving immigrant enclaves. But one of the best things about St. Louis is that our neighborhoods are made of neighbors. Check out any neighborhood listserv and you will see that people know each other’s names, watch out for each other’s property and have a genuine interest in being part of the local community as well as the overall city.
It is true that the population of St. Louis is MUCH smaller than it was in 1950, but pull the data for the last five years and I think you will see the trend has changed. Journalism is still about storytelling and focusing on the numbers was one way to frame it. What better way to position St. Louis as a come back city, than to cite its once dwindling population. However, as most people know, there’s much more to this city than its numbers.