Atlanta newspaper calls St. Louis a region that’s ‘lost its way’
In its comparison of a struggling St. Louis with Chicago, its more affluent — and much-larger — Midwestern rival, the newspaper calls St. Louis a “cautionary tale” and a region that has “lost its way.”
Its profile of St. Louis leads with a description of the memorial in Ferguson to Michael Brown, the teen killed by Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.
And note the other article on the AJC front page with “Ferguson” in the title.
As if that was the whole metro area’s fault; as if it affected the whole metro area. Remember, there were riots in Chicago after the assassination of MLK, there were not in St. Louis. That’s what was so traumatic about Ferguson, that it ended our winning streak, ruined our reputation as the city that doesn’t riot, and meant that the cops around here lost the step ahead of the undertow which they previously had.
The recitation of St. Louis’ woes is a familiar one. It was once the fourth-most populated city in the nation, “a manufacturing and transportation colossus,” and the host city, in 1904, of the World’s Fair and the Summer Olympics.
When rivers were uber-important to commerce, St. Louis was important. When other means of transportation supplanted the rivers, St. Louis’s importance declined. It’s as simple as that. Also, the reason Chicago and not St. Louis became a major railroad hub was because TPTB of the time wanted to punish Missouri for seceding from the union. Even though St. Louis was a Union city, making St. Louis a major hub would have meant helping rural Missouri.
The 1904 Summer Olympics, while they were the first Olympics ever held in the Western Hemisphere, were only held in St. Louis because of the World’s Fair; originally, the Olympics were supposed to be in Chicago. And they were such a flop and a failure that it was seriously in doubt if any more Olympics would happen.
Special criticism goes to Harland Bartholomew, the renowned city planner who was hired by the St. Louis in 1916. “Bartholomew’s embrace of urban renewal and highways-to-the-suburbs fueled the exodus from St. Louis as well as the region’s fragmentation and racism.”
Because when you think of urban sprawl, Atlanta is the last metro area that comes to mind. Chicago has no urban sprawl, either. Also remember that in relative terms, comparing square mileage to population within the urbanized footprint, St. Louis’s sprawl “problem” is probably the same as Chicago’s and not as bad as Atlanta’s. Meanwhile, Kansas City and Oklahoma City are two metro areas less populated than St. Louis but whose sprawl and urbanized footprints are really spread out.
As for Chicago, “at several inflection points, the city has taken action to build its status, while many peers slipped.” It was helped by its “heartland location,” the Atlanta paper reports.
One big problem for both Chicago and Atlanta is that neither one of them have a marquee industry on which they can hang their hats and become metro areas that matter in our era of wealth-income-cognitive stratification. Boston has education, New York has banking, finance and the media, Washington, D.C. has the Federal government, L.A. has entertainment and movies, S.F./S.V./Bay Area have CSIT-WWW. While it’s theoretically possible for Harvard to move out of Boston, Wall Street to move out of Lower Manhattan, the capital to move out of D.C., Hollywood to leave Southern California and the Silicon Valley to leave the place formermly called the Santa Clara Valley, the odds of even one of those things happening are just one wee little atom north of zero. Meanwhile, the real cautionary tale for Chicago and Atlanta and their future viability and credibility comes from St. Louis, albeit in a way they don’t realize: Since the late 1990s, Boatmen’s Bank sold out to Nations Bank which later merged with Bank of America, Mercantile Bank has sold out and merged and sold out several times, Ralston-Purina is now a subsidiary of Nestle, McDonnell-Douglas sold out to Boeing, Lambert Airport is no longer a national airline hub because American Airlines bought out TWA, and then there’s the big one. Chicago and Atlanta have notable corporate citizens, but they’re the type which can go on the selling block at any time and just as easily exist in places other than Chicago and Atlanta. Note that the aforementioned Boeing, once based in Seattle, is now based in Chicago. Don’t think Coca-Cola can ever be bought out and moved out of Atlanta? Well, let me remind you about St. Louis, and “the big one” that happened a few years ago. Chicago is probably safe in it always being a railroad hub, and while rail commerce is still important and probably will be for a long time, it’s not quite as important as it used to be.
Also, one thing that St. Louis has going for it relative to Chicago and Atlanta is the ratio of whites to non-whites over the entire metro area.