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White Flight and Federal Policy: Tipping Points, Self-Sorting, or Federally Sorted?
October 23, 2010 6:03 PM   Subscribe

"The history of greater St. Louis, is bound up in a tangle of local, state, and federal policies that explicitly and decisively sorted the City’s growing population by race." Mapping Decline visually connects and tracks the history of laws, zoning, urban renewal projects, and their effect on white flight in St. Louis.
posted by stratastar (48 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting. I'd like to see the same kind of thing for Detroit.
posted by axiom at 6:29 PM on October 23, 2010


Well, they succeeded in making it suck for everyone. Seriously, how did they think this approach was going to have sustainable benefits for any population?

I've owned two houses, and this history reinforces my already vast satisfaction at avoiding HOAs both times.
posted by NortonDC at 7:26 PM on October 23, 2010


Fascinating post; thanks.

The "White Flight" map was confusing; it purports to show both ethnicity and growth/decline. According to that, there are areas in central St. Louis that have lost thousands of black residents every decade continuously since the 1950s, with no one moving in there. So no one lives anywhere in central St. Louis, and the population hasn't grown in 40 years, since the growth and decline dots seem roughly equal. That seems odd to me.

I think Eric Fisher had the better representation in his series on Flickr.

Also, why are most of the Missouri Enterprise Zones located (to my Canadian eye) in Illinois?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:58 PM on October 23, 2010


That's some fabulous mapping.

I'd like to see the same kind of thing for Detroit.

Even more, I'd like to see it for some cities that aren't synonymous with decline -- Seattle or San Diego, say -- but still have the American patterns of spatial segregation.
posted by Forktine at 7:58 PM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


According to that, there are areas in central St. Louis that have lost thousands of black residents every decade continuously since the 1950s, with no one moving in there. So no one lives anywhere in central St. Louis, and the population hasn't grown in 40 years, since the growth and decline dots seem roughly equal.

That sounds a lot like St. Louis, actually. Check out the population figures. The city's population today is the same as it was in 1880, but a little more than a third of what is was in 1950.
posted by Mid at 8:13 PM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also - that is Illinois. I have no explanation other than that there are a lot of "bi-state" programs in the St. Louis area in recognition of the fact that a good chunk of the St. Louis economy depends on people in the "Metro-East" area, i.e., Illinois.
posted by Mid at 8:21 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


So no one lives anywhere in central St. Louis, and the population hasn't grown in 40 years, since the growth and decline dots seem roughly equal.

There are vast tracts of St. Louis that are basically empty now. This was a city of almost 900,000 that's now flirting with 300,000. When 2/3rds of the people leave, it's not just white flight.

It's flight. But really, the issue was that St. Louis is, for all intents, a failed Chicago. Both grew at similar rates, at similar times -- indeed, in 1870, St. Louis had 100,000 more people than Chicago.

Then, August 22, 1876, St. Louis seceded from St. Louis County and becomes The Independent City of St. Louis. This locks the borders of the city -- removing annexation to expand the city. Why? They didn't want to spend the money building infrastructure -- in particular, sewers -- out that far.

The result? The 1880 Census comes, and St. Louis has gained 40,000 people. Chicago has annexed huge swaths, and is now over 500K. Ten years later, Chicago has doubled again, but St. Louis hasn't even hit 500K yet.

St. Louis, with the ability to expand, would have become one of the largest cities in the US -- given the rail and river connections, which wouldn't be supplanted until the 1950-60s by air and highway, it would have grown leaps and bounds. Indeed, I can see Chicago *shriveling* as the Stock Yards are built in St. Louis, not Chicago -- where the cattle and pigs were *already going* -- but St. Louis couldn't get the land to build the Union Yards, and Chicago could, and did.

So, Chicago grows its big shoulders, and St. Louis just...shrugs. Now, Chicago is the second largest Polish speaking city in the World. After the great white flight -- driving the St. Louis metro area close to three million --- but Chicagoland to almost ten -- people are actually moving back into Chicago -- and it's not just immigrants, though they are still a huge part of the city (20% of the current population of Chicago was not born in the US.)

Chicago grew. It wasn't pretty, it often was amoral, but Chicago grew, and built, and did, and became one of the great cities of the world.

St. Louis didn't have to build those sewers out in the county.

I guess that's a win.
posted by eriko at 9:02 PM on October 23, 2010 [51 favorites]


The extra sad thing about that is actually the fact that America as a country is turning into a place that just doesn't want to build those extra sewers.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:15 PM on October 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


I'd love to read a more about why St. Louis became a hollow shell of a city. Also, why is it mad about incorporation? Every three blocks there's another little speed-trap municipality. How did other cities avoid this trap? Does anyone have a good pointer to articles that try to explain the phenomenon in more detail? (and perhaps offer suggestions as to what can be done to fix it?)
posted by chrisamiller at 9:21 PM on October 23, 2010


(I should add that I'll look into the book being promoted by this website, but I'm looking for other sources as well)
posted by chrisamiller at 9:22 PM on October 23, 2010


Ass.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:26 PM on October 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


Homeboy Trouble - Eric Fischer's maps represent just one snapshot in time. Representing change in populations is a little tricker.
posted by stratastar at 9:57 PM on October 23, 2010


I'm going to read this over coffee tomorrow, and it's gonna make me want to spit, guaranteed.

I'm a little too close to this situation to say something I won't regret tomorrow, but, yeah, WHITE FLIGHT, exactly. Still running, as far as I can tell. At least somebody was brave enough to get some Velvet Freeze last time I stopped in.

And, I married a Chicago girl.

SEE THE VIOLENCE INHERENT IN THE SYSTEM
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:31 PM on October 23, 2010


However, the racial segregation in St. Louis did bring us one good thing--one of the first cases which got rid of racial discrimination--Shelley v. Kraemer.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:48 PM on October 23, 2010


I'd love to read a more about why St. Louis became a hollow shell of a city.

Check out the articles here, as well as the articles and references here and here.
posted by Forktine at 12:06 AM on October 24, 2010


To answer some earlier questions, my guess is that the east side of the river is shown because that's where some of the St. Louis city population went to? (particularly African American to East St. Louis… it pretty much says so on the square on the first page).

Speaking of St. Louis failing to Chicago, East St. Louis is also another big catastrophic failure… if you look on maps back far enough, East St. Louis will often have bigger lettering than Chicago.

My guess is that St. Louis and East St. Louis both suffered many additional deaths of a thousand cuts besides segregation and zoning. Both sides are littered with evaporated industrial bases that disappeared right around the time this map's timeline begins. (maybe a decade or two later) Certainly some of this might be attributable to the decline of the river's importance in commerce. The decline of industrial America is also part of the picture. Many other cities experienced decline just like this. Tack on the rise of suburbia, the expansion of automobile use, and other factors and it's not hard to see why this happened.

If you look at St. Louis, you see what you see in many other de-developed cities: a donut. A city with a giant hole in the middle. This one's just a little unique because the donut is on two sides of a river, which also happens to mean two states.
posted by readyfreddy at 1:51 AM on October 24, 2010


The extra sad thing about that is actually the fact that America as a country is turning into a place that just doesn't want to build those extra sewers.

Yeah, the sewer problem haunts St. Louis to this day. The only two significant projects on which the City and County cooperate are the Metro system and the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District. Unfortunately, the sewer situation in St. Louis is terrible. Basically, every time it rains heavily, large amounts of raw sewage flow into the Mississippi, which has lead to significant EPA fines and the threat of more if the situation isn't fixed soon. Between 2000 and 2005, over 500 million gallons went into the Mississippi and other rivers.

Fixing this problem will require a lot of money. Currently residents pay ~$27/month for sewer service. That will need to go up to over $100 to cover the cost of fixing the problem. Yet, MSD just had to cut its budget by $16 million because a fee it was collecting for stormwater infrastructure improvements was invalidated in court. MSD desperately needs more funding. Just recently a pumping station failed and dumped million gallons of raw sewage into the Mississippi.
posted by jedicus at 7:04 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, why is it mad about incorporation? Every three blocks there's another little speed-trap municipality.

It may interest people to know that St. Louis County is extremely fractious. There are 91 municipalities in the County. About a million people live in the County, but the largest municipality only has ~52,000 people.

The smallest municipality in the County? That would be Champ, a town of 12 people and six houses. You can see all six houses quite easily on Google Maps.

It would be much more efficient for several of the municipalities to merge, but it's politically infeasible, primarily because of the schools. A merger between two towns with schools of unequal quality means that the town with the better schools will resist it. It's quite the mess.

There have been a few proposals to merge the City and County, but (obviously) they all failed. Eventually something will have to be done, I hope sooner rather than later.
posted by jedicus at 7:13 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


An illustration of another problem with all the tiny municipalities:

I design plumbing. When we bid a job, if the plumbing permit is separate from the building permit, we have to include it in our bid. Therefore, every job I bid, even as a contractor is pressing me for a ballpark number on the phone, I have to do the same thing. Find the municipality on the 'net. Call them, ask how they do plumbing permits, what the cost structure is, and oh, what plumbing code do you use? Many use one or the other, the Uniform or the International, with no amendments. However, many municipalities have elected to let the County (everything that isn't the City) take care of their plumbing coding issues (and some municipalities do their own construction, but leave the plumbing to the County, or vice versa).
The County takes the Uniform Plumbing Code, and amends it. The amendments require more pages to enumerate than does the original Code. A consultant came six years ago to teach the new version of the Code. Every subsection he went over, he was "overruled" by the head of the County plumbing division - "We've amended that part to say this." Apparently the consultant, after an hour or so of this, asked exasperatedly, "Why don't you just write what you want from scratch? Why am I here?"

As for decline: the wife and I like to get lost (usually on Sunday morning drives) in North St. Louis. You see rows and rows of amazing houses - houses that, on the South Side (we live in the farthest reach of the South Side) would have been rehabbed eons ago. But on the North Side, they're falling apart, or you get a checkerboard of blocks or individual houses - one nice, one completely falling down. Gigantic, gorgeous churches looking like a set from The Crow. Et cetera. Yesterday, we did find the long-lost (she went there years ago) Polish deli that I can get good krakow and polish sausage. I was just saying, "I wonder where that awesome deli you found back in 2006 is" to her, and there wasn't five seconds from me asking that, and her reply - "right there." Barely enough time to slam on the brakes and pull in.

But now I have three pounds of fresh, natural casing polish sausage, and a tray of Pierogi.
posted by notsnot at 7:48 AM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


However, the racial segregation in St. Louis did bring us one good thing--one of the first cases which got rid of racial discrimination--Shelley v. Kraemer.

The other significant Supreme Court case to come out of the fractionation of St. Louis was Ladue v. Gilleo, which gave us the right to put political signs in our yards and windows, local ordinances be damned. Ladue is an absurdly disproportionately wealthy city in the County (it has the 29th highest median income in the country). It also has a lot of ordinances designed to keep everything looking appropriately posh.

Just how uptight is Ladue? The sign in Ladue v. Gilleo was a single 8.5"x11" sign in Gilleo's window that said "For Peace in the Gulf." The city spend untold tens of thousands in legal costs over a single letter-sized sign that probably wasn't even legible from the road.

And lest anyone think overt racial discrimination is in the past: the ex chief of police has sued Ladue claiming that he was fired because he refused to go along with a policy of discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws designed to keep blacks out of Ladue while being extremely lenient towards (96.8% white) Ladue residents, even those found driving drunk.
posted by jedicus at 8:12 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Man the bit about Real Estate agents losing their licences if they sold homes to the wrong people in the wrong areas is messed up.
posted by Mitheral at 8:19 AM on October 24, 2010


Man the bit about Real Estate agents losing their licences if they sold homes to the wrong people in the wrong areas is messed up.

St. Louis is far from the only place with such practices. La Jolla, California was notorious for that kind of thing, except Jews were the primary target of discrimination.
posted by jedicus at 8:26 AM on October 24, 2010


It may interest people to know that St. Louis County is extremely fractious. There are 91 municipalities in the County. About a million people live in the County, but the largest municipality only has ~52,000 people.

That fractiousness is definitely part of the problem with St. Louis—'cause most people never leave their own little neighborhood or directional portion of the area (North County, South County, West County, north St. Louis, South City, etc.). I grew up in the largest one (I believe that's Florissant), and although my parents took pains to expose me to culture outside of North County, I had no idea how to get to any of it until I moved out of North County and got a car.

And that's another part of the problem: While parts of the city and county are walkable, the area as a whole isn't particularly navigable on foot or via public transit. So when most people move to one of the neighborhoods or municipalities, that becomes their entire frame of reference. For instance, as you can see, that I'm from North County is still part of my identity to some degree, even though I live in the central corridor now.

By the way, I'd been meaning to check this for a while, 'cause I'd seen Florissant in the dictionary and grew curious—the other St. Louis County municipalities that made it in are:

-Ballwin
-Olivette
-Kirkwood
-Wildwood
-Hazelwood
-Chesterfield
-University City
-Webster Groves
-Maryland Heights

Across the river, Belleville's in there, too. Alas, all of the money in the central corridor couldn't buy entries for Clayton, Ladue, Brentwood, Huntleigh, and Frontenac. NOT CLASSIST!
posted by limeonaire at 8:48 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a St. Louis County municipality of about 50 people. I had a friend who lived in a nearby "town" of about 20.

I have no evidence for this, but I have always assumed that the micro-municipality phenomenon in St. Louis County is a legacy from the days of white flight / restrictive covenants / antisemitism / etc. Basically, incorporating your little subdivision gave you one more set of tools to control property sales and use -- like a HOA, but with police powers. But like I said, no evidence.

There have been a few proposals to merge the City and County, but (obviously) they all failed. Eventually something will have to be done, I hope sooner rather than later.


I think you're wrong about that, sad to say. "Something will have to be done" has been true for at least 50 years, maybe more like 100. I don't think the majority of people in St. Louis County see any problem with the total collapse of the city - the 'burbs, by many measures, are very nice, comfortable, and relatively cheap from a tax perspective. It seems tremendously unlikely that any of these folks would agree to transfer some meaningful portion of their tax funds to a "Greater St. Louis" type of project.

It sounds like a sick joke, as a St. Louis transplant to Chicago, I'm actually thankful for good old Cook County, which contains a truly massive tax base (5.3 million people) that reaches way out into the 'burbs -- try white-flighting away from 900 square miles of county! (Well, actually, people do, but it's a lot harder than fleeing St. Louis's 61 square miles!)
posted by Mid at 8:52 AM on October 24, 2010


One more nail in St. Louis's coffin: in the twenty years I spent there, in the 50's and 60's, they turned down every school bond on the ballot. I doubt it's gotten any better. Some cities approve of almost every school bond. Better cities.
posted by kozad at 9:01 AM on October 24, 2010


I think you're wrong about that, sad to say. "Something will have to be done" has been true for at least 50 years, maybe more like 100. I don't think the majority of people in St. Louis County see any problem with the total collapse of the city - the 'burbs, by many measures, are very nice, comfortable, and relatively cheap from a tax perspective.

I think eventually the City may get so depopulated and disused that developers will be salivating at the cheap property that can be razed and reshaped. But the developers will want it to be part of the County first.

I think gentrification of places like the CWE will continue then finally reach a tipping point where a lot more investment can be made once the City and County merge. Especially if downtown Clayton continues to become the economic hub of the metropolitan area, further depressing the City.
posted by jedicus at 9:16 AM on October 24, 2010


Mentioned on the blue before, Built St. Louis is a architectural focused site that documents the wholesale devastation of buildings in St. Louis which resulted from all the policies mentioned here.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:46 AM on October 24, 2010


I grew up in North County (Hazelwood) and later Clayton, my parents grew up in North County (Berkeley, Ferguson, etc), and my grandparents grew up in North City. It's disappointing to see how this more or less coincides with the demographic shift these maps reflect.

Growing up there, I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out, hence my current address in Chicago. Since I've moved, though, I've come to appreciate the place despite all its flaws. There are even a few bright spots.

It seems tremendously unlikely that any of these folks would agree to transfer some meaningful portion of their tax funds to a "Greater St. Louis" type of project.

I would love for this not to be the case, but I'm afraid you're right. It reminds me of when they were thinking about running MetroLink out west (parallel to 40, I think?), and the West County people wanted nothing to do with it. If I recall correctly, someone being interviewed on local news expressed concern that people would take the train out there to rob their houses.

Somewhat unrelated: see the recent NY Times article on brick theft for a particularly depressing recent development in the blighted areas of the north side.
posted by evisceratordeath at 9:53 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Somewhat unrelated: see the recent NY Times article on brick theft for a particularly depressing recent development in the blighted areas of the north side.

Its not a recent development, just a recently noticed one. Built St Louis linked above has been covering brick theft since at least 2005, and just driving through any part of the North City you'll see houses burned out and smashed up for the bricks. The brick rustlers have probably gotten more brazen about it because nothing was done to stop them.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:57 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even more, I'd like to see it for some cities that aren't synonymous with decline

Aw. We're synonymous with decline.
posted by limeonaire at 10:08 AM on October 24, 2010


Fascinating. I'll bet it also has something to do with the rise of rail and how Chicago somehow cornered that market.

All I have to add is that it boggles my mind when I watch cowboy movies and St. Louis is an "out west" town.
posted by gjc at 10:18 AM on October 24, 2010


Its not a recent development, just a recently noticed one.

You're right of course, didn't mean to suggest that it just started happening. Built St. Louis's coverage of the issue is great.
posted by evisceratordeath at 10:24 AM on October 24, 2010


I'll go ahead and step up and say that as a person living in South St. Louis City, I see lots of good things going on and choose to keep living here because it's an exciting, accessible place to live with a rich culture.

Problems? Race Problems? Sure. But it's a far cry from the hell-hole being described in this discussion.
posted by HotPants at 11:20 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think eventually the City may get so depopulated and disused that developers will be salivating at the cheap property that can be razed and reshaped. But the developers will want it to be part of the County first.
This had been happening to an appreciable extent in parts of the city like McRee Town, south of the CWE, when I moved away earlier this year. They aren't waiting for city-county fusion.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:27 AM on October 24, 2010


But it's a far cry from the hell-hole being described in this discussion.

South is much better than the North, I lived there for 3 years in grad school, it's certainly not a hell-hole (except for some places on the North, which are hellholes). But it is clearly a far cry from a great city and a pale shadow of what it couldve been with different choices made.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:45 AM on October 24, 2010


I'll go ahead and step up and say that as a person living in South St. Louis City, I see lots of good things going on and choose to keep living here because it's an exciting, accessible place to live with a rich culture.

Problems? Race Problems? Sure. But it's a far cry from the hell-hole being described in this discussion.


Along those lines: I am staying in St. Louis because...

There are a lot of good things happening here.
posted by limeonaire at 11:58 AM on October 24, 2010


Thanks for this post. I lived in St. Louis city near Forest Park for several years in the late 80s/early 90s, a young transplant from California, and the city/county dynamic was truly baffling to me. It was plain to see that the region had been stuck on stupid for a pretty long time. What at first look seemed like dicey neighborhoods turned out to be more deserted than dicey. A very distinct racial dividing line separating north and south, and less obvious, but clear ethnic dividing lines on the south side. Very little will for anything other than status quo. And all those crazy municipalities in the county!

It was also a wonderful place to explore, and reasonably interesting place to live, especially for a young child-less person who was not obviously black or white. Sadly, I decided that if I were to raise a family, it would have to be a place with a less toxic foundation.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:20 PM on October 24, 2010


Another MeFite who grew up in St. Louis. It is rather sad what has happened to the city (and it isn't new). A few months ago my wife and I went back again. St. Louis is a really beautiful city; gorgeous architecture, tons of culture (St. Louis style blues ftw)...hell, Forest Park is amazing. If you want to spend an afternoon amazed by architecture just drive around the outside of Forest Park and look at the houses. Then you can drive a few blocks and see the poverty that effects the surrounding areas. It's the same sort of sad duality I saw while growing up there.

I can also say, from personal experience, white flight is a real thing. I remember when the first African American family moved into our neighborhood. There were constant discussions amongst the neighbors about "property values" and "those people." No one was even trying to hide it. And this wasn't in the 50s and 60s, this was 20 years ago.
posted by ryoshu at 12:49 PM on October 24, 2010


I think eventually the City may get so depopulated and disused that developers will be salivating at the cheap property that can be razed and reshaped.

This is actually happening in North St. Louis. McEagle Properties, through many different holding companies, bought huge swaths of houses and property, letting them stay empty and decay. The ultimate end result? A huge new 1500 acre development, with corresponding huge tax breaks. Development plans appear to have stalled, so the property will sit and decay even more.
posted by zsazsa at 4:25 PM on October 24, 2010


There are a lot of good things happening here.

I lived in Benton Park for a number of years. My mother and brother are in Tower Grove South.

There are good things about St. Louis. The sad thing, though, was how much potential was wasted.
posted by eriko at 4:25 PM on October 24, 2010


I ended up in St Louis after college. Thanks to the all-color-flight phenomenon, I was able to get 4000 sq ft of warehouse space, within easy walking distance of my job downtown, for only $600 a month, including all utilities. It was directly across the street from a residential YMCA. You could travel for a literal mile down our street before you found another occupied building. Some times it was fun, some times it was scary. There was the summer one landlord started torching his own buildings for the insurance. I'd be at work in a 70 story modern office building, watching a warehouse empty since the '50s burn, and wondering if the guy who owned the building next to the one I rented was getting any stupid ideas.

Living in a tiny apartment in Seattle, I often think fondly about having that much space. If only there had been a tech industry to keep me around.
posted by nomisxid at 5:11 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


>While parts of the city and county are walkable, the area as a whole isn't particularly navigable on foot or via public transit.

This. I lived there for a short while in the late eighties, and ended up getting a car (a really decrepit one) that I really couldn't afford just so that I could get to my crappy part-time, minimum-wage job. I'd thought that it would be like Chicago, which is easily navigable by foot and public transportation (or at least was when I was in high school there), only with a lower cost of living; I never thought I'd be singing the praises of the Chicago Transit Authority, but there you go, everything's relative.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:10 PM on October 24, 2010


Living in a tiny apartment in Seattle, I often think fondly about having that much space. If only there had been a tech industry to keep me around.

That's the trick, isn't it? Apparently no new venture funds here have raised money since this time in 2008. Two-thousand-freaking-eight!
posted by limeonaire at 7:59 PM on October 24, 2010


That's the trick, isn't it? Apparently no new venture funds here have raised money since this time in 2008. Two-thousand-freaking-eight!

That just means that the VC funds aren't located in Missouri. There's a fair amount of VC investment coming from outside the state. For example, there are a bunch of startups based in the Center for Emerging Technologies that are VC funded. I work for one of them, and about half of its VC investors are based outside of Missouri.

Which is not to say it wouldn't be better if the financial infrastructure were based here, too. After all, outside VC means the (hoped for) profits from the venture also go outside the state.
posted by jedicus at 8:14 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


To join the choir of STL expats, I grew up there 72-87 and have been in Chicago for 15 years now. I remember being with my parents in 77 looking at houses in South County and the code "they haven't moved in yet" was used pretty openly. We had moved there from Ypsilanti MI and had been living in a thoroughly multi-racial housing coop, so it was not a big selling point to my hippie parents. When desegregation finally hit the schools I remember the single black kid who showed up in 8th grade, TP was a pretty courageous young man.

Having experienced both cities from the suburbs, I can say that Chicago would be much cooler to live in for young-person city living and I love getting down there to act age inappropriate, but STL is a great place to raise kids in the middle class -- unlike Chicago access to culture from the suburbs is easy and much more affordable. The fact that the museums are all free is a pretty big deal if you want to go more than once every two years.

It does break my heart when I go back and see it continuing its descent, this was a great post because it finally put some reasons behind a lot of the things that I could see or feel. I still find myself wishing that something will help the place turn around, Chicago is a tough place to transplant into.
posted by cgk at 8:26 PM on October 24, 2010


Yesterday, we did find the long-lost (she went there years ago) Polish deli that I can get good krakow and polish sausage. I was just saying, "I wonder where that awesome deli you found back in 2006 is" to her, and there wasn't five seconds from me asking that, and her reply - "right there." Barely enough time to slam on the brakes and pull in.

If you're not talking about Piekutowski's, you probably should be. I've got a lot of family in the area - mostly Creve Coeur, and we don't ever go up for a visit without making the sometimes terrifying and always depressing trip downtown for a load of kielbasa, and other assorted sausagey-goodness. The pickles are nice too.

My family in the area mostly consists of old Polish people, so we end up downtown at St. Stanislaus or the Polish Falcons for funerals quite a bit. Beautiful architecture. Mostly empty and run-down.

My great-grandparents lived and owned stores downtown in the twenties and thirties, and continued to live near Forest Park until they weren't living on their own anymore, but my grandparents moved "after the war" into a brand new subdivision at the very end of West County when it was still mostly farmland, and most of the relatives with young families followed them. By the time I was born, only a handful of the most elderly members of the family still lived in the City. They've pretty much all died off now, One of the last holdouts, my great-aunt Toni, who was an incredibly sweet lady if you could look past the racism, ended up being, as far as I could tell, the only white person in her neighborhood (on the White Flight map, her neighborhood is all red and black dots on 1970-80). It was odd that the most racist member of my family was largely cared for in her last years by her black neighbors who checked in on her every day, brought her groceries, and took her to most of her doctor appointments.

On the plus side, looking at Google maps, it looks like the 1950s era shopping center near Aunt Toni's house that was empty for years has been rebuilt and is now home to a Target, Aldi's and Sonic. On the other hand, her house is still surrounded by vacant lots, and Street View shows two police cars on her street.
posted by Dojie at 6:54 AM on October 25, 2010


I'm in St. Louis now, stuck here for 3 days with a broke-down airplane on a long slow cross-country trip. I've never been here before and as a visitor find it a surprisingly beautiful, comfortable city. Nice people, good restaurants, interesting little pocket neighborhoods. I have no doubt there's all sorts of legacy of racial and economic divide - the plane is parked at KCPS in East St. Louis, wrong side of the river, and driving around there is downright depressing. But Soulard, The Loop, Central West End, all exciting and pleasant little neighborhoods with a lot to offer. Even Downtown is nice. I've been sitting here for 3 days wondering why St. Louis isn't more popular and vital, it seems to have a lot going for it.
posted by Nelson at 5:27 PM on October 25, 2010


ryoshu: "And this wasn't in the 50s and 60s, this was 20 years ago."

And now the wave is rolling out past St. Charles and Chesterfield and O'Fallon... the flight just keeps flying.

eriko: "There are good things about St. Louis. The sad thing, though, was how much potential was wasted."

limeonnaire, I promise you that every bitter ex-St. Louisan posting here is thinking exactly this.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:51 PM on October 25, 2010


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