Old St. Louis Region tossed in his bed. The Ghost of Christmas Past had already shown him what once was – manufacturing, a big population, racist segregation, white flight.
Then the Ghost of Christmas Present had shown him what was happening now. Yech.
Now, the Ghost of Christmas Future sat at the end of Region’s bed, adjusting her glasses, tapping busily on an iPad.
“What are you here to show me, spirit?” old Region croaked.
Pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose, she silently handed him the tablet.
“What is this?” the old man shakily demanded.
The ghost tapped the screen with a long finger. He looked as she scrolled up.
Old Region hesitated, then hit “agree” and the screen glowed. He began reading:
2022 – Results from the 2020 Census show the city’s population dropped below 300,000 for the first time since 1865. The Post-Dispatch publishes a record 12 stories on “Where St. Louis Goes From Here.”
2024 – A ballot measure to create a unitary government between the city and St. Louis County is put on the ballot. Modeled on similar unifications that revived Nashville and Indianapolis, it would have dissolved all cities in the county and created one St. Louis government and a city with a population of 1.1 million. It barely loses in the city and is defeated by 70 percent in the county, where local mayors and white residents call it “socialism.”
2025 – The city, having already privatized Lambert airport, sells off its water supply to a Canadian company to raise money. The murder rate spikes, moving St. Louis up the list of the world’s most dangerous cities to 10th place, surpassing Belem, Brazil.
2027 – The successor to the GOP, the WPP (White People’s Party), now has a super-majority in the Missouri Legislature. It passes a law eliminating the earnings tax in St. Louis and Kansas City. The city and the Legislature enter into a years-long court battle.
2029 – The floods of 2028 were large, but within historic levels for the St. Louis area. But the Flood of ’29, a 1000-year-plus flood, surpasses all records. Flood waters reach 10 miles inland on the Illinois side, wiping out cities like East St. Louis, Columbia, Alton, Brooklyn, and Washington Park. Large areas of the city’s North Side are under 12 feet of water for weeks.
2031 – The city’s population drops to 280,000. The U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the State of Missouri, and the city’s earnings tax becomes illegal. Faced with the loss of one-third of its budget, the city prepares to file for bankruptcy.
2032 – The state refuses to bail out the city and instead orders it to privatize its police and fire departments. The DeWitt family, at the end of the 2031 season, sells the Cardinals to a Chicago hedge fund that promised to “honor St. Louis’s baseball history.” After the 2032 season, they announce they will move the team to San Antonio to take advantage of a lucrative TV market in both the U.S. and Mexico. In leaving, they point to Stan Kroenke’s memo when he moved the Rams and conclude, “The economic conditions of a dying city have only gotten worse, endangering the franchise’s viability.”
2035 – During a two-night period in February, scavengers strip the abandoned Busch Stadium of copper and other metals and set it on fire. Since the city owns the building but couldn’t afford to pay for fire protection, the privatized fire department lets it burn. The European owners of what used to be Anheuser-Busch, Purina, and Monsanto announce they are closing operations in the St. Louis area permanently.
2036 – After another massive flood destroys what was left of the Metro East, Bi-State announces it no longer has the tax revenue to operate. Bus service is cut by two-thirds, and Metrolink is abandoned. The government of St. Charles County announces that Bi-state buses will no longer be allowed to operate there. Police turn back buses with black commuters trying to reach jobs in St. Charles.
2038 – A rolling gun battle between carjackers and the private police force spills into the grounds of the St. Louis Zoo. Relaxed gun laws mean both sides are now armed with legal fully automatic weapons. Six children are killed, along with numerous zoo animals.
2039 – The St. Louis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau announces that no conventions of any kind are booked for St. Louis for the next five years. The region’s reputation for both criminal and police violence now makes the Gateway Arch the least-visited national monument in America.
2041 – An emergency plan to flatten abandoned buildings means that two-thirds of the city’s physical area is now open space. Coyotes, deer, and the occasional elk roam freely.
2042 – With a population of 250,000, the city now has only two functioning public high schools. Private for-profit schools have proliferated, all charging tuition, pushing the poorest children into the remnants of the public schools, which now resemble prisons, with dozens of armed private police enforcing order.
2045 – The Great Uprising takes place after private police kill five unarmed black teens. Much of downtown is in smoldering ruins.
2050 – The county, now with a mostly elderly population of less than 400,000, refuses to take responsibility for the C=city after it disincorporates, unable to pay any of its bills.
2064 – Ceremonies marking the City’s 300th anniversary are held near the ruins of City Hall. Most of the City’s 2,500 residents attend, heavily armed against plague-carrying rats.
Old Region looked up from the tablet. “Is this what will happen, or what may happen?”
The Ghost shrugged and disappeared.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.