First, the bad news for St. Louis from the 2010 Census, and there is plenty of it: the city of St. Louis lost nearly 29,000 people since the 2000 Census, a stunning 8.3 percent of the population, and St. Louis County also was a population loser, reporting more than 17,000 (1.7 percent) fewer residents. While most areas of the city lost population, North St. Louis was hit the hardest, and an overall African-American exodus was remarkable. U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay’s current1st Congressional District boundaries, which represents North City and North County, lost more than the city as a whole, nearly 35,000 people or 5.6 percent of the district’s population.
The local Census count only collects data from the people who are still here, so we don’t know why those who left chose to do so. Given that the population of black people under the age of 18 declined about 24 percent, nearly three times the rate for the city overall, it is probable that many families fled an unaccredited school district and a city where violent crime is overwhelmingly concentrated on the majority-black North Side.
That leads to some good news. St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams, working closely with a supportive school board and teachers’ union, has brought encouraging stability to the district and accepted a contract extension. And Police Chief Daniel Isom has been a major improvement over his predecessor, with a respect for the law and a data-driven approach to law enforcement that has resulted in decrease in crime during a dire recession. We believe if Adams and Isom are allowed to continue in their positions with full support, St. Louis will keep more of its families over the next 10 years.
The other good news is that the Census results were so devastating that no self-satisfied, willfully ignorant civic cheerleader can deny that this absolutely is bad news. The entire region has been forced to confront something we have been saying for a very long time: that St. Louis needs less cheerleading and more actual leadership. This is not just casting stones at Mayor Francis G. Slay. The entirety of our political, civic and business leadership must accept a share of the blame – and shoulder a share of responsibility to make this a place where more people want to live and work.
To do so, of course, people need places to work. To create jobs, we need to compete more effectively for resources and opportunities. And to do that, we need to forge new collaborations: between business and academia, the public and private sectors, black and white, (yes) city and county and in fact the entire region. The region’s archaic political structures, without a question, have posed a hindrance to our ability to compete and grow. State control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department – which is receiving a great deal of political muscle – rates low in importance on the list of governance structures that need to be updated.
More good news: St. Louis has many, diverse underutilized resources. The region is home to four research universities, one of them (Washington University) a global elite institution. Year after year, St. Louis graduates an educated group of workers and potential leaders. We have a truly enviable capacity to train people, but when we have trained them, this has not been, with a few notable exceptions, a viable place for many of them to capitalize on their education and ideas. We must change this.
There are encouraging signs, such as the development of the Danforth Plant Science Center, efforts within the RCGA to develop growth strategies from within clusters of related industries, and the public-private collaboration to entice China to invest in St. Louis as a new cargo hub. We need to build upon these initiatives and multiply them. St. Louis is not without existing valuable resources and competitive business and educational advantages. To paraphrase some recent comments from billionaire investor icon Warren Buffett—money and people will always flow towards opportunity, and there is an abundance of that in the St. Louis region.