Op-Ed: It's time to unite the entire St. Louis area

Posted Aug 19, 2014 by Walt Crocker
The recent violence in Ferguson is indicative of a greater problem in the whole St. Louis area. Lafayette Square, where I grew up, is one of the success stories. we can't stop there.
Police officers arrest a demonstrator on August 18  2014 in Ferguson  Missouri
Police officers arrest a demonstrator on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri
Joe Raedle, Getty/AFP
Ferguson/St. Louis Missouri: Up Close And Personal
I’ve lived in St. Louis, Missouri all of my life. There has always been racial tension in this city. Now it has erupted into violence in a small urban/suburb just northwest of the city with the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen who was shot by a Ferguson police officer. The protests that followed have caused an international news story to break and sparked demonstrations all over the country.
St. Louis County is divided into more than 100 small municipalities. A lot of these municipalities have their own mayor, fire, and police departments. Some have recently called for the consolidation of all of these communities into what is known as St. Louis County, one of the largest examples of urban sprawl in the country. St. Louis City has lost a significant amount of its population over the years, but St. Louis County has continued to grow. Towns like Normandy, Ferguson, Florissant, and Cool Valley were the first suburbs to sprawl out of the city, the first strip malls. Originally, St. Louis was a fur trading post on the river. The merchants who made money from the trading located in Lafayette Square, just south of downtown and the poorer people settled in Soulard.
Then a big tornado that tore through the city in 1896 spooked all the rich folks in Lafayette Square. They then moved to what is now called the Central West End, a collection of old wealth, big medical centers, and Washington University. North St. Louis, now called the North Side was once very wealthy and fashionable as well. There’s an urban legend — noted by former St. Louis newscaster Julius Hunter in one of his books — that states there was once a large lake on what now is Choteau Avenue that divided north St. Louis from South St. Louis. As the 1800s turned into the 1900s, the lake became so polluted that the stench was blown by the southerly winds up to north St. Louis, where the wealthy folks had to inhale it. This, of course, didn’t sit all that well with them so they moved. North County became the first “bedroom communities” during the post war boom of the 1950’s.
St. Louis has always been very parochial and divided. Each area of the city has its own food, culture, and ethnicity. The first question that you ask anyone around here is: “Where did you go to high school.” This simple question establishes which neighborhood you came from as well as your ethnicity and income level. Neighborhood connections are also very strong in St. Louis and when there’s leakage, people get upset. Take for example when the MetroLink train system was completed — this allowed easy access for urban kids to travel cheaply and hang out at places like the Galleria, a large mall in Mid-county. This neighborhood breach greatly upset the locals. We still have violence on the Delmar Loop, named one of the top streets in America for its unique collection of restaurants, night clubs, shopping, and music venues. As the development slowly extends east towards the city, there have been several outbreaks of violence from street gangs that cross the line and debates on exactly who should be policing the area.
It’s almost like the divisions go all the way back to the Civil War, when the state (and St. Louis) divided its allegiances between the North and the South. Recently, it seemed like we were making progress. Huge re-development plans were announced to renew and revitalize North St. Louis and County, but they have been stalled. And some of the stalling has been done by the people who now live there. Well-meaning, good people have planted urban gardens and rebuilt neighborhoods in north city and county. A lot of these good people live in Ferguson and it’s sad to see so much trouble come to their town. I grew up near the high rise projects downtown and I’m old enough to have watched them being built and also watch them being torn down. Lafayette Square, once crime-ridden, is now a vibrant and working community of mixed-income living.
I don’t know what will happen in Ferguson. I hope and pray for the best. I also hope that the entire St. Louis region can unite and become less territorial and racially divided. It’s time for the reunification of the North and South around here.