My first goal in life, like any self-respecting St. Louisan, was to get out of town. Born with a negative opinion of my hometown, I failed at my first and only goal just long enough to find out I was wrong.
Living in St. Louis, it seemed that life would obviously be so much better elsewhere. I remember the first time I met someone relocating here from Florida. What was nuts was that the WANTED to be here. They started citing positives about St. Louis like we were a large URBAN FOREST and had great affordable homes, etc. One time I met a flamboyant fashion designer from New York City that had been relocated here. He hated St. Louis. His attitude seemed to typify so many of the local residents that have, as Mayor Slay describes it, a “Geographical Inferiority Complex.”
One of the big problems with St. Louis was that it was a seemingly endless collection of suburbia. We had a city, of course. Escape from New York was filmed there; a fantastic reflection of how most suburbanites felt about St. Louis. It was OK to go into the city if you worked there, or were going to a Cardinals game or being charged with a federal crime . Oh sure, there was also the Fox Theater, Lacledes Landing, Forest Park, [includes the (free and renowned)Saint Louis Zoo, The Art Museum, the History Museum, the Science Center, and the Muny Opera]. We had the Cards, Blues and the Rams too. And who can forget the Gateway Arch? Still, the city was to be avoided if possible.
College years was when my rebelious spirit got the best of me. I took the metrolink for free into the Central West End, went out to the late night clubs along Washington Avenue, Soulard and Benton Park, hung out in Forest Park, and really started to like the city. Only in small doses though.
I ended up working in the city.
Worse yet, I was required to travel around the city regularly. A thought came to mind; “this place isn’t so bad!”
Getting into some of the neighborhoods, I saw a sense of community unknown to me as a life-long suburbanite. I heard about farmer’s markets, and festivals. Friends started to move to the city. I saw some of the ill-fated “inner ring” suburbs turn around too. Places that were considered rough towns began the process of gentrification and rehabilitation.
What I saw was the beginning of a shift in our culture. Places all over the country had begun to turn around their “inner city” urban areas and it began to happen in St. Louis.
Today St. Louis continues to move forward in revitalizing itself and more and more people are making the choice to support it by relocating to one of its great neigbhorhoods. There is still more work to do and hopefully future posts will point out ways to get involved in the ongoing transformation.