The economic blows to the St. Louis metro area keep on coming. Ford, Macy's, Chysler, The Sporting News, and now Anheuser-Busch. According to an article in the NY Times this morning [http://is.gd/QW8], A-B is back to the table with InBev to hand over the company. Based on the past performance of the folks that are running InBev, I fully expect to see a lot of layoffs from A-B, especially among the white-collar workers. Depending on how things go, I could also see them shutting down the brewery in St. Louis as well, since it is one of the least efficient operations, mainly due to the age. I would also anticipate that a lot of the local charity work may go by the wayside as it doesn't increase the bottom line. St. Louis is already in the double digits for unemployment. This isn't going to help the average person. It will help large stock owners.
What happened? St. Louis city went from the 4th largest city in 1896, to 48 in 2003, and I think it is down to mid-50's now. The metro area has gone from having over a dozen Fortune 500 companies and a few Fortune 100 companies, down to... well if the InBev deal is done not a whole heck of a lot. Where the heck is the leadership from city/county government? Where is the RCGA? What the heck happened?
There are a few things that happened that hastened the doughnut effect and the collapse of the inner city. Basically, bringing home the effect of poor policy decisions without regard to what will happen in the future.
1) City-County Split - Who knew that back when the city government and business owners decided they didn't want to associate with the hicks and poor people in the country (west of Kingshighway at the time) in 1877 that it was going to really come back and bite us?
2) Railroad - When the decision was made not to build more bridges across the Mississippi into downtown St. Louis, the railroads decided to move the center of the country to Chicago. I believe there are more rail lines going from Chicago to Kansas City than between Chicago and St. Louis.
3) Streetcars - With the destruction of the streetcar system, we not only got rid of a very efficient method of transportation we also encouraged people to get cars and drive them everywhere. Which worked for a time and opened up the areas that people and would travel. The downside is that people stopped investing in the local businesses and establishments. Instead we now have big box stores where you have to have a golf cart to travel the whole store and there are either not enough salespeople or they just don't want to help.
4) Interstates everywhere - When we allowed the interstates to plow through the middle of the city, we cut it up like a pizza pie and destroyed neighborhoods. It encouraged the westward expansion of the suburbs and exurbs. Also encouraged the development of strip malls in the middle of nowhere. Bleh.
But there are a few positive signs. People are moving back into the city, although the rate has substantially decreased because of the credit crisis. There are a few businesses re-locating to downtown St. Louis. Lofts are still being sold and the downtown nightlife is still going, although it isn't near what the potential is.
There are a few things that we can do to help turn it around, but it isn't going to easy or popular. Especially with the large number of NIMBYs we apparently have in the area.
1) Think regionally, not parochially. It isn't politically correct, especially here, but there it is. Louisville was in a similar state to St. Louis, losing population & businesses. They took the step to re-integrate the city of Louisville with the surrounding cities in the county. This successfully raised the city from the mid-60's to the lower teens. This also helped to make more federal funds available to them and they have been successful in getting more businesses to relocate there. St. Louis is also going to just have to deal with connecting into St. Charles, Franklin, and Jefferson counties. There are many people that live in these counties and work in St. Louis.
2) Extend mass transit. We're going to have to do it. Gas prices are only going to keep on going up and salaries have been fairly stagnant for the last 7-9 years. Oil actually went up $5 a gallon overnight to hit $146 for the first time. The middle class and lower wage earners are paying a much larger percentage of their income on fuel costs. Encouraging the use of mass transit reduces expenses for the average person and helps cut pollution. With appropriate planning, fixed rail streetcars can help local businesses that are situated near trolley stops. Get the transit out into St. Charles, Franklin, and Jefferson counties. Granted there are some trade offs since the populations of those counties is somewhat spread out. But for example, transit could be extended into downtown St. Charles and then St. Charles county could have transit from outlying areas converge onto that point. Lets make it easier for people to use it and they probably will.
3) Long-term planning for housing. We have to work smarter to get the housing needs of the area taken care of. The credit crisis isn't going to be over for at least another year or two. We probably have not even hit the bottom yet. By planning, I mean that cities have to look and work more closely with home builders. We can't afford closed off subdivisions any more. If we're building in an undeveloped area, we need to make sure that it can accommodate connection to transit. We need to build in a way that encourages and makes it easier to take alternative modes of transit, whether that means bicycles, walking, or something else.
OK, enough of my rant. I'll get off the soapbox now. At least it is Friday and I'm definitely ready for the weekend. I think it is time to brew up a new batch of beer. I've got the ingredients for a honey cream ale, so I'll probably be doing that this weekend sometime. Woot!