Regional Government Must Change

In the Saint Louis Region, racial segregation occurs across governmental lines. In the county, many communities are either almost entirely black (Berkeley,82% black; Black Jack 81% black; and Spanish Lake, 77% black) or almost entirely white (Webster Groves, 90% white; Town and Country, 88% white; Kirkwood, 89% white). In Saint Louis City, according to Brown University's 2010 Census Project 71% of black and white residents would have to move to another part of the city to end racial segregation. Municipal zoning lines in Saint Louis City were drawn with racial segregation in mind, and set the patterns of north-south racial segregation we see today. The same municipal line drawing strategy used to segregate Saint Louis City was used to segregate municipalities in the county. And although explicit de jure segregation was made illegal by the supreme court before these lines were drawn, actors used implicit means to segregate through these mechanisms de facto.

The Saint Louis region has a history of segregation; today many see this segregation as just the way things are. But that fact that we allow these municipal lines drawn after the civil war and again in the 1920s should give us pause - need it be this way? The city-county divide is a result of the conflicts and politics of generations passed. In modern times we have the opportunity to throw off the baggage that the past has left us with and form a region that is more inclusive, less segregated, more efficient to administer, more equal in education, more equal in municipal service access, and fairer in the tax burden paid for municipal services.

Today, some of the municipalities allowed for by the divide cannot afford to pay for themselves - instead, when they budget for next year they expect a certain amount of revenue from municipal court fines. When we make laws we do so in the hopes that people do not break them - when the existence of a municipality depends on people breaking laws, it creates a perverse incentive structure that encourages taxation through municipal policing. The laws we hope so dearly are not broken must be broken for the continued survival of some municipalities.

In Saint Louis, regional divides are the problem we all live with. Regional divides segregate us based on income, on race, on upbringing, an on education. A united Saint Louis is a region that is better for us all and comes closer to righting the wrongs of the past and present. The structure of regional government must change for fairness, for survival, for justice, and for efficiency.

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