Design Our Future

Countless studies, reports, books, news stories and events have demonstrated beyond all doubt that the way our region operates is ineffective and inequitable. It’s time for we the people to hack through the red tape and politics to find solutions to our systematic woes. By combining our skills, knowledge, and resources we will build a strong St. Louis from the ground up. Our hometown offers a vast untapped potential. So, let's crowdsource ideas on how to make services more equitable, effective, and efficient.


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Combined City/County, Optimized for Equal Populations

Rather than describe a hypothetical future Saint Louis, I made a map of a Saint Louis made up of Saint Louis City and County, posted here:

I made the map using Geographic Information System software, ArcMap. My goal was to optimize for equal population, and then to see how other demographics worked out based on that benchmark. This map is intended only as a proof of concept, because there are a number of problems with it.

First, cities are split between districts, sometimes right down the middle. Second, this map doesn't take into account geography, and I'm not sure what sort of spatial problems would arise i.e. hills, rivers, parks, roads, etc. Depending on who is asked, there may be other problems or the things mentioned may not be problems. One thing that revealed itself during this analysis is that is just doesn't seem possible to equalize demographic factors across districts - it is possible to optimize for population, but it will be done at the expense of other demographic factors.

Much like the region as it is, this map entails spatial segregation. Social problems aren't solved entirely by redrawing administrative boundaries, though it seems more likely that a number of other problems can be, like fragmented and inefficient government. A quick explanation on the second picture, the data table. I did fairly well optimizing for population and keeping districts contiguous.

The region is largely white-black; my intent was not to marginalize other racial or ethnic populations by excluding them from analysis, but rather to keep this map simple as a matter of prudence. Median Household Income figures are the sums of the median household income of the underlying census blocks that make up the districts. People in poverty is in real terms, and again couldn't be optimized. Combined Median Household Value is similar to Median Household Income - that figure is the sum of the Median Household Values of each of the underlying census blocks in the district. Finally, Unemployed Persons are in real numbers.

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Combined City / County, with common Economic Development, and Shared Services

I'd like to see a combined City of St. Louis / St. Louis County. Not sure whether this would have STL city enter STL County, or if a combined City/County Government was created. Even if some existing St. Louis County municipalities would continue to exist, there would be a common Economic Development Arm which would span both City and County, and hopefully also include St. Charles County, Jefferson County as well. In addition, whatever entities that would remain would have shared services for accounting, purchasing, Street Departments, Park Departments, where economies of scale could be realized to reduce administrative cost and ensure uniform level of service across the area. City and County building codes could be made common, taking into account uniqueness of some building structures in the city. Also business licensing could be made common as well, but taking into account unique needs for certain areas of the city (zoning) to protect certain quality of life aspects.

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St. Louis: Urban Crime Reduction--Suburban Windfall

There are lots of “Most Dangerous Cities” lists published each year that rank inner cities with respect to crime.  But only around twenty per cent of people in large metro areas live in the metro urban core on average.  The other eighty per cent live in the suburbs.  I decided to take on the task of aggregating crime data at the zip code level to compare metro urban core crime vs. suburban crime for the twenty largest metros in the U.S.  And I was curious to see how crime correlated with average home values for large metro areas--one measure of the desirability of a place to live.  The results are revealing.

Methodology.  First, a short summary of the methodology:  All of the analysis is based solely on metropolitan area-wide statistics or summed from zip code level data in the zip codes of the counties that comprise each metro area, and has no association with city limits at all.  All the chart data was summed from three sources accessible by anyone with access to the internet, specifically, web sites tied to the National Association of Realtors, the US Census Bureau data, and the FBI crime tables.  The analysis uses the most recent data available from these sites as of May 2016.  In this analysis, the urban core is defined as the inner twenty per cent, by population, of metro area zip codes closest to the City Hall of the metros’ primary core city.  The suburban statistics are from the remaining outer eighty per cent zip code areas in the doughnut ring surrounding the urban cores of the metro areas, as defined by the Census Bureau using CBSA metro definitions.  Details of the rest of the methodology are included at the end.

St. Louis and the Twenty Largest Metros.  We start by computing a metro-wide crime index for each of the twenty largest metros from the same FBI metro crime categories used by the real estate web site [] for their zip code crime indexes.  Figure 1 shows the result.  St. Louis metro overall ranks a respectable tenth best for crime using this formula.


Figure 1.  Full Metro Crime Index—Twenty Largest Metros

Adding a gold line to this chart for average home values and sorting from highest to lowest home values yields Figure 2 below.  There appears to be little or no correlation between home values and crime indexes at the full metropolitan area level.


Figure 2.  Home Values vs. Full Metro Crime Index—Twenty Largest Metros

Many things can affect average home values, such as climate, transit options, schools, arts and entertainment, urban vibrancy, walkability, trails and outdoor recreation options, distance from the coasts, and crime.  When it comes to crime, it is not easy to establish cause and effect.  Are low home values a result of high crime, or are crime rates high due to low home values reflecting poverty?  Nevertheless, real estate websites feature crime statistics as a major factor for people to consider when deciding where to live.  At the zip code level, we just assume that higher crime leads to lower home values.  If any population group is able to reduce its crime rate, the real estate web sites will label it as more desirable and will steer home buyers to it, which should raise home demand and home values over time.

So if we believe that crime is one of the factors affecting home values at some level, we have to ask ourselves why St. Louis and other cities rank poorly in home values if their overall metro crime index is not bad.  The Figure 3 plot below might have the answer.  This plot is sorted by average metro home values again, but it splits metro crime indexes proportionately into two bars--core crime and suburban crime.  The plot also shows the difference between core and suburban crime with the blue line.


Figure 3.  Home Values vs. Urban/Suburbs Crime Index—Twenty Largest Metros

The results show that, along with the lowest home values of the largest twenty metros, St. Louis also has the worst urban core crime index, compared to the other metros.  The chart shows a reasonable correlation between high urban crime and low metro-wide home values.

Figure 4 below is a map of the zip codes of the inner 20% urban core population and the outer 80% suburbs of the St. Louis metropolitan area.  


Figure 4.  St. Louis Metro 80% Suburban and 20%Urban Core Zip Codes Maps

St. Louis metro does rank well for low suburban crime.  But suburban crime is low in most of the largest metros.  And those low suburban crime indexes have not resulted in higher St. Louis home values.  In fact, suburban crime indexes for all metro suburbs do not seem to correlate to higher home values in general.

Our low suburban crime could initially be seen by suburban residents as an argument against more regionalism over the fear that core crime could spread to the suburbs.  But a closer look at the data shows that a large difference between urban core crime and suburban crime has an even higher correlation with low metro-wide home values--slightly more than urban crime index alone.  And St. Louis metro area ranks dead last in the difference between the crime index of its urban core and its surrounding suburbs of the twenty largest metros in the US.  A clear inference from the data is that the gulf in crime between the inner core and the outer suburbs is the result of our region’s inability to apply resources, leadership, and crime fighting success of the suburbs to solve problems in our urban core.  The result is the lowest home values of the twenty largest metros.

Pointer to a Path Forward.  While there is nothing we can do to change our local climate or our distance from the coasts to improve home values, we can do something about urban vibrancy and crime.  The data suggests that a cost effective way to raise all metro home values might be to enact a property tax on homes throughout the metro area and apply the funds to lowering crime only in the urban core.  The data implies that the home property tax will be returned to the taxpayer many times over through higher home values. Of course creating better regional governance would make implementation of such a policy much more feasible.

Figure 5 below shows a plot of four large Midwestern cities and where St. Louis stands with respect to them for urban crime and metro home values.  The plot indicates the level to which we could expect average home values to rise if we apply metro-wide resources to reduce urban core crime.


Figure 5.  A Path Forward for St. Louis?

There are 1.2 million housing units in the St. Louis metro area [].  If St. Louis could move up just one slot in the home value ranking by reducing urban crime, up to Detroit’s level, it could add $21,300 to the average value of each home in the metro area, and add $26.3 billion for all home values combined.  If we could move up to Minneapolis’s numbers over the next twelve years, it could mean an average increase in home values of a whopping $82,100 average per house in the entire metro area, and add over one hundred billion dollars to our metro home value base.

We could use the current numbers of these Midwestern metros as intermediate goals for St. Louis over the next twelve years to help us decide how much metro money to devote to reducing core crime.  Then, if our metro creates a regional plan to directly address our urban crime, we can measure our core crime reductions and home value increases against these metros to see if our plan is on track.

A Proposal.  How much is enough money to devote to core crime reduction to raise metro home values?  If core crime was the sole driver to metro home values, you might say spending $80,000 per house in the metro area is not too much to spend if we were guaranteed the Minneapolis numbers.  But since urban crime is only a significant factor—not the only factor—and since we can probably get huge reductions in crime for far less than that number, we should not have to go to that extreme.  Another way to look at this is to ask: what level of spending on community policing and training, improved education, more jobs and job training, drug treatment, and new public community facilities would finally break the back of crime in the metro urban core—the inner twenty per cent of our metro area on both sides of the river? 

A part of the equation will involve breaking the psychology of using guns to resolve conflicts among individuals. Treating gun violence as a community health issue and establishing community centers could allow us to break that psychological cycle of violence.  Also generating jobs for the unemployed in the urban core is crucial, and could be publicly funded if we include skills training that can be applied anywhere in the metro area.  What better way to gain construction skills, for instance, than learning to rehab houses within the urban core?

I’ll leave it up to trained urban planning experts to generate a viable detailed plan for reducing urban crime.  But for now, consider this approach to a twelve-year plan to reduce core crime and raise home values metro-wide.  While police budgets in the urban core cities are currently around one and a half times the budgets of suburban towns per person, the crime challenge at the core of our region is at least four times as great per person for a variety of historical reasons.  Adding $60,000,000 per year total to police budgets in the core cities of the St. Louis region should give an expanded police force time to engage in additional community policing at the street level.  Next, we should consider creating ten thousand jobs at $30,000 per year working infrastructure and rehabbing abandoned homes in the region at a cost $300,000,000 per year.  And adding new facilities for training, treatment, and community centers could cost another $40,000,000 per year.  Total cost would be $400 million per year for twelve years.  Dividing by the 1,236,676 houses in the metro area would add $323 dollars per house per year to average home property taxes, or about 23 cents per $100 valuation per year for twelve years for the current average metro home value of $140,700.  After twelve years, the metro could decide to reduce the funding, or divert some of it to another goal such as core school improvement.  Or, if home values start rising as urban crime is reduced, the tax rate could be lowered and still generate the same level of funds.

If we believe that spending $400 million per year for twelve years would lower the inner core crime down to the Minneapolis levels, and home values would rise to Minneapolis levels as a result, then we could expect to get an average home value rise of $82,100 dollars per house for a home property tax investment of only $3,876 per home on average. ($323 times 12 years) for a total return on investment of over twenty to one.  But if it is only two to one, it will have been worth it.

Conclusion.  I believe the data show that it pays financially for the greater region to invest in solving the metro’s core problems if all portions of the region chip in, including St. Charles County, Jefferson County, and all other metro area counties in Missouri and Illinois.  And the payoff might be huge for home owners throughout the greater regional area.  We could give the effort an identifiable name to help rally support, such as St. Louis MACS--Metro Advancement through Core Security.  It would be funded with a twenty-three cents per hundred-dollar valuation property tax on all homes in the metro counties on average, and it could include a sunset clause to end the program after twelve years.  St. Louis MACS could be roughly patterned after the successful MAPS program that Oklahoma City executed in the late 1990s and 2000s to restore their city center.  MAPS was so well managed and so successful that voters renewed the MAPS tax to address schools after the city core was booming again.  St. Louis could do the same.

 Methodology Continued.  I began by compiling crime index data down at the zip code level, using publicly available data from Total Crime Risk values found on the real estate web site, part of the National Association of Realtors.  The site displays a crime index for each zip code computed from a sum of seven of the eight FBI counts of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft, and motor vehicle theft, (leaving out property crime.)  The sum is converted to a crime index by comparing it to the national average pegged to an index of one hundred.  A zip code crime index of two hundred, for example, represents double the US crime risk.  This formula is identical to the one the FBI included in crime tables before 2004, the last year they included a crime index.  While we may not be happy with this crime index formulation, it is the one being used by prominent real estate sites to help people decide where to live.

To find which zip codes comprised the inner twenty per cent of the population of each metro area, I started with U.S. Census Bureau tables that listed all zip codes for each metro area, the population of each of those zip codes, and the latitude and longitude of those zip code areas.  With this data, I could determine the zip codes in the inner twenty per cent, by population, of each metro area.

Once I determined the zip code areas for the inner twenty per cent urban core, I retrieved the crime indexes for those zip code areas and used them to computed a single crime index for the urban cores, weighting individual zip code indexes by their population so a zip code with only three people would contribute proportionally less than one with three thousand people.  Then I could compute the crime index for the outer eighty per cent of each metro area as the number that, when combined proportionally with the inner twenty per cent number, yielded the full metro crime index composed of the same crime category counts from FBI Table 6.  Full metro average home values came from, owned by the National Association of Realtors.


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Decades ago STL city became its own county. Now St. Louis County should become a city.

Use the legislature to change STL County to a city-county, West St. Louis. West St. Louis would instantly become the largest city in MO. All of the current "cities" in STL County would become townships. Unincorporated areas would become separate townships, with the right to organize or not depending on what the residents wanted. Townships would have 2 years, 3 years, or 5 years, depending on size, to dismantle their police departments and municipal courts. Give St. Louis city the opportunity to join as another township. Based on their size they would have 5 years to join the West St. Louis police department and courts.

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Fund Schools Fairly

Most education funding comes from local property taxes. When you have a fragmented system of school districts and economic segregation, this leads to highly unequal funding of education. Districts with high property values can have both low tax rates and high levels of spending on public schools. Meanwhile, districts with low property values require high tax rates just to maintain lower levels of education spending. On top of this, schools with more students in poverty must provide more services to their students. Local property tax rates vary from 3.53% (Ladue) to 6.54% (Jennings). Meanwhile, spending per student, from local, state, and federal sources, ranges from $8,966 in Bayless to $17,869 in Clayton. Public schools exist to educate all children. Not just those in our individual neighborhoods. Tax rates should be equal for all districts throughout the county.

School districts in all areas should have the same resources to provide quality education to all children, regardless of the district which they live in. Currently, the wealth of a few areas of the county is “trapped” within those districts and cannot flow to other school districts with lower property values. Either we need to find a new way to fund schools, or equalize property tax rates and education spending throughout the St. Louis area. Assessed property values per student by school district (in $K) RIVERVIEW GARDENS 38 JENNINGS 38 NORMANDY 67 FERGUSON-FLORISSANT 79 RITENOUR 86 HAZELWOOD 90 BAYLESS 91 HANCOCK PLACE 111 ROCKWOOD R-VI 153 AFFTON 154 MEHLVILLE R-IX 158 WEBSTER GROVES 158 VALLEY PARK 161 LINDBERGH SCHOOLS 190 UNIVERSITY CITY 195 MAPLEWOOD-RICHMOND HEIGHTS 220 KIRKWOOD R-VII 225 PATTONVILLE R-III 235 (data from Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and St. Louis County Department of Revenue)

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Toll Time!

The residents of the county love to use the city of St. Louis as an escape from suburban hell, but refuse share the load when it comes to fixing the cities problems. I'm talking about repairs to municipal buildings and roads, the ability to afford enough policemen and firefighters to keep the city and its people safe, the schools, crime statistics, etc. It's time to force the hand. If you want to enjoy the city you must pay a toll to enter and leave. St. Louis city residents would have a pass, but non residents would have to pay to play. There would be an automated toll booth at all exits along all the interstates within the city limits and all roads leading into and out of the cityi f St. Louis. It's only fair for everyone share the load if they want enjoy what St. Louis has to offer. You can say people would stop coming, but that's a lie because everything that's entertaining is in downtown St. Louis. As far as tourism goes; it's almost non existent anyway with crime statistics as they are not being unified. Maybe, this would put a fire under the county residents' butts to vote for unification in order to be exempt from the tolls. Once unified, bye bye toll booths.

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Rename the County

The people in the county did not like St. Louis so they moved, They still do not like St. Louis and have refused to live in St. Louis. They have no interest in St. Louis besides claiming sports team that play in the City of St. Louis, attending attractions that are in the City of St. Louis, and having a place they can claim to others on vacation that there are from. You wouldn't ever claim Chesterfield or Wildwood in California yet want them to think your from the most dangerous city. What's the worst thing that happens there? Traffic tickets and too much construction. You do not believe in the same lifestyle as those in the city and actually have a great fear the city and city life. A recent elementary school game had to be cancelled against St. Roch school by a well-known county school due to being "in a bad neighborhood". If you do not want to play with our kids, we do not want to be associated with you at all. If the county wants to act like they want to join St. Louis City then put some actions in play and stop calling on merely words on paper. Show up and volunteer to clean up downtown, we all know more people outside the city cause more litter than those inside. Go to the city when there isn't something planned. Act like you care about the city. Not the event. If anything the people of the City of St. Louis should follow their politicians led and move towards statehood. The county and the state have abandoned St. Louis. Nothing less. With the crisis of Chicago fighting it's rural counties, maybe it's time for the people of St. Louis to embrace St. Clair and Madison Illinois (home of Alton & East STL population of 500,000) and create the State of St. Louis. We may not see eye-to-eye with them, but at least both know what it's like to be abandoned by their state government. Finally, St. Louis county is not deserving of the name St. Louis. Rename it.

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Start with a statistical city

I know St. Louis Strong is pushing for bigger changes, but we should start with something that most everyone will agree with -- becoming a statistical city. By combining our crime statistics, people of Greater St. Louis can see tangible proof that our numbers are better when we unite. That will help propel greater changes.

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Form Regional government including Columbia and Rolla

The idea of merely merging the City and County is flawed for it is not up to the challenges now before us nor the technological challenges of driverless commuting. We should propose a constitutional amendment of a new regional government having jurisdiction over: (1) Higher Education; (2) Economic Development; (3) Transportation (including roads and streets; and (4) Land use and Zoning. Here is an earlier form of this proposal First, while our form of government does hurt St. Louis the far bigger problem is our siloed and very poorly networked and functioning business community. The importance of networking to regional success is well understood. Here is a good starting point. Second, and the good thing discussed at a recent meeting, is that a combination of St.Louis City and County will not be large enough to offset the very negative out-state vs. St. Louis politics of Missouri. Combined, the two would only have about 21% of the state's population. I would propose that we expand regional government to include Columbia and Rolla, which would be consistent with the boundaries economists would project for the region in 2025. There are a number of sub-reasons for this such as the end for high speed transportation between Saint Louis and Columbia but the greater reason is to stop the flow of state tax revenues (sales and income) out of the St. Louis Region. Here is an excellent study of the very negative impact of revenue transfers out of cites by taxation. As to form of the regional government, I would propose that it be totally exempted from the Hancock Amendment and that its jurisdiction be limited foregoing five areas, leaving to existing counties, cities, and districts functions such as police, fire, and ambulance service. Also, k-12 education would remain local. Higher Education. Past the above issues, the Number One issue for Saint Louis is our very low educational attainment among major metropolitian areas. Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul have near 40% of their work forces with college degrees. We have less than 30%, which is a 25% Gap in productivity and ultimately wages. If a regional government were established it could, first connect UMSL, Washington University, and Saint Louis University with Columbia by high speed transit (rail or perhaps driverless bus). Rolla would be moved to UMSL and Rolla's campus repurposed as a second Truman State. Most importantly, freed of the Hancock cap we could re-purpose and raise taxes sufficient to adequately fund higher education in Missouri for the first time since 1980 (we under fund now, state wide, by at least $4 billions). The ultimate goal would be to make the St. Louis equal to San Francisco and Boston with four higher education institutions in the top 30 in the World, all connected by light rail or high speed transportation. Consolidating the remaining functions should be self-evident, but for land use planning and zoning. With I am a tremendous advocate of cities and city density, I do not expect the story of the next 25 years to be that of dense cities. I expect the story to be one of people searching for a back yard where they can install cheap solar panels or wind for charging their electric cars off the grid. We all understand that technology profoundly shapes cities, as the automobile did after 1900. We may be about to see a profoundly new change is driverless cars can be economically green powered with cheap solar panels. The drive to work becomes productive work time, so while people will drive to work for the network effects of working, they may be searching for a backyard for solar panel space. St Louis City was knee-capped in the late 1940s, 50s, and 60s when technology let hundreds of thousands of people escape the City's air pollution and move to St. Louis County. In considering how to organize a government for the future we should start by asking, how could technology re-organize life in the next 25 years. Contrary to the dreams of those who want everyone else to live densely packed in a city, soon to be deployed technology may permit even longer commutes.

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